Do you remember the last time you whiled away time at a coffee shop? For me, it was March 2, just two weeks before our world was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. I met up with a friend and we chatted for hours as we sipped our drinks — an Americano with cream for me — and noshed on cookies. We were blissfully unaware that it would be our last time sharing such a moment for the indefinite future.
For many of us, coffee shops aren’t just about the coffee drinks but the experiences that come with them. From working for hours on a project with a steady flow of drip coffee to overhearing an awkward first date while sipping an expertly crafted latte, coffee shops are unique ecosystems. While we can’t recreate everything about them, we can at least channel our inner barista and up our coffee game at home ― whether or not your local coffee shop has re-opened.
From equipment to techniques, here are a few ways to make shop-worthy java at home.
Ideally, you’re going to need a burr grinder and a kitchen scale.
Whether you brew your coffee with a drip coffee pot or a Chemex, one of the best pieces of equipment you can purchase to take your coffee to the next level is a burr grinder. Unlike a standard coffee grinder, a burr grinder allows you to choose the coarseness of your grind. Because of this, they tend to be a bit more expensive than standard grinders, with prices starting around $50, but they’ll last a while and immediately improve your coffee-drinking experience.
“People should get a burr coffee grinder because that’s when you can start to experience a super personalized cup of coffee and tailor it to your needs, instead of just scooping three cups into the coffee machine,” said Gabi Ingersoll, a barista at Peaks Coffee Company in Syracuse, New York.
For example, if you’re brewing a cup of coffee in a basic coffee pot, you’ll want to set your grind to medium, while a coarse grind is ideal if you’re using a French press or making cold brew.
To ensure a consistent brew every time, Leticia Pollock, co-founder of Panther Coffee in Miami, likes to use a kitchen scale. “You’ll make a cup of coffee and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is delicious.’ But you can’t make it again,” Pollock said. By using a kitchen scale (which you can buy for less than $20), you can track exactly how much coffee went into the dream cup you finally concocted.
Make infused simple syrups
Daydreaming about the soothing lavender latte that only your favorite barista can make? Making infused simple syrups is easier than you think and a fun way to add flavor to your coffee.
Ingersoll is partial to a strawberry simple syrup, thanks to a batch of strawberries that was once accidentally sent to the coffee shop. “You know how Hershey’s has that strawberry syrup in the bottle? It was like a homemade version of that,” she laughed.
To make it, slice one pint of strawberries and toss them in a saucepan with one cup of water and one cup of sugar. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for 20-30 minutes, making sure to occasionally stir. Once the liquid is bright red and the strawberries are cooked down, strain it into a jar or heat-safe bowl and chill in the fridge.
You can use your syrup in hot coffee, but it’s especially great in iced beverages. Instead of just stirring it in, use a cocktail shaker. “It makes the drink kind of frothy, which I like that texture. And then you just get whatever flavor in every sip instead of just when you get to the bottom of the drink,” Ingersoll said.
Put ice, coffee and a half teaspoon or so of syrup in your shaker, shake it to your heart’s content and then strain it over ice into a glass.
Other syrups to experiment with include rosemary, orange and salted caramel.
Make coffee ice cubes
It sounds so simple, but the small act of freezing some of your coffee in an ice cube tray can make your cold coffee drinks more potent. Ren Doughty, outreach and customer support coordinator for Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters in Olympia, Washington, likes to make his coffee double strength before freezing it.
“You pop out the ice cubes, toss them in a Ziploc freezer bag, and now you’ve just got these strong coffee ice cubes ready to go,” he explained.
You can drop them into iced coffee, but Doughty’s favorite way to enjoy them is in a blended drink. Blitz three to four coffee ice cubes in the blender with about five ounces of milk and a teaspoon of honey. “It’s delicious, it’s cold and frosty in the summertime, but you get the strength of the coffee flavor that you want,” he said.
In a hurry? Skip the cold brew process
Making a batch of cold brew is great, but it needs time to steep ― at least 12 hours. Japanese-style iced coffee is quicker and the result can be just as jolting. Ingersoll makes hers by brewing a double-strength pot of coffee (just double the amount of coffee grounds you’d normally use) and then immediately pouring it over ice. “When it melts down, it doesn’t lose any of that strong coffee flavor, and it doesn’t dilute the coffee,” Ingersoll said. The key is to pour it over ice immediately to prevent acidity from developing.
Pay attention to your beans
How many times have you stood in line at the coffee shop wondering if this will be the day you step out of your comfort zone and try one of the specialty blends of coffee, only to stick with your usual? Now may be a good opportunity to step out of your coffee comfort zone and try something new.
Coffee beans have different flavor profiles depending on where they’re grown, how they’re processed, how they’re roasted and how they’re brewed. Let’s say you like Pike Place at Starbucks (or your local coffee shop’s signature roast) with its nutty cocoa notes. Consider trying a coffee with a fruitier flavor profile, like the Apollo by Counter Culture, which has citrusy notes, or the Guatemala San Sebastian by Perc with notes of berries. Pay attention to which beans you like and how you like them (fruitier coffees are great for iced coffee) and you’ll be able to broaden your coffee drinking experience.
“It’s like wine ― one day you want to have Cabernet, one day you want a Sauvignon Blanc,” Pollock said.
Get fancy with your milk
If you prefer lattes and cappuccinos, it’s going to be hard to replicate them at home without dropping some change on an espresso machine. But a strong batch of brewed coffee and a simple milk-frothing tool will help you imitate that experience at home.
“I’ll put oat milk either on the stovetop or in the microwave and get it almost boiling and then put it in my French Press, actually,” Ingersoll said. “And just plunge it up and down and it actually makes a really beautiful frothy milk.”
Other low-cost options include whisking milk in a pot or buying a frothing wand.
Create a coffee ritual at home
Pre-pandemic, going to the coffee shop often offered a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of real life for a bit. At home, you can also design a coffee ritual that breaks up the monotony of the day. For me, that’s playing a coffee house-inspired playlist, snacking on some Trader Joe’s Speculoos cookie and trying to do a crossword puzzle before the baby wakes up from her nap.
Doughty likes to start the day by brewing a French press to specificity using a digital thermometer. For Ingersoll, the ritual varies by circumstance. At home in Syracuse, she likes to take things slow by weighing her coffee and making it in a V60 pour-over, but for the time being she’s quarantining with her family in Maine, where they buy Chock full o’Nuts coffee and brew it in a drip coffee pot.
“And for me, being home, I enjoy that coffee ritual with my family, just waking up and drinking that coffee.”