A secret for coffee snobs…
Let me begin this post with an admission…
I, Emma Stuart, am a coffee snob. If you turn away at coffee snobbery and believe one cup of coffee is the same as any other, maybe this post isn’t for you – but read on regardless and it may change your life!
It’s not my fault I’m a coffee snob. Honestly. I went through the first 18 years of my life blissfully unaware of the heavenly aroma, delectable taste, and glorious feeling you get when you swallow down a mouthful of a smooth, rich coffee done well. I introduced myself to coffee out of necessity during my 8pm university lectures on History of the Press (riveting stuff, let me tell you). But little did I know, while enjoying my uni café mocha (nothing wrong with that, mind you!), just what I was missing out on.
Long story short, my husband and I slowly introduced ourselves to a much better quality of coffee when exploring the cafes in and around one of our favourite Brisbane suburbs, West End. There is a plethora of places to get a great cup of coffee. It wasn’t long before we discovered what we liked, what we didn’t like, and some of the finer points of coffee society.
Here comes the secret….our lives changed when we decided to buy what has become one of our most treasured and well-used appliances – a Sunbeam Café Series coffee machine. And since we perfected how to use the machine (with a few tweaks and improvements along the way – and more to come I’m sure!), we just aren’t satisfied with your run of the mill coffee shop coffee.
When our machine packed it in a week or so ago (with an average of two coffees a day for nearly 4 years it definitely served us well), we immediately went on to eBay and bought another, more updated model. Though the machines are not cheap (ours was a bargain at just under $550, including accessories and grinder!), we valued our home-made coffees so much that we were willing to fork out the unexpected cash.
There are some things you need to consider when purchasing a coffee machine for yourself; how convenient you want the process to be, how much space you have in your kitchen to accommodate equipment, if the amount of coffee you drink will really let the machine pay for itself in the long run – of course this is all down to personal preference and budget, so I won’t lecture you too much on this. This blog is more about the enjoyment I take in the process of making coffee, and a little bit of advice and a how-to as well, so if you’re still interested – keep reading.
‘It’s looks too hard!’ you may say, ‘What if I can’t make it just the way I like?’. In reality it’s really not that difficult, and with a bit of time and patience you will be sipping delicious drinks in no time. Aside from the added bonus of saving yourself money in the long run, I also feel the process of making the coffee is so relaxing – the promise of what is to come gives me a happy moment every time I hear the beans grinding in our ultra-fine grinder.
So here’s how to make a coffee at home:
Preparing the beans
I usually trust Ryan’s opinion on which beans we get – we have several places that we frequent – so I’m not going to talk about beans too much. I do know that he doesn’t allow us to use beans that have been roasted longer than two weeks prior. I’ll post again once I’ve educated myself on the selection process a bit more! But that smell when I open the bag is something that is close to heavenly for me. All grinders have different settings depending on how finely you want the beans to be ground. The grind size will depend on which process you’re using to make coffee, and the type of bean you’re using. We are using an espresso machine, which means it needs to be quite a fine grind. Obviously the size of the grind determines how easily the water can flow through the grind.
Getting the level just right in the filter basket once the beans are ground is something that I’m still working on, but I’m happy to practice as many times as I need to until I get it right – there’s really no losing when you get a cup of coffee with every attempt! There’s much debate in the coffee community about tamping your grind in the filter basket. Topics of interest are tamping pressure, amount of coffee in the filter basket, and getting the coffee grinds level. Ryan tells me he’s careful not to overdose the filter basket, employs a progressive tamp technique, with approximately 3kgs of pressure. Me on the other hand, gets approximately the right amount of coffee and presses it with the tamp! With our new grinder, you should fill the filter so that you have about a third of the silver rim of the tamper showing when you gently press down the beans in the filter cup. A gentle press, a twist, and you’re done! You don’t want to press too firmly, otherwise the grinds get too tightly packed and the water doesn’t filter through them.
Making the shot of coffee
First you need to turn on your machine to heat up. You may have a flat surface on top of your machine – this is to warm your cups, porter filter and filter basket on to prepare them for the shot of coffee – it makes for a nice clean shot! Once you have prepared coffee grinds in the filter basket and tamped to your preference, it’s time to screw the porter filler into the group head (how you do this depends on your type of machine – read the instructions. Yes! Even if you’re a man!). Select the desired quantity (one shot, two shots), place your cups underneath, and watch the deliciousness filter through. The ideal brew time – the time between the when the shot starts pouring and finishes – is between 20 and 40 seconds depending on your bean. For our machine, that generally means the coffee is coming through the filter basket in a thin stream that is only slightly faster than a fast drip. You do NOT want dirty water coming out – you are looking for a thick, nearly oily consistency with a nice creme coming out about halfway in (the light brown part that settles on top).
Frothing the milk
I find that the best milk to froth is definitely full-cream dairy milk. I drink lactose free, but before I made the shift from soy, it would never work out right. The consistency in soy milk is not right for getting a nice big frothy head of foam, and don’t even bother trying light soy milk. Low-fat dairy milk is marginally better, but I find it still doesn’t froth to the same degree. We’ve even gone so far as to prefer one milk frothing jug over another… we’re only a little bit picky, I swear!
Fill your milk jug approximately a third of the way for each cup of coffee (depending on your coffee cup size of course!). People prefer a different consistency of milk for cappuccino, lattes etc, so I found a great youtube video as a tutorial. Pour your milk into your coffee shot slowly so that the foam gathers on the top. Once you get a bit more experience you can experiment with shapes and designs on top – I’m limited to a bit of a swirly blob at the moment, but I’ll get there! You may like to sprinkle on a little bit of chocolate powder. Coffee really is all down to personal preference.
Once you’ve made your coffee, the machine and accessories are so easy to clean – flush out your steamer (shoot a bit of steam out), wipe down your group head, empty and rinse your filter, and before long you are sitting back with a hot, delicious beverage that soothes all the way down to the soul.
Even though we drink and brew our own coffee and consider ourselves coffee snobs, we are by no means experts! Variables such as beans and machine can really change up the process. Check out one of our favourite coffee roasters, Black Sheep Coffee, for some really informative tips and tricks.