There’s nothing wrong with a cup of instant, but when the alternative is a punchy espresso with frothy milk and a teaspoon of demerara sugar, I know which I’d rather have. So if you want to master the art of coffee making, read on…
1. IDENTIFY YOUR BEANS
There are two main types of coffee bean – more expensive Arabica beans, which are low in caffeine and acidity, and high in taste and aroma, and cheaper Robusta beans, with their high caffeine content but harsh flavour. Quality coffees are 90-100% Arabica, with many brands adding a small amount of Robusta for a more intense blend with a thicker crema.Each region produces coffee with its own distinct flavour – for example, varieties from Columbia tend to be nutty, Kenyan are sweet with a blackcurrant tang, while Brazilian beans taste like chocolate. It’s a matter of taste as to whether you’ll prefer a single-origin coffee or a blend.
2. KNOW THE THREE MAIN COFFEE TYPES
Cafetière (or French press) coffee is created by steeping coarsely ground coffee in hot water, then using a plunger to filter it. To make filter coffee, boiling water is dripped over the grounds, filtering through into a pot for a lighter taste. Espresso is produced by steam driven, bar-pump machines, and is a much richer, more concentrated shot of coffee that’s used as a base for cappuccinos, lattes and more.
A cappuccino is made up of a ratio of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk froth; a latte is 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, topped with a tiny bit of foam, whereas the trendy ‘flat white’ is a double espresso with steamed milk and no froth.
The Aeropress, £21.99 from Aerobie, uses air pressure to make a delicious hybrid of filter and French press coffee in seconds. It’s become so popular that many independent coffee houses now sell Aeropress coffee alongside their espresso-based drinks.
3. LOOK AFTER YOUR COFFEE
Coffee is best if used within a few days of being roasted; so buying from a local roaster is the surest way to get a great taste. If there isn’t one local to you, there are lots of great online coffee subscription services that can deliver to your door, such as Pact and Has Bean Coffee. The latter supplies whole beans that you grind yourself at home, guaranteeing the fullest and freshest brew, and even green beans that you can roast yourself, for real coffee fanatics.
Dualit’s burr coffee grinder, £79.96, has a conical burr and slower spin speed to help to preserve the beans’ aroma and oils, and prevent it from clogging. There are 10 grind settings and the 250g hopper holds enough beans for 35 servings – although you can set it to grind just as many as you need.
Money no object? How about this new bean-to-cup machine from Jura?
Oxygen and bright light will destroy the flavour of your coffee, so keep your beans or grounds in a cool dark place in an airtight container. DON’T put your coffee in the fridge as it will readily take up moisture and food odours, ruining the taste, and don’t freeze coffee, especially not darker roasts.
4. BREW IT CORRECTLY
If you’re making coffee in a French press, use a coarsely ground coffee and around two heaped tablespoons of coffee for every 250ml water. Never use boiling water as it will burn the grounds, resulting in a bitter taste.
For a bar-pump machine, you won’t need to worry about the water temperature as the machine should get this right for you – however do remember to ‘tamp’ or pack as much finely ground coffee as you can into the portafilter to ensure it tastes great.
Finally, don’t be tempted to reheat your coffee in the microwave – when coffee cools, its chemistry changes, and reheating it will leave you with a bitter taste.
Need more help? Try downloading a coffee app. Barista (£2.29 for iOS) teaches you how to make teh perfect cappicino, latte, espresso and more with written instructions, photos and short videos.
5. FROTH YOUR MILK PROPERLY
With filter coffee or an Americano (an espresso with hot water), you can just pour a bit of milk in, but with other espresso-based drinks, you’ll need to froth it. Properly frothed milk won’t just make you drink look more professional, but the air also sweetens the taste so you needn’t have to add sugar.
Most manual bar-pump machines have a frothing arm or wand attached. To create the perfect, velvety drink using a frothing arm, first turn it on and wait for a light or other indication that it’s ready to let off steam. Now put your milk in a metal jug – use full fat milk if possible, as you need the proteins in it to create froth. Sit the tip of the arm just beneath the surface of the milk, and heat it up, stopping as the jug gets too hot to touch (around 65°C). Big bubbles are bad – you want textured milk that will give your coffee a fuller flavour.
If that sounds too hands on, you can also get standalone frothers that will do the job for you.
Pour cold milk into the Bodum Latteo milk frother, £14 at Tesco, heat it in the microwave until it’s warm (but not boiling), then pump the cafetière-like plunger up and down 60-90 times to bring on the froth.
6. CHEAT WITH A POD MACHINE
If you can’t function without a coffee first thing in the morning, but dread the rigmarole of making a decent cup from scratch, you need a pod coffee machine. There’s no faffing about grinding beans, measuring out the right amount of grounds, or cleaning up the mess they make.
These little machines are really simple to use, taking pods of coffee that’s been roasted, ground and sealed for freshness. Steaming water is forced through the pod at a high bar pressure, creating a tasty drink with a thick ‘crema’ of coffee extract on top, which is the key to a tasty espresso. Some machines go a step further and have pods for longer, milk-based drinks, so you don’t even have to work wonders with a frothing arm to get a creamy cappuccino, mocha or latte.
Just remember that when choosing your machine, you’ll be tied into the manufacturer’s range of pods, which might include a wide variety of coffees, or a smaller choice that also features teas and hot chocolates.
Love a milk-based coffee? This AEG Fantasia coffee machine, £169.99, is, hands down, one of the best pod-based machines I’ve used for making them. Once you’ve popped in one of Lavazza’s A Modo Mio capsules and ‘ordered’ your espresso or café lungo via the glossy touch panel, you slot in the milk jug, pick your froth level and press start. Fantasia will then whizz up your milk to the perfect consistency – it can even make my favourite caffeine hit, a flat white. The jug and frothing wand are dishwasher safe, too. AmyTweet