Monthly Archives: January 2014

Coffee Heresy

You can make great coffee at home or work. Lots of people have written about how to do it. Maybe later, I’ll tell you how I do it. But for now, here’s a great article. If you want, you can skip the geeky back story in that article and jump straight to the six principles. They are simple. They are solid. You are welcome.

Let me make an observation, though: The equipment required to make a great cup of coffee is relatively inexpensive. You’re going to need a conical burr grinder, but you can get a Hario Mini Mill for \$29 (and I’ve seen them for less). You have several choices for brewing equipment, but the main options are less than \$25. You’ll also need a way to heat water, but you probably have one of those already.

But once you get into it, there’s a world of stuff to learn about growing regions and farms, about roasting, and about your personal preferences. I haven’t scratched the surface of most of this stuff on my own coffee journey. I just know when it tastes good, and I appreciate that it is an agricultural product handled with love and care by my favorite local roaster.

You cannot make great espresso at home or work. At least, you can’t without a lot more time, effort, and money than you are probably willing to invest. In terms of money, they used to say that a good espresso machine would set you back at least \$2000. I’ve been watching these guys since their Kickstarter went live, and from everything I hear they make an amazing machine, breaking new ground in “inexpensive” home espresso, for \$800.1

Once you get a decent machine, you’re going to need some training. Seriously, if you want to do this right, you need barista training, and you need to get it from someone good. And then you’re going to have to practice, a lot. But even then, you’re probably not going to pull a perfect shot first thing every morning. How do I know? Because I regularly see great baristas who have pulled thousands of shots throw them away when they don’t come out right. And I’ve been served lousy espresso by baristas that ought to know better. You have to get the grind dialed in, the portafilter tamped just so, and then you have to get the temperature, pressure, and timing right. And then, for many espresso drinks you have to learn to properly steam milk, and keep things clean in the process.

I like espresso drinks. My favorite drink is the latte, but a good espresso shot can also be divine. But take my advice: Learn to make good coffee at home, and find a great local coffee shop to make your espresso drinks. Treat yourself, and think of all the time and money you are saving. You can buy me a latte to thank me.

Here comes the heresy: If, even after reading my advice, you absolutely must have espresso at home or work, Nespresso is probably the way to go. You can get a Nespresso machine for under \$200. The capsules aren’t cheap, but neither are they particularly dear (about \$0.65 each). They’ll give you a consistent, espresso-like experience, no skill or training required. I used them at work in Ireland, because there was a machine at the office.2 Nespresso is served in Michelin-starred restaurants and sometimes beats espresso in taste tests. I think those taste tests are flawed (and there are others that contradict them), but I think they make my point, nevertheless. The likelihood that you are going to make better home espresso than a Nespresso machine without a substantial investment of time, effort, and money is nil. I will add, though, that I have never used their milk frothing contraption; you’re on your own, there.


Anyway, that’s my advice: Learn to make great coffee at home and work. Buy your espresso drinks from your friendly neighborhood barista and leave a tip. If you won’t take that advice, though, then Nespresso might be your ticket.

  1. One of the guys who started the company was a VT engineering graduate student, so I have followed the project from the start. Despite everything I say here, I sortof wish I had gotten one of their machines for \$200 or \$300 during the Kickstarter. Back in those halcyon days they thought their machine would retail for \$400. 

  2. I did, in fact, bring a grinder and an Aeropress to Ireland with us to make the great coffee described at the beginning of this post. But I kept and used those at home.