I wouldn’t at all consider myself a coffee snob. I will even drink an instant coffee. But if I’m going to have a ‘proper’ coffee, I want to do it the best way possible.
I have one such coffee most mornings, and whilst I’d love one of those big flashy machines, I just don’t have the space nor the funds for such an extravagance. Similarly, although the street we live on is littered with hotels and sandwich shops, we’re not blessed with an amazing coffee shop amongst them. Nevertheless, and as usual, I persevere, and have found some jolly good ways of making a rather brilliant coffee with some simpler tools. And in case you’re not spoiled by a super duper in-home barista either, I thought I’d share….
I’ve tried many contraptions for making coffee at home. I was given a pretty good electric filter coffee maker as a house warming gift at my first student flat, but it was such a faff to set up and clean, and the results weren’t nearly good enough to be worth putting in the effort. And a plunger isn’t much better really, with all those faffy grinds to faff with. I’ve tried all the fancy instant ones too, and whilst I can enjoy one with plenty of milk in, I just can’t consider it part of the same family.
A little while ago though, we were gifted a very odd contraption, said to be the new best thing for making excellent coffee at home. The Aeropress is basically a plunger, which, instead of forcing the water through the coffee using a pushy bit of mesh, uses the vacuum it creates to more naturally force the water through. I had to reserve judgement on this seemingly crazy idea until we tried it…..but by golly it’s good! You get a much smoother flavour, no bitterness and no grittiness. It’s the closest I’ve ever had to those incredible coffees you get at Monmouth (more on that later), and as if that’s not enough, it’s incredibly easy to clean! Once you’ve plunged your coffee, you simply take off the little screw cap underneath and plunge a little further until a perfectly formed ‘puck’ of coffee pops out. No stray grinds, and no mess inside the chamber! It just needs a quick rinse really, although it can all go on the top shelf of the dishwasher if you like. Best of all though is the price. At around £20 to £25 I don’t think this gadget can be beaten, especially when you consider the quality of coffee it produces and the tiny amount of space it takes up. You get 300 of the little filters it takes included, which you can actually rinse and re-use if you can be bothered, but they are only £3.70 for a further 350.
There are several techniques being bandied about, as opposed to the simple operating instructions you get on the box. Whilst I’ve not been bothered to try all the crazy upside down ones etc. I would recommend this one….
- Pop the filter into the screw on base, and attach to the main chamber
- Place three scoops of well ground but not super-fine coffee into the chamber
- Boil the kettle
- Once it’s boiled, take off the heat and allow it to sit whilst you heat 150ml of milk in a jug in the microwave for one minute
- Remove the jug and place the Aeropress over it securely
- Pour over just enough hot water to cover the coffee and give it a gentle stir
- Then pour over enough water to take it all to the number 4 marker
- Stir for ten seconds, then plunge
- Quickly warm up your cups with a little of the left over hot water from the kettle, pour that away, and then pour in your delicious milky coffee
Aerobie AeroPress, around £25
At the office…..
Now if you can be bothered, and you don’t mind being asked each day about your odd contraption by your colleagues, there’s no reason you can’t use another Aeropress at work. But, even simpler and more convenient is the cup-top ‘cone’ dripper. You can buy these for just a few pounds in either plastic or ceramic, both work just as well. You’ll need a regular cone type filter, which you place into the dripper then fill with coffee before pouring over your hot water…..your coffee will slowly drip into the cup below, ready to add milk or whatever.
It’s fair to say it takes a little while longer than the Aeropress and the quality of the coffee quite isn’t as good. But, it’s just as easy to clean (just pop the filter paper and it’s contents into the bin then rinse the dripper) and there aren’t as many parts to misplace! It’ll also take up even less space. Not a bad bit of kit really. We also have an over-pot version of the dripper which is great for dinner parties…it makes lots all at once and you can just leave it to drip whilst entertaining, then remove the filter top to serve.
Cup top coffee ‘cone’ filter, around £5 to £15
I always felt well sophisticated making proper coffee whilst camping. In fact, I consider myself a pretty savvy camper and have comfort and practicality down to a tee. When camping in Italy though, I had to be a bit less smug, because EVERYONE on our campsite had this little routine going each morning!….
The little stove top espresso maker by Bialetti is a brilliant piece of camping kit. It’ll sit nicely on even the tiniest camp stove (I use the brilliant and super compact Coleman Cricket) and you can be the envy of your temporary neighbours as you brew up an amazing smelling brew each morning.
It’s a little pricey, comparatively, but mine has lasted me many years already and is still in tip top nick. All you do is pour your water into the base, place the little coffee cradle on top and fill with coffee, screw on the top, and heat…. The water will rise up into the upper chamber as it hots up, taking the filtered coffee with it. Magic!
Bialetti Moka Exoress, 3 cup, from around £25
When out and about….
Now whilst I understand that going out for a coffee is not just about the coffee (I could while away many an hour in almost any place with nice decor, a good atmosphere and some quality cake), if you’re after a really good coffee away from home, I’m yet to find anywhere outside Italy that makes it better than Monmouth.
When I worked at Shakespeare’s Globe and passed through Borough Market twice a day whilst traveling to and from work, it was my little treat to myself to pop into the Park Street shop for a take away latte. Even now, if I’m anywhere near the place, or their Covent Garden shop, I have to dive in for a fix of what is probably the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.
The experts at Monmouth roast their own coffee, traveling extensively throughout the year to visit the producers and cooperatives with whom they work, as well as to look for interesting varietals of coffee and new farms from which to buy. For every producer they work with, they seek to learn more about the coffee they grow and process and the challenges that they face, looking to establish a relationship with the grower and exporter. Core to their method is their sustainable, fair and equal trade…..as well as the most wonderful selection of high quality coffees you could hope for!
For me though, it’s not just the coffee itself which is vital…..each member of staff there have an incredible wealth of knowledge, and not only are they excited to recommend and explain all the different varieties to you, they are expert in making it too. The result is the creamiest, most luxurious cup of coffee I’ve ever encountered, and whilst I wouldn’t sully it with even a spoon of their rather fancy cane sugar, it tastes almost sweet. No matter what beans I use, or what method I try, I’ve never been able to replicate that flavour and texture, and nor has anywhere else I’ve bought a cup.
You can sit in at their shops, and enjoy cakes, breads and pastries from their fine selection (I always loved their big sharing table on which you’ll find hunks of bread and lashing of butter and preserves), but even if you want to take out…expect to queue! During the morning commute, and on a weekend, the queue can stretch well into the streets outside the shops. But it is very much worth it, even if you come back later when there’s a lull. It’s all reasonably priced too….you won’t find a Starbucks-esque bucket sized cup, but I’d pay as much as one of those for a little cup of Monmouth any day!
(I can’t not mention another couple of London favourites too though….. Wild and Wood in Holborn actually serve Monmouth coffee in their delightfully charming little cafe, which is filled with cute mis-matched furniture and black & white photos from Carry On films….. and You Don’t Bring me Flowers in Hither Green is a darling little flower shop cafe, filled with vintage treasures and serving a wonderful flat white!)
Monmouth Street Monmouth Shop, Covent Garden
Spilling the beans…..
One way to jump the queue is to buy beans from Monmouth. At the front of the Borough Market shop is a counter filled with all types of beans, and you can consult with one of the expert staff and even have a little taste before buying. It’s not as cheap as a packet of even the best supermarket beans, but again I’d pay the extra just for the quality difference. If you go up to the bean buying counter (where there’s hardly ever a queue) you can purchase your beans by the gram, and you can order a coffee to go too, without having to join the main queue.
I’ve tried all manor of beans from all over, and whilst many warrant a mention (Nude Espresso at Brick Lane and Soho Square, Union hand roasted coffees, Cafe Direct’s Machu Pichu beans, and Sainsbury’s So Organic, Fairtrade Papa New Guinea Beans) non come up to the standard of Monmouth. With beans for every taste from all over the world, including organic varieties, I just don’t think there’s anywhere better. AND you don’t even need to live nearby to buy them now….they offer a mail order service on their beans, so you can enjoy them from anywhere!
And now, some Rules…..
- Buy the best beans you can. In my opinion it’s better to to have quality over quantity, so I’d rather buy less coffee but better coffee! Buying from a proper roaster means you know it’s not been on a shelf for ages losing its flavour, and they can advise you too on the right coffee to buy for your taste.
- Use it fast! Even the freshest roasted coffees have started to deteriorate as soon as they’ve been roasted. Buy in beans, which last longer, and only buy as much as you’ll get through in a couple of weeks.
- As with most things, extreme temperatures and the air can make coffee deteriorate faster. Keep your beans in an air-tight container (we find a kilner jar good) and at room temperature…keeping them in the fridge can mean they’re subject to other flavours creeping in from the other contents, and the quick change in temperature when you come to make it will diminish the flavour.
- Burr mills are widely recognised to grind the beans best, but the less expensive electric grinders are fine if you’re careful to rock the grinder gently as you use it to ensure even grinding (and don’t over-grind!).
- Never make coffee with boiling water! The proper brewing temperature is 200°F, or about 45 seconds off a full boil. Also bear in mind that reheating or prolonged holding on a warming platform will turn your coffee bitter.
- Keep all your coffee making equipment clean, including containers. The oils which come from the coffee can cling onto anything, and of course they deteriorate as much as the coffee itself, and can contaminate any fresh coffee that comes into contact with them. So ensure you clean out even your containers every couple of weeks.
Well, I hope that little lot helps you enjoy a better cup of coffee at home and away! As ever, I’d love to hear any other tips you have, and do share any wonderful places you’ve had coffee!