Coffee 101: sociology and technology
January 13, 2013 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I don't drink coffee and most of my friends don't either, but I'd like to be able to offer a nice cup to occasional visitors who do drink coffee. What type of small-scale coffee maker would be a good choice: some kind of drip and filter method? French press? Should I buy a small amount of decent quality ground coffee and hope that it keeps well between coffee drinkers? (And what would be a safe, crowd-pleasing choice?) Or should I just forget offering potentially mediocre coffee and offer everyone tea and tisanes?
posted by The True Wheel to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I asked a similar question several years ago and settled on a French press. It seemed to go over well with my coffee-drinking guests. I usually got a small bag of fresh ground beans just before each time I knew a coffee drinker would visit -- it was usually months between those instances so I figured any "leftover" from last time would have gone a bit stale, or whatever old coffee beans do. No complaints. And the French press is cheap and easy.
posted by olinerd at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Aeropress is a metafilter favorite. It's inexpensive, compact, and makes good coffee. You can just hide it away in the back of a cabinet until the need arises.
posted by adamrice at 3:53 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a vac packed ground packet in my fridge. And I use a french press/plunger. People rarely want coffee... I"m Australian and we tend to drink coffee in cafes made by surely baristas and tea at home... but nobody has every complained about my coffee.

The trick with the coffee is to keep it in the fridge, not freezer or cupboard. But a small packet. And give them sugar and milk.... they won't notice unless they're snobs, and coffee snobs won't want domestic coffee.
posted by taff at 3:54 PM on January 13, 2013

Get a Keurig machine. It is perfect for what you need, they make single cups from individual packets or grounds, and they come in a range of price points - from fancy to bare bones. And they have a lot of good coffee, and also generic imitations available. They're great, and will work really well for someone who only occasionally makes coffee. (And just store the coffee in the freezer in between uses.)
posted by catatethebird at 3:59 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

French press is probably the easiest and takes up the least room -- be careful, it needs a coarse grind. You can buy very small amounts, store them in opaque containers somewhere cold, and replace as needed. I would much prefer this to tisanes, as a coffee drinker, though I have friends who don't have coffee makers and it's not a hardship to visit them.
posted by jeather at 4:01 PM on January 13, 2013

French press can be a little intense for people who are accustomed to drip coffee. I'd drop $10 on a Melitta Perfect Cup and a box of filters, assuming you have some means of boiling water. (The 10-cup version with carafe is $10, but it's a lot more to store.)
posted by Lyn Never at 4:01 PM on January 13, 2013

I got the Melitta Perfect Cup along with a metal filter like this >15 yrs ago and it is still going strong after lots of use. I also have the aeropress and it is awesome, but possibly overkill for your needs. I am a serious coffee drinker and would be delighted if you offered me coffee made with the Melitta perfect cup. It totally overcomes the "oh, don't bother to make a whole pot of coffee for me" reluctance, but also provides actual fresh-brewed coffee, not some ghastly instant dreck.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2013

I take my Melitta coffee cup brewer & filters when I visit my tea-drinking family; it brews a nice cup of coffee. You can keep some freshly ground coffee in the freezer in a ziplock bag from which you have removed as much air as possible. Or, you can go to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in the morning, get a large cup, let it cool, and reheat in the microwave. I'm fussy about coffee being cooked on a burner for too long, but reheated is okay with me. It's quite nice to have sugar/stevia and milk or 1/2-1/2 for people who use them, and is uncommonly gracious to remember how people take their coffee. You can also ask your friends how they feel about it. I love coffee, and also really enjoy tea.
posted by theora55 at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2013

I'm a coffee addict, so when I stayed with a friend in another state for a few days I was so happy that he made French press coffee in the morning. It is very, very considerate of you to keep it on hand for guests, by the way. I get headaches if I don't drink it in the morning but I hate being a pain in the ass and requesting a trip to a coffee shop when I'm visiting people and it may not be convenient for us to go there.

I don't have a French press at home, as I'm worried about the cholesterol thing, but French press coffee is delicious. It was really nice to indulge in it during my vacation. I think it's a good way to go. If you really wanna go the whole mile with this, I'd recommend getting whole beans and a grinder. Even just one of those cheap ($20) ones will make way better coffee than pre-ground coffee.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 4:12 PM on January 13, 2013

Oh and seconding half and half with the option of sweeteners. You could keep coffeemate on hand too which keeps forever and is better than nothing in case you forget to pick up half and half.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 4:15 PM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: I'm not sure if I agree with the above recommendations - not because they're bad ways to make coffee, but simply because they all depend on having a supply of fresh ground beans. Given how rarely you serve coffee, that means either a special shopping trip every time a coffee drinking friend is visiting, or serving potentially months-old stale coffee.

I've never actually tried it, but Starbucks VIA seems a good option. It's basically instant coffee (maybe somewhat better than most brands of instant coffee) but each individual serving-size packet is individually sealed. This lets you make a cup or two at a time, without opening a larger container and having it go stale. Nespresso is a tastier option, with the same advantage of individually sealed shelf-stable servings, but would involve buying a special machine (~$100+).

(Personally, I use an aeropress at home, and nespresso at work.)
posted by kickingtheground at 4:18 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The problem with the French Press is that it needs a coarse grind, so you would might also need a grinder. I would suggest an Aeropress or a Moka pot. A Moka makes espresso, but you can add hot water for a great Americano.

Buy your beans at a local place an just have them give you an eighth or quarter of a pound. Ask them to grind for you, and tell them what kind of coffee maker you're using so they can grind the beans to the right fineness.
posted by k8lin at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2013

If I were visiting, I would prefer you had a Moka pot and some nice robust coffee like Café Bustelo. People who prefer weak sauce would probably not enjoy it, though.

If you dump the grounds from the vacuum-sealed bag into a sealed container and stash it in the freezer, the coffee will remain reasonably decent for a long time.
posted by wierdo at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would advise against a kurig because they take up a lot of space. Other people have mentioned other devices that might suit your fancy, but if it matches your interior decor, you might like a Moka Pot (on preview, K8lin and weirdo both beat me to it!).

With regards to the beans, if you put some grounds in a tupperware along with a tea-bag full of rice, it will keep them "reasonably" ok for a long time. Good enough for me anyway.
posted by rebent at 4:22 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am someone who is really into coffee to the point that I roast beans myself at home. That said, I would rather have the best black tea you have on hand than pre-ground coffee that has been sitting in the freezer for a month or more. Not only will it not be fresh, but if you're into tea, I want to try what you're having and share it with you. Some coffee drinkers will feel differently or will need the higher caffeine dose, ymmv.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:31 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a guest in your home, I would not expect you to serve me something you don't normally serve or keep on hand. If you said "I don't have any coffee, would tea be okay," the answer is going to be yes, we'll enjoy it together, or I'll fend for myself after I leave.
posted by sageleaf at 4:32 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a fan of the French press. I use one every day and it's small enough that it won't be in our way.

I will say, however - the people that sell me coffee (a small local roaster) also sell the Aeropress, and they say it makes the best coffee they've seen.
posted by azpenguin at 4:33 PM on January 13, 2013

Keurig makes many different machines - the one my grandma has is the same size as a small standard drip coffee maker, so not all of them take up a lot of space. And the real advantage is the individual k-cups are per-measured for one cup of coffee, so you don't have to worry about opening a large container of coffee that will go stale. You can buy a variety pack with different coffees, to suit you guests' tastes. (They are available at Wal-Mart, and just about every other large chain store around here, and of course online.) Then you just fill a mug with water, dump it in the machine, pop in the desired k-cup, and it brews the coffee right into the mug, in just a few minutes. My grandma's machine also has a setting to make a stronger or weaker cup of coffee (more or less water.)
posted by catatethebird at 4:39 PM on January 13, 2013

If you drink red wine on a regular basis, I would suggest getting a Chemex brewer. The advantage here being that a chemex makes a really nice wine decanter, or even a water pitcher when not in use. The filters don't go bad, and they make a really good up of coffee. They're a good option for you if you're looking or a multi-tasker.

They're also beautiful, and the only coffee maker in MOMA.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:50 PM on January 13, 2013

If I was making coffee every day for myself I'd go with the french press, the Aeropress, or the Chem-x.

If I was making coffee once a week for visitors then I'd go with the K-Cup. With any of the above methods it's vital to have freshly ground coffee, but if you're making one cup per week, then that's not really viable. You can buy a bunch of different varieties of K-Cups which will keep essentially forever, and fit however many preferences you have.

However, K-Cups are also comparatively expensive. You can mitigate costs by buying generics (Wegman's has a store brand that's fifty cents a cup and tastes comparable to the name-brands), but a machine is going to be around fifty to a hundred dollars, compared to like 20 for an Aero or french press.

I suppose that you could also buy an airtight seal container and keep fresh coffee in that. It'll make it last a bit longer if you go the non K-cup route.
posted by codacorolla at 5:29 PM on January 13, 2013

As a coffee drinker, I would recommend being wary of the K-cup solution. It's expensive, and in addition, a lot of people who are serious about coffee do not like it. For me, I would rather have a well-brewed cup of good tea than a K-cup of coffee, even though I normally love coffee. It's so mediocre.

I like the French Press or Chemex best for situations like yours. You can invite overnight guests to bring coffee along to use on your equipment, or buy them some fresh ground coffee before they arrive. For just having people over, I'm not sure I'd feel a need to have their exact preference. If you offered tea, it seems to me that most would drink tea, or if they really hate tea, happily accept a cup of water. It seems to me that early morning is the time people are most sensitive to the ritual. I suppose baby boomers and upward in age from them do tend to like coffee after dinner, but that could be covered with the French PRess and planning ahead if you were having a dinner gathering.
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on January 13, 2013

I use a moka pot at home & an aeropress at work, but for guests I've been meaning to buy a french press (Bodum, or similar).

The reason is that an aeropress is great for one cup, and although you can make up to 4 espresso-strength shots in one go, it's a freaking pain in the arse to use that way, unless maybe you can find a spouted jug with a horizontal top that the aeropress will fit onto nicely. But the end result will probably be that you'll be spilling half the black coffee everywhere as you try to decant it into separate cups.

My moka pot is designed for "4 cups" which means 2x reasonable strength coffees. You could get a bigger one (up to around 10 espresso shots) but if you don't have practice using it regularly, you'll just end up making awful, weak coffee. I've never had a decent cup from a large moka pot, although I suppose in theory it might be possible.

N-thing the issues people raise about fresh beans, which means freshly *ground*. Not something that's been stashed in the fridge, freezer or cupboard for weeks or months. Ideally, you'd be grinding beans on the spot before making coffee, and your beans will have been roasted as near as possible to the present time.

Having said that, as a coffee drinker I'd be happy with instant if I had to drink it, in preference to teas or tisanes.

I"m Australian and we tend to drink coffee in cafes made by surely baristas and tea at home

What twaddle. Some lazy people pay overs for barista coffee, but the cognoscenti make their own, because you can easily make equal or better coffee than the cafe stuff, at a fraction of the price once you've made a small capital expenditure (eg grinder + aeropress)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on January 13, 2013

As a guest in your home, I would not expect you to serve me something you don't normally serve or keep on hand.

This. I start every day with a cup of coffee but I would never expect a non-coffee drinker to have some on hand just in case. That said, it's a nice impulse, but you should feel completely free to execute it in the simplest and cheapest way possible, and that means having a jar of instant coffee in the house -- no machine needed, you just combine it with water from the kettle. It doesn't taste terrific, but the upside is it won't suffer from sitting in the cupboard for a few months. It won't impress the cognoscenti, but it solves the "I need coffee now or I'll get a headache" problem very nicely.
posted by escabeche at 5:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A french press is cheap, easy to use, and makes great coffee. End of story. You can debate forever about how to make the best possible cup of coffee in the world, but a french press will get you 90% of the way there, and it's not worth busting your balls (or ovaries) to get that last 10% for something that you are probably only going to do a few times a year. Your friends will not complain if your coffee is only in the 90th percentile of coffee rather than in the 98th, or if they do then it is because they are ungrateful whiners.

Yes, they do supposedly need coarse ground coffee but frankly I just use pre-ground stuff out of a bag and it works perfectly fine. You get a little sediment, but then I got that even when I used to grind my own beans with a burr grinder. Some people also go on about how coffee loses a lot of its more subtle flavors if it isn't ground from whole beans right before brewing, but those kind of coffee drinkers also shun anything less than a $150 burr grinder (for good reason -- if you are that finicky/passionate about your coffee, a cheaper blade grinder has definite drawbacks) which takes up a lot of space and costs a lot of money for something that again you are only going to be using occasionally.

If you have someone coming over who you know really likes coffee and you want to make sure that the coffee is especially good, just go to the grocery store, buy a small bag of whole beans (let's not even start talking about different roasts and blends and regions, that is totally a matter of personal taste) and grind 'em at the store. Take them home and put them in the freezer so they stay fresher, ideally in a sealed container like a small tupperware. Again, this will get you 90% of the way to coffee nirvana and the other 10% isn't worth talking about.

Let me sum up: for occasional use, by far the most cost-effective and simple way to get excellent coffee is to brew it in a french press using beans bought and coarsely ground at the grocery store, and stored for a short time in a sealed container in your freezer. Anything else is beginning to shade into wankery/hobbyism which is totally fine if coffee is your thing but absolutely not worth it if you are just wanting to make a decent cuppa once in a while in order to be hospitable.
posted by Scientist at 5:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am extremely appreciative of a really good cup of black coffee, I use a Chemex or an Aeropress. But gosh, if I were having dinner who weren't coffee drinkers and they still made me a coffee with the Keurig machine (it's really not bad), that would be very thoughtful of them.

Keeping coffee beans around that you rarely use means they'll get stale very fast and nothing makes for a disappointing cup of coffee more than that, in my opinion. I bought a $15 small bag of some exotic roast and forgot to drink it until a month later, and now it hardly tastes better than a generic store brand. And in my experience, people who don't make coffee much are likely to make a poor cup. The Keurig thing avoids that. (On the other hand, if you have guests for several days you could get a french press and some ground coffee and let them make their own.)
posted by citron at 5:52 PM on January 13, 2013

I wouldn't expect my host to have anything on hand for visitors that he doesn't consume himself. Do it if you really want to, but don't feel obligated.

If you held weekly brunches with coffee-drinkers in attendance, or if you frequently had out-of-town guests stay overnight at your place, it might be worth it to have some coffee, but it doesn't sound like that's the case. No one's going to be disappointed if you don't have coffee in your house.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:15 PM on January 13, 2013

French press seems like the best option. I'd recommend the ones made by Bodum, the Bodum Chambord being the classic. I have the "New Kenya" french press and love it. Definitely get one that makes more than a few cups, probably 8 cup is good, no need to go bigger than that usually.

One other possibility though might be one of these pour over coffee makers work great, are cheap, and make great cups of coffee. Perfect for the occasional guest. Takes up little space, too. I would do this rather than spend money on a keurig, buy a more complicated aeropress, or a larger drip coffee maker. You do need to have the filters, though, which means one additional piece vs. the french press where you just want to get coarsely ground coffee if it's easy to find.
posted by belau at 7:34 PM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: As a guest in your home, I would not expect you to serve me something you don't normally serve or keep on hand.

As a frequent traveler and one who enjoys coffee (and drinks espresso at home) but does not need coffee before getting dressed, I would totally accept "We don't drink coffee, so we don't have coffee" as an explanation. That said, if you want to provide coffee, you should think about what you are trying to offer

1. Something so that people who basically feel that they need coffee before they get dressed can have something.

- the Starbucks VIA packets are great for this. Have powdered creamer and sugar and a way to make water hot and no one will have to go out into the world headachey and fend for themselves. I stayed in a place where my hosts did this and I thought it was great.

2. Something so that people who drink coffee regularly will have some sort of coffee available.

- small "one shot" amounts of fresh coffee in the freezer (somehow) and either a little on-the-cup filter thing or an available french press or a Mr Coffee machine with filters. Add some sugar and liquid creamer or milk and you are good.

3. Something so that people who drink coffee and appreciate good coffee will feel that you have been trying to be a good host to them and have something nice available for them.

- Ask them. Buy fresh coffee before their visit. And have milk and half and half and some sort of non-dairy whitener in addition to sugar and non-sugar sweetener. There is nothing like raw sugar lumps to really make people feel hooked up. Have nice mugs and spoons.

I try to be an easy guest and I don't assume that people who are not coffee drinkers really are up on how to hook up a coffee drinker so anything is usually fine with me. I find that people who are particular about their coffee are just as likely to DISlike a specific option (as opposed to having some options) as to like it so while I think it's nice for you to try it's one of those things where a slightly more generic option might be better than an all-out option that went in a direction your gusts didn't favor. As a usual espresso drinker I've gotten a Mr Coffee maker so that people who don't like espresso have an option but I'll also offer directions to the very good coffee shop in town if they want something nicer.
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you don't drink coffee, you really don't need a coffee maker. Wouldn't you rather do something else with that money?
posted by fullerenedream at 8:31 PM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: If you don't drink coffee, you really don't need a coffee maker. Wouldn't you rather do something else with that money?

A bit off topic, but hopefully useful: you can normally find french presses at thrift stores & garage sales for very little money, often unused.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:09 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: Wow, that was a lot more activity than I expected. Thanks for all the feedback. I think I'll go with a French press and a tiny amount of freshly-ground coffee purchased when I expect these guests, plus some decent instant coffee as a backup for any random java fiend collapsing on my doorstep when I don't have fresh coffee in stock.

(fullerenedream, I'm ready to offer my best tea and tisanes to guests at any time, but I don't mind spending a little time and money to offer coffee drinkers a nice alternative.)
posted by The True Wheel at 10:49 PM on January 13, 2013

I just wanted to add that the Starbucks instant Via packs are totally drinkable. I mean, a coffee snob isn't going to jump up and down for joy about them, but if you keep a few packs on hand for those drop-in guests it would probably be appreciated.
posted by AmandaA at 6:30 AM on January 14, 2013

I prefer French Press coffee, as I like my coffee very strong (I even use a regular grind, when you are supposed to use a coarse grind). But if you have guests who don't like strong coffee, a mug-top coffee filter like the Melitta Perfect Cup is very convenient (and easy to store when not in use). The Melitta one seems to require paper filters; my parents-in-law have a couple that they bought at a grocery store for $5 each which have a inbuilt washable filter.
posted by jb at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2013

I'd recommend Starbucks Via as well. It's about as easy as it gets and the quality is surprisingly good. Guests shouldn't expect gourmet if the host isn't a coffee drinker.
posted by wolfnote at 8:48 AM on January 14, 2013

Was going to say "oh yes, Starbucks Via" also. Much better than K-cup and just as storable, plus no expensive dispenser.
posted by Miko at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2013

I use a Chemex every day but I'd recommend against it for the OP just because making perfect Chemex coffee takes practice. French press, on the other hand, is pretty idiot-proof.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 4:24 PM on January 14, 2013

I would like to echo the suggestion of a mocha pot. I produces a small amount of very concentrated (and delicious) coffee. Just make sure it's ground fairly coarse, or you'll get quite a but of "mud" at the bottom.
posted by MidsizeBlowfish at 6:05 PM on January 14, 2013

I have something called a Hario Coffee Dripper, its a cone that sits on a coffee cup and fits a paper filter inside. Cheap and cheerful but used at all the hottest trendy coffee houses in LA for $5 cups of coffee.
posted by dottiechang at 1:58 AM on January 15, 2013

I have something called a Hario Coffee Dripper, its a cone that sits on a coffee cup and fits a paper filter inside. Cheap and cheerful but used at all the hottest trendy coffee houses in LA for $5 cups of coffee.

FWIW, the issue I'd have with that is the same as my Aeropress issue: it's perfect if you're making coffee for just one person, but a pain in the arse if you have >1 guest wanting coffee at the same time, eg at the end of a dinner party of 8, where half the guests want coffee. You don't want to be standing there making 4 consecutive cups by that method.

To be fair, the question didn't really indicate how many cups at a time might be needed.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:48 PM on January 15, 2013

I see. Well, then it would seem french press is your best bet! That is what we use for larger pots also.
posted by dottiechang at 8:07 AM on January 16, 2013

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