The aromatic steam coming from a cup of your favorite specialty coffee—the heaven of that first sip. And, of course, the sticker shock. But you can have that delicious experience every day without paying coffee-shop prices.
To make specialty coffee at home, start with clean equipment, measure out fresh beans by weight, grind the beans using a setting right for your equipment, use filtered or spring water that is at 200°F (93°C), brew, add flavorings, and steam your milk before adding it, if applicable.
The steps below explain the process of making specialty coffee at home. Depending on how devoted you are to gourmet coffee, this may become your everyday process–or you may decide to only make it as a special treat. Either way, read through these tips to learn what you need to know.
Clean Your Equipment
Many people complaining of a “burnt” taste to their coffee are just drinking coffee made with dirty equipment. Coffee beans leave oils behind. These residues create unpleasant flavors when the equipment is reused. Learn how to keep your equipment clean from the following videos.
This video from Consumer Reports tells you how to clean your automatic drip machine:
Find out how to clean a French press the smarter way:
If you just need to clean a filter, check this video out to see how you can do this with vinegar:
To learn more about cleaning a percolator, watch this video:
Measure Coffee by Weight
There are three good arguments for using a scale to measure out your coffee:
- You may want coffee that’s stronger or weaker than average. It’s easy to make this adjustment by weight, but tricky to do when you measure by the teaspoon.
- You only want to grind as much coffee as you need; it’s difficult to use teaspoons to measure whole coffee beans.
- Measuring by weight is more accurate.
If you don’t know exactly how much coffee you need to use to make the cup you like, start with 15 g (.53 oz) of coffee per 227 ml (8 oz) of water. Once you’ve tried a cup using these amounts, you can adjust to your taste. If you don’t have a kitchen scale at home, consider the Meromore Digital Weight Scales, which will give you a precise measurement every time.
The measure part of the process is one of my favorites. It can play with different numbers, weights, timing, and technique impacting the resulting liquid and each a unique experience.
Use Fresh, Whole Coffee Beans
Whole-bean coffee will make a better-tasting beverage than ground coffee. Store beans in a tightly sealed ceramic or dark-colored glass jar. Coffee stays fresher when it’s not exposed to oxygen or direct sunlight. Some people mistakenly believe that freezing or refrigerating their coffee will keep it fresh, but storing coffee this way can cause it to absorb moisture, spoiling its flavor.
Buy the freshest beans you can get in a variety that makes coffee to your taste. Some type of Arabica beans is what you’ll want to look for, as they’re generally superior to Robusta beans.
If you’re not sure what kind of beans to buy, here are some suggestions:
- Mayorga Organics Café Cubano: This 100% Arabica coffee is slow-roasted dark, in the characteristic Latin American style.
- Café Britt® – Costa Rican Origins Coffee Bundle: This bundle lets you try different roasts of three single-origin Costa Rican coffees.
- Gevalia Mild Roast Whole Bean Coffee: Try a traditional Swedish mild roast of 100% Arabica beans.
- illy Classico Whole Bean Coffee: Italian coffee maker illy is known for this medium roast with delicate notes of chocolate and caramel.
Be sure to watch this helpful introduction to the major coffee-growing regions:
Grind to a Fineness Right for Your Equipment
Fine, medium and coarse grinds are each designed to be brewed using different equipment. Check which grind your equipment requires. If you don’t yet have a coffee grinder, have a look at some of the great grinders there are to choose from:
- JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder: This quiet, hand-powered coffee grinder is adjustable for 18 different grind sizes.
- HadinEEon Electric Coffee Grinder: An inexpensive but powerful smaller coffee grinder.
- Baratza Virtuoso: This top-of-the-line, digitally programmable grinder has over 40 grind settings and a one-year warranty.
Use Filtered or Spring Water
Coffee is greatly affected by the water used to brew it. It’s best to use filtered water or spring water. Don’t mistake distilled water for the same thing–distilled water lacks the minerals needed to make great coffee. This is why tap water often makes inferior coffee.
If you don’t want to buy filtered or spring water, you can filter it yourself, using the Brita Ultra Max Filtering Dispenser, which will let you keep up to 18 cups (4.3 liters) of filtered water handy.
Heat Water to 200°F (93°C)
Great coffee is a precise art. Water that’s too cool won’t extract much flavor; water that’s too hot will extract bitter compounds that you don’t want in your coffee. The best temperature for brewing coffee is 200°F (93°C). Your water will be at this temperature after about 45 seconds at a full, rolling boil. Of course, if you use an automatic drip machine, the coffee maker will heat the water to exactly the right temperature.
Brew With the Equipment You Like
Despite what some people might try to tell you, there is no one “best” method for brewing coffee. Each coffee-making process creates coffee that suits someone’s taste. In the chart below are some general guidelines for the kind of coffee that each method usually yields:
Once you choose your coffee-brewing equipment, make sure you understand how to use it properly. Invest a little time in getting to know your particular method by watching the appropriate videos below.
A drip brewer is an automatic coffee machine. Coffee is made by pouring water into a reservoir and ground beans in a filter-lined basket. When the machine is turned on, heated water is dripped through the ground beans. Here is a video that gives tips on using a drip brewer:
A French press is a cylinder into which ground beans and hot water are placed. After the coffee has steeped, a plunger with a mesh screen is pressed down into the cylinder, separating the grounds from the coffee. For tips on using a French press, see this video:
A percolator is a cylindrical pot that has a space at the bottom for water and a basket at the top for ground coffee. The percolator is placed on a heat source, causing the water to boil. Boiling water travels up into and through the coffee grounds repeatedly until the heat source is removed. To find out more about how to use your percolator, check out this video:
Pour-over coffee is made by pouring hot water over coffee grounds that are contained in a conical filter. The filter can be disposable or reusable. Here is a video with more information about how to make pour-over coffee:
Flavorings aren’t mandatory, of course–but they’re fun! There are a number of spices you can try adding to your coffee: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom are popular choices. Or you could try adding chocolate shavings or flavored syrup. Some delicious syrups to try:
- You can have a great caramel coffee with Monin – Caramel Syrup.
- Add hazelnut flavor without adding extra sugar with DaVinci Gourmet Coffee Syrup, Sugar-Free Hazelnut.
- Get fancy with Pink House Alchemy Lavender Syrup.
Not sure how to mix up your favorite cup? Try out some of these recipes from Taste of Home.
Steam and Froth Your Milk
If you like latte or cappuccino, you’ll want to steam and froth your milk before adding. This process is what creates the full-bodied, velvety milk needed in these specialty coffees. You can steam and froth milk in the microwave, or you can try one of these convenient automatic frothers:
- Milk Frother Miroco Electric Milk Steamer: This quiet little steamer is versatile enough to create three separate types of milk foam.
- HadinEEon Milk Frother: For extra dense foam, try this excellent milk frother that allows you to choose to steam your milk or keep it cold.
- FoodVille MF09 3 in 1 Rechargeable Milk Frother: If you prefer your foam cool, all you really need is this easy-to-store handheld milk frother.
You can save money and still have your favorite specialty coffee by making it at home. Remember to start with clean equipment and use fresh beans measured by weight, ground to suit your equipment. Make sure that your filtered or spring water is heated to 200°F (93°C) when you brew. As a final touch, you can add flavorings and steamed frothed milk.
- Ready Set Eat: 10 Barista-Approved Tips for Making High-Quality Coffee at Home
- Taste of Home: Copycat Coffee Shop Drinks
- Eating Well: 9 Rules for How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee
- Coffee Channel: Percolator vs Drip Coffee Maker: How To Choose?
- Home Grounds: French Press Vs Drip Coffee Maker
- Chowhound: Pour Over vs French Press: What Is the Difference Between These Coffee Brewing Methods?
- Chef Steps: Steaming Milk