How to make sure I have coffee on hand for guests?
May 3, 2009 5:34 PM   Subscribe

As a non-coffee drinker, help me figure out how to have coffee available when I host guests.

I don't drink normal coffee. I occasionally spring for a latte, but i don't drink the regular stuff -- and I have absolutely no clue how to, you know, *make* it. So I don't keep any coffee-related stuff at home.

But I host friends and family from out of town from time to time, and they always look astounded that I don't have any coffee in the mornings. There's a Starbucks a few blocks away that they can go to if they really need a fix, but I'd like to be able to provide something at home that they don't need to bother getting dressed for.

So what coffee hardware + beans should I have on hand that are (1) relatively inexpensive but (2) provide a decent level of quality (like, not Folger's Crystals)?
posted by olinerd to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Order an AeroPress and pick up a $10 coffee grinder from any store in your area. Then when guests are coming you can buy a small bag of coffee that will last the week/weekend or whatever.

The AeroPress takes up a lot less space than a coffee machine, and I think produces better coffee than a French press, though it does require you to boil water in a kettle or on the stove.
posted by Science! at 5:38 PM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

A cheap drip coffeemaker would probably suit most people's needs, unless they are coffee snobs. Buy beans already ground at a coffee shop (not anything in a can at the grocery store). That and filters and you're set.

I am sure other, more coffee-discerning MeFites will have other opinions.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2009

Get a French Press, a cheap grinder, and a bag of beans of your choosing. Grind + boiling water = done.
posted by nitsuj at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

If I was staying at a non-coffee drinker's place I'd be happy if they just had some decent instant coffee on hand. A french press would be even better, but anything more than that just clutters up your house. If your guests are too fussy for instant they can always pop out to Starbucks!
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I keep a french press around from IKEA. Then I don't have to worry about filters. And it takes up much less space than a drip coffee maker.
posted by kimdog at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most people who have coffee every morning are accustomed to automatic drip, which requires a drip coffee maker, appropriate paper filters, ground coffee beans, water and electricity. If you only need to make a couple of cups at a time, you can save both money and storage space by getting a french press instead; a french press will seem exotic to some guests, but can make excellent coffee. There are a lot of choices for beans, but a basic Columbian or French Roast might be a good choice - even cheaper brands like Eight O'Clock Bean can be decent. Depending on your guest's preferences, you might also want to have some half-and-half, milk, sugar and/or imitation sweetener on hand.
posted by jon1270 at 5:44 PM on May 3, 2009

There's a Starbucks a few blocks away that they can go to if they really need a fix

There's your answer. They're your guests, so show them some good hospitality and run out and pick up some fresh coffee before they wake up! No need to keep any special hardware in the house and your guests will think your are so sweet and awesome that it will hurt.
posted by zerokey at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just get a French Press, and when you expect guests in town, go to your local coffee shop and buy a small portion of already ground coffee. No need to buy a grinder. You can also use the French Press for loose tea, if you are into that sort of thing.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem with getting a coffee pot is that most of the time it will sit unused, taking up space on your counter. I drink coffee only rarely, and I find having a French press is just fine for my occasional needs. Operation of one is simple -- boil some water on the stove, put sufficient grounds down in the bottom of it, add hot water, then press down and wait a few minutes. Clean and store in the back of your pantry until you need it again.

I can usually find fairly good and inexpensive coffee at Trader Joe' you have one near you? Pick one of their house brands, grind it, and chuck it in a sealed container in the back of your freezer. It should stay fresh for a not insignificant amount of time that way. Some people may disagree with the freezing, but far too much time has been spent on the topic as it stands.
posted by ayerarcturus at 5:45 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sort of depends whether

- you have lots of friends visting or usually just one friend at a time (more friends = more likely to want a pot solution as opposed to a one cup solution)
- your friends are coffee snobs or just like coffee in the morning (how fancy you need to be, how fresh the beans need to be)
- you are the sort of "I'll make breakfast" host or the "make yourself at home" host (you can say "coffee maker is in the cabinet, I don't know how it works" or not)
- you want one solution or want a few (and how much space you have)

I'm a coffee drinker and visit people who don't drink coffee. While I'm totally okay with them not having coffee, it's nice if they happen to have basically anything for me to make it myself. This can range from

- some ground beans of any sort and a plastic cup thingie to go over my cup and some filters
- a french press and some grind-your-own beans and a grinder and a teapot for water
- a mister coffee and a can of chock full o' nuts

If you really have no idea, a nice thing would be to either ask your most frequent guests what they like and have it on hand, or something that can't really go wrong like a mister coffee drip machine and some ground coffee in an airtight container. Since I like my coffee pretty dark, if I'm NOT sharing it with the host, I'd prefer to make it myself since I know how I like it and they're not having any anyhow.

Also many coffee drinkers take sugar/milk (not dissimilar from tea drinkers) and so having those things onhand in some usable fashion is a great idea. Also if your guests are likely to get up earlier than you, telling them where this stuff is beforehand is a gracious thing to do.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on May 3, 2009

A cheap-o drip coffee maker (under $20 at your local discount store) will probably satisfy any but the most picky of coffee drinkers (and if they're that picky, they won't be happy with Starbuck's anyway). Buy fresh ground coffee (not the canned stuff) the last shopping trip before your guests arrive. Keep a sealed bag of fresh ground coffee in a freezer bag in the freezer for surprise visits. This is the approach I use. I'm a tea drinker, MrR doesn't drink either, and I have coffee drinking friends and family. No one has ever complained. :)
posted by jlkr at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2009

Yeah, any coffee maker will probably do; if they know you don't drink coffee they can't exactly expect a $1000 espresso maker in the kitchen. I think freshly ground beans will trump most everything else you can do, so either buy whole beans and get a grinder, or get them ground at the store at most 2 days before your guests come.

As for how-to, use filtered water if you can, that also helps. Use about 2 Tbsp of ground coffee bean per cup (if you're using a drip machine, medium grind; if a french press, medium-coarse). This will be strong, but people who like it a little lighter can add water and it's hard to go the other way. Drip machines practically use themselves; I've been advised by a barista that french press coffee should use water just short of boiling, should steep the grounds for about 3 minutes, and should be poured off the grounds immediately after you plunge it.
posted by rkent at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2009

If you don't want much equipment, you can do cowboy coffee, which is a pot, ground coffee and water. If your guests may not like grit with their coffee, you can get a cheap "gold" filter like this one, and just keep that in the drawer. Basically, make cowboy coffee with coarse ground coffee, hold said filter over the cup carafe, and pour through. That's pretty close to french press coffee, but without the dedicated apparatus.
posted by chengjih at 5:52 PM on May 3, 2009

I think Seattles Best and Green Mountain make good, inexpensive coffees. And get one of those small suctioned packs b/c you don’t want to open a bag and have it sitting around between guests. I would just get an inexpensive coffee pot; you can even get one for free via Godiva if you want to go through the hassle of terminating your “subscription”. Definitely have creamer, half and half or whole milk. Otherwise at the very least have some powdered creamer *shudder* - but better than nothing. And of course sugar/splenda, coffee filters (that match your pot – they’re either cone shaped or old-school type), and some mugs.

If you want to impress, have a coffee/spice grinder, get whole beans, and use bottled water. At dinner parties I usually have 2 choices of coffee: regular and decaf, which I keep in heat retaining carafes

P.S. I’ve never used a French Press, so can’t say anything about them, but if you really want to keep space limited…give a Vietnamese coffee filter a try. Super fun, yummy and different.

posted by texas_blissful at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2009

Oops, I don't think my link worked:
posted by texas_blissful at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know this will not be the most popular opinion, but if your guests aren't high-end gourmet coffee snobs, you can grab a few packages of a better class instant coffee, like the new Via from Starbucks. A lot of media taste testers couldn't tell the difference between it and brewed coffee, and you wouldn't need any extra hardware. You might want to step into the kitchen to make it, and bring it out to them, if instant coffee might come across as cheap or otherwise gauche. But it would take up a lot less kitchen space than any kind of brewer, and stay fresh a lot longer than beans. Otherwise, seconding a french press.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 5:56 PM on May 3, 2009

You could buy a stainless steel stovetop espresso maker. It has to be in steel because after washing it can be stored for months and be ready for use, you'd just have to buy ground coffee when needed.

The normal aluminum ones require continuous use or a few cycles of throwaway coffee when left unused for some time.
posted by _dario at 6:07 PM on May 3, 2009

My parents bought a cheapo drip machine just for this. They usually just drink decaf-instant. Check out the coffee isle at your local Walmart (ugg) or grocery store. Wally-World at least has little vacuum packed bags that make 2 pots or so, and come in many flavors. So my first duty on arriving for our gatherings is to go buy a good assortment of plain, irish cream, hazelnut, mocha, cinnamon in both regular and decaf. Enough to last the week. When we leave, they go back to instant.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:09 PM on May 3, 2009

Second the Aeropress. I have one, a French press, and a moka pot (stovetop espresso maker) and the Aeropress outperforms the other two by a wide margin. Incredibly easy/foolproof/fast, and delicious.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2009

Seconding TochterAusElysium. Get a 12 pack of Starbucks' new instant coffee (it'll set you back maybe $10) and tuck it in your spice cabinet. Add it to 8 oz of boiling water and stir--check how much volume your coffee cups hold so you don't make it too weak. Voila, you're done.

It is far and away better than the instant coffees on the shelf at the supermarket. It is not quite as delightful as a cup of fresh-brewed coffee, but you know, it's enough to get their caffeine titer up first thing in the morning and make the prospect of a trip out to the coffee shop less of a horrifying prospect.
posted by Sublimity at 6:22 PM on May 3, 2009

The reason they're horrified by the idea of going out for coffee is because many regular coffee drinkers need coffee as-close-to-first-thing as possible. Going to Starbucks necessitates putting on clothes for chrissake! Before you've had your coffee!

I really think you should do what the Israelis do. Provide Nescafe, a teakettle, and have milk or creamer and sugar on hand. No, this won't satisfy the coffee snobs, but it works in a pinch and will get the coffee snobs able to at least face the day so that they can trek to starbucks.

(IAARCDANACS--I am a regular coffee drinker; am not a coffee snob.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

For years I had nothing but a simple Melitta cone and filters. Makes a surprisingly good cup of coffee. I had about a 2-cup size so I'd put it on top of one big mug, watch until it was almost full, then switch it to the other one while I drank my first cup of coffee.

Fresh ground coffee is better anyway, so when you expect guests, hop over to the Starbucks and buy a pound of beans and have them grind it. Or if guests surprise you, take a walk down in the evening for a coffee and piece of cake or something, and pick up beans for the morning while you're there.

No sense keeping around unused coffee, or buying expensive equipment you're not going to use yourself.
posted by ctmf at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's no reason to get a machine of any kind. Just get one of those plastic drippers & a pack of filters. You can keep beans in the fridge/freezer for a remarkably long time unground, and probably for up to a month or two ground in the freezer, so you really don't need to get a grinder either. Seconding letting your guests make the coffee themselves. French press & the stovetop espresso makers can be nice, but honestly a plastic dripper would make me more than happy.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:42 PM on May 3, 2009

Buy a French Press ($12 at Ikea, $20ish at a department store)- they make good coffee and they're small and easy to store.

Pick up an assortment of small, gift-sized vaccuum- sealed packets of ground coffee and espresso beans (both will taste fine, espresso will be stronger-tasting). I suggest the smaller bags because they'll keep fresh forever, whereas if you buy a larger bag & make a couple cups, the rest will likely go stale before your next guests want some.

For great coffee, swirl a little hot water in the press to warm it up. Throw in about 1/4 cup of grounds, a dash of cinnamon, boiling water, stir, wait a few minutes, press, and enjoy.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:43 PM on May 3, 2009

And by dripper I of course meant Melitta cone. Thanks ctmf, I've never known what those were actually called.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2009

This is now a simple question to answer! Buy the new Starbucks instant coffee. Looks like right now it's available in stores in London, Chicago, and Seattle, or on their website. My wife, a coffee snob, says that it's the best instant coffee she's ever tasted. I don't drink coffee, so I don't know if that's real praise, or faint praise. :)
posted by reddot at 6:45 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Aeropress (compact, convenient, makes quite good coffee) and the "get some decent instant" recommendations. For instant, we like Medaglia D'Oro. (An old family friend taught me the trick of making it with hot milk instead of water for a "poor man's au lait".)
posted by Lexica at 6:50 PM on May 3, 2009

The best instant coffee in the world comes from israel. If there's a kosher shop in your town you might be able to find it, otherwise order it on-line. Seriously, even if you're a gentile (like me) you'll find it rich and creamy, with a consistency almost like hot-cocoa. Hard to believe it's instant coffee. So if you don't make coffee that often grab a can of this, then boil some water and add a heaping spooful to each cup, and stir well.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:58 PM on May 3, 2009

Going along with ctmf and devilsbrigade, for a long time I made my coffee with one of those Meliita cones. I'm a bit of a coffee snob, so I would make my batch of coffee in a big pyrex measuring cup (for a uniform batch) and portion the coffee out into cups from there.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:07 PM on May 3, 2009

Skip the grinder, buy ground in small bags when you actually have the guests. And if you keep it in the freezer, it keeps for ages even open.

But otherwise Nthing the French press. Or a simple single cup coffee filter like these; coffee made with these tastes more like automatic drip machine coffee (and thus too weak for we french press addicts, but better for others).
posted by jb at 8:50 PM on May 3, 2009

Please, please read this.

Invest in a cheap blade grinder, buy whole beans, grind them RIGHT BEFORE brewing and brew in a press, a melitta drip, an auto drip and you have coffee. A decent blade grinder + french press setup might cost you $30. My espresso shrine cost me $3000 but you can get the world's best drip or press for a tiny fraction of that AS LONG AS YOU USE FRESH BEANS, FRESHLY GROUND. NEVER, and I mean NEVER, pre-grind coffee.

Instant? Jesus. Life is too short for instant.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:07 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hardware, previously
posted by knile at 9:20 PM on May 3, 2009

Folgers coffee singles. Coffee in a tea bag, just add hot water.
posted by get off of my cloud at 9:35 PM on May 3, 2009

Instant class: Sugar cubes. And mini sugar cube tongs.
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:58 PM on May 3, 2009

Boiling water? no, no, no! ;-)
posted by dance at 11:58 PM on May 3, 2009

Ignore ethnomethodologist. Buy a jar of decent instant.
posted by kmennie at 3:35 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Life is too short for instant.

I exhort folks to try the Elite Instant coffee I linked to, before passing judgement that all instant is worthless. When I had it I was shocked that any instant coffee could taste that good and have that rich a consistency.

And even if you don't agree it's great, I'm sure people will agree it's in another category than the typical instant coffee found in the supermarket...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 4:16 AM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone. I'll go for the French Press since I am a tea drinker and it'd be interesting to try that out as well. And I will find some nice little vacuum sealed bags of beans to keep in the freezer for whenever these occasions arise. I'll leave it to my guests to decide boiling/nonboiling water, pre-ground or not, etc... that's above my pay grade.

Appreciate the help!
posted by olinerd at 5:06 AM on May 4, 2009

French press coffee makers need coarsely ground coffee, and you can muck them up with fine or ordinary grind. FYI.
posted by jeather at 5:19 AM on May 4, 2009

Oh, and just a note--as a non-coffee snob, I am really not fond of Starbucks--and generally, opinions are pretty split across the board regarding Starbucks. I'd consider Eight O'Clock coffee, which is a solid supermarket brand and an easy crowd pleaser (even my coffee snob friends are okay with it). Oh, and if you're going to get whole beans, keep in mind that you do need to provide a grinder; if you don't all of your effort to go to waste.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:45 AM on May 4, 2009

Despite being the owner of both an Aeropress AND a French Press, I am going to go against the consensus, and say get a decent drip machine and grinder (even a "whirly blade" will do). But a small amount of beans (say 1/4 pound), and when you have company, grind and make. It might take you some experimentation (and maybe a coffee-loving friend to help) to get the process down. But once you have it, it will be easy.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2009

I'd get a Chemex rather than a French Press. Better coffee, and more functional (as a pitcher) for the 99% of the time you'll be using it as something other than a coffee maker.
posted by judith at 12:24 PM on May 4, 2009

No need to get a grinder that takes up space in your kitchen. Just go to the local coffee shop and select some nice beans and they can grind them for you that day. Better coffee, you're supporting a local business and you can buy small amounts like 1/4 and 1/2 pound bags.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:12 PM on May 4, 2009

You can also use a grinder to grind your own spices, FWIW.
posted by nitsuj at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2009

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