Updated: May 31, 2020
Coffee, for many of us, is that one thing that is able to get us out of bed in the morning with the promise of warmth and an infusion of caffeine that gets us going. Some choose to have their morning cup prepared by a barista, and many appreciate the routine of brewing their own coffee at home. While often a coffee machine is chosen for ease and convenience, hand-brewing your morning coffee can create the space you need to slowly ease into your day. A brew bar is quickly becoming a kitchen staple for home-brewers and is something that we recommend every coffee lover to have. The beauty of building your brew bar is that it can be done gradually and is relatively inexpensive to do (no need for that fancy espresso machine!). If you are thinking of building a home brew bar or want to expand on your current collection of coffee equipment, here are a few essentials that you will want to have.
A good brewing device is essential if you want a good product. There are a plethora of brewing devices on the market and selecting one can be a bit overwhelming. Of course you don’t have to start off with just one, many coffee lovers have two, three, or more brewers as each can provide a coffee with a bit of a different character and mouthfeel in the cup. For your first brewer, we recommend a buying a Hario V60 because buying filters is generally easy and the V60 provides a nuanced cup that is generally consistent. There are tons of different types of V60s available: ceramic, glass, wood, metal, etc.
Of course, there are other great brewers as well. The Chemex is a popular choice as it is beautiful and simple, combining the brewer and server in one singular piece of hand-blown glass. The Kalita Wave can provide a delicate cup, and the Aeropress provides you the opportunity to create endless iterations of brew recipes with pressure as an added variable. Start with one brewer, get skilled at brewing with it consistently and then add on from there. Check out our brew guides to get you started with a basic recipe for six of the most popular brewing methods.
All brewers will require some sort of filter to separate brewed coffee and the coffee grounds (except for Turkish Coffee, of course!). It is important to have a good amount of filters at your disposal. Some brewers have the option for either paper or metal filters, and it is really up to you on what filter you use. Paper can provide a cleaner, clearer cup but require you to buy packs of filters frequently, while a metal filter provides a cup with less clarity and more body and removes the need to buy disposable filters (save the trees!).
Many people don’t know this, but your grinder will have the greatest effect on determining whether or not you are able to consistently brew a good cup. Because of this, if you are wanting to know where to invest the bulk of your budget it is definitely on a grinder. So what should you take into consideration when buying a grinder? First, it’s important that you get a burr grinder. Yes, blade grinders are cheap and easy to buy, but they are incapable of providing a consistent grind size. This means that you will have some pieces of coffee that are large, some that are fine, and everything in between. The large pieces will under extract, causing your coffee’s flavour to be muddled. The tiny fines will over extract, adding a bitterness to your final cup. Going from a blade to a burr grinder will dramatically increase the quality of the coffee you brew.
When choosing a burr grinder, there is the option to choose flat-burrs and conical burrs. Typically, coffee lovers will choose flat over conical, but with advances in technology and design, there are some great conical burr grinders on the market.
When selecting a kettle, we recommend purchasing a gooseneck kettle. This will allow you to accurately control the rate of water flow and will keep your coffee from splashing while you brew. There are both electric and stovetop gooseneck kettles, the difference is merely based on preference. Some electric kettles have temperature control which removes the need for you to have a separate thermometer and can make it easier to get your water to the exact temperature that you want.
If you are brewing at home, you are going to want to find a mug or mugs that make you feel good. While not necessarily essential, you will also want to consider buying a server that you can brew into that is not a mug. Servers are bigger than mugs which leaves less risk of overflowing, which can happen if you brew directly into a smaller vessel like a mug. Servers also allow you to brew multiple cups at the same time, allowing you to pour your brew into multiple cups to share with a friend. Often servers are made of glass; this can be helpful since you will be able to visually assess the flow rate of your coffee.
The most challenging part of hand-brewing is consistency. Pour-overs are susceptible to even the most subtle change in brew method or environment. Because of this, a scale is essential in getting as consistent a brew as possible. We use the scale to measure everything: the weight of coffee grounds, the amount of water we use, and the final brew weight.
A simple kitchen scale is sufficient, but there are also scales on the market tailored specifically for coffee brewing. Most of these scales have a timer function built in so that you can time your brew as you weigh during the brew process. More expensive scales will connect to an app on your phone that gives you additional information such as flow rate and brew guide functionality.
By now you are probably realizing that the key to good coffee is to measure everything. Water temperature is included in this. If your kettle doesn’t have a built in thermometer, you are going to want to buy a thermometer to be able to measure water temperature before you begin brewing. A meat thermometer is often effective at this but you will want to get a digital thermometer if possible for ease of use and accurate temperature readings.
If your scale doesn’t have a built in timer, a small kitchen timer, watch, or the timer app on your phone can be used to time your brew. You’ll not only be timing the length of the entire brew process, but the duration of your bloom, the length of each pour, and the time between pours.
A stirrer is another non-essential tool that can be helpful to stir your wet grounds during the blooming phase, stir the coffee slurry, or stir the final beverage to ensure that it is well integrated. Typically stirrers are wood, bamboo, plastic, or glass but we have even seen cement coffee stirrers.
A confusing frustration for a home brewer can be why the coffee that they prepare at home tastes so different than that same coffee in the coffee shop when the beans, brewing devices, and grinders are the same or of comparable quality. The answer to this, more often than not, is water. Brewed coffee is 98.5 to 99% water which means that the water you use to brew with will have a big effect. Just because the water you are brewing with is clean, clear, and odourless, doesn’t mean it is necessarily good for coffee. A water’s mineral content and alkalinity will determine how your coffee is extracted and the taste of the final cup. Too many minerals in the water will make your coffee’s flavour dull and muddled. Too few minerals can cause a sharp, unbalanced, or even metallic flavours. Most home brewers can’t afford the expensive water filtration systems that coffee shops have, but you can test various bottled waters to see which helps you get a coffee that tastes the best. Alternatively, you can make your own mineral water. Check out our blog post on how to do this.
And finally, of course good coffee is an essential part of your home brew bar. No matter how good your equipment is, if the coffee is low quality, you won't be able to brew a delicious cup. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered on that. Below are a few of our favourite coffees that we offer right now. Or, check out our online shop to see our full selection.