I spend a lot of time at coffeeshops. When I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, I spent all of my early weekends hopping between cafés, determined to track down the city’s best cup of coffee; now, whenever I visit a new city, I make it my personal mission to go to a different coffeeshop each morning. A few well-worn couches, a cast of regulars, and a cup of coffee can really clue you into the personality of a place, sometimes more effectively than any official tour or landmark. For me, coffeeshops brew a distinct form of comfort.
In the last few weeks, while I’ve eased into a home quarantine, I’ve pressed pause on my ritualistic weekend coffeeshop visits. Searching for some stability amidst all the current chaos, I shifted my mission closer to the source: I’d learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee. In times like this, we all find a little peace in our own, unique way.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have access to an at-home espresso machine, but that doesn’t mean coffee can’t be a bright spot in your morning. These tips and tricks will help you get creative with your coffee, and make the most out of your average pot of joe. Soon enough, your kitchen may just become your favorite local coffeeshop.
1. Start with Good Beans
The secret to good coffee? Good coffee beans. If you’re stuck at home for the time being, it may be worth investing in high-quality coffee beans. Plus, now is a more important time than ever to support your favorite small businesses, including coffeeshops.
Check to see if your local coffeeshop is delivering its coffee beans, or place a bulk order from one of your favorite shops online (may we recommend the Sundance blend from Bitty & Beau’s, one of our South’s Best Coffee Shops?). Not only does this provide crucial support to your beloved neighborhood spots, but you’ll be well on your way to perfecting your at-home cup of joe. While you’re at it, order some merch, too.
2. Grind Your Own Beans
Sure, it may be more convenient to buy your beans completely ready to brew, but freshly ground coffee beans simply taste brighter and more flavorful than the pre-ground stuff. When you grind your own coffee beans right before brewing, they retain much more nuance in flavor. You can order your own coffee grinder on Amazon—as an added bonus, you can also use this versatile appliance to grind your own spices.
3. Warm Your Milk
With access to a stovetop and lots of time on your hands, why not dedicate an extra 5 minutes to warming up your milk? Heat up your milk of choice in a saucepan just until it begins to bubble around the edges, around 3-4 minutes. Pour the warmed milk right into your coffee and enjoy.
If you’re looking to replicate your favorite coffeeshop’s signature cappuccino, try Esquire’s handy trick to make cappuccino milk: “Pour warmed milk into a French press until it's one-third full. Press the plunger down into the pot, pull it to the top again and then back down, re-plunging a half-dozen times.”
4. Froth Your Milk
While some swear by fancy espresso machines or swanky coffee pots, a milk frother may just be the best coffee investment you’ll ever make—and it’ll only set you back $10. Frothed milk is the trademark of quality espresso drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, and with the help of this handheld appliance (which you can shop on Amazon), you can transform your regular old cup of coffee into an imitation latte. Just follow these steps to get started with your new milk frother.
5. Add a Pinch of Salt
This tip comes straight from one of our most trusted kitchen sources: Alton Brown. He recommends adding a pinch of kosher salt to your coffee grounds to take the bitterness out of your home-brewed coffee. Just use a quarter teaspoon of salt per 6 tablespoons of coffee grounds.
6. Don’t Shy Away From Spices
Take advantage of your stocked spice cabinet and infuse your cup of joe with extra flavor. Add dashes of your favorite warm baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.) right into your coffee grounds before brewing to instantly elevate your coffee’s flavor. Don’t worry, we’ve got the full lowdown on this technique; your home-brewed blend might just rival the PSL.
If you swear by your Keurig and use pre-packaged coffee grounds, another option is to infuse your milk. Add the spices into your milk as it warms on the stovetop, then remove from heat, cover, and let the spices steep in the milk for an hour. Strain the milk through a sieve—and voilà, you’ve made your very own flavor-packed milk. Once you've mastered the technique, you can get creative with the flavors; my personal favorite is oat milk infused with culinary lavender. We recommend making a big batch of spice-infused milk at the beginning of the week to store in the fridge and set yourself up for some cheery mornings.