Looking to become a home barista? As we embrace the coffee revolution, Ben Craggs from Meanwood’s Echelon Coffee Roasters spills the beans on the tools you need to brew great coffee at home.
The Height of Hand Pours
In our opinion, the best way to brew coffee at home isn’t through a £2,000 espresso machine (although that’s not to say that you can’t make great espresso in your kitchen). Instead, there are several manual brewing methods that don’t require a meeting with a financial advisor before purchase, and really highlight the interesting and subtle flavours in high-quality coffee.
Japanese company Hario first introduced the V60 in 2004, and it has become something of an industry standard in speciality coffee. It’s cheap (at least for the plastic version), robust, and when used well it can make an absolutely delicious and extremely clean-tasting brew. As it’s so ubiquitous, there’s all manner of brewing recipes claiming to be the best way to use the V60. Part of the fun is doing your own experiments and reaching your own conclusions!
The guy who invented the Aerobie frisbee also invented the Aeropress. Need there be any further reason to give it a try? There’s even a film about it. There are national and international Aeropress brewing competitions that are hotly contested by some of the world’s most talented baristas. By chance I lived next door to the 2011 Belgian Aeropress champion, and she got some incredible flavours using it. It also makes the cut because it’s very handy for travelling due to its compact dimensions. It’s also extremely versatile. It can be used to make punchy drinks that are almost espresso-like in intensity, or can be used to highlight the delicate, floral or herb-like flavours of for example, a lightly-roasted Yirgacheffe just by using a different brew recipe.
The Greatest Grinders
If you’re setting out on your home-brewing odyssey, you’ll also need a good grinder. The best jazz drummers always know where the beat is even during the most dazzlingly off-kilter and transcendental solos. Similarly, the most successful home coffee brewer knows that transcendental flavour starts with a solid grinder. Fortunately, there are some excellent value options.
Among our favourites is the Hario Skerton Plus ceramic hand grinder. Priced at around £40, there are certainly more expensive hand grinders available, but you’ll most likely need to spend more than double that before noticing any real improvement to your coffee. It’s got ceramic burrs which will last a long time, and with no motor other than however many watts your arms can churn out, you’re unlikely to end up heating up the coffee while you’re grinding it. It takes a little longer than an electric grinder, but it’s a good way to burn off a few calories.
If time or energy constraints mean that you’re not inclined to use your own muscle power to grind your beans, you’d do well to consider the Wilfa Svart electric grinder. We’ve got a couple at Echelon (they’re relatively inexpensive at around £100) and deliver a quality of grind that goes way beyond any of the competition around their price point. Nordic coffee guru Tim Wendelboe had a hand in its development, and the results are really impressive.
The final piece of the manual brewing puzzle is your kettle. You can by all means use your regular home kettle, or even just boil some water on the hob. However, you’ll find that the spout of the average kettle doesn’t lend itself to precision pouring. To help with this (and to seal your status as a coffee snob) you could purchase a temperature-controlled gooseneck kettle.
At Echelon we use the Bonavita, which can be picked up for around £80. If that seems like an exorbitant amount to spend on what would most likely be your kitchen’s second kettle, you could opt for the Hario pouring kettle (£45), and just fill it up with freshly boiled water about 30 seconds before you start pouring to allow the temperature to fall to around 94°C.
You might have read all the above and still be minded to purchase a high-end home espresso machine. If so, the good news is that there are several options that can brew extremely high quality espresso if you partner them with a good-enough grinder and put in the time to learn and understand the theory.
Here at Echelon HQ we have a Rocket R58. Retailing at £2,000, it boasts twin boilers (meaning that you can brew coffee and steam milk at the same time without fluctuations in temperature) and has a digital PID device, allowing it to change the brew temperature to highlight different aspects of any espresso. It’s also extremely handsome.
If you want to offload more cash, (circa £7,000 to be precise), you could equally plump for the La Marzocco GS3 which has to be the pinnacle of ‘home’ espresso machines. I’ve seen some small speciality coffee shops using them in a commercial setting, and La Marzocco has an office in Leeds so you know you’ll have great support if you have any problems.
At the moment we have some fantastic options for the home coffee enthusiast, whether your preference is for manual brewing or espresso. We’ve recently added a new Ethiopian coffee called Layo Taraga to our line-up. It’s from the Guji region and has a beautiful aroma of orange blossom, and balances stone fruit sweetness with a lime acidity. We’re really proud of it!