You don't need a flashy espresso machine to make a great cup of coffee at home. As Carly Gibbs discovers, you just need a plunger and freshly ground coffee beans.
When it comes to making decent coffee at home, most of us are lazy or don't know how. That's why we love to drink coffee out. But you may be surprised to know you don't need a flashy espresso machine to achieve coffee nirvana.
The simplest, most accessible way is to use a coffee plunger, which is a form of immersion brewing.
This is what industry experts use to taste test a batch of coffee because it gives the richest brew.
The other piece of equipment recommended is a hand grinder or burr grinder (picture a glorified pepper mill), which gives you a consistent grind for consistent coffee.
Charlie Self, coffee cupping champ, judge at the NZ Barista Competition and owner of Mount Maunganui's Little Drum Coffee, suggests staying away from blade grinders, which chop inconsistently sized particles.
If you don't want the mess of grinding, you can ask your preferred roaster to grind them for you when buying your beans.
Top tip: The four main variables to play with are particle size, the amount of coffee, steeping time and water temperature. It's about playing around and having fun.
Also, if you want to go down the route of buying an espresso machine, the advice from Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology's tutor of barista skills Kylee New is to visit somewhere like Espresso Repairs in Pāpāmoa, where they can sell you one, give you a lesson on how it works, and repair it locally. Upkeep and cleanliness are essential to your machine running properly. She also rates "real coffee" over pods.
By industry standards, you should be using sixty grams of coffee to one litre of water, but if you don't have time to weigh your coffee, use roughly four heaped tablespoons for a 500ml plunger.
Where possible, use filtered water in your kettle. Chlorine in tap water can dull down the flavour of the coffee.
Switch off your kettle just before it boils, and let it sit for a few moments. If you want, preheat the plunger, just as you would warm a teapot in anticipation of a good brew, with a pour of hot water.
Saturate the grinds lightly and let them sit for 45 seconds. You'll see the water fizz if freshly ground (when pre-ground, the gases have escaped).
Pour the remaining hot water in, let it steep for a further three to four minutes, then slowly push your plunger down.
Top tip: The more you steep it, the better the flavour. But if you find the flavour is too intense, reduce your brew time. Don't be afraid to experiment.
Most crucial is the coffee itself, with different beans having a different degassing time.
If it's too fresh it will taste "funky". If it's too old it will taste flat. Talk to your roaster or barista for advice on when your beans are best to consume.
As a general rule of thumb, beans are at their optimum between five and 14 days after the roast date. Lighter roasted beans tend to hold their flavour for longer.
New Zealand is "top of the board" when it comes to coffee cravers, says Bay Coffee Company's Kelly Fourie, and coffee is subjective, much like beer or wine.
"For a lot of people buying supermarket coffee, if you enjoy it, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but bear in mind there is a whole different flavour spectrum that can be found if you go to a local roaster," Self says.
When it comes to storing your coffee, you don't need to make a big investment in adequate coffee storage containers, and whatever you do, keep it away from the freezer, says barista Andrew Phillips, owner of Revolver Espresso, Rotorua's only independent specialty coffee wholesaler.
Moisture is one of coffee's biggest enemies and can rapidly degrade the beans once exposed.
"Freezing and thawing of coffee beans can damage the essential oils, which can dramatically impact the structure, flavour and aroma of the coffee."
Most packaging will have a one-way valve to allow carbon dioxide to escape but to keep oxygen out.
"It can last quite a long time in the correct packaging," he says.
Top tip: Most roasters are buying from the same international suppliers. The difference is they interpret ways of roasting their own style into the beans, so it's important to find a roaster you like.
Not adding milk to your coffee emphasises the flavour profile, but when making a plunger coffee and you want a dash of milk, don't feel you need to heat the milk up.
Self says this is because you want to be able to consume your coffee as freshly brewed as possible, because that's when the main volatile compounds are still vibrant in the cup.
If you let your coffee sit for a long time, you're going to be losing all of those nuances, and end up with a flat coffee flavour.
Top tip: Some coffees are better suited to milk than others. You're mixing acids and alkali together - "sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't", says Self, but if you enjoy it, there's nothing wrong with adding milk.
The price of coffee is on the rise, largely due to the global pandemic.
Some countries haven't been able to release as much harvest because farmers and ports haven't got the workers.
Added to this, there have been extreme weather events in Brazil, and landing costs for ships have risen.
1 News reported we pay an average of about $4.70 a cup of coffee, then, specialist milk can add up to $1, and the decaf process is also costly and usually done offshore.
Top tip: Local baristas and coffee roasters need your support, but you can still make great coffee from home, alongside getting your cafe fix.
Toi Ohomai runs a barista course two days a week, over six weeks, at a subsidised cost of $150, teaching mere mortals how to be baristas at home. Phillips of Revolver Espresso adds that your local barista, if passionate about what they do and not too under the pump, should also happily impart tips if asked.
Where to get the best beans in the Bay
Little Drum Coffee, Unit 4/22 Macdonald St.
Fusion Coffee Roastery, 141 Totara St.
Excelso Coffee NZ, 112 Third Ave.
Fixation Coffee Roastery, 10 Dive Cres.
Bay Coffee Company, 21 Plummers Point Rd, Whakamarama.
Revolver Coffee Roasters, 1131 Amohau St.