How to get that coffee-shop coffee taste at home?
January 22, 2009 7:04 PM   Subscribe

My home brewed coffee doesn't cut it anymore, and I want it to taste more like coffee shop coffee. What should I do? Suggestions for new coffee maker/grinder?

My coffee is decent, but still doesn't have the taste of a good cup from a coffee shop.

I buy fresh beans from local roasters and grind them right before brewing, and use filtered water from a brita. So I have the freshness/water quality angle covered. I use plenty of coffee per pot, so I don't think its just a strength issue.

I think the problem lies in my coffee maker (an average Braun drip machine) and blade grinder (crappy). I can replace both from Amazon, as I have some gift cards to use, I'm just not sure what to get. I've heard suggestions to go with a burr grinder, and to look for a coffee maker that can brew very hot. My budget is $200 - $300. Timers and what not are nice but not critical.

Please don't suggest french press - I have two or three presses and use them occasionally, but they are just too much mess and hassle right now.

Anything suggestions that I'm missing to get to coffee nirvana are appreciated.
posted by rsanheim to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Technivorm KB741?

I don't have one but it sounds good and is within your price range.
posted by mpronovost at 7:20 PM on January 22, 2009

What have you been using to clean your coffeemaker? Accumulated oils and grunge can affect the flavor, negatively.

There are special cleaning solutions designed to really clean coffeemakers to remove that stuff.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:21 PM on January 22, 2009

Response by poster: Chocolate Pickle: Usually just a good rinse after each brew, plus soap/hot water once in a while. So I'm sure there is some buildup in there, but in the past when I've soaked everything in vinegar I didn't notice a big change in the taste.
posted by rsanheim at 7:31 PM on January 22, 2009

Why Your Coffee Sucks
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:33 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know you said no French Press, but have you tried the Aeropress? I don't work for them or have anything to do with the company, but decided to buy after I saw it reviewed at DansData. Quick, easy to clean, and better than any other french press I've ever tried.
posted by Admira at 7:33 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

BUNN BX-B Classic.
posted by Sailormom at 7:36 PM on January 22, 2009

I use and recommend a moka pot. It doesn't quite taste like good espresso coffee, but it's incomparably better than a drip filter.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:38 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I work at Williams-Sonoma. We have to learn how to diagnose and solve these issues.

1) You need a conical burr grinder. Any other grinder pulverizes the bean in a negative way.

2) You need to purchase no more than a week's supply of beans at a time.

3) You need to store those beans in the freezer. But not in the can. Take the beans when you get them and seperate them into serving-size plastic bags. Put those bags in the can and the can in the freezer. Otherwise, everytime you open the can you'll let moisture condense on the beans and ruin the flavor.

4) You might want to consider a Cuisinart Grind and Brew machine. Or you might seriously want to consider an espresso machine, which many agree provides the most flavorful coffee available.
posted by jefficator at 7:39 PM on January 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Our espresso machine has a burr grinder that does an excellent job of producing an accurate, consistent particle size. I think the grind is the biggest factor in good coffee.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:40 PM on January 22, 2009

The Aeropress is not a French press / cafetiere in the usual sense anyway. And it is extremely easy to clean. Definitely recommended.
posted by galaksit at 7:42 PM on January 22, 2009

I too use the Aeropress, which seems to show up in a lot of Ask Metafilter coffee threads. It makes a fantastic cup of coffee, and unlike a French press, it's basically self-cleaning (just requires a bit of rinsing.)

It is limited in capacity--you can really only make one or two cups at a time--so if you frequently make coffee for several people or like to have a quart of the stuff to get you through the day it's not optimal. But for a morning cup I've found it to be ideal. Works well in combination with an electric kettle and a simple burr grinder (I don't think it's necessary to get a fancy grinder if you're not actually making espresso.) Plus, it costs less than $30, so if you try it and still aren't satisfied with the results you have $200+ dollars left to try something else.

Oh, and seconding keeping the beans in the freezer.
posted by fermion at 7:48 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tom at SweetMaria's explains it all for you (and recommends Technivorm if your pockets are yay-deep as you imply they are).
posted by RockyChrysler at 7:49 PM on January 22, 2009

I found that a good burr grinder like this one makes a huge difference in my coffee. Admittedly, I mostly make turkish-style coffee at home, but the difference between well-ground fresh beans and just plain-ole coffee is amazing.
posted by bsdfish at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2009

I love my Chemex.
posted by amb at 8:01 PM on January 22, 2009

Roast your own beans. We started doing it in my apartment, and you would not believe what a huge difference it makes. And it's actually pretty easy (and cheaper) to do it.
posted by geryon at 8:02 PM on January 22, 2009 the past when I've soaked everything in vinegar I didn't notice a big change in the taste.

Vinegar isn't good enough to get the grunge out. If you can see a brown or cloudy white ring around the caraffe, it needs to be cleaned.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:07 PM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: With the exception of high-end automatic drip machines like the aforementioned Techniworm, I find that most automatic drip machines suck. If, like me, you don't want to go that high end, the manual drip coffee maker is what you want. Less hassle than a french press, water gets hot enough because you boil it, and you can get them in different sizes depending on your needs. I prefer the ones made in Holland to the more common Melitta ones.

But if your pockets are deep enough for the Techniworm, go for it! I don't own one, but have used them before and can attest to the fact that they are *all that*.
posted by chez shoes at 8:08 PM on January 22, 2009

Burr grinder is a great first-step; so is moving to a chemex. But bean quality is crucial. If you can't roast your own beans (an admittedly detailed and demanding process), find a local coffee roastery or a place which gets its beans fresh from a roastery in a time frame no longer than 3 days (this is definitely not Starbucks, which often sells beans months old). Buy only a small quantity (no more than you'll use in a week). Beans get stale very fast--and should be thrown out once they're a couple weeks old. The only effective storage is an opaque, air-tight container. Refrigeration, particularly a freezer, does not preserve beans--it only deadens their taste.
posted by quintno at 8:14 PM on January 22, 2009

I came in to recommend the Capresso Infinity grinder that bsdfish linked to. It's a great basic grinder for drip coffee.

I wish I had a drip machine recommendation for you but the coffee I make comes from a 15-year old Mr. Coffee. Every newer machine I've bought has sucked.
posted by cabingirl at 8:16 PM on January 22, 2009

I think a good burr grinder makes a world of difference. It produces uniform size grind, with a minimum of dust. After going through several grinders, I settled on a refurbished Baratza Maestro grinder. I bought it from the manufacturer for about $65 plus shipping. Of course you could spend a lot more, but this was the right price/quality point for me.

Read reviews of grinders on there are reviews there on every grinder on the market.

Also - I second the moka pot. Coffee from the moka pot has much more flavor and depth than from a drip pot... kind of like espresso. If it's too strong for you, just add hot water after brewing to make an "Americano".

It's a few extra steps, like a French Press, so perhaps you won't be interested. But that's my advice.

In my opinion, french press or moka pot with fresh roasted and properly ground beans are the elements of good coffee.
posted by kdern at 8:20 PM on January 22, 2009

Another recommendation for a burr grinder. Please don't put your beans in the freezer. If you won't use a press, maybe try the one cup drip thing, like this one. Cheap and it makes a good cup.
posted by Alex Voyd at 8:28 PM on January 22, 2009

When you say "coffee shop coffee", does this mean espresso? In my experience, only an espresso machine produces espresso-like coffee, and for that matter, it has to be a fairly expensive machine coupled with an equally expensive grinder.

If you don't mean espresso, then the Aeropress gets rave reviews from people I trust. You should also try beans from other sources.

Also, if a french press is too much mess, there is no way your sensibilities will cope with espresso. Espresso = fine grounds all over the goddamn place. (Pod people - sorry, your practices are wrong, unnatural, and against God's law).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:32 PM on January 22, 2009

Seconding the Aeropress. I've been using one for about six months now & it's the closest I can get to a real espresso.

Effectively, it's exactly what an espresso machine does - forcing hot water under pressure downwards through the coffee grains.

Also, no mess at all; cleans in literally one second.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:45 PM on January 22, 2009

Again on the Aeropress. Mine has rendered by beloved Moka Pot completely obsolete. Cheap, fast, ultra-minimal cleanup.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:48 PM on January 22, 2009

Do you use a paper filter in your drip machine? Using a gold filter might improve the taste because it doesn't absorb the oils in the coffee grounds as opposed to the paper ones.
posted by extramundane at 9:11 PM on January 22, 2009

The #1 problem w/drip coffee makers is that they just don't get the water hot enough before brewing.

Are you sure you can't deal w/the french press? I know if you're not in the habit of using one it's a gigantic pain in the ass, but honestly that's the cheapest, easiest route to much better tasting coffee. Clean up's not any more involved than an Aeropress and I think the french press is simpler to use, anyway.

To expedite the press-pot coffee-making process in my house I picked up a Zojirushi hot-water dispenser, and highly recommend them.
posted by word_virus at 9:12 PM on January 22, 2009

Sorry to be pedantic, but when you say you soaked your pot, does that mean you didn't actually cycle it through the machine? Rinsing doesn't really get rid of the metal deposits in your machine and would be a likely source for less than fantastic coffee. You need to run vinegar or some other descaling agent through the whole brewing cycle a few times and watch the cloudy nastiness come out.

I'm assuming you want drip coffee when you say you want coffee house coffee. Some other things to keep in mind are whether or not you're letting the coffee pot sit on the warming plate for a while (I definitely notice a difference in taste when I don't pour my cup immediately) and if you really want to be like a good coffee shop, wet the paper filter before you put the coffee in it. Preheating your mug is also ideal.

Oh, and since I've noticed this problem with the Braun machine my parents use, have you looked at the coffee while it's brewing to make sure the water is running through all of the grounds? There is probably some setting I haven't figured out to fix that, but my solution is to start the coffee brewing without the carafe in place so that the basket of grounds fills up and then put the carafe in towards the end.

All of that said, we recently switched to the Cuisinart DCC-1100 coffee maker (amazon was selling them for ~$50) after our Mr Coffee started leaking in weird places and have been happy with it. And to be honest, I don't notice that much of a difference between burr (what I use) and blade (what I use at my parents) with brewed coffee, so unless you want to make espresso it seems less of a priority.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:29 PM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get an iRoast 2 ($149) + a Baratza burr grinder ($99) + an Aeropress ($28) =$276. Then you can order amazing green beans from Sweet Maria's, roast them when you need them (takes about 10 minutes of your time), and make better coffee than you can buy just about anywhere. This is the setup I have, and I highly recommend it.

The drawback, as noted above, is that the Aeropress can only make about 16 ounces at a time (and that's pushing it). However, there's no brewing time involved - just add the water, stir for about 20 seconds, then press the plunger, so going back for more doesn't take long. Cleanup consists of wiping the plunger off.
posted by Addlepated at 9:38 PM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

The first thing to try is the restaurant trick. It could be that you're making your coffee with too much coffee. That doesn't necessarily make it better. Try it with about 80% of what you usually use and see what happens.

That may not be the problem, but it's free to check. (That is always what the problem is at work. People think more coffee per pot means STRONGER and that equals BETTER!!! No.)
posted by ctmf at 11:08 PM on January 22, 2009

I'm surprised people are advising a change to your beans, it seems clear to me that a drip or french press style maker leaves out the important element of espresso, the pressure.
I suggest a moka pot too. It really is very close to espresso. That said, I haven't tried an aeropress, so maybe it produces similar, but as a moka pot is $10 it is where I would start.
posted by bystander at 2:46 AM on January 23, 2009

Best answer: When you say "coffee shop coffee", it is unclear whether you mean drip coffee or an Americano. If it's the latter, then the closest you'll get to that is by using a moka pot or espresso machine and then watering down the brew.

As an employee at Ubiquitous Coffee Chain, Inc., I've got some suggestions on how to recreate (or improve on) our drip coffee taste:
  • Your water needs to be hot enough, but not hot enough to burn your coffee. Our machines brew at about 202 degrees.
  • Vinegar might not get all the skunkiness out of your coffee maker. Running some Urnex through it every now and then will make a huge difference, but make sure to run a few empty pots through afterward because Urnex has a rather strong laxative effect.
  • To that end, if your coffee maker has a plastic filter basket, you'll probably find that it will become progressively harder to clean and that your coffee will taste worse in turn. Get a coffee maker with a metal filter basket, or better yet, one with a permanent gold filter.
  • Realistically, burr grinders make the most difference when you need consistently coarse (for French Press) or fine (for moka pot or espresso machine) grounds. For most drip makers, you'll be fine with a decent blade grinder.
  • Try using less coffee. Stick to two tablespoons per 6oz of water, the typical coffee shop proportions.

posted by thisjax at 3:55 AM on January 23, 2009

Former owner of the Cuisinart Grind and Brew. It requires cleaning and maintenance requiring a partial dismantle. If you plan to use the machine more than once in a span of time the condensation from the grinding in combination with coffee dust is a definite minus. Further, the Cuisinart should not be used in a busy office setting because it will crap out on you. YMMV but high usage was not something it could handle.

It made good coffee but only if you maintained it fastidiously and cleaned the grinder every time and let it completely dry.

I personally switched over to an old school ceramic filtercone and an a precise temp kettle. It has been great making more counter space available.
posted by jadepearl at 4:06 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: Re: the cuisinart grind and bew. We have the burr grinder model at work, and that machine has not stood up well to heavy use. It has been very difficult to clean out the grinder...I think separate machines is the way to go.

i_am_joe's_spleen, thisjax: Sorry, by "coffee shop coffee" I just meant normal drip coffee that is bought fresh from a coffee shop. I like espresso and espresso based drinks, but don't drink them all that often.
posted by rsanheim at 4:39 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: mandymanwasregistered: I do cycle the vinegar through when I've used it. Admittedly, I probably haven't done it enough.
posted by rsanheim at 4:44 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: To those of you suggesting getting beans online: thanks, but there are some great local places (3 cups, for example) that are all about freshness and high quality. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
posted by rsanheim at 4:52 AM on January 23, 2009

How about a Toddy or other cold brew maker? You put in a pound of ground coffee and water, wait 12 hours, and then have a thick concentrate that will keep in the fridge for 10 days, or can be frozen. You mix one part of this concentrate with three parts hot or cold water, milk, or cream (or adjust to taste).
posted by amarynth at 5:35 AM on January 23, 2009

Cuisinart Automatic Grind & Brew does a nice job.
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:05 AM on January 23, 2009

Its not hard as long as you don't cut corners with whizzy modern automatic crap. Throw away your coffee-maker, yes.

The problem with recipes is that they really need to vary to adjust to your specific beans, grind and method. Variables:

(1) Good water, ideally filtered/bottled.
(2) The right temperature water (NOT boiling, or you get burned taste)
(3) A french press or manual drip (ie Aeropress)
(4) Beans you grind when you need them, not days-weeks in advance.
(5) Beans ground properly (not too coarse or fine) for your method. Usually round.
(6) The right measure. You'll need to adjust for taste/bean, but once you find it, remember.
(7) The right brew-time. Again, experiment but when you hit it, save the info.

Treat it like a chemistry assignment for a month or two. Keep notes. When you find the magic combination, write it down!
posted by rokusan at 6:15 AM on January 23, 2009

Cold-brew coffee, as amarynth suggests, is also pretty cool (no pun) but the taste is different. I make tea that way, but not usually coffee. Personal taste.
posted by rokusan at 6:16 AM on January 23, 2009

As others have been mentioning i also recommend going with a bur grinder. I use a drip coffee machine with a gold filter, but to be honest i still prefer french press. Maybe you should start trying various blends off coffee, perhaps your palette has changed. A columbian bean tastes a lot different then ethiopian. On a more extreme note if you can find raw beans you could also try roasting them yourself. Perhaps you have lost some appreciation for the nuances in coffee and you should sign yourself up for a cupping class (usually just a few hours).

If all else fails you could get a bag of something from your supermarket and drink that for a bit, you will definitely be happy going back to the specialty shops.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 8:31 AM on January 23, 2009

I think rokusan's got the ride idea w/r/t changing your technique, not your supplies. There's no reason you can't brew better than "coffeeshop coffee" with a regular drip coffee maker, though spending $50 on a burr grinder is money well-spent.

Make sure your beans are fresh and, more importantly, freshly ground. Play with your ratios. Try different roasts.

FWIW, I don't clean my machine as often as I should, and my coffee tastes fine (and I'm picky about good coffee).
posted by mkultra at 9:28 AM on January 23, 2009

Best answer: FWIW, I asked almost this exact question about 16 months ago -- right down to the "no French press, please" -- and I ended up getting a Capresso burr grinder + Technivorm KBT741. I am thrilled with both and heartily recommend this combo, as together they make a damn good cup of coffee.
posted by mosk at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2009

Response by poster: Mosk: Thanks, somehow I missed that in my searches. Looks like your situation is pretty similar to mine, right down to having multiple crazy children running around when I'm trying to make coffee without spilling or burning anyone. :)
posted by rsanheim at 11:18 PM on January 24, 2009

Nth-ing the Aeropress. To my tastes, it makes the best coffee (I've tried drip, and french press).

Also, everything I've read says do NOT keep beans in the freezer. Buy beans in small batches (or evern better, roast your own).

There is another type of method - a vacuum dealy. It's an old style coffee maker that seems to be making a comeback. Some swear by it. I've not tried it, but it's on my list...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:03 AM on January 26, 2009

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