Yep, we’re doing it.
Coffee has been such an exciting, awesome, fascinating part of my life lately, I couldn’t not talk about it with you! My Fooduzzi fam!
Unrelated: do people still use the word “newb”? Because I feel like a total newb with this stuff.
But it’s been really really fun. And while I still have loads and loads to learn, I’ve already learned a ton and made some truly epic cups of coffee right at home.
Because I’m a beginner / newb, I decided to write this post about how I got into it and some tips I learned along the way. Coffee has been such a fun hobby for me the past few months, and I’m excited to share a bit of what I’ve learned along the way with ya!
If you want to know how to get into coffee but you’re not really sure how, I hope this guide can point you in the right, delicious direction! Let’s jump in:
I. Get a Subscription & Talk to Local Roasters
When I finally decided that I wanted to learn more about coffee, I committed to buying a coffee subscription. I think it was a good move because:
a. I don’t need to think about it; the coffees come every two weeks
b. There’s no planning involved; I get a different coffee (chosen by them) with every shipment
c. Usually companies with coffee subscription services know their stuff, I’m learning a lot along the way
It’s been wonderful. Like so wonderful. I got the welcome kit subscription from Blue Bottle Coffee (here’s $10 off if you want to try it for yourself!), and it’s great. It came with a lot of the gear I needed to brew (more on that below), plus a cute tote and six different whole bean coffees delivered to my door every two weeks. Plus, the coffee is roasted 2-3 days before it gets to me. I live across the country (they’re in CA, I’m in PA). It’s amazing I can get coffee that fresh.
And if you can’t, there’s always local. Pittsburgh isn’t necessarily the place you think you’ll find good coffee, but La Prima Espresso Company is pretty much the best. In fact, every time I travel for blog stuff or for work, I always make sure to tuck a bag or two into my luggage to give away to out-of-towners. It’s that good.
Plus, the blogger in me is totally geeking out over their new branding. It’s so pretty!!!
They invited me to their roasting facility a few weeks ago, and it was the greatest thing ever. The air smelled like coffee and chocolate (a very common flavor note in coffee), and I learned so much about the process. Chuck, Mike, Sam, Anthony, and the entire La Prima team are amazing people, and they have so much passion for and understanding of the process.
Hit up your local roasters, and see if they’d be willing to give you a tour or explain their process. I have so much more of an appreciation for my morning cup of coffee now that I know what goes into making it. It’s truly a beautiful hands-on process!
II. Buy Some Gear
You’ll need a few necessities. Not a ton, just a few cheap (!) tools that help you make a dang-good cuppa joe like a boss.
a. A kitchen scale
It’s good to have a kitchen scale for other kitchen-y things (baking, portioning, etc.), but it’s especially good to have to make epic coffee. Regardless of the brewing vessel you choose (more on that in a jiffy), you’ll need to measure out your beans. The amount of beans differs from brewing method to brewing method, as well as bean type to bean type, so a kitchen scale is a necessity.
And…a cheap necessity! This is the one I have (affiliate link), and it’s ~$10. Score.
You’ll get a bowl or jar or whatever (I use a mortar from my mortar and pestle set because it has a convenient little spout for pouring), place it on your scale, tare or zero out the weight so that it doesn’t take the weight of your bowl / jar into account, and then measure out your beans. Simple!
b. A grinder
One of the most important lessons I learned when I toured the La Prima roasting facility is that grinding your beans right before brewing is one of the best ways to ensure that your cup of coffee is as fresh as possible.
I like to compare it to buying pre-chopped vegetables at the store. Sure, they’re good. But are they as good as getting full-sized, whole vegetables from a local farmers market? Nada. Whole veggies retain so much more flavor, and coffee is no different.
There are so many different grinders out there, from electric to manual. I have this cute little hand grinder (affiliate link), and it’s working great. It definitely takes some arm strength to grind the beans, so if you’re worried about it, I’d go with an electric grinder (something like this! [affiliate link]).
In all honesty, I’ll probably upgrade to an electric one where I have more control on grind size. So important (but more on that later).
c. A kettle
Not the most important piece of gear (you can just boil water in a pot), but a kettle gives you a lot of control over your pour speed. We’ve used something like this for years (affiliate link), and it’s been great!
d. A brewing vessel (or two…or three)
There are so many brewing vessels for coffee. Omg. I’m still learning about the differences between them honestly. Stumptown Coffee and Blue Bottle have a bunch of really great brew guides that helped me narrow down a few different techniques that I wanted to try.
All three produce wildly different cups of coffee, and I kind of love it. I’m slowly learning. The French Press produces a bold, oily, thick coffee, while the dripper is more refined and clean, and the Aeropress does a great job at removing the bitterness from your beans.
We’ve had the French Press and Aeropress for years, but the dripper actually came for free with my Blue Bottle Coffee subscription (I got the welcome kit). If you’re interested in checking out Blue Bottle’s coffee or gear, here’s a $10 link for ya!
e. Filters, if necessary
Depending on your vessel-o-choice, you might need filters. Every vessel we have came with specific filters, so I didn’t really worry about it. Just wanted to give you a heads up that you might need to purchase them too!
III. Practice and Adjust
Okay, so you have your gear, you have your coffee. Now’s the time to practice. And this is where things get a bit…scary if you’re a freak perfectionist like yours truly.
Your first cup probably isn’t going to be the best. It might be too weak. It might be way too strong or bitter. Or maybe it’s sour.
But it gets easier! And you just learn along the way.
I find articles like this and this and videos like this are really helpful in understanding what might have gone wrong in my coffee extraction process. There’s also a course from Blue Bottle on how to brew (it’s free!). I mean, it really should be easy. It’s just coffee + water, right?
But there are so many elements that go into creating a truly exceptional cup. Consider questions like:
- Is your water filtered or from a tap?
- Was your water too hot or too cold?
- Was your grind size too big or too small?
- Did you add too much or too little coffee?
- Did you add too much or too little water?
- Did you use the best brewing vessel for your type of roast and bean?
It’s all an experiment. A learning experience. A delicious experimental learning experience. Be patient, keep practicing, and you’ll refine your process. Pinky promise.
This also leads me to…
IV. Take Notes
I’m a nerd at heart. I have the glasses. I have a million notebooks. I read like a fiend. So the fact that I get to geek out over coffee and take notes on flavors and origins and brewing styles has been super fun.
Because honestly, any excuse for a new notebook is always always always a good thing.
But seriously, taking notes has been the best way to help me refine those skills and learn which coffees to look for in the future. Here’s a very real picture of my dorktastic tasting notebook:
I take note of a few different things:
- Roast Date / Brew Date
- Name / Roaster
- Technique / Bean Weight
- Flavors I’m supposed to taste
- My thoughts / flavors I actually taste
I typically add unsweetened almond milk to my coffee, but I make sure to taste each one black when it’s going in the notebook. I don’t want any flavors / textures to be affected by the milk.
So I brew, sip, take notes, and then add my almond milk. And if I brew the same coffee in a different way (more or less beans, bigger or smaller grind size, different technique or vessel, etc.), then it goes on another page.
Kinda cool, right? This way, I have all of my coffees and my initial thoughts of each in one place. So convenient!
And if you’re way more techy than me, this app is pretty cool for helping you track your tastings!
V. Learn What You Like
The whole taking notes thing has really helped me understand the types of brews / origins I really enjoy. While I like chocolatey notes, I’ve been a huge fan of the berry, citrusy notes from Africa. I know that sounds weird, especially the citrus. But I’ve recently tasted coffee that literally tastes like raisins and lemon zest.
I’ve learned that I like natural coffees, meaning that the fruit surrounding the coffee bean(s) actually dries off the beans in the sun, rather than being washed with water (more on that here). Because I’m a fan of the berry / fruity flavors, I’ve found that I’m drawn to naturally-washed coffee flavors.
I’m also liking lighter roasts! I used to be all about that punch me in the face with that dark, liquid love kind of coffee experience, but I’m finding so much joy and depth in a lighter roast. It’s amazing how just an extra minute or two in the roaster can really influence the flavor notes of the bean.
While you can do quizzes like this to find out which coffees you might like, the best way to figure it out is to try them, learn from them, and adjust from there.
Buy a few different bags at the store, start a subscription, visit a local roaster and pick up a few different varieties. Try them, takes notes on them, and figure out the roasts, beans, origins, and flavor notes that make you go weak in the knees.
I also kind of want to make you a coffee flight. You know, like a beer flight, but with coffee. Gah! What would you even do with a DIY on this blog?! Taste different varieties, different brewing techniques side-by-side-by-side to really be able to taste the difference. Or do a cupping (coffee tasting) locally.
So if you’re going to get into coffee, let me know. I’d love love love to hear about it! And give me all your coffee recs plz & thx.
Important note: I’d love to do more coffee-centric posts here on Fooduzzi, so let me know if you A) enjoyed this, and B) would like to see more. I’m thinking I’d focus on the bean-to-cup process (natural vs. washed beans, the roasting process, sourcing, etc.), as well as different brew guides for each of my favorite techniques / vessels. Thoughts? Totally open to feedback from you!
P.S. I don’t want to end this post without an important note. When I was at La Prima a few weeks ago, I met their cycle-delivery guy, Austin. I actually went to high school with Austin, and I’m pretty sure we never spoke in high school. It was a huge school (600+ in my graduating class), so we just had different friend groups and ran in different crowds.
It was great reconnecting with him and learning about his passion for La Prima and cycling (he actually won a race across our state, from Philly to Pittsburgh, two years in a row!). We had a short conversation, caught up, and then I left.
Austin died last week, and I know the La Prima team has been shaken to its core with his passing. It’s a complete tragedy that someone so young lost his life. My heart goes out to his family.
His passing has given me a reminder to enjoy the little things.
Coffee is one of those “little things” that I’m choosing to enjoy every day, and it has had a huge impact on my day-to-day. It’s given me something to learn about, to tweak and adjust, to perfect, and it’s just been a ton of fun for a food nerd like me.
Even if coffee isn’t your thing, I encourage you to find something that you enjoy, something that makes your day a bit brighter, and really go all-in. It’s amazing how quickly a “delicious experimental learning experience” has turned into a full-blown obsession for me. I truly do look forward to learning more, and drinking more, every day. Find something like that and do it.
// La Prima Espresso Co. photo credit: Ryan Neeven (@neevenr)
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