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I’ve always been somewhat of a coffee anti-snob, proud to say I was satisfied with whatever coffee was available. I always enjoyed good coffee, and could certainly taste the difference, but I reserved my snobbiness for whiskey, outright refusing to drink the cheap stuff.
That changed recently, after working alongside some of the snobbiest coffee snobs I’ve ever met. For two years, I had only fantastic coffee beans, ground fresh immediately before brewing, brewed using well maintained machines.
On a daily basis, I had easy access to:
- French press
- Cold brew
- Old fashioned coffee machine
with a heavy duty burr grinder and a wide selection of Big Shoulders beans, and occassionally others.
At times I grew frustrated by the need to make coffee, since all but one (or two) of those machines were single serving, so we couldn’t take turns making larger pots like at past offices.
But the coffee was fantastic.
(At one point, we had a blind tasting, in which we sampled the same beans brewed using each of the five machines. For me, the winner was overwhelmingly clear.)
Making Great Coffee
After two years of drinking the best of the best, I changed jobs and found myself with a single serving fancy automatic thingy machine which makes terrible over-caffeinated Starbucks coffee. The weak setting yields tasteless coffee yet leaves me shaking from the caffeine; the strong setting (occassionally mixed with water for a makeshift Americano) is no better. So I took the plunge and started bringing stuff to work.
Cuisinart DBM-8 Burr Grinder - $44.39
An old friend, who used to barista at Intelligentsia (best macchiato I’ve ever had), used to say that the best coffee with the best machine and the worst grinder would make worse coffee than the worst beans with the worst machine and the best grinder. I’m sure that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but he made his point clear: how you grind your coffee beans has a tremendous impact on the quality of your coffee.
However, as much as I love coffee, I do have my limits. I’ve used hand grinders and got frustrated with the effort and time needed. And there’s no way I’m going to spend over $200 for a grinder.
That said, I’m not going to grind my beans when I buy them and let them rot for weeks until I finish the bag.
I found a wonderful burr grinder for $45, and love it. The granularity is easily adjustable, and there’s an automatic shut-off so you can grind only what you need without waiting.
My only complaint is that the container the grounds go into seem to encourage grinding lots of beans at once, not a single serving. This makes it a bit of a pain to scoop out, especially when there’s coffee dust all over the place.
Aeropress - $29.95
It still amazes me that the best non-espresso coffee I’ve ever had is made using a thirty dollar plastic tube.
An Aeropress is pretty simple: you put grounds into a tube with a filter at the bottom, add hot water, stir it for a bit, and then plunge the water through the filter. The result is very similar to an espresso - strong flavor, slight crema, and very smooth. I like my Americanos, so I usually add water.
I cannot overstate how good this coffee tastes. Risking sounding dramatic, I’ll even say I didn’t know coffee was supposed to taste this good.
This can be a bit tough to find. But it’s worth the effort. I’ve found it at some (not all) Whole Foods around the city, as well as a handful of Marianos. I get a different roast every time, and my memory isn’t good enough to know which I enjoy the most. (This morning I had the Uganda Bugisu AA, and it was incredible.)
Anyway, I hope this was helpful for those of you looking for amazing coffee that doesn’t cost an arm, leg, or too much time.