When I started my Coffee at Home series at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, the aim was to present some simple ways of improving your home coffee making. My post on the AeroPress was part of my Coffee Preparation Methods series, simple guides on how I use various coffee brewing methods. In it, I wrote about my early struggles with the AeroPress, how I came to fall in love with it, finishing with my preferred way of using the AeroPress, the inverted method.
Fast forward six months, and, as the pandemic dragged on, I took to binge-watching James Hoffmann’s excellent You Tube channel (if you haven’t discovered it yet, I thoroughly recommend it). Since then, I’ve become an avid watcher and, along the way, I’ve learnt an awful lot. Just one example is the Clever Dripper, a method I liked but sometimes struggled with. Then along came James with his Ultimate Clever Dripper Guide and it completely changed the way I brewed with the Clever Dripper.
So, when James released his much anticipated five-part AeroPress Guide, I was intrigued. Would it confirm everything I’d been doing with my AeroPress, or turn everything on its head again?
Readers with a long memory will recall that it was almost exactly five years ago that I wrote about my Bonavita gooseneck kettle, marking the point at which I became a firm gooseneck kettle enthusiast. Since then I’ve added a number of gooseneck kettles to my arsenal, including a basic electric model from Bodum, which I keep at my father’s house, and a pouring jug with a gooseneck spout, which I use exclusively for travel. And now I’ve added a fourth, a gift from Soulhand, a US company, which offered me a gooseneck kettle with a built-in thermometer (the good news is that Soulhand ships direct to the UK).
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Unlike my previous kettles, which have been electric, this is a stovetop model, which works on a hob, and which felt to me like a backwards step. On the plus side, there’s the built-in thermometer, which is one of things that I didn’t realise I needed until I used it (much like the gooseneck kettle itself). In the end, it won me over and I learnt a few useful things along the way, which was a bonus.
My original travelling coffee kit was a pretty simple affair (by my standards, at least), consisting of my AeroPress, a ceramic hand grinder and a cheap set of scales. Over the years, I added to it, with the likes of my Travel Press, Aergrind hand grinder, a metal jug and, occasionally, an electric kettle joining the ranks. It got to the point that, four years ago, I even wrote an article about it.
The one thing my set-up lacked was the ability to do pour-over. This was rectified first by the gift of a collapsible metal filter cone, and then, on a trip to China two years ago, the purchase of a small (360ml) gooseneck jug. Suddenly, I could do pour-over on the go! However, while I was enamoured with my jug, I had my struggles with the filter cone, so when Amanda gave me another collapsible filter cone as a present at the start of last year, I immediately pressed it into use, keen to see how it compared to my existing metal filter.
One of the earliest pieces I wrote for my (then new) Coffee at Home series at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was about the Clever Dripper. Although there are plenty of excellent filter methods, the Clever Dripper is, in my opinion, the easiest one for somebody taking their first steps into home coffee brewing. Like the humble 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.
I’ve been using my Clever Dripper throughout the last year: it’s my go-to method for filter coffee during the day, mostly for the reasons I’ve stated above. However, I’ve a confession to make: I no longer use the method I published in April last year. As regular readers will know, I’ve become a devotee of James Hoffman’s YouTube channel, and, in early December, James published his Ultimate Clever Dripper Guide. This gives a surprisingly different way of using the Clever Dripper and, having tried it, I was immediately converted. I’ve been using the new method ever since, so thought it was about time I updated my own guide.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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…
Welcome 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 AeroPress, Vietnamese 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.