Some people like coffee, and some people love it. You know who you are.
For those in the latter category who are ready to take their coffee-lovin’ relationship to the next level, Bed Bath & Beyond has brewed the following guidelines for upping your game and creating flavorful coffee and espresso drinks from the grounds up. Follow them, and you’ll be making coffee like a barista in no time.
1. Barista Gear
For the champion barista-at-heart, a basic coffee maker won’t cut it. The trick to finding the right equipment is assessing your aspirations and selecting the best model for the job. Although some machines may seem pricey, the investment should pay off in coffee-shop savings for those who are committed to exploring and learning the functionality of the equipment.
There are two types of machine styles to choose from: the pump-driven (semi-automatic or super automatic) espresso machine, or the more affordable steam-driven design that produces strong coffee instead of true espresso. Semi-automatic machines work well with practice and skill (and can outperform a chain-store coffee shop, provided you know what you’re doing), while super automatic machines are easier to use and can produce flawless espresso, but at a price ($500-$3,000).
There are seven criteria for finding the best machine at any price level. These include:
- sturdy, replaceable parts
- quality boiler(s)
- user friendly controls
- fast heating
- accessible/adjustable spouts for different drink sizes
- safe design
- and easy to clean.
2. Must-Have Gadgets
Once the machine is chosen, it’s time to round up the must-have gadgets. Any barista worth her beans knows making superlative coffee and espresso drinks requires the right tools. Many come with a high-end machine, so look for these. Check out this list:
The Grinder (note: super automatic machines come with built-in grinders!): A good bean grinder is the gadget that separates the serious barista from the amateur brewer. Coffees and espressos simply taste better when made with freshly ground beans. For this reason, if your goal is to match the pros cup for cup, do not skimp here.
There are two types of grinders: blade models and the burr design. Brewing experts agree: for maximum aroma and flavor, make the investment in a burr grinder. The burr technology grinds the beans to a consistent texture and without introducing flavor-damaging heat that can come from a blade grinder.
Gourmet espresso tampers are yet another must-have for the serious barista. Measure the inside of the filter and find a light metal or aluminum tamper (no plastic, please!) that will fit snugly inside. Proper tamping down of the grounds before brewing increases strength and flavor, while un-tamped grounds yields watery results. Experts advise tamping down gently, using about five pounds of pressure to create an “espresso pellet.” Most high-end espresso machines come with good quality tampers fitted to work with the machine.
A knock-out box or waste bin/recycling station for the used grounds will also ratchet up your barista cred. Dump the grounds into the bin and move on easily to your next order. Just like the pros.
Since we are getting fancy, go all the way with a set of coffee stencils. Round, washable discs with cut out designs that are held over a freshly made cappuccino (or similar frothy drink) and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Voila’! Impressive!
Frothing pitchers are also de riguer, and baristas favor those with curved bodies to better swirl the milk while frothing. Experts recommend refrigerating the pitcher prior to use and using a small amount of cold milk. Serious baristas might also consider stand-alone battery-operated or steam frothers which are convenient and can be used for purposes outside of coffee making.
A milk thermometer is key to preventing milk from overheating when frothing.
Storage containers for whole beans or grounds should always be airtight for optimal freshness.
Espresso cups and saucers should be chosen as carefully as wine glasses. Just as red wine is served in a bowl-shaped glass and champagne in a flute, Espresso cups hold a diminutive 3 to 4 ounces; while cappuccino cups or bowls can measure 6 ounces and up. The design of your serving ware is up to you, and is a great place to show off your personal style and taste.
To achieve a completely stocked coffee house experience, consider including espresso spoons, straws (for iced drinks), stainless steel shakers, a chocolate shaver/grater, sugar bowl, creamer, and of course, an apron to your tool chest. Indie music and poetry reading optional.
3. Mad Skills
Did you know new hires at Starbucks attend barista school for two weeks prior to pulling their first java? Baristas-in-training are taught the history of coffee, the store menu, and of course, how to create the perfect froth.
For those of us who would like to perfect coffee making without tying on a green apron, there are similar opportunities available. Classes can be found in “latte art” (i.e., milk texturing), roaster training, or a full-day barista workshop. Study at a credentialed online barista training school, or view literally hundreds of YouTube videos on the subject for free. There are many books available on professional brewing techniques as well.
Whether your study is self-guided or offers certification, baristas-in-training must be fluent in the language of the caffeinated (think: macchiato, ristretto shot, portafilter, split shot, Pile Driver, Espresso Con Panna, Red Eye, Doppio) and dedicated to perfecting the rigors of the craft.
Eventually, you’ll master the optimal length of time it takes for espresso to pour from the machine (an indicator of taste!), and understand why the art decoration on top of your latte isn’t just for looks. (Why? If the foam holds a crisp design it means the consistency of the froth is good and the shot well made.)
Practice makes perfect. Get grinding!
What is your favorite coffee drink?