There's a case to be made for bad coffee. The more involved brewing methods necessary for good coffee require, at the very least, a small amount of thought and concentration, which is pretty much impossible until you've had your first cup. In fact, just the other morning I flipped on the wrong burner, leaving the water in my stovetop kettle as cold as when it came out of the tap, while an empty stainless steel pan right next to it got closer and closer to its melting point. I didn't realize my error until the acrid smell of scorched metal almost forced me out of my apartment. But I'll leave such conundrums for another day, because no matter how hard it can sometimes be to make coffee before you've consumed it, I still think great coffee is worth the effort. These are the essential tools to get there, perfect for anyone you love who wants—nay, needs—to make the best coffee every day (and only very occasionally screw it up).
A great kettle: At home, I rely on a simple stovetop kettle with a gooseneck spout, which works well enough but takes a while to fully heat, and, as I mentioned above, sets me up for potential disaster. At work, I'm absolutely in love with this electric one from Bonavita. You can set it to any temperature—say, 206°F (since boiling water isn't considered ideal for coffee extraction)—and have the kettle hold it there until you're ready to use it. That gooseneck spout, meanwhile, is incredibly useful, making it easy to pour a controlled, elegant stream onto your grounds.
A good scale: A lot of people think of coffee in terms of scoops and cups, as in "Ah, I do about three scoops of coffee per cup." There's nothing wrong with that, but using a scale is even easier and more accurate. It's an adjustment to think in grams and/or ounces—I think in grams, and generally use a 1:15 ratio of grams of coffee to water—but once you make the switch, brewing gets so much simpler. Scaling your brew up or down becomes a matter of some quick and easy math, so making a cup for just yourself or a group is a simple calculation, and if you're down to your last few beans, you always know just how much water to use, even if it only yields a half mug. Our favorite basic kitchen scale is more than adequate for the job, and it's what I use at home, but if you're willing to spend a little more, this fancier one from Acaia has a finer resolution of tenths of grams and links to a smartphone app that can track your coffee recipes and pouring style. Plus, the Acaia scale doubles as an excellent all-purpose kitchen scale, so there's no need to buy both.
For the espresso fiend: Espresso is a bigger commitment for the home coffee drinker, but for anyone who absolutely loves the stuff, it can be a worthwhile one. We've had this number from Breville in the Serious Eats test kitchen for about a year, and it's done right by us, producing hundreds of shots each month. Its built-in burr grinder makes it easy to load the portafilter with a proper dose of finely ground fresh coffee, and the simple controls allow you to get it up and running in no time. It does take some practice and fiddling with basic settings to perfect your shot.
Extras Worth Considering
A brewing method: There are as many methods of brewing coffee as there are beans to sample, and deciding on a preferred one is mostly just a personal matter. I've used many over the years and don't have a strong allegiance to any particular one. Some of my favorites include the Chemex, Kalita Wave, Hario V60, Clever brewer, and Aeropress (though I always like to stress that despite what the packaging says, Aeropress does not make espresso).
A grinder: Freshly ground beans are essential for good coffee. For a lot of folks, a simple blade grinder designed for spices is sufficient to get the job done. If that works for you, more power to you. For the more obsessed among us, burr grinders are the better bet, since they allow much more fine-tuned control over the grind. Being able to quickly, easily, and consistently change the grind size is helpful for scaling batches up and down, or switching between brewing devices with different grind requirements. There are whole articles that could be written about all that, but suffice it to say, if control is what you want, the burr grinder is the way to go. I've been using the Baratza Virtuoso at home and like it a lot, but I've also had my eye on this Breville grinder for some time.
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