Making Fussy Coffee

Oct 14, 2014

I first got into coffee because a friend of a friend was a barista. He was visiting Chicago from Tulsa, and he ground up some coffee and brewed it in a Chemex for a small gathering of friends. I was blown away. I had never tasted coffee like that. It didn’t taste like ash! For the next two days I picked his brain to find out everything I could about making great coffee.

It's the geek in me that enjoys making the coffee the most. Measurements, pouring ingredients together, I feel like a mad scientist sometimes, especially when using a syphon. Coffee it self is great, but I can never handle it in the morning, or on an empty stomach. So it's the process that I'm in love with. Grinding up fresh coffee, and having that smell punch you in the face. There aren't many things better than that.

The second half of that is the community coffee creates. The fellowship of getting to know someone over a cup. Sharing in the experience together. Coffee brings people together. Whether they are planning a (french)revolution, meeting with clients, or catching up with old friends.

There are a lot of people on the internet that enjoy making fussy coffee. I’m definitely one of them. However, getting into coffee doesn’t have to a pursuit in snobby-ness and complexity. I’ve found a fairly simple setup, that’s inexpensive, and produces better coffee than 80% of the coffee shops out there.


More often than not, I’m brewing coffee in my Aeropress. It is a bit of a chore, but, I hand grind my coffee, using this Hario grinder. This is the Baratza Encore, which I would recommend if you don't want to be grinding for a minute and a half at a time. A kitchen scale is always present. It’s the easiest way to ensure a perfect cup every time.  And of course, you need a kettle, I prefer this Hario gooseneck one, however just about any kettle will do.

When I’m not using my Aeropress (which I really need to replace) I use a French Press. The split between the French Press and the Aeropress, depending on beans, and what I’m in the mood for, is probably 50/50. There’s really only one way of making a cup of French Press and it lends it self to fruitier, lighter roasts. 

I have used other brew methods. Specifically the Chemex is delicious, but mine broke a while ago and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it. I really want to try a Clever brewer. It's what the Wirecutter recommended for the cheapest coffee brewer. V60's are single cup pour-overs, and make a great clean cup. I also need to try the Kalita Wave. And if you want to take it to the extreme, Syphon brewing is certainly an interesting and unique experience. It combines a full immersion brew (like a french press) with a filter (like a chemex), giving you the body and clarity of those two methods. Though you should probably watch this first.

And lastly. If you need to make a whole pot of coffee at once, and don't want it to taste like garbage, do your self a favor and get this Bonativa coffee maker. It's easily the best value automatic coffee maker you can get.


Now. I always get whole beans and grind them right before brewing. Usually storing it in an airtight jar, or just the bag it comes in.

Intelligentsia was founded in Chicago and is considered the premier roaster here, and one of the best in the nation. I like them, but for what ever reason I enjoy Metropolis more. Their beans were the first I bought when I first started getting into coffee, so it’s probably part nostalgia. I do also like their actual coffee shop better than Intelligentsia’s.

I try to buy coffee from roasters all over though. These are roasters that I have, or want to order from …
♥ - favourite
⦾ - cold brew

Currently I have Banko Gotiti, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Counter Culture, and I'm pretty sure it's my favourite varietal I've ever had.


I start with the de facto 1:16 coffee to water ratio. I’ve found it always a great starting point for any cup. 

I like to change things up with my Aeropress recipes, going from inverted to regular, super concentrated, to no additional water needed. My most used recipe is 14g of coffee to about 230g water, inverted. I bloom the coffee with 40g of water, stir for about 20 seconds, and add the rest. Let it steep for a minute, and then press. I’ve found one iced Aeropress recipe that I really enjoy. Though I prefer cold brewed coffee to hot coffee over ice (I have no idea what Marco Arment is thinking). I throw 5–6 cubes of ice in a glass, and then grind 25–30g of beans to around 150g of water in an inverted Aeropress. Flip and press onto the ice. Maybe add one more cube if there aren’t any left floating around. 

I also use the Aeropress World Championship Recipes. Specifically Charlene’s method.

French press is almost always the basic 1:16 ratio. I grind up 18.5g of coffee to 300g water, though I do play around with the ratio depending on the beans, and always time the French Press to 4 minutes. I have found that I can taste the difference if it is a minute or two over steeped. 

And of course, cold brewing. My usual order at coffee shops from April to October is a cold brew coffee, and I haven't found a cup that beats Intelligentsia's. However, when I'm feeling adventurous, I'll cold brew my own coffee. I use this Hario coffee pot that I got on my birthday. Fill it up with 40g of very coarsely ground coffee, 800ml of room-temperature water, and stick it in the fridge overnight. As a counter argument to my only cold-brew iced coffee mentality, this is a great article on why you should brew coffee hot over ice. Though I do prefer cold-brew, Peter makes some excellent points.


Lastly. I do drink my coffee black. Sometimes (usually for an iced Aeropress) I’ll add a heaping spoon of condensed milk. However, when it comes to coffee I think you should really go with what you like. I tend to think if people get the chance to drink an exceptionally brewed cup of black coffee that they’ll be converts. But, some simply like their triple pump, extra-whip, caramel fraps, and that’s a-ok.

You do you.