Alongside craft beer and natural wine, specialty coffee culture has been on the rise for years. Folks are taking a more dedicated approach to making a cup of joe. Chock Full o’ Nuts just won’t cut it these days.
There is such an enormous difference between a good cup and a bad cup of coffee. And, honestly, it’s not that hard to bridge that gap. Freshly ground beans, decent coffee-making techniques, and a little bit of patience go a long way. Once you have that perfect espresso or deeply nuanced cup of pour-over, it’s nearly impossible to go back to that dull, dark coffee you had been tolerating before.
So, below we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite coffee drinks that we think everyone should know how to make. Even if you’re just sticking with a single style of coffee for your morning routine, it’s good to have these in your back pocket when you want to impress a guest or switch things up. But, before you get brewing, you’ll want to acquire some special equipment to help dial in your coffee recipes. Plus, knowing how to make these drinks won’t guarantee you get a delicious cup of coffee. That starts with buying high-quality coffee beans.
The Essential Coffee Equipment
In addition to the specific gear required to make certain types of coffee (an espresso machine for espresso drinks, a French Press for–you guessed it–French Press), you’ll want to buy some equipment to make your coffee brewing process even easier. Here’s what you’ll need.
Coffee Grinder – Freshly ground coffee is leaps and bounds ahead of pre-ground coffee so if you want to take your coffee game to the next level, we’d suggest buying a coffee grinder. Burr grinders are the industry standard and offer the most consistently ground coffee. The Baratza Encore is an excellent pick that won’t break the bank or you could splurge on the Fellow Ode Brew Grinder. And, if you’d prefer a manual grind, we’d recommend the TIMEMORE Chestnut C2.
Scale – Precision leads to better cups of coffee. And measuring your coffee beans helps you dial in a precise recipe. Any kitchen scale will do but the TIMECORE coffee scale is a solid option while the Acaia Pearl coffee scale is a seriously impressive upgrade pick.
Kettle – While you really only need a gooseneck kettle for pour over coffee, they offer much more control whether you’re pouring water into a French Press, cold brew coffee maker, or water tank for your espresso machine. The Fellow Stagg electric kettle is our first pick but any stovetop gooseneck kettle will work well, too.
Where to Get the Best Coffee
And, of course, a good cup of coffee starts with great coffee beans. As we said earlier, try to avoid pre-ground coffee and definitely steer clear from any of the large chains or supermarket brands. We’d mostly recommend finding your favorite local roasters but just because a coffee roaster is small, it doesn’t mean they’re great. Still, freshly roasted, whole bean coffee from any small roaster is a great place to start.
Trade is a great online coffee subscription service that partners with some of the best craft coffee roasters in the country. That’s a great place to dive into specialty coffee. Yonder is another exceptional coffee subscription service that sources amazing coffee from international roasters.
If you’d prefer to stick with one single roaster, many offer recurring subscription services so you can be sure to have a cupboard well-stocked with fresh coffee. A few roasters we’d recommend:
Tandem Coffee Roasters (Portland, ME); Brandywine Coffee Roasters (Wilmington, DE); Cat & Cloud Coffee (Santa Cruz, CA); Black & White Coffee Roasters (Wake Forest, NC); and Sey Coffee (Brooklyn, NY).
The 10 Best Coffee Drinks Everyone
Now that you’ve got the essential coffee gear, it’s time to start making some coffee.
Pour over quickly became one of the trendiest ways to brew specialty coffee; like IPA or orange wine, it’s a style of coffee that’s shorthand for the craft movement at large. But, there are several different methods for brewing pour over. They all effectively do the same thing: by using a precise coffee/water ratio and pouring water at set intervals, gravity pulls coffee through a filter resulting in a delicious and balanced beverage. Chemex is perhaps the most popular but Hario V60 and Origami are better, in our opinion, for single cup pour overs. The recipe, grind size, and ratio will vary depending on what type of pour over style you’re doing. Across the board, though, you’ll pour a small amount of your coffee and allow it to “bloom,” wait for some coffee to drip through, continue pouring, wait again, and then pour the final amount.
While I don’t personally brew French Press on a regular basis, it’s an excellent option for brewing a great cup of morning coffee. Depending on the size of your French Press, you’ll wind up with a nice batch of coffee to enjoy with a guest or throughout the morning. We’d recommend getting the Bodum French Press or the Fellow Clara. The basic recipe for brewing French Press involves adding coffee, saturating them fully with water, stirring, filling your French Press to the top, waiting, and finally pressing down to separate the ground from the coffee.
Unlike drip or pour over coffee, espresso uses pressure, not gravity, to produce a cup of coffee. The process of making espresso can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like but specialty equipment will absolutely be required. Dialing in your espresso recipe takes time. Familiarize yourself with your machine and you’ll be able to pull a great shot of espresso every time. The Breville Infuser is a great starter option while the Rancilio Silvia and the Lucca A53 Mini Espresso Machine are great upgrade picks.
To make a good shot of espresso, several factors are involved. Settle on a precise ratio of coffee to water (1:2 is a good starting point), evenly distribute and properly tamp down your coffee in the portafilter, and get the proper timing down. Many machines have preset brewtimes, which will be perfectly serviceable. But, there are many small adjustments you can make to truly perfect your espresso technique. There are excellent guides to helping you achieve the best shot of espresso. Check out James Hoffman’s series on dialing-in espresso here.
Now that’ve you’ve nailed your espresso, let’s add some foamy milk. A cappuccino is simply an espresso topped with delicious frothy, foamed milk. Most espresso machines are equipped with a steam wand for milk frothing and will come with instructions for proper use. Broadly speaking though, you’ll want to pour some cold milk into the accompanying stainless steel pitcher, about a third of the way up, insert the steam wand keeping it toward the side of the container, and create a vortex as the steamer incorporates air into the milk creating foam. Move the pitcher gently up and down to keep the milk foamy and once the milk has doubled in size you should be ready to pour. Prevailing wisdom suggests that the ratio here is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam though the real ratio is likely closer to one part espresso to three parts steamed milk. Really, all that’s required is a single shot (or double if you’re feeling it) of espresso poured into a large vessel, and a generous helping of foamy milk. Modern cafes, particularly outside of Italy, have reduced the foam to a point that more closely resembles a latte, which doesn’t feature that fluffy cap of foam. To truly nail the cappuccino, don’t hold back on the foam.
A latte is yet another espresso drink worth mastering. Latte, milk in Italian, is shorthand for caffe latte which would be an espresso with milk. While milk and espresso are quite often found together in Italy, the caffe latte isn’t really an Italian beverage. Regardless, it’s become very popular stateside as a light drink with a higher ratio of steamed milk to coffee with just a bit of foam on top.
A cortado is my personal favorite espresso drink and it has risen in popularity at many coffee shops. It’s served in a short espresso glass, rather than the larger cups used for lattes or cappuccinos, and is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, no real foam on top. As the drink has spread, you’ll find many baristas now make it with more steamed milk than espresso resulting in a beverage that’s closer to the caffe latte.
Once the warmer weather sets in, I tend to swap hot coffee drinks for something far more refreshing. Cold Brew is among the easiest cold coffee drinks to make and really just requires steeping coffee grounds in water before filtering out the coffee. You can purchase a dedicated cold brew maker like this one or you can even use a French Press. Alternatively use whatever vessel you’d like and use a cheese cloth to strain your cold brew out once you’ve finished brewing. Serve over ice and with a bit of a splash of water or milk if the final product is too strong.
Iced Filter Coffee
Iced Filter Coffee, or what is sometimes referred to as Japanese-style iced coffee, is considered a serious step up from simple Cold Brew. With this cold coffee drink, you’ll actually brew a cup of pour over as you normally would with hot water (though with a bit less water to factor in the ice) but place large ice cubes in your server and stir the ice with the hot coffee before serving over ice. The result is a more complex and balanced cold drink that closely resembles the flavor profile of pour over coffee.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
I wouldn’t recommend drinking a Vietnamese Iced Coffee every day but this luxuriously sweet coffee drink is truly one of the best treats for summer. Traditionally, Vietnamese Iced Coffee is made with a Phin Filter, a classic Vietnamese coffee method, but any style of coffee brewing will work in a pinch. Stir in two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk and add ice.
On a hot day there are few things I like better than a coffee soda. Refreshing, acidic, and bracing, I think it is a delicious beverage — though I know there are those who would scoff at the idea of combining carbonated water and coffee. I particularly like a splash of cold brew in my seltzer but you can use espresso or any regular hot coffee as well. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Our final pick is a bit of a barternder’s (or rather barista’s) handshake. Story time: my first time visiting my wife’s family in Italy, her grandfather asked after lunch if I’d like a “caffee corretto.” My wife looked at me confusedly and said “he wants to know if you want your coffee corrected?” I was nervous as a non-Italian speaker and didn’t want to make a bad impression so I said sure. He pulled out a bottle of grappa, generously topped off my espresso, and let me enjoy this drink.
A caffe corretto is the combination of espresso and alcohol. Some folks will pour shots side by side, others will simply add the alcohol to the coffee, and some will finish their espresso and then add in some booze and swirl it around to catch the last bits of espresso. Ultimately it’s up to personal preference. Grappa or sambuca would be commonly used for caffe corretto but you can add in brandy, whiskey, amaro, whatever you’re feeling.