A lot of us are making a lot more coffee than we have in the past. With today's work from home schedule, the task of preparing the morning coffee is no longer on the office manager, and the motivation to drive to a coffee shop isn't always there. To help y'all out, we've put together 8 pro-tips on prepping better coffee at home, as well as simple adjustments you can make to build your palate and become a more conscious coffee aficionado.
Buy A Grinder. The first of eight and also, arguably, the most important. Real talk: even the worst quality coffee grinder is better than buying pre-ground coffee. Coffee has a peak window for freshness, and that window gets significantly smaller after grinding. The coffee will oxidize at a much quicker rate, muting the naturally present flavors and making for much duller notes in the cup than would otherwise be enjoyed. It’s also much easier to hide roast deficiencies by grinding coffee, so ditching the pre-ground varieties allows you to have more transparency in regards to quality. Buy whole bean coffee and grind only what you need, as it is needed, to get the most out of your brew.
Support Your Local Roastery. Aside from the many benefits of keeping local economies thriving through commerce with local businesses, you can’t go wrong with getting something straight from the source. Smaller operations mean smaller roast batches; micro-roasters are much more likely to roast only what they need, which means less coffee on back stock so their shelves are full of fresher coffee. Depending on the roastery, smaller roasters can also have access to smaller coffee producers, experimental microlots, and coffees with unique origins or processing methods that are often not available from larger coffee chains.
Attend A Cupping. If you’ve never been to one of these, you’re in for a treat! Cuppings are sample tasting sessions that are used to evaluate the numerous naturally-present flavors of various coffees, usually that of a roastery’s current or potential coffee offerings. Coarse-ground coffee is brewed, completely filterless, into various ramekins or cups of identical shape and size, forming a “crust” on the surface of the cup. After a few minutes of brewing, the crust is broken by agitating and lightly stirring. The residual foam on the surface is skimmed from the cup, and individual samples of the coffee are sipped and slurped by the spoonful; the goal being to sip in such a way that coffee is spread and aerated on your palate. Based on the drinker’s perception of the coffee, it is evaluated using a flavor wheel and/or often a scoring sheet. Many roasteries and coffee shops offer cuppings that are open to the public, so be sure and keep an eye out for these in your own community. If there are none nearby, you can always host your own!
Ditch The Single-Cup Machines. I know, I know. I’m aware of how much easier this makes your busy life, but this is one of the single most significant changes you can make to elevate your coffee game. Yes, they’re quick. Yes, they’re convenient. However, when it comes to both quality and sustainability, they’re seriously the worst. Yes, even if you’re using the reusable pods and are grinding your own coffee. Single-cup coffee brewers are designed to break down after a year or so and are nearly impossible to properly clean and descale, so buildup will accumulate, cup quality will gradually decline, and it will inevitably end up in a landfill with an infinite number of others just like it. Break the cycle and explore the countless, much more delicious and eco-friendly options that exist for specialty coffee at home; including ceramic pour-overs, Aeropress, and even single-cup French Presses. Your palate, and the planet, will thank you!
Drink It Black. If the thought of this makes you wince, don’t worry. You don’t have to drink it black all the time, but if you’re determined to be a more discerning coffee aficionado, this is one of the simplest things you can try to hone your sensitivity to the sensory properties of coffee. Start small by trying your coffee black first, then adding cream and/or sugar to taste after you’ve initially assessed it. You might surprise yourself and find that you do enjoy certain coffees without dressing them with sweeteners and creamers. Pay attention to your assessments: what you like about this particular coffee, what you don’t like, if the flavors are reminiscent of any other flavors, how the flavor is impacted by cream or sugar if you decide to add anything to it. Noticing these subtle details is how one builds a palate. There are no right or wrong answers; it’s all about your perception of taste and aroma.
Measure by Weight, Not Volume. Much like baking, weighing ingredients are much more accurate than measuring by volume; as volume measurements don’t account for density, which can significantly change from coffee to coffee. Invest in a small digital kitchen scale and follow the “golden ratio” of coffee brewing: a window of 1:15-1:16 of coffee to water. For instance, if you were brewing 30g of coffee, you’d need 450-480g water. Not only will your coffee taste better, you’ll be brewing more efficiently and accurately which can save you money on coffee by not using more than you need!
Break Your Routine. Try a new coffee shop. Have a single origin cup from a country of origin you’ve never tried. Order something other than “the usual” from the menu. There are SO many variables that affect a certain coffee’s flavor; including soil, altitude, processing method, seasonality, roast method, degree of roast, grind method, brew method, even things like ambient temperature and humidity where the coffee is roasted and/or brewed. Explore variables and dwell in possibility. The varieties are near infinite, and it’s easy to get stuck in a comfort zone and miss out!
Go To A Wine, Whiskey, Beer, Or Cigar Tasting. Though these things are far from coffee and have different properties, attributes, and sensory expectations, the method for taste and aroma evaluation and perception are one and the same. If you can become accustomed to perceiving the flavor and texture subtleties in wine and other bitter or bold provisions with underlying qualities, you can be equally confident in your ability to do the same with coffee. It won’t happen all at once, but you will start to notice the difference gradually. It’s worth it!