Coffee Brewing Basics 1: Getting the Right Equipment.

February 10, 2019

Coffee Brewing Basics 1: Getting the Right Equipment.

Welcome to the first in our series of short blog posts which are intended to help you brew better coffee at home. I’m going to try my best to keep things simple and easy to understand and I’m definitely not looking to create a place to geek out or get super in-depth (you can do that in our FaceBook group if you like). In fact, it’s all about getting the fundamentals down and getting a solid understanding of what’s happening when you mix coffee and water together. 

So, let’s get started. Of all the questions we get asked there is one which comes up more than any other. Which x should I buy? - ‘x’ can be absolutely any piece of equipment - a grinder, a kettle, a brewer, a thermometer, a set of scales. I get it. It’s like any new hobby, right? The equipment choices are bewildering and ‘if I don’t spend enough or if I don’t buy the right things, then I’ll never get decent results’. Well, I’m glad to report that this is mostly not true. 

I’ll tell you a little bit about how my own equipment journey has gone over the past few years. In fact I won’t, because it’s not particularly interesting except to say that two years ago, I had several thousand pounds worth of equipment at home which was entirely dedicated to brewing coffee. Like any obsession, it is so easy for this stuff to get out of hand - I know, I’ve been there. These days, I could replace all my home brewing gear for under £150. 

Let’s imagine for a minute that you were going to take up car racing instead. Your goal is to get around the race track in under two minutes. You could blow all your budget on the fastest sports car you can afford. Whilst that would probably be good fun, the chances are that if you haven’t spent any time learning how to race then you probably won’t be able to get decent times off the bat. In fact, you’ll probably be watching helplessly as people pass you in cars with half the horsepower. Having great equipment is really no substitute for knowing what you are doing. Given time, practice and dedication, you may well start beating those slower cars around the track but there are  defineitley less expensive ways of getting better at racing. 

Ok, so let’s get into this. There are really only two bits of equipment that are absolutely essential and another one that is ‘almost essential’ - everything else, you’ll almost certainly have already. Before we get to those essentials, let’s run through a couple of things. 

Kettles. 

Temperature controlled kettles are pretty cool. They’ll hold your water at a specific temperature. Fortunately for us, every kettle is temperature controlled. They all cut off at 100 degrees and they do this pretty consistently. If you need your water to be 90 degrees, then you can boil it and time how long it takes to drop to the desired temperature. Goosenecks are nice to have as they make the pouring easier and more precise but you can just as easily decant the just-boiled water into a jug or something and get pretty much the same results. 

Thermometers

I really wouldn’t bother. Just boil your kettle, get organised and pour your water 3 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes after the kettle clicks off. Although water temperature does affect the brewing process, the odd degree here and there really won't make much difference at all. The important thing is that you do the same thing every time, be consistent.

Water.

Definitely essential, but not really equipment. You can use the stuff that comes out of your tap - unless you are really struggling to get tasty brews because your tap water isn’t suited to brewing coffee (more on that in a future post). In that case, you could think about various water filtration systems or you could just buy bottled water (Tesco and Waitrose both have good, cheap water that is great for brewing coffee). 

So, have you guessed what the essential and ‘almost essential’ bits of equipment are yet? 

Essentials

First up, you're going to need a brewer. My advice? Keep it simple to start with and use an immersion brewer. A cafetière or an Aeropress is the ideal place to start.

Secondly - weighing scales are essential. You’ll need scales that can measure to 0.1g increments. You don’t need anything fancy. If your kitchen scales measure to 0.1g, then use them. If not, then just grab yourself a cheap set of jewellery scales (which can be had for under £10). Scales are essential because they help us to keep track of what we are doing. Without scales, we can’t accurately repeat what we did last time or make measurable changes next time.  

Almost Essentials.

Grinder. Ok, so the coffee grinder is in ‘almost essential’ because technically we could use pre-ground coffee but if you can afford a decent hand grinder, then you’re really going to level up your coffee hugely from the start. Grinding fresh each time is the single largest leap forward you’ll make in your coffee brewing journey. 

So, that’s it as far as equipment goes. I’ll probably never mention gear again in this series. If you’d like to discuss anything here, then please head over to the FCR Brewers FaceBook group where I’d be really happy to hear your thoughts. Next up we’ll be talking about ‘extraction’. Click here to read that post.  

Until next time, happy brewing!