Making Good Coffee 101 – Equipment

posted in: advice, education | 2

I get asked a fair amount of time, “How do I switch over to making good coffee like you do?” Rather than sending the same email to people all the time, I figured it was time to just put it in a post and point people toward a link. Duh! Better late than never! None of the products I mention pay me a dime for their inclusion and these are my suggestions, not an all-inclusive list (I do have an Amazon Affiliate store which I will link to products in. The cost to you is the same, but Amazon pays me a few percent back on purchases my readers may want to make. That being said, price check on Amazon because the prices seem to fluctuate wildly on some of these items and I’d hate for you to spend extra!).

This guide is for the person who is crossing over to the Specialty Coffee side or who is just getting into coffee and wants to do it right from the get-go. I’m not including espresso machines in this list, either.

For those on a tighter budget, out of all the methods outlined below, the AeroPress is the least expensive overall but be aware that it also makes the least amount of coffee at a time, too.

Now, the first thing is that for all of these methods you must have some basic equipment. You need a scale, hot enough water and a consistent grinder. Then you have to consider what volume of coffee you’ll need because some methods work for small amounts while others work for large amounts, and one usually doesn’t work well for the other. Here’s the basic equipment everyone needs, no matter what:

SCALE:

You need a scale and you need to use it. Period. My recommendation is the $17 American Weigh Scales AMW-SC-2KG Pocket Scale. It’s accurate (to a tenth of a gram), easy to read, pretty fast and tiny enough to fit under an espresso cup if you’re really geeky. It’s not waterproof, so be careful-ish with it, but it works great and it’s cheap. Get one or two.

GRINDER:

You HAVE to have an excellent burr grinder and blade grinders are NOT allowed. Your grind HAS to be consistent or you’ll have problems in your cup. This is especially true of espresso and French Press, which are on the ends of the spectrum and their grounds must be consistent or the coffee will suffer. If you want an electric grinder, a lot of people are happy with the $240 Baratza Virtuoso. It’s supposed to be really good for the money. I have never used one, but people like these ones, so they can’t all be wrong. If you make lots of cups or you are using a dripper to make a whole pot of coffee at a time, you’ll want one of these things. If you are like me and you make 1-2 cups per day, you can get away with a hand grinder.

The best reasonably priced hand grinder is the Hario Skerton for $44. It does everything the Baratza does, only with you powering it. One espresso costs me about 225 turns of the crank, so it takes a couple minutes and it is a bit of a workout, honestly. Coarser grinds require less manpower, of course. The only downside to this grinder is once you have it dialed in you don’t really want to change it because there is no easy way to get back to where you were. With the Baratza grinder, for example, if you switch from #1 on the grind setting, then to #8, you know how to get back to #1 easily. That’s why I have a collection of hand grinders because I use one for each method. Kind of crazy, but in my defense you couldn’t get a good electric grinder for less than $500 when I got into specialty coffee and so it made sense at the time. The other downside to the Skerton is that it doesn’t do a great job on coarser grinds like French Press without adding a “lower bearing modification.” These are cheap and easy but once you mod the grinder then you can’t tighten the burrs enough to do espresso, so you have to decide what you make more. That’s why I have one dedicated only for espresso.

Honestly, you’re never going to go back to canned coffee after you do this, so I say spring for the Baratza, especially if you use lots of preparation methods.

HOT WATER:

For almost all the methods I’m going to talk about you need hot water and you need to control how you pour it. Yes, those fancy gooseneck kettles are not just about being a hipster, you actually need one to make coffee some of these ways. The Bonavita with temperature control for around $76 is supposed to be awesome. I just boil water in an old tea kettle and transfer it to a small Hario Buono when I’m doing pourover and that works, too. There are other choices, but you’ll need to spend $30 or more on a proper kettle and it’s worth the investment if you’re doing pourover. You don’t need them for drip or for AeroPress, though. Anything that will get water to boil will work for those methods.

OK, so those are the basics, now for the rest….

HIGH(ER) VOLUME COFFEE PREPARATION:

Requires:

If you make coffee by the pot, you can still do it way better than with Mr. Coffee or other normal drippers. Get a Bonavita Thermal Coffee Maker. It looks a lot like your standard coffee dripper, but it’s more like pourover without all the fuss. The downside to most coffee drippers is that they don’t get hot enough or stay hot enough and they never, ever get cleaned. This dripper solves those problems and basically works like a pourover (Chemex, Bee House, V60, etc) but it uses a spray head to automatically drip water at a consistent flow and good temperature into a thermal carafe which will keep it the right temp for a long time. They cost about $170 but the results are supposed to be pretty darn good and this is about your only option for making a lot of high quality coffee at once. There are other more expensive options that are very similar but this is the way to go.

MEDIUM(ER) VOLUME COFFEE PREPARATION – FRENCH PRESS:

Requires:

  • French Press pot
  • Scale
  • Grinder (modified hand grinder or electric)
  • Water boiler (but nothing fancy because pour flow isn’t important)

The main thing that comes to mind when I want to make less than a whole pot of coffee but more than 1-2 cups is French Press. French Press absolutely requires a very consistent, coarse grind of coffee. Hand grinders like the Hario Skerton can do a French Press grind, but you need to find a lower bearing assembly/modification kit. So, either modify a hand grinder (it will be limited grinding finer than drip, though) or use an electric one like the Baratza.

You will also need a French Press pot. You can go pretty high end on these but the basic Bodum ones are fine, too. There are no filters to buy, which is nice. They come in a lot of sizes and finishes but they all basically do the same thing.

Of course you need a scale to weigh your coffee and water, and you’ll need water that is a handful of degrees cooler than boiling. You don’t need a lot of control over the pour, so I pour straight out of my tea kettle and that works fine.

MEDIUM(ER) VOLUME – POUROVER:

Requires:

  • Gino dripper with Kalita 185 filters
  • Scale
  • Water boiler and/or gooseneck kettle like Hario Buono that you don’t mind heating up directly on the stove
  • Hario Microwave Server 02 carafe or something similar with a 3″ wide, flat opening
  • Grinder for something more or less like drip coffee. You’ll grind around 30 grams at a time, which could take a while with a hand grinder.

 

There are a lot of pourover methods like Chemex, V60, Bee House and Kalita, as well as hybrid methods like Clever. You can make 2 good-sized cups with this method or four actual measuring cups of coffee. I’ve used them all, pretty much, and for pourover I am going to recommend Kalita, specifically the glass Gino dripper made by notNeutral. It’s $20, handle-less and double walled glass, uses the same Kalita 185 size filter as the larger Kalita dripper, and it’s 10-$30 cheaper than a Kalita while still doing the same thing. I use a Chemex a lot, too, but the quality of the coffee is similar and the Gino/Kalita is a lot more forgiving, so why not use easier instead of more difficult? The only downside is that the Kalita style filters are tougher to buy and cost more, at about $11/100 instead of Chemex’s $8/100. But, I think it’s the best option for most people and I use my Gino a lot more than my Chemex these days. You’ll also need a carafe to drip into, and I think the Hario Microwave Server 02 is perfect for the Gino dripper. It first great, is affordable and nicely made, and will hold the perfect volume of coffee for this dripper. You must have a gooseneck kettle for this type of coffee preparation because you have to control the pour rate and that is really hard to do without one.

 

LOW VOLUME:

Requires:

If all you want is a small cup made with the least amount of fuss, get an AeroPress. It tastes great, doesn’t use much water, and is easy and portable if you have a small boiler to take with you. It uses 17g of coffee, which grinds fast and easy in any manual burr grinder. It also only takes about 2:30 to make your coffee. The downside is that you end up with about 230g of coffee, at most, which is a small to medium cup by most people’s standards. I use my AeroPress all the time and I love it. You need some way to boil water and pour it into the AeroPress, but it doesn’t have to be a controlled pour, so I just pour it right out of my tea kettle or little Bonavita travel kettle. You need a scale for this method. AeroPress costs around $25 or so and comes with something like 300 filters, so it’s super economical.

AeroPress makes a pretty clean cup of coffee, so if you want something that lets some fines through for more of a French Press body to it, then get an Able DISK, which is a metal filter that tends to let some fines into the coffee for more body.

 

2 Responses

  1. J
    |

    Thanks for the info! I guess the place to start would be getting a hand grinder and aeropress or able DISK, then go up from there? And just read up on some of the coffees you’ve posted about and how to make them to start out and get more acclimated with the more advanced coffee making? Thanks!

    • KCcoffeegeek
      |

      Good questions… I’ve been surprised at how much I use my AeroPress. It’s GREAT if you need to be portable with your setup or you’re OK making a single cup. I also use my notNeutral Gino dripper a lot (it pretty much replaced my Chemex) and my espresso machine a lot. But a good place to start would definitely be an AeroPress (I actually prefer the regular paper filters it comes with over the DISK filter most of the time), a Hario Skerton grinder and the scale I mentioned. It makes really good coffee! My recipes are all listed in one of the links below the logo on the webpage, so you can see the ratios and times I use. I’ll email you some AeroPress info. As for the coffee itself, I think the AeroPress can handle just about anything, but it really shines with bright, acidic (which is a good descriptor when it comes to coffee) coffees from Africa, in my opinion (Kenyans, Ethiopians, etc).