Coffee Beginners – How and Why to Convert to Speciality Coffee 1


Come to the dark side luke, the coffee is way better.

Photo Credit: Kristina Alexanderson

As someone who has made this transition myself over the past few years, from a ‘normal’ coffee drinker to a speciality coffee drinker, I know the difference, and the benefits. For this reason, I humungenormously recommend that this to anyone who loves coffee. Yes, that is a word by the way, well if it wasn’t it is now.

Coffee Beginners?

You might read that and think ‘hang on, I’ve been drinking coffee all my life, how can I be a beginner’. But I’m referring here to beginning as a speciality coffee enthusiast.

I have loved coffee since as far back as I can remember, and embarrassingly enough I used to think I was a ‘coffee snob’ because I only drank the more expensive instant ;-), and that I would drink freshly brewed coffee every so often. I became a beginner speciality coffee enthusiast only relatively recently, and I started blogging about it because I wanted to share what I’d discovered basically.

I know from experience that most people are in a similar boat, they have been drinking coffee since forever but haven’t been introduced to the world of speciality coffee, or even know that it exists. Like I did in the past, many people also hear the term and think it means buying higher quality more expensive instant, or pre-ground commodity coffee beans.

How to know if you’re a speciality coffee drinker or not.

  • Do you grind your own coffee beans.
  • Do you drink only freshly brewed coffee.
  • Are you usually within reaching distance of at least one or two coffee brewing devices?
  • Do you run to the door with anticipation when the post man has been to see if among the bills and junk mail there’s a lovely bag of freshly roasted coffee beans from one of the coffee roasters you order from?

These are signs that would suggest you’re a speciality coffee lover.

  • Do you buy only or mainly instant coffee?
  • Do you look at brands in the super market like Illy, Costa, Starbucks and so on, and think of these as being among the highest quality coffee?
  • Do you always drink your coffee with milk and sugar, never black?
  • If you do buy proper coffee, do you pick up bags of pre-ground beans from the supermarket?

These are signs that you haven’t yet discovered speciality coffee, and you’re in for a very positive surprise!

This stuff is just night and day different to the stuff you’re used to drinking, you should be very excited! 🙂

Taste

Freshly brewed coffee should taste way better than instant, obviously depending on what the coffee is that you’re using and how well you’re brewing it.

Freshly brewed speciality coffee, should taste way better than freshly brewed commodity coffee, especially if you grind fresh just before brewing – again depending on how well it’s brewed.

The difference in taste between freshly brewed commodity coffee, and freshly brewed freshly roasted speciality coffee.

I would describe most commodity coffee (meaning most of the coffee that you can go pick up from a supermarket) as usually tasting very similar.

If you usually drink instant, then you probably won’t tell all that much of a difference in taste between this and instant, although you’ll probably find it a bit stronger and a bit more full bodied depending on how you brew it. For instance if you brew cafetiere  coffee you’ll probably find it has a bigger, heavier mouthfeel than instant.

To me a lot of supermarket coffee is muted, it tastes like coffee but without all of the different notes that I have come to expect. When I drink the coffee I’m used to drinking, it can be super sweet, it can be acidic, it can taste of biscuits, of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, raisins, caramel – and it can be complex, each sip can take you through a range of taste from beginning to aftertaste. When I pick up a bag from a supermarket, it usually just doesn’t have all of these complexities, it’s usually just coffee flavoured water, similar to instant.

Coffee shouldn’t just taste of coffee

If i were to describe how speciality coffee tastes, it would depend on the particular coffee I’m drinking, I couldn’t give you a one size fits all description. When it comes to commodity coffee though, instant or freshly brewed, usually the only answer is “it just tastes like coffee”, and freshly brewed, freshly roasted quality coffee shouldn’t just taste of coffee, there should be all kinds of flavours tickling your tastebuds. This is why I refer to it as ‘coffee flavoured water.’

It’s not just about taste

Taste is a big part of it of course, but there’s more to it than that.

Coffee is a delivery system

If I were to tell you that coffee delivers something into your bloodstream, what is the one thing that springs to mind. Caffeine?

Well yes coffee delivers caffeine, even decaf delivers a bit of it into our system.

But that’s not all.

Coffee contains over a thousand different compounds, including many antioxidants, and it is believed that the health benefits which are being attributed to coffee are thanks not only to caffeine but also to the plethora of these naturally occurring chemical compounds.

So coffee is the source of lots of things, and it effects us. It can effect our mood, alertness, and have an impact on our state.

Back before I was into speciality coffee, I drank instant coffee most of the time, because it was the quickest and most convenient, and occasionally I’d drink freshly brewed coffee, via cafetiere, but it would be pre-ground commodity coffee. Back then, I don’t really recall ever being effected all that much by coffee, I certainly don’t recall it having such a noticeable impact on my mood that I notice now when I drink proper coffee.

When I drink coffee, especially when it’s the first or second of the day, I can feel myself changing within a short space of time. I feel more alert and awake, generally more positive, and more focussed.

I’m like  Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier, getting his injection giving him super human strength. Well OK, maybe I’m exaggerating ever so slightly, but it does have a real, noticeable effect, on me at least, and a very positive one – and it tastes amazing!

I just don’t recall ever getting this from instant coffee back when I was drinking that stuff most of the time.

It would make perfect sense to me that caffeine and all of the other things that the amazing beverage coffee delivers into our system, are likely to be present in higher quantities, in more recently picked and processed, freshly roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed coffee – than in coffee that was picked who knows when, processed who knows how, roasted who knows when, in huge volumes, and then either put through the process of being made into instant, or put into bags to sit going stale for who knows how long.

Ooh that was a big sentence, time for a deep breath….

What you will need:

The first step in the conversion from drinking coffee flavoured water, to drinking freshly brewed coffee, is to get some coffee brewing gear.

I would recommend that you buy one or all of the following:

A coffee grinder, either a manual one such as the Hario Skerton, or an electric one such as the Sage Smart Grinder Pro (My current grinder) or the Rancilio Rocky or Baratza Encore. These are among the lower priced grinders, you can spend several hundred pounds on a grinder if you so wish, on something like a Mazzer super jolly, Mazzer Mini, Macap M5D or Macap MXDL.

The difference in price between the ones for a hundred quid or so and the ones for £500 plus, are that these are commercial quality machines, they’re usually much faster, and much more robust. I’m really happy with my Smart grinder pro, but I do realise that it’s not a commercial machine, and it’s unlikely to last 10 or 20 years or so, which is the case with most of these commercial machines. Just keep in mind that there are doser grinders and doserless, there’s more info on my grinders which one post, but basically a doser is for bigger volumes, if you’re usually just grinding for one cup or two at a time you’re better with doserless.

A cafetiere, also known as a french press, or press pot. You’ll probably have one of these in the kitchen somewhere. If not, they’re not pricey. I have a big double walled stainless steel cafetiere, and smaller glass one that I used to use for frothing milk before I had the steam wand of the Gaggia classic.

A pourover drip filter coffee maker and filters. Hario V60 are great, and they’re about a fiver. There’s also Kalita Wave, and Chemex. I really like the V60, I think they make very nice filter coffee, and they’re so inexpensive. I ran a cafe for a day a while ago to raise some money for a very good cause, and while I had my espresso machine there, I was mainly using 4 V60s at a time on a copper pipe V60 station that I made myself.

Aeropress, it kind of looks like a penis enlarger, but it doesn’t work for that, erm, I mean thats’s not what it is… It’s a brilliant coffee maker, very simple to use, brews outstanding coffee, and it’s one of my favourite coffee makers. You can use this for making espresso style coffee if you want to drink it neat like this or use it as a base for milk drinks such as cappuccino, flat white / latte.

The Oomph, a new coffee maker on the market, and my no1 brewing method since I got it a few weeks ago. It brews amazing coffee, and it’s really convenient. I go to the kitchen, make the coffee, plunge it, take it to my desk and drink it straight from the device, it stays warm for about  45 mins too.

Stove top coffee maker / Moka pot. These make concentrated espresso style coffee, they’r fairly simple to use, and they’re relatively inexpensive.

If you do want an espresso machine, it just depends how much you want to spend, my Gaggia classic only cost me £100 on eBay, and it was great once I modded the wand, which is just a case of buying a Rancilio Silvia steam wand for about £12. Prosumer espresso machines such as the Sage by Heston Blumenthal, FracinoECM, Rocket, La Spaziale or Quickmill  etc., will set you back from several hundreds and into the thousands, in fact you can even spend nearly eight grand on the Slayer single group! I’d certainly be thinking about it, if I’d just won the Euromillions.

You will of course require coffee.

In my last post the best place to buy coffee beans online, I mention the fact that there are hundreds of small batch coffee roasters in the UK, and most have websites that you can order from, so just jump to the uk coffee roasters list and find a roaster you like the look of, and then try another one.

Each time you can try a different roaster if you like, the world is your lobster, as Del boy once said.

There is also thecoffeeroasters.co.uk which enables you to browse through and pick from the produce of around twenty different small batch coffee roasters, at the exact same cost of buying direct, and the coffee is still sent to you directly from the roaster, so that’s a good place to know about too.

Coffee subscriptions are a great thing too, again to enable you to try different coffee each week or fortnight, or however often you choose to have it delivered – Thecoffeeroasters have a coffee subscription in which they hand select a coffee for you each time based on your preferences, and you get a different coffee through your letter box each week or fortnight or month not just with a different coffee from a different origin etc., but from a different UK coffee roaster, which I think is a mega idea!

So once you’ve done the above, you’re not just a coffee drinker, you’re a specialty coffee drinker, and like me, I very much doubt you’ll ever look back!

Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on Twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.

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One thought on “Coffee Beginners – How and Why to Convert to Speciality Coffee

  • Madison

    Great guide, thanks for sharing! Any coffee lover should definitely give it a hand at specialty coffee, but unfortunately not everyone has the time or money to invest in all the necessary equipment and artisan grounds. Instant coffee is often criticised for being a cheap, low quality comparison, and while it might be quite the same drinking experience, at Wearelittles we have worked to create high quality instant coffee that has the flavour without compromising convenience and price, raise your eyebrows but you can’t knock it till you try it 🙂