Splash out – but only a bit
A good coffee is one of the last truly affordable luxuries. You can’t get a vastly superior wine or whisky by spending a little bit more; but with coffee, you can.
Grind the beans
The type of brewer you use – cafetière, AeroPress, percolator – is less important than using a grinder, which is the star of the show. Ground coffee goes stale quickly – after 24 hours you notice the difference – so if you can, invest in an entry-level burr grinder (Baratza and Wilfa are good brands). We have all normalised black pepper grinding at home; it’s time we did the same for coffee. Grind what you need, and it’s fine to grind several cups’ worth at once. But whether you grind your own beans, or buy ready ground, don’t store them in the fridge, just somewhere dark, dry and airtight.
Don’t rush to plunge that cafetière
All brewers are capable of making a great coffee; it’s a tool, in the way a knife is when cooking a great dinner. Cafetières are simple, but don’t be in a hurry. I always weigh my coffee: 15g of ground coffee per person to 250ml of water. For light to medium roasts, use water straight from the boil; for darker roasts, let it sit off the boil for a minute or so. Steep for four minutes, then scoop off any slurry floating on the surface. Plunge so it rests on the surface of the coffee, and leave for another five minutes, longer if you can, so the fine silt sinks to the bottom. There’s no need to plunge further; it will cause turbulence and stir up the gritty bits. Then pour. As long as the mesh filter is sitting inside the cafetière, it will stop grounds coming through.
The best way to percolate
A stove-top percolator makes a stronger coffee – halfway between an espresso and a filter – but it can have a bitter taste. The trick is to fill the bottom with just-boiled water from the kettle. As soon as it starts to gurgle, run the base under a cold tap to stop the steaming process. You might get a touch less coffee, but it will taste better.
Froth your milk
For the finishing touch, froth your own heated milk. When heating milk, don’t let it boil. The aim is to keep the milk below 70C, because that’s the temperature at which it starts to “cook”, change in flavour and get a bit eggy-smelling. It’s easy to do with a pan on the stove, or in a microwave, though it will be a bit of trial and error without a kitchen thermometer. Froth the milk in a small cafetière, plunging it up and down a few times.
Finally, pour your coffee. What to drink it from? Whatever makes you happy: you can get fancy special-tasting glassware, but your favourite mug (mine is currently a matt glazed stoneware set from Monoware) is perfect.
• James Hoffmann is a former world barista champion and the author of The World Atlas Of Coffee. Interview by Hannah Booth