I love my coffee, and back when I was working in a magazine, I got the chance to speak with many baristas to get their tips on brewing a fantastic cuppa at home. Let’s face it – paying $5 to $6 for coffee every day is not the easiest thing on your wallet. I’d gotten the low-down from the folks from top cafes and coffee shops like Maison Ikkoku, Toby’s Estate, Chye Seng Huat Hardware, Jewel Coffee, Highlander Coffee and Oriole Cafe & Bar.
So here are 13 barista tips for making great coffee at home!
1. USE THE RIGHT GRIND
The kind of ground coffee you put in your french press isn’t going to help you make a fab espresso. Generally, espresso-based drinks (think lattes and cappuccinos) require a very fine grind. The french press, V25, aeropress and other types of drip/filter coffee maker would require a medium to coarse grind.
2. USE THE RIGHT METHOD OR BREWING
If your favourite drink is a latte, you’re probably not going to be able to replicate that same strong shot with a drip coffee maker, a V25 or a french press. What you need is an espresso machine, which forces high-pressure hot water through fine ground coffee for maximum flavour extraction. Is a long black your go-to instead? Then any of those other coffee makers mentioned above would suit you better – plus they are less expensive.
3. GRIND COFFEE BEANS JUST BEFORE YOU MAKE A CUP
For maximum aroma and flavour, take your morning cuppa to the next level by grinding your coffee beans only just before you use it. Of course, it’s a little more work, but if you’re a bit of a coffee fanatic, this is what’s gonna add that extra oomph.
4. USE WATER OF THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
If you are brewing coffee in a french press, V25 or aeropress, the ideal temperature is 96 deg Celsius. If you have a water dispenser at home that lets you control this, then great. For most of us, that might not be the case. Let some boiling water stand for one or two minutes and the temperature will be just right then. Don’t use boiling water as it burns the coffee and you might get a bitter result.
5. WHITE SUGAR VS BROWN SUGAR
This one is actually down to personal preference. Brown sugar can add a tiny hint of caramel, sometimes enhancing the flavour of the coffee. White sugar does not do that, so some coffee purists prefer using it – when they even use sugar, that is, most think good coffee doesn’t need any – since it doesn’t change the flavour.
6. POUR MILK INTO COFFEE
Not the other way around. This tip is more relevant for espresso-based drinks. I learnt that this is so the milk mixes well with the coffee and its crema. When you pour the espresso shot into milk, you’ll also lose its beautiful crema.
7. USE GOOD QUALITY MILK
This might seem like a no-brainer but people forget that milk is as important as the coffee. All the baristas told me: Stick with fresh milk. So what brands should you get? Through my personal observation, I’ve seen that the two most popular brands at the top cafes are Meiji and Greenfield’s – but it’s down to your preference too. Milk should be heated to about 60 to 65 deg Celsius; never reheat milk.
8. WARM YOUR CUPS BEFOREHAND
The longer your coffee stays warm, the longer the flavour and aroma is going to last – plus, lukewarm coffee just isn’t as ahh-inducing as a fresh brew. Heating your cups helps make the magic last just a little longer.
9. USE CERAMIC CUPS
Ceramic retains heat really well. Glass is also fine, but please don’t use plastic.
10. DON’T PUT YOUR COFFEE BEANS/POWDER IN THE FRIDGE
Moisture in the fridge (as well as condensation that forms when you take your container out) ruins the aromatic and flavourful oils in the beans. Store coffee in an airtight container (oxidation is what causes coffee beans to “go flat”), in a cool place, away from heat sources or direct sunlight.
11. BUY BEANS FIVE TO SEVEN DAYS FROM ROASTING DATE
If you are buying locally roasted beans, choose the bag that had its beans roasted five to seven days before. People tend to think that, as with vegetables, freshest is best. I found out that coffee beans continue developing its flavours and aroma even after roasting, and is best ground five to seven days later. The beans release carbon dioxide during this period, which is why you’ll find that the packaging of freshly roasted beans have a one-way air valve; it allows the excess air to escape.
12. MAKE THE EFFORT TO CLEAN YOUR ESPRESSO MACHINE REGULARLY
Coffee oils left behind in the machine can build up and eventually affect the taste of your cuppa. Do a flush with water once a week and clean out the nooks and crannies of the machine, as well as the components. Some espresso machines have special tablets you can use to clean the system more thoroughly; you can go to your retailer to get more advice.
13. WATCH THE TIMING
A 30ml espresso shot should be done in about 20 to 30 seconds. If it takes longer than that, your grind is too fine. If it’s shorter than 20 seconds, the grind is too coarse. When using a french press, one barista taught me to first pour the hot water until just above the ground coffee, let it sit for 30 seconds, before tipping in the rest of the water and letting it brew for the regular four minutes.
About the writer:
Ruby Tan used to write for Her World, and is now a freelance writer with a dream to travel the world. She believes that the some of best things in life don’t have to be bought.