Gear You Need for the Perfect Cup of Coffee
by Brian Raub, Costa Rica Coffee Club
These are my personal recommendations for coffee roasting and brewing gear. Prices from Amazon for recommended items are current; prices for alternate items may vary.
1. Coffee Bean Roaster: FreshRoast SR500.
This “fluid bed” coffee roaster is fast, effective and simple. It roasts about 1/4 pound of fresh green coffee beans at a time, in 5-7 minutes. It catches all the chaff, which you must vacuum or brush away from the “chaff-catcher” after each roasting session. (I use a hand-held vacuum.) It has a variable fan speed, 3 heat settings, and you can increase or decrease the roasting time in 6-second increments. After you roast, you may find a few beans that are over- or under-roasted (unusually light or dark); you should discard them. Alternate: the basic FreshRoast SR300, with one fan speed, one heat setting, and adjustable roasting time, $129.
2. Small Storage Canisters for Roasted Coffee Beans: Coffeevacs, (3 recommended).
These BPA-free plastic “vacuum” containers are designed to store up to 1/2 pound of freshly roasted coffee beans. They are specially designed to allow CO2 to escape (called “degassing”) while the coffee develops its aroma, flavors, and character – during the first 24-48 hours after roasting. They help keep unwanted oxygen and light away from those newly-roasted beans. Oxygen, light, and age “stale” roasted coffee quickly; they are coffee beans’ enemies. I use 3 canisters, for 3 different coffees, and roast no more coffee than I will use for the next week. Label each canister with the name of the coffee and its roasting date – written on removable masking tape that you attach to the top of each canister.
3. Digital Scale for Repeatable Coffee Measurements: Ozeri Pronto.
A digital scale is indispensable. This one is inexpensive. It measures in 1 gram increments. It switches easily between grams and ounces; 28 grams = 1 ounce. A scale enables “repeatability” when you measure coffee beans to grind and brew. I use 18 grams in my Aeropress to make a 12-ounce cup. Be sure to match the amount of coffee to your brewing device. 16 grams of roasted beans per 12-ounce cup of coffee is a good starting point if you are not familiar with the brewing device. Be careful not to overload a multi-cup coffee maker.
Tablespoons measure volume, not weight. They are a poor way to measure coffee beans for grinding, because the density of coffee varies and the “fullness” of each tablespoon varies by the person doing the measuring. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends 10g of coffee per 6-ounce “cup”. Unfortunately, the manufacturers of coffee makers do not agree on the size of a “cup” of coffee. The SCAA says 6 ounces = 1 cup of coffee; Cuisinart says 5; Technivorm Moccamaster says 4. And many Americans define their cups as travel-sized: 12 ounces or more.
4. Manual Burr Grinder for one cup at a time: Hario Slim.
For my first 12-ounce cup of coffee each day, I hand-grind 18 grams of beans (roasted 1-7 days ago) for my single-cup Aeropress brewer. In a manual burr grinder like this one, 18g requires 90 seconds to 2 minutes of fairly significant muscle power. It’s a great morning wake-up before my first caffeine! This grinder is adjustable from coarse to fine, and delivers accurate and repeatable results. It’s inexpensive, easy to clean, compact, and travels well.
4b. (Optional) Automatic Burr Grinder for multi-cup coffee makers: Capresso 560.
If hand-grinding is more work than you like, especially for a large pot of coffee, powered burr grinders eliminate the need for muscle power. They also work for single cups. A good burr grinder can produce any grind from coarse to fine, quickly. The best of them cost hundreds of dollars, and will perfectly grind super-fine for espresso. The Capresso is a good value. Cleaning is time-consuming if you do it right. It’s not compact, and not suitable for travel. If you fill the coffee hopper, the Capresso uses a timer to approximate the correct amount of coffee to grind. It can be way off. I weigh my coffee beans precisely, place them in the (empty) hopper, and and grind them all. Alternates: Cuisinart, $70; and Mr. Coffee, $36.
5. Manual Single-Cup Pump Coffee Brewer: Aeropress with Travel Bag.
The Aeropress has a very enthusiastic following, and it’s my favorite brewer. It’s similar in function to a French press, but faster. It makes an excellent, filtered 12-ounce cup, using 18g of a medium-fine grind of coffee. After you heat 12 ounces of water, it takes about 2 minutes (stirring, steeping, then pushing down on a tube) to brew a cup. Clean-up takes just 30 seconds, considerably less than other coffee makers. It travels light.
With an Aeropress, you’ll need a measuring cup to measure your water exactly, for repeatability. I use the OXO Good Grips 2-Cup Angled Measuring Cup, $8. Unlike most measuring cups, its scale is easy to read – without twisting your neck.
Aeropress recommends that you brew with your water heated to 175F to get the best possible results. That’s challenging. I use Oxo’s easy-to-read measuring cup to heat 12 ounces of cold water in a microwave, to a repeatable 185F. (It will cool to 175F by the time you pour it.) How? Use trial and error with an Etekcity Infrared Digital Thermometer, $15, to test the water temperature – for 90 seconds, 120 seconds, and longer, until it hits exactly 185F. In my case, with cold water in summer, 130 seconds in the microwave produces the magic 185F. Be careful never to overheat your water; water can “explode” and scald you when it’s boiled in a microwave. I start heating my water, then grind my beans manually. In 130 seconds, both the ground coffee beans and the water are ready to brew in my Aeropress. Overkill? Maybe, but it’s repeatable. Repeat your testing when your cold water temperature changes – seasonally, for example.
I use this high-tech thermometer to measure water temperature, mainly for my Aeropress. Once I determine how long it takes for 12 ounces of my cold tap water to reach 185F in my microwave, it’s usefulness is over. But if I want tap water to reach exactly 185F when I travel, using a different microwave, this will have to come along with me. Consistently great coffee requires repeatability.
5b. (Optional) Automatic Single-Cup Drip Coffee Maker: Hamilton Beach Scoop (be sure to compare pricing on packaging options.)
The “Scoop” is a compact one-cup-at-a-time automatic brewer. It’s fast, easy, and cleans up in a minute or so. It claims to hold water to a constant 200F while brewing. It has a bold/regular option, and can be used to brew either an 8-ounce or a 14-ounce cup. Fresh coffee is dispensed directly into your cup, from start to finish in about 3 minutes. My 8.5-inch tall travel cup just barely fits under the dispenser. A shorter ceramic cup also works well. I use my cup as the cold water measure, and pour it into the reservoir. I choose the “bold” button. The manual says that an 8-ounce cup takes “2 tablespoons” of coffee; 14 ounces take “3 tablespoons”. But I always weigh my coffee: 18g of a medium-fine grind of coffee for 14 ounces of water. 18g works well for my Aeropress too.
Compared: I prefer coffee from my Aeropress. That may be because I prefer my coffee cooler than the Scoop brews it. The Aeropress and Scoop differ in their brewing process – pump vs. drip. Both are fast, easy to use, and easy to clean up. With both, your single cup of coffee is always freshly brewed.
5c. (Optional) Automatic Multi-Cup Coffee Maker: Bonavita BV1900TS 8-Cup Carafe Coffee Brewer.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America sets tough standards for automatic home coffee brewers – primarily for brewing temperature and time. Just a few SCAA Certified Home Brewers meet those standards. The Bonavita is among the least expensive. It includes a thermal carafe and an on/off switch. It makes eight 5-ounce cups (40 ounces), in 6 minutes. The Moccamaster KGBT 10-Cup Brewer, $320, makes 10 4-ounce cups (40 ounces) in a thermal carafe, also in 6 minutes.
6. (Optional) Espresso Machine: Breville BES870XL Barista Express.
Making espresso is an art. The Aeropress claims to make “espresso” but what it really makes (optionally) is concentrated coffee. “Real” espresso machines are expensive; some cost more than $2,000. This one is semi-automatic. It does most of the work for you, including grinding the beans. It starts up quickly, and has large capacities for water and coffee beans. It has some features that novices will appreciate, but also appeals to experienced home baristas.
7. (Optional) Large Thermal Travel Tumbler: Thermos King Tumbler.
This 16-ounce stainless steel “King” cup by Thermos will keep your freshly brewed coffee hot for a few hours. However, some purists argue that a ceramic/porcelain cup is best. It will not leak when sealed, even if you turn it upside down. When you’re not driving, remove the screw top to allow your coffee’s aroma to reach your nose. Purists drink their perfect cup of coffee within 30 minutes. I often linger longer.
8. Undecided? Buy an Amazon Gift Certificate.
If you don’t know exactly what to buy for your favorite coffee gourmets, let them choose! These gift certificates are good for anything that Amazon sells.