A Gentleman’s Guide to Specialty Coffee
Coffee is an essential part of most people’s morning routine, but when it comes to coffee, just as it is with the other foods and drinks we consume daily, you get to choose the quality of coffee that you consume. Many people don’t realize that there are essentially two types of coffee; commodity coffee and specialty coffee.
Commodity coffee is what you’ll typically see on supermarket shelves, in the form of whole bean and pre-ground coffee. The vast majority of the population drink only commodity coffee at home, and occasionally enjoy specialty coffee at specialty coffee shops.
If you’re used to brewing commodity coffee, you will probably be reasonably happy with the taste. Here’s a warning for you, though. Once you start experiencing the taste of specialty coffee, you’ll probably never be able to go back to commodity coffee.
The growth, processing, and roasting of commodity coffee, is focused on creating a commodity, at low cost, in high volume.
On the other hand, specialty coffee has been grown, processed, and roasted with a focus on quality. Specialty coffee is grown on smaller farms, and the coffee trees have been chosen not because they produce the most beans, but because they produce the best beans. The way the beans are harvested, processed, and roasted follows the same trend; at every stage, the production of specialty coffee is designed to get the best possible result: the highest quality, the best taste.
The process is often more time-consuming or expensive. It tends to involve roasting smaller batches at a time, for example, which is less efficient than roasting huge batches at once. And it means taking the extra time and effort to seek out the best coffee beans available, which are often more expensive.
It’s also not intended to sit around on shelves for months! Commodity coffee, destined for supermarkets, may sit around in warehouses for a long time, so they choose their coffee beans for the longest possible shelf life. People producing specialty coffee know that you get the best results from making your coffee within a much shorter time after roasting the beans—days or, at the longest, weeks.
So now you’re well informed when it comes to what specialty coffee is, and why you would want to choose it over “normal” coffee. Now, we need to talk about how to brew specialty coffee at home, because if you’re buying the best, you want to get the very best possible results in your cup.
How to Make Specialty Coffee at Home…
… With a French Press
Using a French Press, also known as the plunger or Cafetiere, is an immersion method of brewing coffee. The ground beans are steeped in water for a period of time, and then the coffee grounds are held in the Press by a metal mesh as you pour, so that all you get in your mug is the delicious coffee.
If you want to get the best possible results from your French Press, you need a few things. First, as in all methods, the best quality specialty coffee, you can get your hands on! Filtering your water is also a good move, particularly if you’re in a hard water area.
The other thing you’re going to need to brew great coffee in a French Press is time. This isn’t a method to use if you’re in a rush.
As a start point, you should aim to use 60 to 70 grams of coffee per liter of water, although the exact amount you want to use will be a matter of personal preference. That means, yes, it’s time to get the scales out. If you don’t already have digital scales, it’s worth getting hold of some; this will ensure that, once you hit on the perfect ratio of coffee to water, you can reproduce that every time.
If you’re grinding your coffee fresh, which is the way to get the best taste, you should go for a medium consistency. Some people recommend a coarse grind, to prevent particles from slipping through the filter later and making the resultant coffee sludgy or bitter.
This is more likely to be an issue if your grinder doesn’t grind consistently, in which case stopping at coarse is the best way to avoid some of the beans being ground to dust. If you have a decent grinder, one that produces a pretty consistent size in your ground coffee, then aiming for a medium is better.
Boil your water and pour it over the ground beans in the Cafetiere, then let it sit for around four minutes. You’ll notice a kind of crust that sits on top of your coffee, and at the four-minute mark, you want to stir that gently, then scoop out whatever is left on top.
After that, you need to leave the coffee again, this time for at least five minutes. The longer you wait, the more flavor you’ll get in your coffee, and the longer you give for floating particles to settle at the bottom.
Once you’ve waited as long as you can bring yourself to wait, it’s time to pour. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want to use the mesh plunger on the Press to push to the bottom of your coffee. Doing that will stir up all of the particles that you’ve so patiently left to settle! Instead, let it sit at the top of the liquid and pour through it, catch any larger ground, so they don’t make their way into your mug.
In case you have any doubts about the legitimacy of this method, it’s the one recommended by ex-world Barista Champion James Hoffman in this video guide.
… With an AeroPress
The AeroPress is a unique brewing process, using pressure to force water through coffee grounds in a short space of time to make an efficient—and delicious coffee.
For this method, you want to start with about 30 grams of high-quality specialty coffee beans, coarsely ground. Pour those into your AeroPress and add 100 ml of boiled water. Again, soft or filtered water is best.
Give your coffee a thorough stir with the paddle provided, aiming for 20 times, and then put on the filter cap with a rinsed filter in place. Push out the excess air then, when the coffee has been in contact with the water for 40 seconds, flip the Press over a mug and press the plunger down.
The AeroPress results in a strong coffee, intending to dilute it with more water when you’ve pressed it. Another 120 ml should give you a great coffee, but you can adjust that to your preference.
AeroPress is a quick method, making it a great choice if you’re in a rush, and it’s also incredibly reproducible. The steps we’ve outlined here come from the winning recipe from the 2019 World AeroPress Championship, and you can get the same award-winning result every time by using them! You can also check out this video guide to the process.
… With the Chemex
Chemex is a pour-over brewing method, meaning that you pour water over coffee grounds in a filter and allow it to drip through to be collected below. One thing that makes Chemex special is the specific paper filters, which are heavier than standard filters. This means they hold more of the undissolved oils and particles back from your finished coffee than regular filters do.
Because Chemex tends to produce a lighter coffee than other methods, you may want a higher ratio of coffee to water. One gram of coffee per 10 ml of water is a good place to start, although you can adjust this according to your preference!
The pour-over method means that grind size is an even more critical element of brewing with a Chemex. If your beans are ground too coarsely, the water will move through too quickly and not pick up enough flavor. On the other hand, too fine a grind can cause the process to stop altogether. Our recommendation is to aim for a medium-fine grind. The process should take three to five minutes, varying with both the coarseness of the coffee grounds and the pouring technique you use. But we’ll get to pouring in a moment.
Rinse your filter before you start by setting up the equipment and pouring a little hot water. This will help make sure you don’t have any unexpected flavors showing up and help keep the filter in place in the funnel. Add your ground coffee to the funnel, and then it’s time to pour.
Pouring too much all at once can overflow the filter, so you want to start slow. Begin by pouring roughly twice as much water as coffee used (so, 60 ml of water if using 30 g of coffee), and pour in a circle moving out from the center. Then you want to add another 30 ml of water every few seconds. Try to make sure the grounds don’t go dry in between pours; this will affect the temperature and, therefore, the result. Once you’ve added the last of your water, you can leave it to filter through before getting rid of the funnel with its used coffee grounds and serving up.
This may not be the most straightforward method, but the result is a very clean-tasting coffee, well worth experimenting with!
…With an Espresso Machine
Being able to make true espresso at home is a real luxury, something to be profoundly grateful for. The term “true espresso” is used here because there are similar small shots of concentrated coffee that are often referred to as espresso but aren’t quite the real thing.
You can make an espresso-style short shot with a stovetop espresso maker, and this is probably the closest to true espresso than you’re going to make at home without an espresso machine. Still, it’s very easy to end up with over-boiled bitter espresso, and it isn’t quite the same as “pulling a shot” with an espresso machine.
You can also make espresso-style shots of coffee with the Aeropress, but again, it is not quite the same as the real thing. There are also coffee pod machines such as Nespresso that produce espresso-style coffee, but Nespresso coffee isn’t quite espresso. Nespresso is made with higher pressure, lower brew temperature & less coffee as with authentic espresso, so again, it’s not quite the same as true espresso; it’s a slightly more mild cousin of the espresso.
To make true espresso at home, you’re going to need an espresso machine and a coffee grinder – or a bean to cup coffee machine. Bean to cup coffee machines are espresso machines with integrated grinders and other clever features that reduce the need to develop home barista skills.
For more information on how to make espresso, check out prima coffee’s excellent guide on making espresso at home.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Specialty Coffee – Conclusion
You are now fully versed in the difference between “standard” commodity coffee that most people drink daily, and specialty coffee enjoyed by the more discerning gentleman.
With this knowledge, comes the choice to move away from the more generic taste of normal coffee, and move toward the brighter, more interesting, and more varied tastes that specialty coffee has to offer.