Coffee beans are fickle little seeds of flavour, but when given the attention they deserve they respond in wonderful ways. Fortunately, brewing the same amazing coffee you find in your local speciality shop is definitely achievable. If your budget and bean skills don’t stretch to the chrome-plated, elegant espresso machines you see in the shops, don’t become despondent. Coffee and equipment supplier Has Bean’s Stephen Leighton recently recommended leaving those to the professionals, as “there are so many things that can go wrong”. On the other hand, “Brewed coffee is something you can do brilliantly at home, if you follow a few very basic rules.”
Do these rules let you brew truly special coffee at home for a budget of £50? I approached the Head of Coffee at Harris + Hoole, Jochem Verheijin, to find out. He suggested buying hammers, kitchen roll and catering funnels. Fortunately he also recommended a more viable option: pour-over filters.
Easy coffee, funnely-enough
A pour-over is a cone-shaped funnel that you line with filter paper. “The Hario V60 Coffee Dripper is one of the best you can buy,” Jochem says. “It’s just a simple funnel with one large hole at the base, from which you can expect clarity of flavour, restricted body and a very clean cup.” It’s easy to wash, durable and small, comes in glass or ceramic, and costs about £16 (you can find plastic one-cup versions online for £5).
Experts agree that most of your budget should be devoted to the grinder. (See our review on page 20). People often get carried away with brew methods and treat the grinder as an afterthought. If you’re a savvy “coffeesseur”, an upscale grinder is for you, but otherwise the Porlex Mini Hand Grinder, £30, is perfect to start. It grinds about 30g of coffee in one go and has ceramic burrs that stay sharper for longer than steel versions.
Jochem explains why a daily grind is so important: “Coffee beans becomes stale around two to three weeks after roasting, but once you grind your coffee, what you usually lose over three weeks, you lose over fifteen minutes.” Being able to change your grind size is important too. Think rocks and sand: if your ground coffee is too much like sand, the water takes too long to drip through the coffee. Too much like rocks and the water runs through too quickly. Enjoy the process – and experiment.
You’ll need a set of decent digital scales, accurate to a tenth of a gram. You can buy them online for £12 upwards. Scales are essential for measuring water and coffee – getting the right ratios creates consistency. A good rule of thumb is 16:1, water to ground coffee.
As to the coffee, like wine, it’s highly subjective. Personally I like fruity cups, and enjoyed brewing Kenyan Nyeri Ngunguru AA from JB Kaffee in the V60. Use a lighter roasted coffee, and as a general rule pick ones with the most information on the label – if it says “single-origin” you’re doing well. The standard water temperature for brewing coffee is 92-96°C. Ideally your water won’t be as hard as London’s, but you needn’t install a pricey Reverse Osmosis unit under your sink. Boil the kettle and allow it to sit for 30 seconds to reach the right temperature.
The perfect cup
Place a single filter in the V60 and swirl with water so your coffee doesn’t taste of paper. Grind 15g of your favourite coffee beans to the consistency of brown sugar and scoop into the V60. Then place the whole lot on the scales with your cup underneath and set to zero to measure the water you use, by weight, as you pour.
Pour around 30g/ml of water over the ground coffee to pre-wet. Leave for 30 seconds, then slowly and gently pour over the rest of the water, 2cm at a time, letting the water drip through before continuing. Inhale that intoxicating aroma… If the water takes longer than 2½ minutes to drip through, try a coarser grind – the “rocks” mentioned previously. If it’s too quick, it needs to be finer. When you reach 240g on the scales, stop, allow the brew to finish dripping, and taste.
A word of warning. As Joachim says, “£50 is good for a starter kit, but once you’re hooked you’ll want to spend a lot more. The £50 makes you realise how cool home-brewed coffee is.”
£50 won’t get you much these days, but it can buy you a simple home coffee set-up that will produce beautiful complex coffee. Here’s how it breaks down:
1. Grinder Porlex mini hand grinder, available online from £28.95, bellabarista.co.uk
2. Digital scales Available on most high streets or online, from £14, workshopcoffee.com
3. Dripper Hario V60 1-cup dripper in plastic, £4.50, coffeehit.co.uk or prufrockcoffee.com
4. Filter papers 40 Hario papers, from £2.50, nextdaycoffee.co.uk or prufrockcoffee.com
Total cost £47.95 (All prices correct at the time of publication)