In our Essentials series, we like to feature things that may seem difficult at first but are fun and rewarding once you get into them. Today, we’re going to take a look at what you need to get started with a great cup of coffee at home.
I recently visited Italy with a few friends, and it was my first time in the country – and my first time trying their coffee. I’ve always been someone who believed that most coffee tastes the same and as long as you add enough sugar and cream you’ll be able to enjoy any cup of ‘joe’. After trying more Italian coffees than I can count, my mind was changed. Once you have a good cup of coffee, it’s hard to go back to the pre-ground and (usually) bitter coffee that I had been drinking.
Once I got back to the States, I decided to build an ideal home coffee brewing station and after much research decided on the setup you’ll see in the article and video below.
There are a lot of ways to make coffee at home, and while a French Press or pour over system can make some great coffee, if you’d like to keep things simple a standard drip coffee maker is the way to go. A drip coffee machine is the standard maker you see in most homes; hot water drips over ground coffee, absorbs its flavors and chemicals, and then flows through a filter into a carafe that catches the coffee for you to drink. They’re simple, quick to use and clean up, and as long as you pick a good model they make excellent coffee. When you’re looking for a drip coffee maker, you want to make sure you’re checking off the five items from this list:
- How much does it hold? Make sure you get a large enough brewer so everyone in your house can get a cup.
- How large is it? Some machines come with a lot of extra gadgets like frothers and grinders, but those can take up a lot of counter space.
- Do you want extra functions? While we prefer a machine that is focused on making good coffee, if you want extra features like auto-programming and brew strengths you’ll want to add that to your list – although we’ve found that most of the bonus features tend to distract from the quality of coffee brewed.
- What’s your budget? You don’t have to spend a lot for a good cup of coffee, but the higher end machines will typically make a more consistent cup. But make sure you’re spending your money on quality and not fluffy features.
- Is it certified? If you truly want a good cup of coffee you’ll want to make sure it’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Associations of America and Europe (SCAA & SCAE). These certifications make sure that your brewer is certified for proper coffee volume, brewing time, brewing temperature, solubles concentration and yield, uniformity of performance and extraction, beverage clarity, holding temperature, and user manuals.
After researching a wide variety of models, we decided to go with the Technivorm Moccamaster KBG. After researching a wide variety of models, we decided to go with the Technivorm Moccamaster KBG. We believe, as do many others, that this is the best coffee maker on the market.
If you’ve never used a high end coffee machine, you’re probably going to be very surprised about how much better your coffee tastes. I’m not a coffee expert, and I can really taste a difference from my old Ninja coffee maker. The Moccamaster tastes much smoother and more flavorful, and because of the regulated temperature settings you never get a burnt coffee flavor.
Every one of their models are handmade (and then tested before they ship them) in The Netherlands, they have a 5-year warranty, and are certified by both the European and American coffee associations. Every machine is set to brew at 200 degrees Fahrenheit which is the optimal temperature, and you just need to push the on switch to start. The only other button on the KBG model that we use is a switch to change the hot plate from low to high heat mode (175F / 185F). This keeps the coffee warm without burning it. Plus, all of the heating elements are made of copper so they’ll stay precise for the life of the maker.
We think the Moccamaster looks amazing on our counter, it’s simple to use, easy to clean, and makes the best cup of drip coffee we’ve ever had. Plus, it’s great to put fresh ground coffee in the basket and see it bloom – you can check that out in our video below.
Moccamasters are available in several different versions but the main differences are the sizes and whether you prefer a thermal or glass carafe. The thermal carafe will keep the coffee warm for a good amount of time, but there is no hot plate with these models. We tend to drink our coffee over a longer time period so we went with the glass carafe version.
If you’re going to invest in a quality unit like this, make sure you get whole beans and a grinder as well. If you’re just going to use stale pre-ground beans you won’t be using this to it’s full potential. But if you want the best cup of coffee you can make at home, the Moccamaster with fresh ground beans is as good as it gets
There are a wide variety of grinders available for coffee. At the most basic level, you can choose between a manual or automatic grinder. You’ll get a better grind for your money with the manual versions, but we’ve found that it’s not a lot of fun to crank a grinder for several minutes each morning to make coffee. So for that reason, we were willing to shell out a little more money for a quality burr grinder – please, don’t ever buy a blade grinder. Why?
Difference Between Burr and Blade Grinders
- Blade Grinders: These grinders have a blade in the center of the unit that looks like what you would see in a blender. The blade spins and chops up the beans to a smaller and smaller size for as long as it’s spinning. The problem with this is that there is no accuracy so you have very uneven grind sizes and that leads to a poor tasting cup of coffee. This is basically a food processor and should not be used for coffee.
- Burr Grinders: A burr grinder solves the uneven grind size problem by using two revolving pieces (the burrs) that grind the beans while they spin. They keep a consistent quality of grind, and they can be adjusted by changing the distance between the burrs. This is helpful as you narrow in the perfect grind size for your coffee of choice.
Why We Recommend The Breville Smart Grinder Pro
- Breville is one of the largest names in grinders, and they have great customer support.
- This is great grinder in this price range and has a very consistent grind quality.
- It does extremely well with medium and fine grinds and only struggles with a larger, coarser grind size. There will always be trade offs in this price range, but we’ve found that this unit gave the best quality grinds for our drip coffee maker.
- It’s fast, and can measure the grinds for you if you don’t want to manually weigh them.
- It’s surprisingly quiet.
There will always be tradeoffs if you don’t want to spend $2,000 on a grinding system – which, almost no one does. But the Breville Smart Grinder Pro fills an important niche in grinding great drip coffee beans.
There are a few other things you’ll want to pick up to make sure you can enjoy a great cup of coffee – we’ll give you the highlights here, and you can watch the video below to see a more in-depth look at how we use them.
Our Recommended Accessories
- Coffee: Coffee is very subjective, so we don’t want to go into detail on which coffee you should choose. We will give a shout out to our roaster of choice though: Henry’s House of Coffee. It’s important to find a well roasted brand of coffee and make sure you grind it while it’s fresh (ideally within a week). Henry’s has been roasting coffee since 1965 and they use an Armenian style roast that we really like. Plus, they have options for Kona and Jamaican Blue beans which are (in our mind) the top of the line – you can see a taste test in our video.
- Scale: You want to make sure you choose a scale that has 0.1 gram weighing accuracy, and our choice - the Skale - has that. It also comes with an app in case you want to get into some advanced weighing, but the unit is quick and accurate without the app. Plus, it does a very similar job to specialty coffee scales that are twice the price
- Coffee Storage: Once you open your bag of beans, you're going to need a place to store them. Please, don't leave them out in the open air or let them sit in your grinder - and never put them in your refrigerator. That's the worst place for them since it introduces moisture to the beans. You want to find a cool, dry place without direct sunlight. To make it easy, we use the Airscape Ceramic Canister - it's an airtight container that has two lids. The first lid is internal and forces air out of the container and locks the beans tight. The second lid is a cover that keeps it looking nice. Plus, it even makes a fun swoosh sound as you use it and it looks great.
- Mugs: You could use a boring mug, but they're typically not good at keeping your coffee warm. What you should be using is a nice double-walled mug. Double walled glasses have an internal and external glass wall with a vacuum in the space between the two. When the glasses are made, the air is sucked out and this acts as a nice form of insulation to keep your coffee warm. Some of these glasses are low quality and some may not even be true vacuums so make sure you pick a reputable brand like our favorite from the video below, Stone & Mill Homewares.
So there you have it – our choices for the best home brewed drip coffee. While there is an initial expense for these products, over time you’re going to save a lot of money compared to drinking coffee from coffee shops. Plus, it’s going to taste better and is fun to make. Enjoy your brew!
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