The secret to making consistently delicious coffee is to treat the process as a recipe. Rather than throwing ground coffee into a cafetiere and hoping for the best, you should pay due attention to the three important factors: brew time, brew ratio and grind size. I’ve picked some of our favourite tools, gadgets and ingredients to help you achieve this. Not all of them are essential, and many you can make do with what you currently have, but these are our favourite pieces for people who want to take their coffee creation to the next level.
For more on coffee, we’ve reviewed pod machines, cafetières, coffee grinders and reusable coffee cups, too, plus check out our round-up of the best coffee machines on test.
8 must-buy pieces of coffee kit
Along with beans, a grinder is probably the most important part of your coffee set-up. Grinding fresh is the only way to really experience coffee at its best, as like any natural product once you break it down, it begins lose its flavour straight away. Changing the grind size will affect your brewing time – to get your head around it, think of how differently water flows through fine sand than chunky rock. The slower the water passes through the coffee, the stronger your brew will be. Caffeine magazine’s favourite grinder is hand-made in Scotland by Peter Fitzpatrick at Made by Knock. You set it to grind anything from super-fine coffee that’s best suited to espresso makers, to really coarse, cafetiere-friendly coffee.
Feldgrind hand grinder, buy from Made by Knock (£99)
The coffee dripper you choose to buy should depend on your personal taste. The popular Aeropress produces a cup of coffee with lots of body, but other methods can create a cleaner tasting coffee. This intricate, beautiful dripper is one such example, and while it wouldn’t look out of place in Philippe Starck’s kitchen, it’s not as complicated as it looks – all you need to do is place a filter paper in the conical dripper then place it onto your cup. When using filter paper, always rinse through with some hot water before use to remove any papery taste.
AltoAir Coffee dripper, buy from Bario Alto (£35). Filter papers, buy from Hario (from £2.50)
You’ll probably already have a set of scales in your kitchen, but we like specialist coffee scales as they measure to 0.1g, just to be really geeky. These Hario scales have a large footplate, USB rechargeable battery and built-in timer, so you can time your brews to perfection. Having scales makes a big difference as you can guarantee your measurements and ratios will be spot-on.
V60 Drip Scales, buy from Hario (£79.99)
Again, this is probably something you have already, but being in control of temperature is key to proper coffee-making. If you speak to any tea or coffee nerd they’ll tell you brewing with boiling water extracts too much bitterness, so having a kettle that can heat water to a specific temperature is another way you can up your coffee game. There are cheaper temperature kettles out there but this one from Brewista has a programmable digital base and gooseneck spout for more accurate pouring. If you decide to run with your regular kettle, just boil and leave it to stand for one minute so the temperature drops by a few degrees.
Digital kettle, buy from Coffee Hit (£94.90)
Read our review of the best kettles to buy
There are lots of reusable coffee cups on the market and they all have their benefits. Our favourite is the ‘soda lime glass’ version from Keep Cup, available in many different colours and designs. The glass is really tough and will take a lot of abuse rattling around in the bottom of your bag, plus it doesn’t impart a plasticky taste like some other brands. There’s also the added bonus of doing your bit for the environment by recycling your cup – 8 million paper cups are handed out by UK coffee shops each day, and reportedly fewer than one in 400 is recycled.
Reusable coffee cups, buy from Keep Cup (prices vary)
Without beans, there is no coffee! We all have different tastes but we generally like lighter-roasted coffee. Our analogy is that you wouldn’t buy a beautiful steak or artisan sourdough loaf only to burn it to a crisp, and the same is true of good quality coffee. Light roasting retains more of the natural flavour and less of the roasting process. Coffee, like any agricultural product, is best when it’s fresh, so look for a roasting date and not a best before. Coffee is optimum for the 1-4 weeks after roasting – after that it begins to lose its nuances. There are a number of excellent subscription services available from roasteries like Square Mile, Pact and Hasbean, but if you want different coffees from different high quality roasters each time, we suggest The CoffeeVine.
Coffee subscription, from The CoffeeVine (from €14 a month)
If you’ve well and truly disappeared down the rabbit hole of coffee, you may want to start roasting your own beans. Self-roasting is traditionally a smelly, dirty affair, with many ambitious coffee wizards banished to the garden shed to practice their dark arts. But thanks to this invention by IKAWA, you can now roast small batches of coffee in your kitchen. Originally designed for the coffee industry to sample roasted coffee at origin, you can now get a home version which talks to an app on your phone or iPad. You can plot your own roast style or choose from a number of pre-programmed profiles. They’re available now for pre-order and delivery in December 2016.
Coffee roaster, buy from IKAWA (£750)
Up to 99% of your coffee is water, but water isn’t as simple as it seems. In London and the south east, water is very hard. In places like the Lake District it’s very soft. This difference, along with other chemicals in water like magnesium, will affect the coffee extraction process. We suggest at the very least using filtered water. Bottled water goes one step further and allows you to check the label: look for the measurement for ‘dry residue at 180ºc and try and find something as close to 100mg/l as possible. Our go-to is Tesco mineral water.
Ashbeck still water, buy from Tesco (£1.10 for 5l)
A note on buying coffee
Although a lot of people look for coffee that tastes like chocolate and nuts, there’s a whole world of bean flavour beyond that. Chocolate and coffee flavours are indicative of South American coffees, especially those from Brazil, but if you like to experiment, look for coffees from African countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. They’ll generally have fruitier, brighter flavours.
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Scott Bentley is the founder of Caffeine magazine. Discover more about the coffee lover’s magazine by visiting caffeinemag.com.
This review was last updated in August 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caffeine devotee? We’d love to hear how you put together your morning cuppa, from choices to grinder, to the best artisan beans…