Don’t worry, you don’t have to start grinding your own beans, listening to Arcade Fire on vinyl and wearing rolled-up jeans to be able to brew good coffee at home. Unless, you know, it helps.
You just need to know how to bring out the best in your brew. Here’s the expert guide to making great tasting coffee at home – without being pretentious about it.
1. Keep it fresh
“Fresh coffee is best,” says Chris Stemman, Exec Director of the British Coffee Association. “Whole beans are a great way to ensure you have freshly ground coffee and maximise the taste profile of the beans. However, ground coffee and pods are also manufactured to ensure they’re fresh and preserve the taste of the coffee. So, it doesn’t make a huge difference if you grind your beans or not – it’s down to preference.”
Taylors of Harrogate coffee buyer Frank Tanner adds: “There’s something of a debate about where to store your coffee bag once it’s opened. Coffee will keep well for a couple of weeks in either the fridge or the freezer, when done properly. The key is to ensure you don’t allow the temperature to change too drastically. So, as soon as you’ve spooned out what you need, be sure to seal it up and store it straight away, rather than leaving it exposed on the kitchen counter.”
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2. Choose top quality
“Without good ingredients, it’s impossible to make a great product,” says Laura Bratti, Head of Training at the Artisan Coffee School. The experts’ advice? Look for coffee makers that use Arabica beans (for better quality) and one-way valved bags (to retain that freshness), as well as companies that have a transparent supply chain.
Frank says he’s seeing an increased demand for quality from consumers: “People have a greater appreciation for coffee as a craft product. They want to know more about where their coffee comes from, how it’s produced. There’s a real focus on provenance.”
3. Understand the origins
Many factors influence the flavour of your daily caffeine hit. “It starts at origin,” Laura explains. “The climate, altitude, coffee species, coffee variety and processing methods are all things that can dramatically affect flavour before it even leaves the farm. The coffee is then shipped out and roasted, which can also make or break the final product. We then get the roasted coffee beans into our grinder and it’s all up to the barista or you at home to brew it to the best of your ability (no pressure!)”
To get a better understanding of how different soils, climates and processes can affect flavour, the experts recommend trying out some single origin coffees, made from beans sourced from a single field, farm or geographic region.
“Single origins allow you to enjoy the nuances and unique characteristics that single source beans offer,” says Jessica Worden, head of the coffee team at Gail’s Bakery.
4. Find your flavour
“If I ask any of my friends what type of coffee they like, they’ll generally say ‘I like strong coffee’, but what they probably mean is they might like a smokey, spicy, or dark chocolate full-bodied coffee,” says Frank.
“If you look at most coffee on supermarket shelves, you’ll see a number on the front of the pack. These are generally considered to represent the strength of the coffee, but really that’s a fallacy; the strength of coffee is actually how much water you put into the brew. That’s what makes your coffee strong or weak. The numbers on the pack simply indicate how dark the coffee has been roasted. With a light roast, much of the taste of the original coffee is retained, while darker roasts take on more of the flavours of the roasting process.”
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And to help us put a name to our favourite tastes, Taylors has created its flavour wheel, a simplified version of the tool used by coffee buyers to describe the flavour profiles of coffee. “It helps you move away from talking about strong or weak and actually open up to being able to describe coffees and find one you like. It’s basically putting a word to a sensation,” Frank explains.
Click on a flavour below to find out where it originates from, the brew method to use to tease out the flavour and which new coffees to try.
5. Know your kit
We might know our way around an instant espresso machine, but what even is a Chemex and is it better than a cafetière? “It’s all down to personal preference,” says Laura, “but anything with a paper filter – the Chemex or V60 – will always give you a very clean cup, almost tea-like in texture. Whereas a method that uses pressure – like the cafetière – will give a rich, heavier mouthfeel.
“The Aeropress uses a paper filter but has a little bit of pressure involved, so it’s a bit lighter in mouthfeel than the cafetière, but slightly heavier than drip coffee methods such as V60 or Chemex, where it’s all down to gravity.”
As for the experts’ brew method of choice, it’s the V60. “It can be difficult to get the hang of but I find it really relaxing to do on the weekend and enjoy the complexity and clarity in the brew,” says Jessica.
6. Steal brewing tips from the insiders
For anyone wanting to improve their coffee game at home, we asked the experts for their top brewing tips. They’ll take a little extra time and patience, but they assure us, they’re worth it:
For single origin coffees and blends developed to bring out extraordinary flavour, head to Taylors of Harrogate