It’d be fair to say that coffee culture blossomed in the UK before truly good coffee and the knowledge of how to best prepare it did. Fashionable notions of marching down the street, late for a meeting and cradling a cardboard take-out cup containing a caffeinated hot drink with an Italian name was probably to many people more important than how their drink tasted. And we pride ourselves on being a nation of tea drinkers, so what was all the fuss about? What does good coffee taste like?

Fast-forward a few years and coffee is firmly embedded in British society. Chain coffee shops are on most high streets and there are more and more independents opening their doors, and you know what? Most are serving really good coffee.

But here’s the kicker; fantastic as independent, trendy coffee shops are, with their bare brickwork, rich smells and de-rigueur young graphic designer types working on their macs while they sip, they’re not downstairs on a Sunday morning. You have to get dressed and leave the house to get good coffee.
Or do you?

You can buy bags of coffee in supermarkets, speciality stores and now, increasingly, online (our friends at Yallah offer a great subscription service that delivers bags of beans to your door). Many coffee aficionados claim that it’s just not the same, but perhaps this is due to our understanding in this country not being quite there yet

“There is absolutely no reason why people can’t enjoy incredible coffee at home, in their dressing gown on a Sunday morning. All they need is a few key pieces of information. It’s not as simply as pouring boiling water over a tea bag, but it’s a lot less involved than most food recipes.”

The beans used for making espresso, the short shot of coffee used as an instant pick-me-up by many or as the base for all of the milky drinks in your high street chain coffee store, requires a darker roast because big, branded chains need bland consistency more than they need potentially interesting idiosyncrasies from their coffee. If you brew coffee at home though, the beans don’t need to be roasted for so long and so retain a lot more of their delicate, floral, flavours. For coffee connoisseurs such as Phil and Rich at Yallah, brewing their 11am coffee rather than using a big machine is often preferable.

If you want in on the secret to getting a good coffee before stepping out the door in the morning, then here’s a run through of the three best methods out of the multitude available:

Before you even put the kettle on though, there are two basic rules to live by: grind your own and grind ‘em well. Buying whole beans, preferably single origin (not a mix of coffee from different farms or even regions or countries) ensures that your kitchen will be filled with “that coffee smell” and that your cup will taste as good as it possibly can. Those flavours and aromas will disappear within ten minutes of grinding which is why both you, and the barista in your favourite coffee shop, should be grinding fresh. An even grind size is important too, otherwise the coffee grinds that are so small that they’re basically dust will over-extract whilst the big lumps of coffee will under-extract. We’re looking for an even extraction for the best flavour, so need an even grind size and the best way to achieve this at home is to invest in a burr-grinder. These things may make you think twice at upwards of twenty pounds, but without one I’m assured that I’ll just be wasting good beans. So, coffee beans selected and ground, you can put the kettle on. But then let it cool down for a moment, because otherwise you’ll burn the coffee when you pour boiling water over it and it’ll be wrecked.

So, beans selected, beans ground, kettle boiled and left for a minute or two. You’re ready to go.

Before getting stuck in there a few key points to go over, and we can use music as an interesting analogy to brewing coffee at home:



Brewing by the numbers

Measuring your coffee as you brew it makes it much easier to quantify and replicate how you like your cup o’ Joe. Always work in grams, even for your water, and time it…


The Coffee

The coffee that you choose to drink is like choosing what music to listen to. There are almost as many options as there are bands out there, and it is simply a matter of taste. Usually the lighter the roast, the better quality the coffee used.


Brew Ratio

The brew ratio is the ratio of coffee to water, usually expressed as a percentage of dry coffee to brewed coffee. To keep with the music analogy, the brew ratio is your volume control – it determines the strength of the drink, i.e. the intensity of the flavor and the body (mouthfeel) of the coffee. Filter coffees are usually brewed between 6-10%. The brew ratio you choose is very much a matter of personal taste depending on how strong you like your coffee. Weigh how much water your favourite cup holds and divide the figure by 100. Times that number by the % you want (7,8,9 etc) and that will tell you how much coffee to weigh out.



The level of extraction that you choose is like your tone control, and you set it somewhere between bass and treble. Different flavours dissolve into the water at different rates so you can use this to ‘tune’ the flavor of your coffee. Fruit acids are very soluble, caramels less so and the bitter flavours dissolve even slower still. Choose a light extraction to keep your coffee tasting bright and clean (risking ‘under-extraction’ = lacking sweetness). Going for a higher level of extraction will give you more sweetness and body but you risk ‘over-extraction’ or bitterness beginning to dominate. The key of course is balanced and clean. It’s ‘contact time’ and grind size that have the biggest influence on extraction

We’re going to look at three of the best options for brewing coffee at home: a common-or-garden cafetiere (or “French press”), a filter cone that looks like a conical white cup and saucer, and an aeropress which is a like a giant clear plastic syringe.

French Press

Using a cafetiere is easily the best way to understand extraction. Pick a brew ratio and add the required amount of coffee to the pot.
Take your kettle that’s boiled and been allowed to rest, and pour your water aggressively onto the coffee to ensure that you saturate the grounds evenly. Leave it to steep for four minutes, giving it a helpful stir at the two-minute mark. Press down the plunger and pour. If you want a lighter extraction plunge it sooner or use a coarser grind, for a fuller extraction simply leave it longer or use a finer grind.

Filter Cone

A filter cone is an inexpensive plastic or ceramic piece of equipment that looks like a cup and saucer and is designed to sit over the top of your coffee cup. Take a filter paper, and wash it under some fresh water before placing it into the filter cone. Use your brew ratio to decide how much coffee you need and add it to the filter. Put the cone onto you cup then put whole lot onto your scales and zero it off. Pour over a very small amount of water, just enough to wet out the grounds, and allow them to “bloom”. This basically means that the coffee grounds will start to bubble and expand a bit as the carbon dioxide locked in it is released. Add the remaining amount of water, little by little (10-15g at a time). To keep the flow rate even, your coffee should drip through in approximately 3.5 minutes. If the water passes through the coffee grounds in significantly less than two minutes then it will be under-extracted, whereas if after the 4 minutes you still have water dripping through then it will be over-extracted and bitter. Adjust your grinder (finer if your coffee is under-extracting or coarser if it is over-extracting) and try again. It might take a little bit of experimenting but will be worth it.


An aeropress is a clear plastic tube with a filter cap screwed onto one end, and a plunger with a rubber seal that pushes into the other end, all of which sits on top of your cup or mug ready to dispense coffee straight to where it needs to be. Think of like an upside down cafetiere, but instead of plunging the coffee out of the water you push the water out of the coffee. Place the piston upside down on the worktop (rubber end up) and push the cylinder about 7 or 8cm into the tube. Then add the coffee followed by the water and leave it to brew. Fix the washed filter and cap onto the cylinder, flip it onto your cup and push. There will be an air lock trapped between the rubber seal of the plunger and the coffee as you push down, so it’s all a pretty clean operation, after which you can unscrew the filter cap and expel the coffee grinds straight into the bin before rinsing off your filter paper to reuse. The very fine paper filter means far less undissolved material is allowed to pass into your drink than the cafetiere (less of that muddy sediment) which uses a coarser metal filter, but you also lose the oils and therefore some mouthfeel. Use a finer grind and shorter contact time than you would for a cafetiere.

It’s nice to know that making a really good cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, or in fact any time, is so achievable. Dave here amassed a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of coffee whilst working in the industry, which it was his job to impart to baristas up and down the country. He can show you graphs that show optimum brew ratios and extraction times with a magic “x marks the spot” in the middle, and discuss the protein molecule science behind achieving micro-foam in milk, but thankfully you don’t have to remember all of this. All you have to take away from this is the understanding that good beans, ground fresh and mixed with hot (but not boiling!) water at the right ratio and for the right amount of time will give me a really good cup of coffee. No doubt you’ll still be stopping off to get a coffee in a cardboard cup from time to time or marvelling at just how the barista made the pattern in the top of your latte, but at least now you have the option of staying home and drinking good coffee in your dressing gown should you so choose.


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