Today when I opened up On This Day1 I saw a memory of a life-changing event from 3 years ago. Before that time I was getting my caffeine high from Chinese teas2 but on 26th of April 2013 everything changed.
I was meandering around Portland and I still vividly remember walking into Courier Coffee. It was a hole in a wall kind of coffee shop, but it had a great rating on Foursquare. I ordered a double shot latte.
After the first sip my mind was blown - this is what coffee is supposed to taste like? I’ve never experienced flavors like that. Coffee is bitter and dark - not sweet and flavorful.
WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?
Ever since that moment I’ve been going from one coffee place to another. And no matter where I went I couldn’t believe all the flavors my tongue was being bombarded with. Citrusy, nutty, berrylike, chocolaty,…the list went on and on.
I got so used to ordering espresso that when I was waiting for my flight home at the Schiphol airport I ordered one. That was a blast back to reality.
Back home I went from one café to another, but no matter where I went - bitter and dark was there. So called 3rd wave coffee was nowhere to be found. Mind you - Slovenia is #4 country on coffee consumption per capita in the world3. You’d think we’d know how to make our coffee. Unfortunately that is not the case.
The majority of people buy pre-ground coffee blends of questionable origins. The drink is usually made with džezva4 where they add coffee to boiling water and let it boil over 3 times. Now you know why it’s so bitter.
And don’t think that you can get anything better in cafés. They use Italian roasted5 blends of questionable origins. If you’re in luck they’re by famous brands like Illy, Julius Meinl, or Lavazza. It’s rarely ground on-demand and espresso machine hygiene is non-existent. Consequently the resulting cup of joe is bitter and has burnt, almost ashy taste. Of course you can’t drink that as an espresso, which is why by far the most popular drink here is “z mlekom”6.
I slowly forgot about the amazing experience until I went to ArrrrCamp in 2014. There I walked into Or Espresso Bar by accident. And what a happy accident it was - with the first sip I was back in Portland. Damn, I missed this.
This time I wouldn’t give up so easy. I wanted to experience this taste at home. The first step to great coffee at home is a good coffee maker. After lots of research I settled for Aeropress. Immediately the dark liquid tasted much better. Even with the questionable origins pre-ground coffee.
By now I’ve experienced almost all pour-over and full-immersion coffee preparations and Aeropress is still my favorite way to make filter coffee. It’s cheap, it’s simple, it’s fast, it’s easy to cleanup, and you can experiment with all the variables7.
Next gizmo was the grinder. All I knew about grinders back then was that they should have a burr, not a blade. I got the cheapest one I could find - De’Longhi KG79. It made all the difference to have freshly ground coffee.
The final step in preparing good coffee are good beans. Around that time I discovered we have a micro roastery in Slovenia - Escobar. I started purchasing their beans and home coffee quality went through the roof8.
Soon thereafter I became aware of the grind inconsistencies so I’ve upgraded to Baratza Encore. I loved that grinder but when I got a great deal on Baratza Virtuoso I couldn’t resist. After a while I also got Brewista Smart Scale and Smart Kettle. Not because I needed to, but because I wanted to.
That was and is more or less my setup for producing excellent coffee at home. It’s also my recommendation for anyone that wants to experience better coffee. Aeropress, Baratza Encore, and ideally a variable temperature kettle. Along with some high quality coffee beans this will produce the best coffee you ever had.
As far as the coffee beans go 3rd wave is slowly hitting Slovenia as well. Besides aforementioned Escobar we have moderna, Buna, Iconic, and Coronini. But the best way to get truly high quality beans is still to order from abroad. My preferred way to do that is The Coffee Roasters coffee subscription. It’s completely personalized and the flavors coffee can deliver blow me away almost every month.
You know how above I said that I have “more or less” the same setup today? There was one notable addition to the setup lately and it changed everything. Again. Here’s a hint:
Yup, I got an espresso machine. I wanted to get one ever since I had that first sip of coffee in Portland and was unable to get similar coffee in Slovenia. I’ve read countless forum posts, watched way too many YouTube videos9, and finally settled on Izzo Alex Duetto. Main reasons being dual boiler system, PID, rotary pump, E61 group, and relative affordability. If these words don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. I’ve been living in a coffee forum bubble where this is all that matters.
Making an espresso is much harder than Aeropress or any other method. So many things can go wrong, so many variables must be just right. I’ve spent a lot of time on YouTube again, and I have to thank European Coffee Trip for the fantastic Learn Coffee with Gwilym series.
Anyway I now make a decent espresso and a good latte and I still have much to learn. It’s not yet at Portland level, but I’m way beyond anything I can get in any local cafe. I love it.
With all that said I would not recommend anyone to get into home espresso. Unless you’re a lunatic. Like me. But you should totally have an Aeropress at home. No doubt.
One of the rare features I still use on Facebook ↩
Very dark, almost black, way past the second crack - just before the bean would turn to ash ↩
Something like Cortado or Gibraltar - basically a small cup single shot latte ↩
Temperature, grind size, time, and coffee to water ratio ↩
Compared to anything I had before ↩