I’m spending a fortune on takeaway coffee. Can I make a good one at home without a machine?
You could save hundreds of pounds a year by upping your home coffee game. A little bit of investment goes a long way, says James Hoffmann, author of How to Make the Best Coffee at Home: “Take a month’s budget of cafe coffee and spend it on a grinder.”
“Buying ground coffee is like buying a diced apple,” Hoffmann adds. “It rapidly starts to go stale and break down.” A grinder also lets you make coffee in a host of ways, by adjusting the grind size – medium to medium-fine for a cafetiere, say. “But make sure you go for a burr grinder for a consistent texture.” A set of scales for weighing the beans is also handy to ensure a reliable cup each time. That might seem nerdy, but you don’t necessarily need to fork out: “Kitchen scales work just fine,” Hoffmann says.
When buying beans, look for a roast date. “Freshness is important,” says Dale Harris of Ozone Coffee in London, so buy little and often, and store in something airtight and in the dark. He suggests brewing the beans “within four to six weeks; that way, your coffee will taste significantly better.” Another factor is provenance, though Harris says the farm or producer’s name matters more than the country of origin, “because it’s more likely somebody personally chose that coffee for its flavour”.
The roast will dramatically impact the taste of your coffee, too, Hoffmann says: “In supermarkets, you’ll see a strength guide,” which, he explains, is ultimately all about the roast. “The higher the strength, the darker and more bitter the roast.” Specialist coffee, however, won’t provide a strength level. “Most of the time, it will be a light-medium roast,” Hoffmann says. “If you see fruity words in the description, this indicates some level of acidity, whereas a more sweet and nutty description means a more aromatic brew.” If you’re at a loss, buy beans from your local cafe – you’re already a fan of the beans they use, after all.
Next, you need to choose what you’re going to brew those beans in. Harris prefers “anything with a paper filter [from £10], although once you have a Chemex [a pour-over-style glass coffee maker at about £50], you’ll never go back”. They make a “really clean brew”. Harris uses 60g coffee per litre of boiled water, gradually poured through a filter.
Nick Law, founder of Bean Shot Coffee in Bruton, Somerset, also recommmends a Chemex, or an AeroPress (about £30). “It’s a good, all-round device, and you can take it anywhere,” says Law, who uses 18-20g per 240ml water, which should be filtered and at about 90C. Hoffmann’s preferred brewer, however, is the Clever Dripper (£20 or so). “It has a little stopper at the bottom [of the conical dripper],” he says. He stirs 18g medium-fine coffee into 300g water.
But, Harris says, a cafetiere can also produce amazing results. Hoffmann uses 60-70g coffee per litre of water in his. He leaves it to steep for four minutes, stirs the crust that forms on top and scoops off any residue. Be patient, let the grounds settle to the bottom, then plunge only as far as the surface of the liquid and pour gently.
If you want a strong coffee, the iconic Italian Moka pot (from about £20) is great, too, Hoffmann says; he uses 100g medium-fine coffee per litre of water, but it won’t get you an espresso. “That is much more complex, because you need a proper machine rather than a brewer, which is expensive.” Much better to save the espresso for a weekly takeaway treat.
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