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How to make a strong mug of coffee?

"Crema" is a light-colored foam layer which builds on top of espresso, and many people like it. Espresso is also stronger than normal coffee. For both, you need an espresso machine and real coffee beans. Different coffee brewing methods produce different types of coffee. Espresso is the hardest to make at home. Instant coffee is easy, but has bad reputation taste-wise, so don't expect to get coffee shop quality with it.

Questions:

  • At home, does grinding coffee in a coffee grinder and then making coffee in a typical machine produce the same results as you would get in a typical coffee shop with a proper Barista (assuming the beans are freshly ground)?

  • Are their coffee machines and grinders available which would be suitable for single servings? If not, then what do you do when you need to make coffee only for yourself?

  • If I could only pick one (between a grinder and a decent coffee maker, which is more important in achieving the best possible coffee at home?

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Define "coffee maker" - even manual drip-brew methods generally involve some purchased equipment. But you could get a cheap French press, V60 or Bee House for under $20, and a Moka pot (if you want espresso) for under $25. So the idea of having to choose between a grinder and a coffee maker seems a bit ridiculous; what it really comes down to is how good a grinder you can afford, not to mention the coffee itself. You can make Turkish coffee without any equipment, but you should only do that if you like Turkish coffee, it's pretty pointless as a money-saving gimmick. –  Aaronut Mar 2 at 13:42

3 Answers 3

You need to know what coffee you want to drink. Your question is like asking "What do need to know before buying meat cooking tools". If you want to eat your meat as BBQ, you need a grill and tongs. If you want to eat it as meatloaf, you need a meat grinder and an oven. Similarly, with coffee, you need to know what coffee you want to drink. Different types of coffee are made with different processes, and each process needs different tools. You need a dripper and filters for drip coffee, an espresso machine for espresso, and so on.

Your decision will be probably based on

  • taste and caffeine content. Coffee produced with different processes tastes differently. It also delivers different amounts of caffeine per ml of drink (although this can be tweaked within the same process). Espresso, drip coffee, Turkish coffee, mokka pot coffee, French press coffee, Aeropress coffee, instant coffee, Nespresso coffee and cold brewed coffee all produce a basic coffee drink (and this is not an exhaustive selection). If you are into mixed coffee drinks like mocha, latte machiato, cappucino, etc., you will need a combination of a tool which can produce the right coffee for your mixed drink and a tool which can create the drink (e.g. a way to foam milk).
  • The money you want to invest. Many people love a good espresso, but a professional Italian machine costs several thousands of Euro, guzzles energy and takes up space. Home espresso automates offer a somewhat inferior result for a few hundreds of Euros. Or you can make Turkish coffee with a 2-Euro sieve and whatever small pot you already have in the kitchen. Most people go neither for the expensive espresso machines, nor for the Turkish method (which leaves dregs in the cup - most people in the West want their coffee clear) and choose some method which is affordable but still produces coffee of a type they find agreeable.
  • The time you want to invest per cup. Nespresso has a devoted following of people for whom coffee making has to be convenient above all. There are methods which produce much better coffee for a fraction of the cost, but you have to 1) invest time in learning how to brew well, and 2) take the time to brew. It is mostly in the range of several minutes per cup, plus overhead for assembling and cleaning utensils.

If you are confused by the wide range of coffee methods and think "I don't know how each of these coffee types tastes like, how do I know which one to choose?" I would recommend to start by the second criterion (money) or third criterion (effort), depending on which one you are more pressed for. As an example, if you are a middle class person to whom it doesn't matter if they will spend 100 or 200 Euros on a tool which will be used as a part of their daily routine, go by effort. Look up what it takes to make coffee with the different methods, and think which you can imagine yourself doing. Then try coffee made with this method (if you need special tools for it, maybe you have a friend who has the tools?). If it is good enough for you, get the tools and start brewing. If not, move on to the next method on the list. Money-first would work similarly, but you rank the tools by price rather than effort per cup.

The first criterion - taste - is probably the one which is most likely to result in personal satisfaction, but you would have to know what you want before settling on a method, and it would be very difficult to find a way to taste all the different types of coffee and to develop a taste for each. Note that, if you are just starting out with coffee, your taste is also likely to develop and shift over time. So, I wouldn't recommend taste-first for people going for their first set of tools.

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  1. Assuming you you are on a budget, the theoretically best coffee you can get from a good coffee shop will be better than what you can make at home. That said, many if not most, coffee shops do not produce really great coffee. This is for a number of reasons, inconsistent grinds, over roasted beans, inconsistent temperatures, lack of training, etc... That all said, without too much difficulty, you can make a really, really good reproducible cup of coffee at home on a budget. Yes grind the coffee fresh makes a positive difference. Buying good, freshly roasted beans makes possibly a bigger difference though.

  2. There are many ways to make coffee at home on a budget that are suitable for a single serving. You can do more research about actual techniques, but all of the following can be had for under $50 US/CAD

    • Aeropress (single serving press style coffee maker, that produces, really, really coffee and my top choice for my daily cup.
    • French Press (1 to many serving press style coffee maker that produces good coffee. It's a really common choice.)
    • Pourover (Manual singleserving coffee maker, possibly the simplest choice of all, but the quality can vary based on how much effort you're willing to put into learning how to do it. How quickly it pours through, the temperature, all affect the coffee. More details in your other question).
    • Moka Pot (Stove top coffee maker that produces a good expresso like coffee. Pretty straight forward)
  3. The first thing I would find is a source of good beans. Something roasted within the last few weeks, somebody preferably locally, and somebody who could answer every other question I had about making coffee. Not sure if this is available where you live. The second thing I would start with is a coffee maker. I would buy a good grinder shortly after though. You can get a good manual grinder for around $40 US/CAD though. Decent electric grinders (burr grinder) start at a little more. I like this one. Baratza Encore, roughly $150 CAD

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I would say you can make coffee that exceeds the quality found in many chain coffee shops and restaurants at home. some coffee machines seem very expensive, but a simple stove top pot is a good starting point and provides great fresh coffee (with a crema according to the type of coffee used) and are really quite cheap. with stove top pots, you control temperature and therefore pressure with the heat on the stove. the ideal rate is about a 30 second delivery per cupful. if you don't get an expensive coffee machine with a grinder, then grinders are available in smaller sizes so you can grind the amount required each time. picking your beans, getting them roasted (or doing it yourself) and then grinding (or getting the shop to do it) are things I would suggest to try, once you are sure you are 'that into' coffee! there are many types of ground and sealed readily available coffees that really are quite good in quality.

In short, I would go for a coffee maker first, ensuring it works by making the coffee at a pressure (i.e. not a cafetiere or a paper filter machine).

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