What’s best – ground or whole beans?
Whole bean, 100%. The moment coffee is ground is the moment all of the nuanced flavours and aromas we value so highly begin to disappear. Buying fresh beans and investing in a good-quality burr grinder will give you the ultimate control over the freshness of your coffee, the taste and the strength, as well as the ability to set the grind just right for your brewing method of choice. You should always buy beans with a roast date printed on them. Also check the harvest date (when the coffee was picked) and arrival date (when it arrived in the country it was roasted in), as this ensures the freshness and quality of the beans.
Once you’ve got it, where should you store coffee?
Beans are generally best stored in the bag you buy them in – if it comes replete with a one-way degassing valve and a resealable strip. If not, I'd recommend decanting them into a vacuum-sealed canister. Keep them away from strong odours, heat and light, as well as out of the refrigerator – the fats and lipids in the beans are prone to soaking up odours and so will take on the aroma of whatever is in your fridge. Ground coffee should also be kept in a cool space, such as your kitchen cupboard, and in a sealed container.
And what are the brewing options?
There are three main types of coffee brewing…
These combine gravity and time to create smooth filter coffee by pouring hot water through a bed of ground coffee housed in some form of chamber or cone. These are typically paper filtered, although metal and cloth filters are also available. This is best done with medium-sized or coarse ground beans.
Immersion methods like the French press or AeroPress allow coffee grounds to sit in water to steep and extract before being filtered and decanted. They require finer ground beans than drip methods.
Finally, pressurised methods use a sealed chamber and pass water at high pressure through finer ground coffee, like in espresso or stovetop brewing. This process can create more foam and viscosity, and produces stronger, more concentrated coffee, but at the expense of being much more tricky to master and requiring a lot more maintenance and cleaning.
Which one you opt for will just come down to personal preference and the equipment you feel comfortable buying, plus the level of commitment you’re willing to make. Drip and immersion are the easiest methods to follow at home.
Do you need a machine to achieve barista-style coffee?
Not necessarily. Barista-style coffee – as in an espresso either drunk straight or topped up with textured milk – involves a lot of money, training and time. To replicate this at home requires a level of dedication that goes beyond a hobby and begins to look a little more like a lifestyle. It can be done – and done well – but requires investment in the right machinery. Many speciality coffee-focussed cafés also promote filter coffee beverages, which can be much easier to recreate at home by investing in a burr grinder and simple pour-over cone.
What gadgets can help you achieve a high-quality brew?
Alongside a burr grinder and water filter, scales are the best addition to your home set-up. Use them to accurately measure your dose of coffee beans before grinding and then to ensure you add the right amount of water. Getting this right ensures your cup of coffee is the right strength for your taste.
And finally, how do you master frothy milk?
There are ways to mimic what a professional barista achieves, but remember that it won't ever be quite the same as the real thing! You can use a steam wand attached to an espresso machine, if you’ve invested in one, or purchase a standalone frother that will whip up milk while heating it to create a fluffy foam. There are lots on the market that are all very easy to use.
THE MUST-HAVE GADGETS