By James Gallagher for Steampunk Coffee
I was recently talking with a barista trainer about getting started brewing coffee. I realised that coffee can be intimidating, especially due to the vocabulary that is commonplace in the speciality coffee industry. I do not think coffee should seem intimidating to anyone: coffee should be open. And that's why I started to think about the question: how do you get started brewing coffee at home?
That's a great question and one that everyone asks. Without my asking that question, I would not be here today writing about speciality coffee. Now that I have spent a few months brewing coffee at home, I feel comfortable sharing some of my thoughts on how to start brewing coffee at home. In this article, I am going to chat about starting to brew coffee at home, without diving too deep into the weeds.
Step #1: Choose a Brewing Device
You cannot brew coffee without having a way in which to brew your coffee. Luckily for you, there are many different ways to brew coffee, each of which suit different tastes and levels of interest in coffee.
Do you want to learn a method of making coffee which is cheap and requires little technique? Check out the French press or the Clever Dripper.
Do you have a bit more time to learn about technique but still want to keep things simple? The Aeropress is a great brewer to check out. I personally recommend starting on the Aeropress. There is a great community around this brewer and plenty of room for experimenting with different recipes.
Do you feel comfortable investing a bit of money into coffee and feel comfortable learning about even more technique? Pour-over brewers like the V60, Kalita Wave, and the Chemex are good to check out.
There are so many ways to brew coffee that are not mentioned above. But, you have to start somewhere. You cannot learn all of the most popular brewing methods at once. Choose one way to brew coffee that you think meets your needs and go from there.
You should also research if you need any additional equipment to use the device you are going to brew with. For instance, you only really need an electric kettle and some coffee to start brewing with the Aeropress. But to make the most out of brewing with the V60 or Kalita Wave, having a gooseneck kettle is recommended.
I would advise sticking to brewed coffee using a device like the Clever Dripper, V60, French press, Chemex, Kalita Wave, or a similar brewer. Espresso is a tricky game, especially at home. Learning about brewed coffee first will give you a good foundation upon which to build your knowledge.
Step #2: Find a Recipe
Most roasters (including Steampunk Coffee) have brew guides on their websites which often take the form of written recipes or video guides. I would recommend doing some research to find a single brew guide for the brewing device you have chosen to learn. So if you want to learn how to use the French press, look around for a brew guide.
You may need to look at a few recipes to find one that is right for you. If you think a recipe is really complicated, or if a recipe calls for a lot of equipment, search around to see if you can find a simpler recipe. Many of the best brew guides are written for beginners who have little to no knowledge of brewing coffee. You should have no trouble finding a guide that you think is right for you based on the equipment you are going to use and your experience level.
You may want to consult your local roaster or a friend you know who brews coffee at home who may be able to recommend a brew guide to you. Having someone recommend a guide to you means you are likely to end up with a recipe that will result in a good cup of coffee and that meets your level of background knowledge.
Sticking with one recipe is key. Take the Aeropress, for instance. There are thousands of ways to brew with an Aeropress. That is great to know because it means there are many ways to experiment. But if you are just getting started what matters is brewing a good cup of coffee, not knowing lots of recipes without being able to practice them.
Step #3: Choose a Coffee
No matter what brewing device you use, you will never make as good a cup of coffee as you can without having a good coffee with which to brew. Do some research and find a single coffee with which to experiment. Check out the website of a local roaster and see which coffee(s) appeal to you. Check out the flavour notes as a guide. If the flavour notes of a particular coffee appeal to you, consider buying that coffee so you can get started.
Choosing a coffee with which to brew is a whole topic in itself. We have written a guide on reading a coffee label to get you started, which you can check out here. What matters is you choose something you think you will like. If you end up thinking a coffee is not right for you, you can always buy another coffee later. But everyone has to start somewhere.
When you choose a coffee, you should make sure you can get the coffee either pre-ground or as whole beans depending on if you have a grinder. If you do have a coffee grinder at home, you can buy whole bean coffee. But if you do not have a grinder, you may want to buy pre-ground coffee instead. Most roasters have boxes on their websites which list different ways in which they can grind your coffee.
Step #4: Start Brewing
Theory like what you read in books or see in blog posts may give you some useful context but nobody became an expert at brewing coffee only by reading. You have to practice your skills. With a recipe in hand, you should start brewing as soon as you can.
Start by following the brew guide you have selected. Replicate every step exactly and taste your coffee. Do not worry if you cannot replicate a recipe your first time. I messed up quite a few times before getting into a groove with my Aeropress, which is the device I used to start brewing coffee. You will make mistakes and that is okay: everyone makes mistakes. By making mistakes you will learn how to prevent them in the future.
If you are unhappy with the taste of your coffee, brew another cup and see if your coffee tastes better. My first cups of coffee were okay but they were not ground-breaking. But I knew I had to start somewhere. I just needed to practice. Within a few weeks, I started to make much more delicious coffee than I did at the very start of my journey.
If you feel like you want to learn more or want to try a new recipe, that's great. I felt the same way after I had learned how to use my Aeropress. See if there are any other ways to brew with the device you have chosen. There are usually many ways to brew with a device.
Brewing Coffee At Home: A Summary
You have one goal when you start brewing coffee at home: to make a cup of coffee. You do not need to make an excellent cup on your first try. You just need to make one cup. From that experience you will learn a lot. You will learn what you need to do next time that you forgot to do in your first brew. You will start to build a workflow in your mind which will guide your future brews. You will learn what not to do.
Making coffee at home is not something you will learn in a few minutes. You need to practice (and use good coffee). With practice, you will end up with a good cup of coffee. And when you make a good cup of coffee -- which you can definitely do on your first try, but may take a few tries to achieve -- you will realise just how delicious coffee can be if it is well-roasted and brewed properly.
Choose a brewing method, find a recipe, choose a coffee, and start brewing. I started brewing last August and here I am today still brewing a cup of coffee at home, almost every day. There is a lot you can learn about coffee but by following the four steps above you will learn what you need to make a good cup of coffee. And that's what really matters: being able to make a cup of coffee you enjoy.
Contributed by James Gallagher, a home brewer and coffee enthusiast. View his excellent blog at jamesg.blog
Have you been inspired to brew using some different methods? Check out our Brew Guides for some recipes to you get started.