Simple Steps to Brewing Great Coffee at Home

There is in fact no secret to brewing great coffee at home. It doesn't take much to be able to enjoy a nice cup of coffee if you follow the following pointers:

1) Use the freshest coffee you can find

Your coffee is only as good as the freshness of your beans. Use the freshest beans available. Try to buy beans in as small a quantity as possible so that you can finish them within 1-2 weeks. In the past, one had to buy coffee beans from supermarkets. But do know that such beans have been roasted for a long time before they reach our store fronts, and there is no certainty to the grade of beans used. The good news is that there are now several local coffee roasteries that have popped up which freshly roast their beans weekly, ensuring that you have access to (1) good quality beans, (2) freshly roasted beans. A 250g pack of beans generally cost from 12SGD to 16SGD. You can get them from cafes like Toby's Estate, Smittens, and Highlanders, just to name a few. You wouldn't know what you've been missing out until you've tried freshly roasted beans!

Invest in a grinder so that you can grind on demand. Coffee powder goes bad when mixed with air (just like fine wine), so grind only as much as you need.


Freshly roasted beans + freshly ground beans = Good!

2) Invest in a Burr Grinder

No matter what brewing method you use, a good burr grinder enables you to grind your coffee beans to an even size. Having this evenly sized grounds means that your coffee will be extracted equally and taste the best. Having a good grinder is in fact more important than spending on an expensive coffee machine. Most people start off with a small hand grinder, like that from Hario. Papa Palheta sells some good quality grinders suitable for pour-over coffee for about $300-500.

I have written about my experiences with using an off-the-shelf supermarket ground coffee with the Bacchi Espresso machine, and suffice to say, the results weren't good.

3) Temperature

Coffee is meant to be brewed from water just off boiling point. About 90-95deg Celcius would be great. Too hot and you will over-extract your coffee, leading to bitterness in the taste. Too cold and your coffee may taste overly sour.

It also helps to pre-heat your serving cups/flask.

4) Invest in a Quality Coffee Machine

Quality doesn't necessarily mean expensive. You can get very good coffee from a simple french press, or if you like pour-over coffee, the Chemex or Hario V60. These methods of coffee-making can surprise you with how good coffee can be, if you follow points 1 - 3. In fact, drinking coffee with the Chemex is akin to drinking fine wine. Forget the nasty bitter or sour tastes that you need to mask with sugar. a properly brewed coffee with the Chemex can be savoured 'black' without sugar (or kopi-O kosong as we call it). That's good news for the health conscious!

Chemex Classic series, with the wood collar and leather ties

However if what you want is espresso, or espresso-based beverages like Lattes or Cappucinnos, then you will need to spend more on a good espresso machine. What defines a good espresso machine? It is something that is able to control the variables of temperature and pressure predictably enough so that you will be able to consistently produce quality espresso. In your journey with coffee-making, you may soon realise that this problem of controlling the temperature and pressure may prove to be more difficult than expected!

Bacchi Espresso machine

Andrea Bacchi, the designer of the Bacchi Espresso Machine, made use of physics to control these 2 variables. The brew pressure is controlled by the pressure release valve. The water in the brewing chamber is heated by simple conduction through the body of the machine. He calculated that the amount of heat energy required to raise the water temperature to 90-95deg Celcius would be when the brew pressure hits 9psi at about 6-7 minutes.

It sounds incredibly simple, yet it is quite a feat to achieve if you are designing an espresso machine with temperature sensors, heaters, motor pumps. To get the parts all right will result in the machine costing a few thousand dollars. Which is why the Bacchi Espresso machine is remarkable at its price-point.

Conclusion

It boils down to what kind of coffee you prefer - brewed coffee, or espresso based.

Brewed coffee is undoubtedly the cheaper option, as coffee brewers like the Chemex, or french press cost less than $100. What you will also need is a weighing scale (~ $20), temperature probe (~ $20), and a grinder ( ~ $300). For this reasonably affordable setup, what you get is coffee that easily surpasses 80% of all coffee you can find in cafes and coffeeshops out there. 

If however, what you want is espresso, or espresso-based coffee like lattes, then you will have to increase your budget.

Get a capsule-based espresso machine? Remember the point about freshly ground coffee, and this automatically removes such machines from your option. Can frozen food ever be as good as fresh food? 

'Real' espresso machines - think the entry level Rancilio Silvia, up to home prosumer machines like the Quickmill Andreja, or Rocket Giotto. Go for them if you have a budget of up to $3000. 

Then, there is the 'indie' group of espresso machine makers, that make small, possibly handheld espresso makers like the Presso, myPressi Twist, Handpresso, and the Bacchi Espresso machine. Costing less than $1000, these machines are the closest one can get to making real espresso cheaply. We have chosen specifically to carry the Bacchi Espresso machine, because we feel it is the most robust, and consistent performer in terms of temperature and pressure control. It is, in our opinion, the most affordable, real espresso machine for the home user.