Mill City Picks: Home Brewing Equipment
Following an upward trend over the past several years, many specialty coffee customers are enjoying their favorite beverage in a new locale: their homes. Home brewing is on the rise, and equipment manufacturers are rising to meet the occasion. There’s something for everyone in the home brewing market, from beautiful single cup pour over cones, to home cold brew systems, to an array of highly programmable automatic drip brewers.
Over the past few weeks, as more states have enacted orders for non-essential workers to “stay at home” in an effort to flatten the curve of increasing COVID-19 cases, roasters have seen an increase in online whole bean coffee sales. The reasoning is simple; with cafes closing and more people working from home, the need to brew your own coffee is higher than ever.
For those facing this challenge for the first time, or for future readers who are simply on the search for better coffee in their own kitchens, we have some recommendations for you.
Single Cup and Manual Brewers
Here at Mill City we teach a monthly extraction class in which students learn the foundations of brewing, how to control brew variables, and how to communicate brew recipes to wholesale customers. During the afternoon, we spend several hours brewing coffee on multiple brewing devices and charting our extractions on a Brew Control Chart. Students brew on pour over, full immersion, and hybrid brewers using any recipes and any roast levels they like. Can you guess which brewer consistently produces the most “ideal” cups of coffee? The answer may surprise you: it’s the humble Aeropress. Coffee nerds love this little device because you can brew coffee dozens of ways on it, just look up recipes from the World Aeropress Championships to see how the world’s best Aeropressers have used theirs. It’s also highly mobile, great for travelling and camping, and made from a sturdy plastic which seems impossible to break. Its small size can accommodate a slim hand grinder nested into its cylindrical chamber for efficient packing, and the company has recently launched an even smaller version which comes contained in a carrier that doubles as a mug
For those that love the routine and zen-like meditative moment that a pour over offers, there are many options for brewers that produce a great cup. In this category, classics are classic for a reason. Time-tested and grandparent-approved, the Chemex Coffee Maker is a perfect balance of form and function. We like that it can brew a larger volume of coffee, enough to share with a spouse or cube-mate, and it looks beautiful even when it’s not being used.
Automatic Drip Brewers
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has been kind enough to operate a Certified Home Brewer Program, highlighting several home brewers they have found that “meet the rigorous requirements of brewed coffee quality as determined by the SCA”. Essentially, this program tells you which brewers will heat water to the correct temperature range and fully saturate your ground coffee with an effective showerhead, resulting in a good extraction. Other factors may influence your choice, like the ability to program your brewer to automatically start at a certain time or a warmer that holds your carafe at the ideal drinking temperature. The brewers we like best from the list are the Bonavita One-Touch Thermal Carafe Brewer, with its simplistic design and intuitive functionality, and the Technivorm Moccamaster, which is celebrated for its well-made components and beautiful European aesthetic.
No matter what your brewing preferences are, one thing is for certain: grind matters. A high quality grinder is usually the stumbling block for a lot of home brewers. Good grinders are pricey, and most people are used to either purchasing pre-ground coffee or using a blade grinder (what the rest of the world refers to as a “spice grinder”). But the difference a good burr grinder makes for the quality of your home coffee is immense. When suggesting to someone that they make the leap to a better grinder, it’s helpful to explain why burr grinders are a better option (more uniform particle size creates a more even extraction) and to provide a few purchasing options.
Almost everyone in the coffee industry has heard the name Baratza, and for good reason. They are the leader in the “prosumer” market for home grinders and have been for a while. Their easy to use, high quality grinders, and peerless customer support have earned them a fantastic recommendation. The entry-level Baratza Encore is a basic adjustable burr grinder that’s a massive step up from blade grinding. For a bit more finite adjustments, home espresso use, or for people interested in an electronic dosing option, check out the Baratza Vario. Shopping on a budget? Baratza has a great Refurbished Grinder program where you can pick up previously owned, factory refurbished grinders at a discount.
For a smaller, more analog option, the world of hand grinders has never been more expansive. Japanese brands like Porlex and Hario feature small, lightweight hand grinders with ceramic burrs that are ideal for travelling.
Scales & Kettles
The last items in your coffee station checklist are some of the most simple. A digital kitchen scale is sometimes the easiest single purchase that can improve a coffee at home. Even with a sub-par grinder or low end brewer, getting your coffee dose correct can make a huge difference. Simple options like the Escali Primo make weighing your coffee fast and straightforward. Smart scales, with their integrated timers and bluetooth options, are often more complicated than the average home brewer requires. For a scale that features a built in timer, we like the Hario Drip Scale.
When it comes to kettles for pour overs, the gooseneck shape is important for flow rate control and precision. Hario has great choices like the V60 Buono Kettle, which you can heat on the stove. If you’re interested in an electric kettle, Bonavita’s Variable Temperature Kettle allows you to select your water temperature and heat it to that point – providing you with the perfect water either coffee or your favorite tea.
Whether you’re new to the home barista lifestyle or simply adding to your existing coffee battle station, this equipment will help turn your morning routine into a treasured ritual. Once you’ve got your brewing equipment set up, the hardest decision you’ll make each morning is which of your favorite mugs to use.