Coffee can be expensive. It’s really unavoidable. There is a crazy number of brew methods on the market, and they all vary in price. What a lot of people don’t see however, is that a quality setup is actually a lot cheaper than they think. My starting gear was a Hario mini mill, and an Aeropress. That was plenty enough for me to get bitten by the coffee bug, and it kind of ballooned from there. Of course, for someone just getting started, finding a solid source for what you need and don’t need can mean a lot of reading. I decided to collate what I’ve learned over the past year and put it into one big post, to help others who are just starting.
Getting Started: The Gear
There are many different ways to brew coffee, some very cheap, some very expensive. I’ve decided to throw together a couple of pieces of gear that are multipurpose and easy to get the hang of.
Scale: Why is a scale important? You want to measure things by weight. Weight is the most constant way to measure something. The volume of coffee may change based on the roast level, size of bean, etc. What does this mean? A tablespoon of Colombian coffee beans is going to weigh differently than a tablespoon of Ethiopian beans. A scale makes your results more repeatable. Any scale will really do, as long as it’s accurate. It can be gram accurate, or .1 gram accurate, it doesn’t matter a whole lot when it comes to brewed coffee. The big thing is to make sure it weighs to an adequate weight, it’s accurate, and it doesn’t time out and shut off too quickly. You may also want to look for something that’s quick. I recommend the above scale, the AWS-2KGA, mainly because it’s pretty reliable, fairly cheap, and operates on either AC or battery. This makes it rather portable, but at the same time something good for the counter top. Bonus: Scales are great for baking too! Just like coffee, a cup of bread flour weighs differently than a cup of all purpose.
Grinder: Grinding fresh is very important with coffee. Coffee begins to “stale” as soon as it’s ground. More surface area exposed means more rapid oxidization. Grinding fresh means a better tasting cup of coffee. Of course, you could go for a blade grinder, but that just smashes coffee inconsistently and generates a bunch of heat. Unevenly ground coffee leads to poor extraction, which means bitter and harsh coffee. A better option is a conical burr grinder. Good electric options are expensive, and you may not want to invest in that when you’re just starting. Luckily, there are manual options. My recommendation is a Hario Mini Mill. It’s slim and portable, grinds to a pretty wide range, and is good for about 30 grams of coffee. Grinding that much takes anywhere from two to four minutes, depending on how quickly you grind. The perfect thing to do while waiting for your water to boil. The plastic body is pretty durable, and the ceramic burrs grind consistently, and should stay sharp for a while.
Brew Method: As stated above, there are many different ways to brew coffee, all with different tasting results. I’ll cut to the chase and just provide my recommendation of the Hario V60. It’s a cheap option with the plastic cone coming in around 10 dollars, and it teaches patience with coffee. It can be a bit frustrating at first, however once you get a method down you can get some pretty fantastic results. The V60 can do anywhere from one to two cups, so it’s even perfect if you want to share with someone. I’d recommend the plastic over the glass or ceramic, as you don’t need to worry about heat loss, and the molding process seems to make more pronounced ridges than what you see on the ceramic or glass. Now, there are many different, more beginner friendly options than the V60. Something like a Clever dripper is basically set and forget, or you could even look at a Bonmac or Melitta cone. I believe the V60 is going to be the better option though, as it’s going to teach you more.
Kettle: A vessel to heat and pour water is also a very important investment when starting coffee. Any kettle will really do, heck, even a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup and a microwave is fine. My recommendation however is a gooseneck kettle. A gooseneck is going to give you a lot more control over the speed and intensity of your pour, which is something that’s going to improve the V60 a lot, as it lets you control the speed of your brew. This carries over into a lot of other pourover methods such as the Chemex and Kalita Wave. A basic gooseneck is fine, and really not that large of an investment at about 35-40 dollars. Of course, if you want to combine your pouring kettle with your day to day kettle, Bonavita offers electric versions, both a basic one and one with variable temperature control.
The above is what I would consider a really good starting point for someone who is really interested in better coffee. The scale, grinder, and kettle are usable for other brew methods too, so you’re not stuck with the v60 if you decide it’s not your cup of
tea coffee. The above recommendations should come in between 100 and 120 bucks. Pretty serious, but when you think three of those four things you won’t need to buy again, it’s not so bad.
Getting Started: The Coffee
My biggest tip is finding a local roaster who roasts to order. Most of the stuff that’s on a grocery store shelf has been sitting there for a while. A nice local roaster who roasts to order is going to be the biggest quality improvement in your coffee. Chances are pretty good too that the roaster you find is going to be very helpful in recommending beans to try. Most people in the business are very passionate about what they do, and love to talk about their product. What to choose? Blends, single origins, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Just get fresh roasted quality coffee beans and you’ll be fine. I’d recommend if you’re buying, to get enough coffee to last you around two weeks, and no more than a month. Even in whole bean format, coffee still stales, and even a month is pushing it on the quality side of things. If you can buy weekly, do it. Oh, and try new things. The great thing about coffee is there are a lot of different areas in the world where coffee is grown, which leads to a lot of different flavor profiles.
Getting Started: Brewing
There are a few things you want to keep in mind regardless of your brew method, the first being your water source. Clean filtered water is going to result in a better cup of coffee, as you don’t have to worry about chlorine or any other funny tastes mucking up the flavors of your coffee. Bonus: Cleaner water means a cleaner kettle. No mineral deposits, less cleaning. On top of clean water, you’re also going to want to remember to rinse your filters, which has the added benefit of warming whatever vessel you’re brewing into. Finally, keep in mind your ratios. You won’t know what’s perfect for you until you experiment, however for me, a 17:1 ratio is what I consider the best. What does this mean? For every 17 grams of water, I use 1 gram of coffee. Depending on your preferences, you might prefer a 16:1 or an 18:1. Heck, you might even prefer something completely different. Oh, and keep a timer/calculator handy. You have a smartphone, right? Perfect.
The actual process with the V60 is pretty easy. The technique is what takes time to master.
Weigh your coffee/heat your water: With the above setup, you can weigh your coffee right into the mini mill on the scale. While you’re weighing and grinding your coffee, you can also start heating your water. The ideal grind size for the V60 is about the same as table salt. Grind your coffee and set it aside. By the time you’re done that, your water should be boiling.
Rinse: Shut off your burner and rinse your filter (which is hopefully sitting in the V60 on top of your brewing vessel) with your now boiling water. Don’t be shy, you can’t over rinse. You’re doing double duty by heating your brewing vessel and rinsing away any paper taste. When you’re done this, empty your rinse water, set everything up on the scale, and zero it. Add and level your coffee, maybe making an indent in the center. You’ll need to experiment to decide what works best for you. Don’t forget to zero again.
Pour: By the time the above is completed, your water should be between 195 and 205 Fahrenheit. This is the perfect temperature range for brewing most coffees. You can start by adding a bit of water for a bloom. This is a pre-infusion that allows CO2 gas to escape from the beans, and wets them for better extraction. You’ll probably want to start your timer when you start pouring. My recommendation is about twice as much water as there is coffee, however, use as much as is required to just barely wet the grounds. You’ll notice the coffee is getting rather bubbly. This is a sign of freshness, and should be something to look for when brewing. Once your timer hits around 30-45 seconds. start the rest of your infusion. Slowly add water in a circular motion, being careful not to hit the sides of the filter, and try not to stay in the center. The addition of the rest of the water should take another minute or so, and your final brew time should be between 2:15 and 2:45. When all the water is gone from the filter, you should see a nice flat bed of coffee grounds.
Enjoy: Pretty self explanatory. Remove the V60 from your brewing vessel, and enjoy. Smell it, taste it. Fresh and properly extracted coffee shouldn’t be very bitter, and you’ll probably find flavors you don’t normally notice. Keep in mind, coffee is a lot like wine, developing a palate can take a long time, however the results of a fresh cup are going to be noticeable even to a beginner.
Troubleshooting: It’s inevitable that your first few cups with the V60 will probably be less than perfect. It’s a big learning process, however keep in mind there is a lot you can adjust. Finishing the brew too quickly? Try grinding finer or pouring slower. Too slow? A coarser grind may be in order. Seems flat? Maybe your water wasn’t hot enough. Try changing one thing the next time you brew, and see where it goes. If you’re serious, try keeping notes as to what worked and what didn’t. Once you develop your technique, perfect cups will start coming every time you brew.
The above post would really be what I was looking for when I started. Multiple sources and exhausting research can really turn someone off of something so great. Once you have the gear and a basic brew method down, enjoying good coffee on a daily basis is easy and fun. Expanding based on what you already have is easy too. I hope this helped you get started with coffee, and I hope to expand on this post at a later date.