Temperature-Sensitive Milk Steaming Jug

My temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug, sitting under the steam wand of my Sage Barista Express home espresso machine.Some of my coffee-making equipment, such as the subject of last weekend’s Saturday Supplement, the Sage Barista Express espresso machine, are quite valuable pieces of kit. Some, on the other hand, are fairly cheap, and yet have had a huge impact on my coffee-making. The humble digit scale is a good example: costing as little as £10, scales really helped improve my coffee brewing. Today’s Saturday Supplement is all about a similarly inexpensive piece of kit which has helped my milk steaming (although, alas, not my latte art): the Sage Temp Control, a temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug.

Getting the temperature of the milk just right is really important when it comes to coffee. No-one wants a lukewarm flat white, but neither should it be too hot. If the milk gets above around 65°C, it undergoes a series of irreversible chemical reactions which significantly change the way it tastes. I know that skilled baristas can judge the perfect temperature just by touch, but mere mortals such as myself, who make a once-a-week milky espresso drink (I hesitate to call what I make a flat white) need a little help, which is where the temperature-sensitive milk steaming jug comes in.

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Sage Barista Express Revisited

My Sage Barista Express in action, making an espresso with the Coffee Spot cup.Just before Christmas 2016, my home espresso experience was significantly improved by the arrival of a Barista Express espresso machine, a kind (unsolicited) gift from Sage. I already had a Rancilio Silvia, which I’d bought four years earlier, but I’d largely fallen out of love with home espresso due to problems in pulling consistent shots (with hindsight, this was as much to do with a replacement grinder which wasn’t able to grind finely enough).

In contrast, the Barista Express has a built-in grinder. It’s also remarkably easy to use. Within a couple of days, I was pulling consistently good shots and, it was fair to say, I was converted. I carried on using the Barista Express for a couple of months, then I wrote up my experiences in what has gone on to become the single most popular post on the Coffee Spot!

For the next few years, I travelled a lot for work, so was only intermittently using the Sage. However, for the last year, I’ve been making an espresso pretty much every day and, as a result, I’ve refined my recipe and technique. In light of this, I decided to was time to revisit the Sage Barista Express…

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Frank Green Ceramic Cup

My new (and very stylish) Frank Green ceramic reusable cup in action outside Canopy Coffee in Guildford.I’ve been a champion of reusable cups for a long time now, having amassed quite a collection over the years. One of the early ones I came across, at the 2015 London Coffee Festival to be precise, was the Frank Green SmartCup. There was a lot to like about the original Frank Green cup. It had an innovative design, an excellent, screw on, spill-proof lid and a layer of insulating plastic around its plastic core. I also liked the company (Frank Green) and its ethos. The only problem was, I didn’t like the cup, something I’ve felt bad about to this day.

Just to be clear, my not liking the cup doesn’t mean it’s a bad product. In many ways, it’s an excellent, innovative cup: it just wasn’t for me. It attempted to solve problems I didn’t have at the time. It was also plastic, and I just don’t like drinking out of plastic. Recently, Frank Green has launched a new ceramic reusable cup, and so I felt I owed it to Frank Green to try it out. When I saw one on sale in Attendant Clerkenwell at the end of last month, I took the plunge and bought it.

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Peak Water

My new Peak Water filter jug, fresh out of the box.Peak Water, for those who don’t know, is a home water filter designed specifically for coffee. I’ve written a wider article about water and why it’s important for coffee as part of my Making Coffee at Home series, but for now I’ll just note that I’ve been filtering my water at home (using a regular water filter jug) for many years (long before I started the Coffee Spot) and really notice the difference when I don’t.

What makes Peak Water special is that it has been designed to produce water that’s optimised for brewing coffee. The team behind Peak Water has some form on this subject, with leading members Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Christopher Hendon having written the well-regarded book, Water for Coffee, which was published in 2015. So, when Peak Water was launched on Kickstarter in April 2018, I was one of its first backers.

Now, just over two years later, my Peak Water filter has arrived! Excitedly, I unpacked it, put it together and started using it. But what exactly is it? What makes it different from a normal water filter and what’s it like to use? And perhaps most importantly of all, does it make my coffee taste better?

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Making Coffee at Home: Moka Pot

My moka pot, a fairly cheap one that I've had for many a year.Up until now, Making Coffee at Home has focusedon brew methods which I regularly use: cafetiere, Clever Dripper, AeroPress, pour-over and espresso. Today’s post is different since I’m writing about the moka pot, something which I own, but stopped using many years ago, unhappy with the results. I moved onto other brewing methods and my moka pot has sat at the back of a shelf ever since.

My interest was initially rekindled by tweets from Phil Wain (editor of Caffeine Magazine) which got me thinking that maybe I should write about the moka pot after all. I began the Making Coffee at Home series with a desire to help people make good coffee at home, particularly people who are new to making good coffee. Although I’ve tried to take you on a journey through the various preparation methods I regularly use, I know that not everyone will have the time to invest in learning a new method. Similarly, many of you won’t want to buy new coffee equipment. However, I suspect that, like me, plenty of you have a moka pot somewhere in your kitchen. So, I got my moka pot down, dusted it off and here we are…

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Making Coffee at Home: Espresso

An espresso, in the Coffee Spot cup, pulled on my Sage Barista Express using the San Lorenzo espresso from Curve Coffee RoastersWelcome to another instalment of my Making Coffee at Home series, where I’ve left the best (hardest?) until last. After simple guides for the cafetiere,  Clever Dripper, AeroPress and (not so simple) pour-over, I’ve finally turned my attention to espresso. Just to be clear, whereas for all my other guides (including pour-over to some extent), you can get decent results with minimal outlay, this is not true for espresso. If you want good espresso, you’re going to need to spend a lot of money on both a good espresso machine and a high-quality grinder (I’d say a minimum of £500).

Now that’s not to say that you can’t made short, strong black coffee at home. You can. The AeroPressVietnamese cup-top filter,  ibrik/cezve, moka pot and capsule machines can all make good short, strong black coffee. It’s just not going to be espresso. That said, if you’re hankering after something approaching your favourite flat white/cappuccino/latte, then you can do a reasonable job with a variety of common coffee-making equipment (see, for example, this excellent video from James Hoffman). However, what this post is all about is espresso of the sort you’d get in a good speciality coffee shop.

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Making Coffee at Home: Pour-over

My handmade ceramic filter from Vietnam midway through the top-up pour on my Osaka stand.Welcome to another instalment of my Making Coffee at Home series. After a brief diversion to look at coffee itself, I’ve returned to coffee-making techniques. So far, I’ve written simple guides for the cafetiere, Clever Dripper and AeroPress. In contrast, today’s Making Coffee at Home isn’t focused on a single method. Instead, I’m looking at the broad category of pour-over filters, any device where you pour water over coffee grounds and it filters through the bottom.

There are many filter devices out there, made from various materials (plastic, glass, ceramic and metal) with a wide variety of designs. Pour-over is also one of the oldest coffee-making methods: the Melitta Filter, for example, was patented in 1908, making it older than the cafetiere (1929). These days, probably the most commonly recognised are the Chemex (invented in 1941) and the much more recent Hario V60 (2004).

One of the reasons I’ve left pour-over until now is that, after espresso, it’s the method I’ve struggled with the most, giving up on it for long periods. Although you can get away with making pour-over using just a kettle, filter and filter papers, this is one method where having the extra kit really pays off.

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Making Coffee at Home: Scales

My travelling coffee scales.Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series which has, to date, focused mostly on brewing methods, with simples guides to the cafetiere, Clever Dripper and AeroPress. However, I’ve also written about grinding coffee at home, while today I want to turn my attention to another important piece of equipment: scales.

Let’s start by answering a simple question: do you need scales in order to make good coffee? Emphatically, no, you don’t. As I’ve shown in my first three guides, you can make good coffee without scales. However, that doesn’t mean that scales should be overlooked, particularly as you get drawn further into the world of speciality coffee (warning: in case you haven’t guessed, that’s what this series is all about, drawing you slowly down the rabbit hole of speciality coffee, one article at a time, until it’s too late and you can’t back out).

Back to scales. Scales can be very useful: for example, I use them whenever I make coffee. In particular, as you approach the more specialised end of coffee making, such as pour-over and espresso, I’d argue that scales start to become essential. So, with that in mind, what should you be looking for?

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Making Coffee at Home: AeroPress

Coffee brewing in my AeroPress, using the inverted method, as seen from above.Welcome to another instalment of my Coffee at Home series (which now has its own page on the Coffee Spot). I started three weeks ago with a simple guide to the cafetiere to help (non-coffee) people who have unexpectedly found themselves at home all day due to COVID-19 make good coffee. I’ve also published articles on the importance of grinding coffee at home, as well as a guide to the Clever Dripper, another simple, reliable method. Today it’s the turn of the AeroPress, one of the coffee world’s favourite preparation methods (it’s even got its own World Championship!).

I’m a big fan of the AeroPress, so much so that I have three of them (one for home, one at my Dad’s and one that forms an integral part of my travelling coffee kit). However, it wasn’t always the case. I got my first AeroPress at the end of 2012, when I visited Leighton Buzzard’s House of Coffee, but I really didn’t get on with it. In fact, had it not been for a chance encounter at the Caffé Culture Show in May of the following year, I might have given up on it entirely. So, what changed? And why?

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Making Coffee at Home: Clever Dripper

A Clever Dripper, sitting on top of a glass carafe, the brewed coffee draining through the bottom of the filter.Two weeks ago, I launched my Coffee at Home series (which now has its own page on the Coffee Spot) with a simple guide to the cafetiere to get you started, followed by a piece on the importance of getting a grinder at home. As I explained in the cafetiere guide, it works well for bold coffees (I typically use it with espresso blends) but less well for subtle or delicate single-origins. So today I’m taking you one step further with a method that’s more suitable for those subtle/delicate single-origin coffees.

I’ll be honest: there are plenty of excellent filter methods out there, each with its own set of devoted fans. There’s the AeroPress, V60, Chemex and Kalita Wave to name a few. However, today I’m writing about the Clever Dripper, which, in my opinion, is the easiest method for those of you taking your next steps into home-brewing. Like the cafetiere, it doesn’t require any fancy equipment, other than the Clever Dripper itself and some filter papers. It also shares other important characteristics with the cafetiere: it’s simple, reliable and, above all, very forgiving. All you really need is coffee, a mug, kettle and a timer (plus, ideally, a grinder).

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