Amazing coffee on a budget
You wake up and start getting ready for your day. Teeth brushed, you turn on the coffee maker. Without thinking, you have a cup in your hands and are gulping it before commuting to the daily grind. You've been drinking coffee your entire life and probably never wasted time thinking about it. You think 'Taste is not all that important' – all you want is the 'oomph' to get your day started.
If you feel that first paragraph is about you, then I'm really happy for you, because your life is about to get a real upgrade.
Good coffee is neither hard nor expensive to make. By following some simple rules and using the right tools, you can improve your coffee-drinking life by a huge margin. You don't need expensive machinery to get good coffee. You would if you were pursuing 'the best espresso ever', but instead of spending $3000 in a fancy machine, you can spend $80 and produce a good — even amazingly good — cup of coffee, every time.
For starters, forget about your $8 cinnamon chocolate non-fat soy milk frappuccino. Good coffee can (and should) be taken black. Sugar is optional, but if you have high quality beans and they are freshly roasted, you probably don't need any.
Let's start with the basics: to get good coffee, you need good coffee. Look for a good source of freshly roasted beans in your city. You will probably find a hipster coffee shop or even a local roaster. If you can't find one, look online for subscription services. Tonx is a good one.
Second rule: never buy ground coffee. As soon the beans are roasted, they start losing flavor. After grinding, this happens even faster, and soon you can say bye-bye to the flavor. Always grind your beans just before preparing a cup.
Nice grinders take up a lot of space and are very expensive. After some unlucky purchases, I found a cheap grinder that's good enough: the Hario MSS-1B Mini Mill Slim Coffee Grinder. It's small and easy to transport, sporting very nice ceramic blades. The only downside is the manual operation, so you need to put some sweat into it. That's not even a big problem, as it takes around 1 min of grinding beans to get enough grounds for one cup.
By the way, for the method I'm explaining here, I use the grinder set to grind point '6'.
Make sure the water is filtered and at the right temperature. If the water is too cold or too warm, your coffee will not be as good. The temperature should be around 80ºC (175ºF).
You can use a cooking thermometer to geek out on this.
A brewing tool
There are dozens of good ways to brew coffee. Pour over and the French press are the most commonly used by the uninitiated, but there is one tool that I love and, in my experience, always produces good results: the AeroPress.
It may look like a lab tool, but in fact it's a really simple brewing method. You grind the beans, heat the water, add both to the AeroPress, set up the filter, push it gently all the way through and voilà: you have delicious coffee.
You can push the AeroPress as instructed in the manual, but I prefer to use the inverted method instead of the traditional one. This ensures the coffee oils are not lost in the paper filter and gives more flavor.
Bonus: hipster tools
If you want to go to the next level, there are some additional tools you can add to your inventory. For example:
Kaffeologie metal filter
This filter was designed by a kickstart in 2012 and is now available from Amazon. Unlike previous metal filters, this one does not filter out all the oils from your coffee. I love it – I stopped using paper filters after getting it.
Having a digital scale allows you to do small experiments. How about trying 25g of beans for 180g of water? Too strong? Maybe something more diluted, like 18g of beans for 250g of water?
And that's it. For about $80 you can get all the tools you need to brew some really good coffee that will make your mornings brighter and your life better.