Brewology – Confessions of an Amateur Barista

Bialetti 3

Off-Topic 11/13

First off, I hate Starbucks.  Their over-priced, over-flavored coffee is a travesty to the coffee connoisseur and to the over-paying, over-flavored masses.  Of course, I have little love for the watered-down drip coffee that we’ve grown accustomed to at home.  Not one to settle for high prices or poor quality, I became an amateur barista understudy and have since promoted myself to brewmaster.

As a public service announcement to you and yours, I’ve decided that for this month’s off-topic post, I’ll share some of my methods and techniques.  Hopefully you will learn something or at least enjoy the post.  Either way, here’s what I’ve learned.

The Coffee

Let’s begin with a quote from Nessmuk’s Woodcraft and Camping.  “To make perfect coffee, just two ingredients are necessary, and only two.  These are water and coffee.  It is owing to the bad management of the latter that we drink poor coffee” (44).

Coffee 1

Grinder, Sumatra, Guatemalan, and Ground Coffee

Pre-ground coffee, especially cheap pre-ground coffee is devoid of flavor.  No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to achieve a great cup of coffee without quality ingredients.  I’ve experimented with a variety of brands and blends.  I’ve found that Kirkland (Costco) brand Guatemalan coffee is by far the best choice.  That being said, I’m pretty sure that they are going to quit selling it so I’ve recently purchased a bag of Sumatra.  Regardless of the blend you choose, purchase a quality bag of whole beans.  You can grind the beans as they are needed.  This keeps the coffee much fresher than purchasing it pre-ground.  On a side note here, leave the cream and sugar out of “real” coffee.  Save it for tea or those times when you are out and have to buy a substandard cup of coffee.

Coffee 2

Course Ground for the Press

Yes, you’ll have to purchase a grinder.  Prices range from relatively inexpensive (20 bucks) to ridiculously over-priced.  I’m using one from Target that cost somewhere around twenty dollars and it works just fine.  Grind what you expect to use in a day’s time.  When it runs low, simply grind more.

The Keurig – Easy, Efficient, Expensive

KeurigThe first method to consider is the Keurig.  It’s quick.  It’s simple.  And it produces a tolerable cup of coffee.  If you just want a good cup of coffee and aren’t concerned about the initial investment (somewhere around $150), Keurig is a decent option.  We have one here and my wife uses it frequently;  She drinks a lot more coffee than I do.  If you do opt for the Keurig method, avoiding the pre-made K-cups can save you a lot of money.  Grind your own and use the filters made specifically for Keurig.

The Press – Smooth Coffee at a Reasonable Price

Press 1

Press 2If you’re interested in a smoother coffee, have a bit more patience, and want to be more involved than pressing a button, consider a press.  Overall, I’ve found that a home-pressed cup of coffee is hard to beat.  However, it takes a bit more involvement on the part of the amateur barista.  You’ll have to grind coffee, boil water, measure coffee, pour water, stir, use a timer, plunge, etc.  Even so, within a day’s practice, you’ll be making coffee with pride and satisfaction.

Presses come in a variety of sizes and styles.  I’m fairly certain that mine cost fewer than twenty five dollars at Target.  It’s not the prettiest press I’ve seen, but it makes damn fine coffee.

The Americano – The Best America Has to Offer

Bialetti 2

Bialetti 1If you’re looking for a more robust coffee, consider the Americana.  In my opinion, the Americano is the finest cup of coffee made.  If you master this technique, you are sure to be sipping daily cups of perfection.  An Americano is essentially espresso mixed with hot water.  Although there are machines available that make a “proper” espresso, the Bialetti Moka Express 6 Cup Coffee Maker makes a quality substitute.  These are also available at Target for around thirty five dollars.

If you’re considering the Americano, understand that it takes a few attempts to get a good mixture of water and coffee.  I’ve found that I prefer roughly 1 part espresso to 3 parts water.

I’ve yet to try drinking just the espresso from the Bialetti, but I believe that is going to be my next barista adventure.

Additional Recommended Purchases

Tea Kettle

If you opt for the press or the espresso maker, I also recommend purchasing a quality tea kettle, a chopstick (works great for stirring), an iPhone (for a 4-minute timer and all of the other amazing technology), and quality coffee cups.  As to cups, look for substance – thick, and big enough hold a full cup of coffee.  If you can find them at special events or situations, the sentimental value makes them all the better.

Coffee Cups

Perhaps this is simply a rant about coffee.  Or maybe you’ve found enlightenment in this post and you are on your way to Target to pick up your barista accoutrements.  Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.  If you have questions, feel free to let me know and I’ll do my best to provide you with quality information.

Read more “off-topic” posts!

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16 thoughts on “Brewology – Confessions of an Amateur Barista

    • Awesome! You won’t be disappointed. Let me know how it works out for you and as I mentioned, if you have any questions at all, feel free to let me know! Thanks for visiting!

  1. Well done! Something I have given a lot of thought to, but never followed through. We currently use a drip machine. Thankfully we both like our coffee strong. We have found that if it sits on the warmer for 30 minorities or so the richness improves.

    I have always been a black coffee drinker, thanks to my father. In the early days of my teens the family had a stove top percolator. I thought that was good. But too long on the heat or too little time perking you had bad bad coffee.

    The drip maker took the thinking out of making.

    I need to rethink my methods thanks

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      Drip machine coffee definitely improves with age, so long as you can avoid a burnt taste. Speaking of percolators, I’ve considered purchasing one for home use to see what I can do with it. But just as you mention, it’s easy to make bad coffee with them as well.

      The Keurig is convenient and makes tolerable coffee. That’s a solid step in the right direction. But for the money and the quality, you can’t go wrong with the press or the Americano. Both are top quality brews. If you’re used to drip, it may take a few cups to get used to the press or Americano, but after you do, you’ll be hooked.

      Let me know if you switch or if you have any questions!

  2. I love coffee, even the not-so-great kind. And I’ve got a whopping caffeine addiction. I’m also coming off four days of instant coffee and gas station dregs from a town with just one gas station. I made a fresh batch in my French press this morning, and it’s heavenly. I still like cream and sugar personally. But I do miss my Bialetti. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I did my study abroad in Germany while in college. My roommate was German-dialect-speaking Italian, and she made us coffee with her Bialetti. Lavazza and Illy were my favorite brands- even though they were pre-ground. I then got a Bialetti the next year as a 21st birthday present from my Italian friends- they said I’d need it the next morning. The only warning I have for Bialettis is to take care of that rubber washer- mine somehow simultaneously dry-rotted and stuck itself to the top half of the contraption, and I can’t use it anymore. I still have it, though. I loved that thing.

    • Very nice! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

      If I’m stuck with any other coffee, I go with cream and lots of it. My coffee adventures began with both cream and sugar but the Army helped me beat those habits.

      I’m fairly cautious with the Bialetti rubber washer. That being said, I’m almost certain that you can purchase replacements. It would definitely be worth looking into. If you find one, let me know.

  3. Hello Duncan. I have my brother purchase organic free trade coffee for me. I drink coffee from Center America but beans are available from all over the world. I then roast what I need in a pop corn popper for 4.5 minutes. After cooling I then grind. Leave the lid open on storage container to allow gas to escape. Excellent coffee.

  4. Wow, you brought much to the proverbial coffee table here! I think I would be one to favor the Americano brew, for I seem to appreciate the bolder flavors in teas, I know, as opposed to things that just taste like hot water. And I have a Target maybe a mile from me.

    I think I would also fancy the process of the press option, because I am curiously attracted to things that take time, by and by. Like good BBQ in a way, and things like that.

    Anyways, thanks for the brewology lesson, Duncan. Very cool!

    • Thanks a lot! I appreciate the visit and the comment.

      The Americano is my top pick with the press as a close second. Both take some time to brew but are definitely worth the trouble. If you have an electric range, consider the press. You can heat your water in a tea kettle without any concerns on electric. Gas may be better suited to the espresso maker. If you notice the picture of it cooking, the gas flame really works well. I’ve done it on an electric range and it works, but it’s well-suited to the gas range.

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