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Getting started on a budget...

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Getting started, what will it cost?


The most important thing you can do to elevate your coffee making experience is buy a grinder and grind the coffee yourself, just prior to brewing. This gives you control over the fineness/coarseness of the grind (important for brewing methods where grind influences how long the water & grinds are in contact, like espresso and more demanding pour-over filter cone brewing) as well as ensuring that the ground coffee does not sit about for extended periods, going stale.


Scales are also essential, allowing you to determine the exact amount of grinds and water that will be used, so that ideal *brew ratios can be observed & adjusted accordingly. For those that might see careful weighing as a chore, the trusty stove top, moka pot works well with preset quantities based on the pot’s dimensions. They make a strong brew, but this can always be diluted to taste with hot water from the kettle (though a good grinder will still have a very noticeable impact on the quality of moka pot extractions).


It is easy to become beguiled by brushed steel and shiny chrome plate when entering the world of the ‘home barista’, but really it is important to focus on the fact that coffee machines and coffee makers/brewers are essentially just the tools we use to get the end product. ‘People make coffee’ and any brewer, or machine, is reliant on the input of the person operating it. Buy the best tools that your budget can stand…but always keep in mind that a good barista just needs hot water, beans, a receptacle and a grinder to produce good coffee. If you like longer coffee drinks, of a regular cup/mugful (rather than short espresso & espresso based drinks), it makes just as much sense to explore the manual brew methods. Many roasters select coffees that are particularly suited to manual brewers and you can access some absurdly tasty coffees using these methods.


Sub-£100 electric burr grinders…

Burr grinders are preferred for coffee making, rather than blade type grinders. Burr grinders produce a more consistent grind size and keep the beans cooler during the grinding process. Blade grinders heat up the beans and chop/smash them in a much less controllable manner. There isn’t a whole lot of choice of electric burr grinders in the sub-£150 category, therefore, if you are on a restricted budget it may well be wise to spend the larger part of your budget on the grinder, rather than on a machine…as the machine will still normally require a capable grinder to exploit its full potential.


Budget electric burr grinders (approx. £40-£100), whilst an improvement over blade grinders, still aren’t perfect – cheaper models lack the range of adjustment and consistency of grind when compared to high-end home use & commercial use machines. Luckily however, there are brew methods which, whilst also benefitting from a superior grind quality, still produce excellent results with a basic burr grinder. These methods involve steeping the grinds in the brew water. You then determine how long they stay in contact with the brew water, rather than relying on the grind itself to determine brew time. The much loved cafetiere/ French press is a forgiving brewer that produces good results with basic burr grinders. Filter cones with one, two, or three small holes can also be more forgiving, regarding grind, than the more technical, single large hole, pour-over cones.


Hand grinders are also a good option for baristas on a budget. Whilst cheaper than electric grinders (from approx £30 upwards), many popular hand grinders can grind fine enough for espresso and produce excellent results with more demanding pour-over, filter cone brewers. The downside is obviously the effort and time involved, but for one & two cup brew methods (filter cones, smaller French/press cafetieres), 15g to 20g doses of beans can easily be ground in the time it takes a full kettle to boil from cold. Many people with electric espresso grinders still have a hand grinder for use with other brew methods and for travelling.

It is perfectly feasible to hand grind for espresso, however it can become a chore when making multiple shots, or when ‘dialing in’ different beans and less than ideal shots are being produced. Espresso is perhaps more glamorous to many initially, but things generally need tighter controls and events happen a lot faster than with most other brew methods – great when everything is going your way, but possibly disheartening when trying to find your feet.

Once you get up to the £150 mark for electric burr grinders, the choices become wider, especially with regards to espresso.


Realistic budgets…

With these things in mind, let’s look at some realistic budgets that can result in great manual brewed coffee: brewed coffee burr grinder @ £40-£150, scales @ £10-£15, brewer (filter cone, cafetiere/French press) @ £5-£25. Total = £55-£185 …less approx. £10-£120 with a hand grinder, replacing the electric grinder.


Maybe, for decent espresso: espresso capable electric burr grinder @ £150+, scales @ £10-15, espresso machine @ approx £200+, tamper @ £15+, **non-pressurised grinds basket @ £20+. Total = £395-ish up to…well, the sky is your limit…


Again, for hardy souls, a hand grinder can reduce overall costs by at least £120. It is often asked, “How can I get great espresso for under £150?”…well, you can certainly make a short, strong coffee for up to £150 total outlay in equipment...you may well enjoy this drink and may decide to quit while you are ahead, however, that kind of budget is rather optimistic for anything other than a pod/pre-ground only type machine. A little more outlay and patience can net you an espresso that puts many of the high street offerings to shame!


*Brew ratio – the ratio of dry coffee grinds vs. brew water added, with respect to brewed coffee & dry grinds vs. espresso extracted, with respect to espresso. This ratio may be expressed as, say 1:17, or 6% for brewed coffee (the same proportions in each case) using 15g of grinds to 250g of water added. Also as 1:2, or 50% for espresso (again, both terms indicate the same proportions) for that same dose of 15g of grinds producing a 30g drink.


** Many entry level espresso machines are sold with ‘pressurised baskets’, whether for use with ESE pods, or with grinds. The manufacturers know that most people do not have coffee grinders in their home, so the pressurized basket is designed to use pre-ground coffee/ESE pods and compensate for the lack of resistance that the fine espresso grinds would normally show the machine. When you dispense with the pressurized basket, you gain greater control of the extraction process and can fine tune the speed and the flavour profile of the espresso to a much greater extent. Therefore, a non-pressurised basket is highly recommended for those seeking to fully exploit the diversity that the world of espresso has to offer. Of course, this can (and most likely will) be added to your arsenal as funds permit, after your initial purchase.

“Coffee evokes the most insane reactions in people”, Rene Redzepi.



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