Upon entering your local café, the first thing you probably notice is a gleaming silver espresso machine with multiple groupheads, sitting on the counter like a miniature airstream trailer. If you think you could never afford one of those in your own kitchen—you’re probably right.
The good news is that cost doesn’t have to stop you from brewing dozens of delicious café-quality beverages in the comfort of your own home. Much that goes on behind the counter of a coffee shop is no mystery, requires no expensive equipment, and is easier than it might look. You can experience café culture in your kitchen by following a few simple rules, purchasing a few minor items and gaining a few basic barista skills.
First and foremost, buy whole beans. Coffee beans deteriorate about twice as fast when ground—instead of a few dozen surface areas exposed to oxygen and humidity, you have a few million. This does, of course, necessitate buying a grinder (see “Equipment,” below).
Moreover, if you want your coffee tasting as high quality and fresh as coffee at the café, you have to buy high quality beans and buy them fresh. Rather than picking up another supersized can of grounds at the supermarket, buy whole beans—the product is sure to be superior. Get a pound or less—small batches allow you to keep it fresh.
Who says an espresso machine has to run in the hundreds of dollars? If you’re willing to get back to basics, there are a few very inexpensive ways to brew espresso: in a French press ($17), a stovetop espresso machine ($13), or the new Aeropress ($21). All make espresso that will let you—with some practice—rival a café’s.
As mentioned above, grinding your coffee can make a big difference. You can find a very good quality burr grinder (the burr variety is a superior choice, by a large margin) for less than $65—or the cost of about fifteen lattés.
Buy decent filters. Your coffee shop uses them, which is why its coffee doesn’t taste like paper. For bonus points, get a ceramic coffee filter ($10-20), which will open up the world of pour over coffee to you.
Finally, to really give your drinks that café class, invest in a milk frother. A good one can be had for as little as $16.
Total cost to turn your home into a pretty decent café: Right around $100.
Here is all that’s keeping you from making coffee like the pros:
Home Kitchen Pumpkin Pie Latté (adapted from Taste of Home)
In a small saucepan, combine the milk, pumpkin and sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until steaming. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla and pie spice. Transfer to a blender; cover and process for 15 seconds or until foamy. Pour into two mugs; add espresso. Garnish with whipped cream and spices if desired.