Make Your Best Coffee at Home
We aren’t meeting for rides at coffee shops right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t have great coffee at home.
Cycling and coffee have a deep connection. It may have started with sponsorship deals, professional cycling, and Eddy Mercx. Or maybe it has to do with the performance benefits of caffeine? For most cyclists none of that has much hold though. For most people who cycle coffee is a way to get the ride started. It’s all about meeting up with friends and taking a few minutes to relax and enjoy a cup before heading out for a day of hard riding.
Whatever it is for you it’s taken on a life of its own at this point. Certain parts of cycling culture perpetuate themselves because they have become the culture. That’s where I see coffee at this point. If you are a cyclist you tend to get into coffee because you get exposed to it a lot.
It’s no surprise then that last I wrote about coffee it was a hit. I got a lot of feedback that there was excitement around the topic. There was also a lot of feedback that the coffee machine I recommended was hard to actually buy. I was hoping that would change over time, it really is a great machine, but it actually got worse and that was before COVID.
Once I started looking for a new recommendation it became clear I needed to include more than just a coffee machine. A great coffee machine is important but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. If you want great coffee at home, you need a consistent coffee machine but also a great grinder.
Some other considerations for me were price and ease of use. I’ve talked about this before but anything too fussy becomes not worth it to me. I like a little bit of ritual but I also want a simple system. As far as price, I look for good value. Most of the time the cheapest stuff isn’t worth spending money on. Meanwhile, the best of the best tends to be great but that’s an easy fix.
Here’s my recommendation for a great coffee maker and grinder for coffee at home. You can use these pieces to make coffee at home that is as good as you can buy. It’s not the cheapest gear but it will last a long time and be a joy to use along the way.
Delonghi 3-in-1 specialty coffee brewer
My preference is for pour over style coffee. There are a lot of readers from outside the US and if you are one of them it’s likely you have a different preference. Drip coffee is the dominant form of coffee in the US and pour over is the best possible way of making drip coffee.
Pour over coffee is also a style of coffee that practically begs for automation. To make good pour over you need precise water temperature and a precise pouring technique. The Delonghi 3-in-1 specialty coffee brewer handles both of those needs. It also throws in good looks and some clever design for great tasting coffee at home without taking over the whole counter.
Starting with water temperature, the Delonghi 3-in-1 specialty coffee brewer is SCA Certified. The specialty coffee association certification process covers temperature in a specific way. To meet the requirements a coffee maker must provide 92°C water, within the first minute, at the point the water contacts the coffee grounds. Then maintain at least that temperature (92°C) for the rest of the brew cycle. The temperature can never exceed 96°C. That’s it, precise and consistent temperature is what you need and that’s what you get from Delonghi.
Part of the water temperature regulation leads into the clever design as well. The basket is inside the pot with the water reservoir directly above. The whole base of the water reservoir is a heating plate and the distance between the water and coffee is as short as possible. This means the water heats fast and doesn’t cool off running through a complex route to the coffee. If you are brewing a large pot, you will notice the water gets reheated before the end of the brewing.
Next up is the pouring technique. The Delonghi 3-in-1 uses a pulsing shower head design. There’s an initial pulse to wet the grinds then a series of pulses throughout the brew cycle to evenly wet the grounds. There are more complicated systems available but this gets the job done.
Some other things worth mentioning:
- The system uses a paper filter. Paper filters are easier for cleaning but they also provide a smoother cup of coffee.
- It will brew iced coffee. I haven’t used this but it’s not drastically different. It turns off the heating plate so that it doesn’t melt the ice.
- There’s no scale in this unit. Get yourself a scale and measure the coffee you put in as well as the water.
- If both buttons flash it means it needs a descaling. Put whatever descaling agent you want to use in the water reservoir and hold both buttons together until the cycle starts.
- It’s technically possible to pour a cup while the larger pot is still brewing. There is a button that stops the flow of water when you remove the pot. Don’t expect to do this though. You’d have to remove the pot and remove the basket. It would be a pain.
- While you shouldn’t pour a cup mid-brew the machine is fast. It won’t take long for the full pot to complete the brewing cycle.
- It’s a 3-in-1 but it’s not obvious what that means. Press the normal brew button once to make coffee like a drip coffee maker. All the water is immediately added to the brew basket. Press the iced coffee button once to make iced coffee. Press the iced coffee button twice to make pour over coffee and the water will be added using a pulsed pattern. There’s no obvious reason to make standard drip coffee with this machine.
Why grind your own beans?
One of the first pieces of advice you will see, when it comes to coffee at home, is that you should grind your own. Before I get into the details of this grinder and why it’s great, I need to address a question I get a lot. Why grind your own beans?
You buy quality beans and you have them ground at the store. It’s fine right? Yes and No. It’s possible to find a particular bean that happens to work with the grind you can get at the store. You could shop around and find beans where the grind size, your home equipment, and your taste all match up.
The reason it’s recommended you not do that is because it dulls the flavors as well as severely limiting your choices. There is a world of amazing flavors available. Grind your beans fresh and finetune the grind for each coffee and brew method. The flavors remain sharp and all you have to do is get everything dialed in for your brew method and taste preference. This is the secret to great coffee at home.
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
For years I’ve had two $40ish burr grinders. One is a powered unit that kind of works in certain situations. It always makes coffee that tastes noticeably worse than other options but it kind of works in certain situations. Even when it makes passable coffee though, it’s a huge hassle because of static. I also have a Hario Skerton manual grinder. The Hario does a good job but it takes about 10 minutes to grind 1 ounce of coffee. That’s 1 minute of turning a handle and it’s bad enough that I swapped the handle for a screw and use my hand drill. There has to be something better. There, of course, is something better but the question becomes how much are you willing to spend and what do you get for the money.
The starting point for a quality countertop burr grinder is $100-$200. That price gets you into burr grinder options from a bunch of major kitchen brands. Having tested a bunch of these, what I find is that they tend to feel cheap and only work for a certain range of grinding sizes. You are reading this article because you want a better coffee experience at home. The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of money and end up with something that still feels cheap then becomes useless when you want to make an espresso.
A lot of coffee grinders also work overly hard to make how much you grind “easier” and instead make it harder. I have a scale, and so should you, and I know how much I want to grind based on the amount of coffee I’m making. There’s no reason for a system that works based on the number of cups or strength. I want to know, by weight, how much coffee I am grinding.
The Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder is a $250 grinder that will stay with you even if you change the way you like to make your coffee. The Virtuoso+ uses 40 mm steel conical burrs to grind coffee at 1.5 to 2.4g/sec. in sizes appropriate for espresso, drip, manual brewing methods, and French press. The grind is uniform and while I can only verify this by eye, I’m writing this review because the coffee is noticeably better. The flavors are more pronounced and there is a distinct lack of unwanted bitterness.
There are cheaper grinders on the market but if you are looking at high quality options this is on the low end. For the price you pay you get consistent grinding at a range of sizes but there’s also a lot more.
The whole experience of using the Baratza Virtuoso+ feels luxurious. There are 40 settings for grind size and each setting has a distinct click. The selector has weight and feels high quality. The official hopper capacity is 8oz but I was able to get an entire 12oz bag of coffee in. Sitting on the counter the Baratza Virtuoso+ has a small footprint and fits easily under upper cabinets.
One of the best parts of the machine is the grounds bin. It is a plastic design but as if by some black magic static electricity is not an issue. The grounds don’t cling to the plastic and it’s easy to dump them out. The light that comes on to illuminate the grounds is a classy touch too.
Baratza does have the Encore for less money. This lower priced grinder is also a quality unit that makes great coffee. The major difference though is that the Virtuoso+ has a timer. The whole point here is precision. The first time I run a new set of beans through the Virtuoso+ I start with less time than I expect it to take. I weigh the results and when I’ve reached my desired weight, I have my timing. Each morning I grind the same beans for the same amount of time and get the same result. There’s no guessing what a cup size means or how strong I like my coffee.
Upgrade Your Coffee
A quality grinder, quality coffee maker, and a good scale will have you making great coffee at home. It can even be better coffee than the local shop. We aren’t meeting at coffee shops and riding with friends. Take the time to explore what you can do at home though and it will serve you well for years to come. Even as things, hopefully, start to look more like what we remember.