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Step aside, barista: how to make a decent cup of coffee at home

Most of us are lazy when it comes to making good coffee at home, not weighing our beans and water, grinding the beans or timing the extraction. That’s why we drink coffee out. But classes are springing up in Melbourne and Sydney, teaching mere mortals how to be baristas at home.

Nolan Hirte, owner of inner-city Melbourne cafes Proud Mary, Stagger Lees andAunty Peg’s, admits not everyone wants to do all that, but if people knew how easy it was to make it properly at home, “your coffee would be so much better.”

In his most recently opened cafe, Aunty Peg’s in Collingwood, Hirte has set up what he calls the Genius Bar.

Four different machines – French Press, AeroPress, Clever Dripper and V60 – are set up along a long wooden bench, allowing customers to come in and be trained by Hirte or one of his staff. “It’s free advice,” says Hirte. “There are many factors to making a good coffee but, once you know them, it’s easy to do it.”

So here I am, a coffee drinker and a lazy one at that. I don’t weigh the water and I don’t always grind my beans at home, so I’m here to learn how.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat: the pour-over, chemex, aeropress, and vacuum pot.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat: the pour-over, Chemex, AeroPress and vacuum pot. Photograph: Edmund D. Fountain/ZUMA Press/Corbis

French press

We start with the French press, aka the coffee plunger. The grind size is vital, according to Hirte. We are making two cups, and as it’s 15-18g of beans for one cup of coffee (one cup being 250 ml), I weigh out 30g of beans into a silver cup on a highly sensitive digital scale. The bean we use is Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and we use the same bean for each extraction method.

Before we go any further we preheat the plunger, just as you would warm a teapot in anticipation of a good brew, with a pour of hot water. The glass takes on the heat and we put the vessel aside.

Hirte puts the beans that will become our coffee on a grind that is coarser than table salt.

I place the plunger on the digital scales, then put in the ground coffee and bring the scales back to zero. I weigh the just-boiled water – 500g equals 500ml – pouring it into the plunger and ensuring all the grounds are saturated. We give the mix a stir.

Hirte puts the timer on for three and a half minutes. “Leave it for longer if you want a stronger brew,” he says. Time’s up and we have a delicious cup of black coffee. It’s fruity, a little nutty and delicate. Not adding milk only emphasises this flavour profile.

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Drip coffee

“This got my mum to stop drinking Moccona,” says Hirte. “It’s really clever.”

The Clever Coffee Dripper is a device that makes a single cup of filtered coffee. With the filter paper, coffee and water poured into the dripper, the extraction happens when the dripper is placed on top of the cup and the coffee is released via a weight-controlled valve. It’s like a filter coffee maker for a single cup rather than a large jug. “This allows us to brew quicker – with the press we had to wait four minutes with this – you just press it when you’re ready and get on with it,” says Hirte.

This time, I weigh out 14g of coffee, we grind it a little finer than we did for the French press and put the ground coffee into wet filter paper in the dripper. Hirte wets the filter paper, “as we don’t want to taste paper in the coffee”. We put the device on the scale and weigh the water again directly over the ground coffee in the filter paper.

We only need 250g of water for the one cup and cover the top of the dripper to let the flavours mingle. After two and a half minutes, or however long you want it, place it on the cup and the valve will release the brew. The flavour is denser than you get with the plunger.

This device is available in any specialty coffee shop that sells equipment, and retails at $20-$35 or on Amazon.


The AeroPress has garnered its own loyal following in the last few years and I can’t help but wonder what the fuss is about. Hirte says it’s a quick and efficient method of extraction that gets good results.

This time I measure out 12g of beans for one cup of coffee. I hit 12.1g and Hirte says it’s fine to be slightly over. He preheats the AeroPress and the vessel that will hold the finished coffee and we weigh out the coffee. It is a fine grind. We put the AeroPress and ground coffee on the scales. As we measure out 200ml of water, he says, “Spot on, and then we give it a good stir.”

After one and a half minutes we flip the device, “like flipping a cake” Hirte says, and we push down gently on the AeroPress. The extraction is through pressure and it brings out a slightly different aroma again. There’s more depth to the smell and it’s a little richer on the palate.

The AeroPress method of brewing coffee.
The AeroPress method of brewing coffee. Photograph: Alamy

V60 (pour-over method)

The name is reminiscent of a rev-head’s souped-up engine but it simply refers to the angle of the cone that filters the coffee. This is 21st-century filter coffee, also known as the pour-over method.

This is Hirte’s favourite method. He makes himself coffee using this method every morning because “the quality and clarity in the cup are really good”.

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I’ve found my rhythm now. I know I will be heating vessels first, weighing beans and weighing water. Hirte says this method is a “bit more involved and you can get this wrong”, although I feel confident we can do it.

We weigh out the coffee again and we need 28g for two cups. We go 29g – why? “I want more strength in the flavour,” he says. Half a gram can change the strength markedly. “You can weigh out 32g if you want to but it will make it very strong, a tiny change can make a big difference.”

A barista preparing coffee using the V60 in Kuala Lumpur.
A barista preparing coffee using the V60 in Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Sam Ruslan/Demotix/Corbis

Hirte pours 80ml of water over the ground coffee. He’s using a kettle with a long thin spout. “The way you pour is very important, you can’t do this with a normal kettle,” he says. He explains that pouring a large amount of water quickly over the grounds can cause “dry patches in the coffee, and it won’t filter properly. Begin in the centre and work the water out to the edges in a circular motion.”

I pour the next amount, about 100ml, and Hirte finishes off. We stir the coffee and water and it takes about two minutes to filter through. It has the best flavour of all the brews, rich and rounded. I can see why this is his preferred method.

I have come to the conclusion that Hirte’s right. I am lazy. I don’t know if I will change my ways or just keep coming to places like this to have my coffee weighed and made for me. I’m considering a Clever Drip for home but may find that hard to move away from my stovetop. The new methods I’ve learned are fascinating but old habits are hard to beat.


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