Leveling Up Your At-Home Coffee Game.
Written by Michael Eadie
This winter, many of us would like to stay warm and save some cash for the holidays. You can still support local coffee shops and roasters while saving time and money! Outlined below are the absolute best ways to get into making an amazing, cafe-style cup of coffee at home.
The first thing to consider is the beans that you want to use. Are you more of a dark roast fan, looking for nutty and chocolate notes from your coffee? Or do you lean more towards a fruity and floral light roast, or somewhere in-between? Regardless of your preference, beans can be found all across Cleveland and its suburbs, especially in Lakewood and Ohio City shops such as Rising Star, Roasted and Lekko.
Any locally-roasted bean will almost always be fresher and more correctly dialed into the roast level that it advertises. A local dark roast is rarely burnt, and a local light roast is never dark. Many of these shops will even list flavor notes (not to be confused with flavored coffee, like hazelnut), such as fruity, dark chocolate, peanutty, etc. They’ll also typically include the roast date and location of origin for the beans, like Ethiopia or Guatemala.
One last note on purchasing beans: try to buy whole beans, and either grind them yourself, or have them ground by the barista. They’ll be happy to grind for whatever brewing method you ask them to!
Now that you have chosen some beans — let’s say a medium-roasted Brazilian bean, whole — how should they be ground and brewed? If buying the beans felt like a barrage of options, this part will feel limitless. It should feel limitless! Be creative: you didn’t get to personally grow or roast the bean, but you absolutely get to brew it precisely how you want.
When it comes to brewing, there are literally thousands of options. We will stick with four: the Aeropress, the French press, the pour-over and the moka pot. When it comes to brewing a legitimately special cup at home, it’s best to avoid brewing methods that give you little, if any, control over the process. This includes pod machines like Nespresso and Keurig. I know, I know, they’re easy! There’s no intention to bash someone who uses them out of convenience, or who just really enjoys what they get out of them — but they are far from the best when it comes to making something truly unique. A drip machine like a Mr. Coffee may also be a less-than-perfect option, as it usually concentrates most of the water into the center of the grounds. Not horrible, but not amazing. We can do much better.
Born in Italy, the moka pot comes in various sizes and colors, and is often advertised as “stovetop espresso.” While they definitely won’t scratch the itch for espresso purists, the strong double-shot of coffee that comes out of a moka pot will pair perfectly with some milk (or milk replacement) for a delicious drink. The moka pot is also a relatively easy method.
Next are the Aeropress and the French press. These are best listed together, as they are both immersion method brewers, meaning they require the coffee grounds to steep before being filtered out and served. The French press is a cheaper way to go, but less versatile, as it typically has only a metal filter and prefers a coarser grind of the beans. The Aeropress is my personal favorite. It functions similarly to a French press, with the grounds being immersed in hot water, but has the added benefit of a paper filter and a pressurized chamber when pressing down. This means you can brew stronger coffee, faster. It also means you can go with a finely-ground or coarsely-ground bean. Genuinely the creative’s best friend — gold star from me!
Finally, an old American favorite: the pour-over. From the Chemex to the V60, the pour-over has been a longtime choice for those looking to create a clean, clear cup of coffee. It is simple, inexpensive and elegant. A method that consists simply of pouring hot water over medium-ground coffee, resting on a filter within the basket of choice. Be sure to always buy the right size of filter for your particular brewer, and pay attention to how much water is going into the grounds and out of the filter. Also make sure to evenly saturate the grounds with water.
"After one or two really good cups, you’ll never go back to the basics."
If you have brewed a cup of coffee with either the French press or pour-over method, then congratulations! You are most likely done, and have a lovely cup of black-coffee in front of you, so enjoy. If you brewed with the moka pot or Aeropress, on the other hand, you are probably looking at a small cup of super-strong coffee. This should be cut with milk, right? Well, you can add water to make an Americano, or tonic water to make a version of an espresso tonic. Many of us are imagining something closer to a latte or cappuccino, however, so that’s what I’ll be helping out with.
You’ll need to start by choosing a milk to use. Whole and 2% milk generally work best on the dairy side of things, with oat milk being the top dog for plant milks. If you want to go for an iced latte, add cold milk to your heart’s desire, and then some ice. Flavor syrups from brands like Torani are wonderful to add here as well, bringing anything from hazelnut to pumpkin spice to prickly pear cactus. If you want a hot coffee, you’ll want to steam your milk. The best options at home will be microwaving it until before it boils, so just as you see wisps of steam (a minute or so), then frothing in a French press by moving it up and down aggressively until it starts to foam, or using a simple milk frothing wand. As long as you stop before you turn your milk into literal soapy foam, you’re in the clear. After that, add your milk and syrups.
The names of most espresso drinks are based on ratios. A macchiato is a small dollop of milk in espresso, a cortado is a 1:1 ratio of milk and espresso, a cappuccino is 2:1 milk to espresso (plus some extra foam) and a latte is anything with more milk than that. See, easy!
I love making coffee at home. It is an incredible way to experience local beans and roasts without always going to buy a cup (which I still do regularly, and love, too). I am, however, no expert on coffee — just an enthusiast with much to learn over the coming years. So I implore you to experiment and learn as well! Ask your local baristas for tips and tricks. Follow YouTubers and TikTokers like James Hoffman and Morgan Ekroth. Borrow or buy books on how to improve your barista game. I promise, it is worth it. After one or two really good cups, you’ll never go back to the basics.