Now that you've been making coffee at home for a while, you have probably settled into a pretty decent routine. You have a recipe you like and you know how to self-diagnose any issues in your brew. However, at this point, you may be finding your coffee is missing something, and not quite reaching the highs you were looking for. We've been giving pretty equipment-agnostic advice up until this point, but now it may be necessary to look at maybe upgrading your brewing set up.
First off, we at Elm don't think top notch coffee is unattainable at home, without commercial equipment. The market for high quality consumer coffee equipment has exploded in the last few years, and you can get a cafe-quality cup at home for not much money nowadays, as long as you know where to spend it.
The most important improvement you can make in your coffee is with your grinder, bar none. No matter what brew method you are using, your coffee has to be ground, and ensuring you are getting the most consistent grind possible at your budget is the best improvement you can make. With a good grinder, you can make excellent coffee with even the crudest brewing methods.
At Elm, we sell Baratza brand grinders, for a couple of key reasons.
First, they make an wide range of products, from entry level to commercial grade, all of which we can recommend. Specifically, we've sold the Virtuoso, a simple conical burr grinder that is excellent for most home brewing needs, but suffers when it comes to espresso, and the Vario-W, an excellent flat burr grinder for home espresso capable of dosing by weight for accuracy. They have many other grinders for a variety of needs, these two are just the easiest suggestions for customers who are usually just looking for a grinder for either filter or espresso. We'd encourage you to do your own research on their entire line to find what's best for you.
In addition, the grinder market has expanded rapidly in the last few years, with a lot of manufacturers trying to get in on the entry level market, which can be great for the budget conscious, but these low prices usually come with a complete lack of customer service and support. This may be fine for your first foray into home brewing, but eventually that grinder will likely have some kind of issue, and you will likely be left looking for a replacement. Baratza, however, has an excellent reputation for their customer service, and has always provided a full range of replacement parts and services for their products. This reliability of service is really a huge bonus for something as key as your grinder, and will ensure a long lifetime of service.
Next, we would recommend you consider how you brew coffee, especially if you've been stuck with a cheap french press or Mr Coffee these last few months. The easiest option for most people, especially for only 1-2 coffee drinkers, is a pour over brewer. We recommend either the Hario v60, for a conical brewer, or the Kalita Wave, for a flat bottom brewer. These are both excellent Japanese brewing devices, with high quality filters and designed for a well extracted cup, at a very reasonable price.
The Hario is more reliant on pouring technique, being conical with a single wide opening at the bottom, where as the flat bottom Kalita has smaller holes at the bottom that restrict the flow of coffee, making it a little more forgiving. These are best used with a gooseneck kettle, that allows for more precise pouring. There are a ton of these available nowadays, but we can say for sure that Hario, Bonavita, and Fellow all make great kettles, both stove top and electric. Alternatively, the Aeropress is also an excellent option if you're looking for an more portable brewer for travelling, but can be a little finicky, with dozens of methods out there on how to brew with it.
If you're brewing for more than just 1-2 people, it may be worth considering an automatic drip machine. The issue with these appliances, typically, is many of them simply do not reach high enough temperatures to extract coffee properly, and often have poorly designed brew baskets. Luckily, the Specialty Coffee Association has introduced a certification of auto drip machines that makes it a lot easier to find a quality one. We recommend Bonavita machines specifically, as being a well tested design that comes in a variety of sizes and options. Some models may seem a little barebones compared to other consumer drip machines, lacking functions like automatic start timers until you reach the top of their line, but we have found those features to be largely superfluous.
And honestly, this is all you need. We are aware of the wide variety of other coffee gadgets out on the market currently, from water specially formulated for coffee extraction, to sieves for filtering out fines in ground coffee, but none have stood out from the pack to us as essential coffee equipment for the home. Once you have a high quality grinder and brewer, you are set for a lifetime of excellent coffee. After that, most problems with your coffee can be solved with a little education and practice.