If you just need a quick shot of coffee, and the short version advice, scroll down. You’ll find the visuals and links for all the coffee goodness below.
If you have a large cup of coffee in your hand RIGHT NOW, and 10 minutes to spare, PLUS you love coffee and long, slow information-filled conversations…and/or If you’ve been trying to figure out THE right coffee equipment for you…or maybe you just want to refresh, upgrade, or try something new…we’ve got all the choices covered. Read on.
I remember my first romantic cup of coffee, a quarter of a century ago, like it was yesterday. And the blurry 10 years, 10 years later, that I abstained from all coffee, all caffeine, like it was the lifetime ago that it was. And then one ‘rough’ mom day, I told my dear friend Rina via Skype that I felt like I needed something I couldn’t quite put my mom-of-(sick)toddlers, breast-milk-pumping, years-into-sleep-deprivation finger quite on. She said, “We call it espresso. When you are done pumping you march downstairs and get yourself one. Enough of this crazy no coffee thing.” And I did. And for a few years, I had one espresso a day, as a special treat, just to keep myself going. Rina was right; she usually is. It helped. That one special cup a day was as glorious as my very first, Every. Single. Day.
Fast forward eight years to a few months ago. I’m doing my volunteer at school hours in the most efficient way possible, and driving a few other parents and a ton of change to the bank to be coin-counted for charity. My job? Load coins and people, drive them there, wait, drive them back. Easy. Thirty minutes to my own self in a loading zone? Yes please! Texts, email, voicemail — DONE — all whilst listening to a great podcast. BLISS. They get back in the car. The mom riding shotgun looks at my (standard TME issue) YETI, and asks, “do you make your own coffee at home?” In that cup, on that day, I owned the truth: the remnants of 2 separate Starbucks Venti Dark Roast leftovers from yesterday (possibly the day before???), plus a top-off from the Nespresso machine that Shana and Linzi gifted me as a housewarming. I was a no-longer-even-hot-YETI-half-full-coffee-mess. So I complained in a Weekly Favorite Finds Post. And wouldn’t you know it? A reader came to my rescue!
Advice From A Coffee-Making Queen
Meet reader Katie H from Brooklyn, the Amazing Goddess Of Coffee Knowledge. She loves food and drink (clearly), the outdoors, music, and her Cocker Spaniel/Dachshund mix, Peanut. In her free time she sings in a choir, plays sports, and smashes the patriarchy. And also helps the likes of me with coffee advice.
I fell in instant coffee love with her, even as she was crushing all my long-term coffee hopes and dreams. You see…I was wishing for one perfect, super-pretty, amazing coffee-making thing that would meet all my coffee needs AND look fantastic on the counter without taking up too much space. It needed to be easy to clean, and basically take no work, involve no learning curve, have no instructions, be completely intuitive and make everyone happy. (Shh…spoiler: Jason doesn’t love the Nespresso machine.)
I learned through emails with Katie H, that we call that perfection the coffee shop around the corner, and if we want that at home, we need to make informed choices and compromises. She hit me with a coffee shot of reality (I think she and Rina would be fast friends): apparently coffee-making is circumstantial, and who you are making it for, when, and how much of it you are making, matter. She’ll walk you through it, and help you get to your own happy coffee at home place. She helped me find mine!
Thank you Katie H! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, and especially appreciative because you really were able to, via email, sort me out on coffee. And to remind me how to grind it for which machine (fine for the drip, coarse for the pours — see below). And then we did what we do: we shopped, read reviews, and averaged: following Katie H’s advice, trying a few things in our own home, and looking for the equipment that we wouldn’t mind looking at on the counter and that would meet everyone’s needs. And then we tested it all. We would be me + Ceci. She’s my helper. Always.
So, here’s Katie H’s advice, and ALL the notes, on ALL her machines. Then below, you’ll find our results.
The Coffee-Making Station
Katie H doesn’t just have a coffee maker. She has a coffee station. A serious one. With serious reasons for each piece. Here’s how that works in Katie H’s own words:
We have a bunch of different coffee making machines in our house because we’re coffee-lovers/snobs. We have a drip machine for when we need volume, an espresso maker for the perfect latte, a French press, an Aeropress, and a cold brew maker (as well as a burr grinder to get the perfect grind for all of them). We love all the different iterations we can make with our crazy number of machines, but ultimately that puts me in a good position to help someone who DOESN’T want to mess around — I’ve tried everything, so I know what works for each scenario.
1/The French Press: Given your tendency to have half-drunk cups leftover, and the fact that you don’t want stuff taking up counter space, it comes down to 2 options, the first is the French Press. The French Press is a lot like your Pour-Over, in that you can control the ratio of grounds to water, AND you can make as much volume as you’d like (given the Yeti mug, you might want a decent volume to drink, and the French press gives you that since it comes in multiple sizes). The best part? You don’t need filters. Nothing to lose, easy to clean, fits in a cupboard. If you have a kettle that’s the quickest way to heat water for it, but if not, there are plenty of French Presses that are microwave safe, so you can pop the whole glass container in the microwave to heat the water, then add grounds, steep, plunge, and drink.
2/ The Burr Grinder: Otherwise know as the downside of a French Press solved. You need a coarsely ground coffee for a French Press. I recommend grinding your own coffee regardless (it’s the single best thing I can think of for improving the flavor of your brew.) A burr grinder is best, but it does in fact take up a bit of counter space. Another option that takes up less space is hand-grinder like this one). However, if you get your beans from a local shop, they’ll grind them for you at whatever gauge you need. I don’t think the grocery store grinders give you those options, and most pre-ground coffee comes in a medium grind for drip machines. The only downside is the plastic box at the bottom can get a little static-y. We keep a little dusting brush in the canister hanging above to get all the grounds out.
3/ Aeropress: It’s really a combination of a French press and an espresso maker, so you’re going to get a strong, smaller amount when you use this. It comes with its own filters and requires a finer grind than a French press (I’ve used pre-ground beans and it works out fine). The advantages of the Aeropress: 1. It’s the smallest device of them all (this puppy can go in a drawer. It could fit in your purse if you wanted it to!) 2. It makes one of the most delicious cups of coffee you can get, according to me, but also according to the many people who have reviewed these things, including my friends at Serious Eats. 3. it’s the easiest thing to clean. Practically SELF-cleaning, in fact: It’s syringe-like and uses pressure to extract the coffee. That same mechanism means that when you take the bottom piece off, you can continue pressing down over a trash can, and the grounds and filter will pop out into the garbage in one clean puck. From there, you can just rinse off the bottom of the plunger that’s exposed. The interior that you just plunged? Already clean. The rubber plunger is so well-sealed that it effectively works like a shower squeegee as you use it, meaning that the whole thing has cleaned itself while you made the actual coffee.
Downside: You aren’t going to get a giant mug’s worth from the Aeropress. It’s more of an espresso shot or two in volume.
Neither of these machines are great for brewing for a crowd. Both are very simple to use and learn, unlike a fancy espresso machine that has you futzing around with pressure levels and tamping and exact grinds (all before you even get to the milk frothing wand, which will almost always be a pain in the ass). These are also the two cheapest apparatus out there, which is great on its face but also since you’re not 100% sure what you want just yet. You won’t be out a lot of money if it turns out these aren’t for you (plus they make great gifts). And as a person who loves good design, you’ll be happy to see there are TONS of beautiful French presses out there (the Aeropress is what it is, but hey, it’s tiny and can be hidden in a drawer).
4/ Drip Coffee Maker: I could go on at length about why this one is better than any others I’ve owned. The short: it keeps the water at the perfect temperature for extracting flavor from the beans and doesn’t have a hot plate at the bottom that fries it once it’s made.
Re: that burned taste you said you don’t love, may be Jason’s machine, or it may be the roast on the beans, or the age of them (it could be staleness as much as burning that’s bugging your palate). French and Italian roasts are the darkest, so if you switch to a medium roast, that might help. It really is best to use beans that have been recently roasted and freshly ground, so if you’re sensitive to that burned flavor, it might be worth buying your own coffee in smaller amounts from a shop that roasts their own beans frequently and can grind them for you in-shop. If the idea of one more errand has you panicking, though, it might just be best to experiment a bit with different beans! I find the bulk coffee at Whole Foods is really good (they usually roast it themselves). Other brands I’ve liked that are easy to find in the wild: Caribou, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best. I actually LOVE Cafe Bustelo (cheap and dark) but it’s too finely ground for the applications above, so if I were you I’d avoid it.
5/ Espresso Machine: We really love this as an entry-level espresso maker. Really narrow as well, considering how large they usually are!
6/ Cold Brew: It’s up top for winter, with the blue accents. This was a gift; I am just now realizing how much it costs when you can actually just make cold brew in a French press and filter it yourself later, yikes)
7/ Knock Box: Life is better with this fella. We use it to dump out the puck of coffee from the espresso maker, but dump the bigger amount from the drip machine directly into the trash. The bar serves as something to knock the portafilter against. If you tamped the beans extra well, the puck holds its shape when it falls into the reservoir, but this doesn’t always happen for me. We tend to leave the grounds in there until it’s too full to add more, then we dump it out into the compost (or trash, which we did before our area got municipal composting). I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to empty it more often. If you don’t have an espresso maker with a portafilter, then it’s really not necessary — basket filters from drip machines can be dumped easily; if you use an Aeropress it just pops right out.
8/ Electric Kettle: BONUS! With multiple heat settings for various teas/coffees/life.
*Station Notes from Katie H’s house in Brooklyn: Shelf, rail, hanging bits are all IKEA. Classy tea-bag holder: An old beer box that my husband MacGyvered. I think my husband grabbed the rubber crumb-catcher thing at a restaurant supply store. Best travel mug for the self-aware.
Finding The Right Coffee Maker For Us
The Bluetooth-Enabled Electric Kettle
For All the Single Ladies
Maybe you are a single mom? Or the single soul in your house who actually drinks coffee? And maybe you also drink a ton of tea? And have kids? And those kids like to make their own tea, but a kettle is heavy and HOT and they need help with a pour? And maybe you cherish that glorious moment on a weekend morning when your 6-year-old brings a cup of coffee to you in bed and says, “Mom, I made this for you!” This is us. We are definitely a Pour-Over- coffee-and-tea-from-a-bluetooth-enabled-electric-Kettle-we-can-all-lift-to-pour-without-getting-burnt kind o’ crew.
Yes, I can sit in my office upstairs with bluetooth boiling water in the kitchen downstairs. Yes, this kettle looks beautiful on our counter. And yes, the kids can press a button and then lift a kettle that’s light enough and safe enough for them to pour their own water into a teapot. And to make mom a pour over too! So this Electric Kettle plus Glass Pour Over have our first vote of we can do this confidence.
The French Press
Nostalgia-Inducing & Ever True,
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I lived another life that involved living aboard sailboats for days and weeks on end. And we French Pressed Coffee, as one obviously does on a sail boat. Interestingly though, all the millennials in my life, and there are plenty of them I promise you…seem to be genuine coffee lovers, and they all make a wonderful cup of it from a French Press at home, I’ve learned recently, like it’s their common thread other than using old expressions such as basic in whole new ways. (We’re giggling at the parody of the paradox there, right?) This was an informal survey of course. But it stands: we all love a French Press for its ease-of-use and cleaning, and b/c fresh coarsely ground coffee really does taste wonderful when pressed. On both land and at sea.
The Easiest Coffee Maker
For The Kids, the Quick Cuppers, and the Not-So-Picky
We Are Also Pod People, But Only Kinda Sorta: When Grace, the 6-year-old brings me a coffee, or asks if coffee can be her job in the morning, this is how that happens. Here’s what I love about it: it’s easy. Assuming you remember to order the pods. And to reorder them. And that you make the time to properly recycle the pods (ship to Nespresso in a special bag you can order from them along with the pods, or drop them at a local Williams Sonoma.) The kids, and everyone else who wishes to make coffee in our house, can handle this. And the coffee, is fine. Many people like it. And at any moment, on any given cold AF day, anyone can make themselves a single cup of coffee with very little effort and no clean-up without leaving the house.
Here’s where I’m not in love: remembering to order pods never happens on time. I also then have Recycling Guilt and two full bags of pods waiting to be dropped off at a Williams Sonoma or mailed back, taking up too much space in my recycling can, for too long, because while it isn’t far, it’s also not on my way to anything these days. And…while my “bad habit” Venti Dark Roast was costing me just shy of $3…it takes 3 pods X approximately $1 each to make the same amount of coffee. So we aren’t really saving any money here. I don’t mind the ‘cute’ froth. Jason hates it. He just wants a full cup of good, black coffee. He doesn’t feel this is that. I’m OK with it. I love the taste enough that the convenience is worth it to me.
The Simple AND Pretty Coffee Maker
For the Design-Obsessed Pod People & Convenience LoversBreville Nespresso Expert
This is so beautiful, we had to try it. In terms of taking up counter space, it barely does. It also looks lovely with its super-clean design. And it makes a proper (as proper as a pod can get) Espresso, Americano and Latte. So for the coffee purist, go with Katie H’s efficient Espresso Machine and don’t forget the knock box. But…if you are design-minded, and coffee purity open-minded (read: a pod person, who is willing to recycle them) then we’re just in love with the Nespresso Expert.
The Well-Engineered Coffee Brewer
The full pot for a morning team, brewed coffee-loving, more traditional, love of well-engineered equipment Crew
And Then There Are Our “Jasons”: OMG. I do not need a whole pot of coffee, nor another thing sitting on my counter. But hey, if this thing makes Jason happy, alright then. And it does. He’s had this one for ten years, and swears by it. My complaint is that the coffee tastes burnt. Enter our relationship/coffee expert Katie H. who lovingly and wisely pointed out that we should grind our own beans (don’t take that for more than it’s worth, it’s worth plenty on its own.) And also that the pot, when stainless and insulated, will keep the coffee warm without burning it as the glass and plate might be doing. And so we’re updating Mr. Consistent to a stainless carafe at least, and possibly to an even more stylish, yet same machine if we can push him a bit. And then we’ll gift him this as well:
The Burr Grinder
The Fresh Grind
Because who doesn’t need a great looking new grind(er)? No one. We all need this Burr Grinder. Just to get things started more right every single day?
The Coffee Maker For A Crowd
It’s Time for the Percolator
And then we pull out the Percolator for the Parties! No joke, I have my mom’s. She used it for 20+ years, I’ve used it for 20+ years, and either it really does make the best coffee ever, or there’s something that just tastes better about getting to the part of the party when coffee is served! So if you need more like 50-100 cups, like it’s no big deal, this is how we do that.
Thank you Katie H. for sharing your coffee station and your coffee wisdom with us! Here’s wishing us all happier coffee at home, one or fifty cups at a time!