A barista (home or pro) without the right gadgets is like a chef without the right knifes.
All the tools we’ll talk about serve to obtain a good extraction and a better control of the process in order to maintain consistency. Especially, if you are working in a professional environment (coffee shop), the consistency is paramount to keep customers satisfied every time they come to drink a cup.
Basically, we are all customers, either of a coffee shop or of our own coffee brewing.
One of the commentaries I got over and over again from customers when I used to work as a barista was: “I have the same coffee as you use, but I don’t get the same flavors!” I often replied: “It’s likely the equipment you use”. Later when I got more into detail with good coffee extraction I became even more aware of this fact.
Which is the coffee brewing equipment you need?
The following presented tools are my personal recommendation – making no claim to completeness. There is a broad range of models and brands for every listed tool out there. My goal is to explain to you why you should use a specific tool and how it can benefit your brewing.
#1: The Scale
The scale has become one of the most important accessories in coffee brewing. Whether for espresso or hand pour-overs, it’s vital to weigh the amount of coffee as well as the amount of water. Only by weighing both ingredients, you can target the right coffee-to-water ratio and maintain consistency and accuracy.
Darren from The Coffee Compass explains in his post:
Coffee is a science. If you expect to brew consistently, you need to do it accurately. A scale provides you with the certainty that this variable will remain static throughout the course of your brewological expeditions.
Heads-Up! I’m only going to talk about weighing the coffee and water mass. I’m not going with volumetric measurements. In the future I’ll explain why. So, let’s talk about ounces and grams rather than fluid ounces or cups ;)
Both in pressurized brewing (espresso) and non-pressurized brewing (pour-over, French press etc.) you will need to weigh the coffee. In pour-over systems and other non-pressurized methods you also will weigh the amount of water in grams.
In the case of espresso, you won’t be able to weigh the water which comes out of the brew head. Instead, you are going to weigh the quantity of finished espresso in the cup.
You can start out with a regular kitchen scale. Or you can look for some specialized scales for coffee brewing. The advantage of these are that they often come with a timer which can help you to control your brewing time.
Keep in mind: the scale is your consistency tool number one. If you don’t have one, then buy one! It’s not expensive.
#2: The Coffee Bean Grinder
“The grinder is more important than the actual brewing tool!”
A coffee professional told me this “secret” once and it sounds logical. Obviously, the brewing tool is important too, but it only comes with some preconditions for the extraction and does only “receive” the grounds. It does not change the coffee; it’s just like an intermediary between the final cup and the coffee. But the grinder “prepares” the coffee for the final brewing.
When talking about coffee bean grinders, there are actually two points to discuss here: grind size and evenness of the particle size. I’m sure that you might have heard that depending on the brewing method you need different grinding sizes;sometimes finer and sometimes coarser grounds.
To do so, you need some kind of coffee bean grinder which allows you to adjust the grinding size, especially if you use different brewing tools which requires different particle sizes. For more insights on this, please check this post about brewing foundations.
The second point is evenness. It is a matter of fact that roasted coffee beans have not a uniform size. When grinding them, actually three sizes are created:
- The size you chose for your brewing method
- Particles which are finer in size called fines
- Particles which are bigger in size called boulders
Imagine you have particles of all three sizes and start to brew. What will happen is that you will extract the different particles at different rates. You will get some over-, some under- and normal-extracted particles.
The goal is to grind the coffee beans in a way that we can minimize those fines and boulders to obtain possible grounds of an even size and as a consequence a more even extraction.
During the researches for this post I came across the potato slice example. Imagine cutting a potato in slices of different sizes and boiling them. The smaller ones will overcook while the bigger ones will remain raw in the center. And there are some slices which will be perfect. So, aim for evenness!
So how do we get this result? Get a burr grinder!!!
A burr grinder has adjustable burrs and in general allows you to obtain even coffee grounds. Obviously, there are differences between models and brands. You can find high-end models and more convenient ones. But start to grind your beans fresh before brewing and you make a big leap towards a great extraction.
There are also blade grinders. The drawbacks of these grinders are that they are not adjustable and they won’t give you an even grind size. Furthermore, the grounds warm up during the grinding which can affect the coffee’s flavor. Nonetheless, I think that they are even better as to have no grinder.
#3: The Coffee Brewers
Obviously, you’ll need the actual brewing equipment. For me, there is no right or wrong. But it’s important to know that dependent on the design of the brewer and the used filter, it will impact the flavor profile.
One main component of the brewing tool is the filter. The material it’s made of and its porosity have a great impact on what we call the mouthfeel or body in the cup. It does not affect the taste directly.
Essentially, the body consists of all those components which are not soluble. Coffee sediments (small visible particles) and coffee oils (can be seen as shiny layer on the surface of a coffee – don’t worry it isn’t soap).
Dependent on the filter which is used, more or less of these non-soluble components migrate to the cup. The result is either a bold cup of coffee (e.g., French press) or a clear cup (e.g., Chemex) and many things in between.
#4: The Kettle (optional)
If you only want to use an espresso machine, than a kettle is not really necessary. But if you consider using pour-over methods, then a kettle is important. For pouring water on the coffee grounds, we recommend kettles with a gooseneck because you will be able to control the flow of the water better.
If you don't mind to invest, we also recommend an electric kettle to warm up water and adjust the temperature. The point here is that if you warm up the water separately and then transfer it to a kettle, it could happen that the water loses temperature. How temperature impacts the coffee extraction is something you can find more out about here.
#5: The Coffee Server
This is not the most important thing! But if you want to offer coffee in a certain amount and keep the temperature, specific coffee servers could be recommended. Furthermore, a coffee server with a lid is better than without a lid. The reason for that is that aromatic compounds won't escape too quickly.
But if you go only for one cup, any kind of server is fine. Just choose a nice mug to drink from :)
I've shown you the basic coffee brewing equipment you can work with to obtain a consistent result and a great extraction.
Of course, it’s important to know your budget and how much you want to spend. You can find anything from high-end to more convenient equipment.
If you are at home, you can also go for more convenient equipment also to try out different technologies. But in a professional environment I recommend higher quality equipment. In the end, as soon as you will master the basics of coffee brewing, you will probably want to have the pro coffee gadgets ;)
In the next post, I’ll guide you step by step through the hands-on coffee brewing process.
I hope this post was helpful and I would appreciate if you want to share your thoughts and experience about this. I'm looking forward to your commentaries below. If you think this post could interest or help some of your friends, then please share it.
Jennings, D. (2013). 5 Reasons to Own a Coffee Scale. [Blog]. Available at: https://www.thecoffeecompass.com/5-reasons-to-own-a-coffee-scale/ (Accessed on 2017, June 2)
Rao, S. (2010). Everything but Espresso - Professional Coffee Brewing Technique. Canada.
Title picture, own picture
Sliced potatoes, own picture
Corrected & Revised by Andrea Letzner