Starting Grounds: A Beginner’s Guide to Brewing Coffee at Home

This guide was written by the former President of Tembusu Coffeehouse but she is mostly just another caffeine addict. Rest assured, she is no coffee snob, so leave your questions in the comments section if you have any!

This guide was born out of the many conversations I’ve had with friends since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They wanted to get started on brewing coffee at home but had no idea where to begin because the world of coffee is so vast and – let’s be real – it’s extra intimidating when you might get roasted by a coffee snob. 

If you want to say goodbye to making non-instant coffee at home, you’re at the right place. There’s just one caveat: this is not a step-by-step brewing guide. Instead, this piece should make you think about how you want to brew coffee and help you identify which brewing method suits you best. Looking for a recipe? There are tons out there on the internet and they are a quick Google search away. 

What do you mean coffee isn’t essential?

As someone who grabs an espresso-based coffee on the way to work and drinks an indiscriminate amount of coffee every day, I must confess that I experienced withdrawal symptoms when lockdown measures were first imposed. In fact, after nearly three months of staying at home and getting pretty depresso, I would consider my first cup of coffee in an actual cafe as one of the highlights of 2020 — I almost forgot how good it feels to be in the thick of a bustling cafe. 

Even as Singapore slowly emerges from lockdown, most of us will be staying at home for the foreseeable future and you have got to get that caffeine fix to pull through the day, right? While there’s always the option of having your coffee delivered by your favorite cafe, it might arrive lukewarm or diluted by molten ice. But that’s not the end of the world because you can try brewing your own cup of quality coffee too. Yep, short of straight up getting an espresso machine, it is still possible to make good coffee in the comfort of your own home. Even espresso-strength coffee without an espresso machine. 

#1. The Basics

Beans matter, a lot. The origin, roast, grind size, and freshness of your beans can make or break your cup of coffee. But beans are a whole other topic to get into, so simply talk to your local roaster about the flavors they offer or just pick the house blend. 

The type of filter you use, invariably influenced by your choice of brewing equipment, also affects the taste of your coffee. The most common types are the metal and the paper filter. Metal filters produce a darker cup of coffee which contains more oils while paper filters produce a brighter coffee with little to no oils, giving your coffee a “clean” taste. If you are concerned about sustainability, then choosing coffee equipment that are compatible with reusable metal filters will reduce your ecological footprint. 

#2. Brewing Methods

The simplest way to look at coffee brewing methods is to see it as a spectrum of how much time you spend brewing the coffee. 

Most people would prefer the cold or hot brew, unless you’re set on shelling out for an espresso machine. Espresso machines also aren’t super beginner-friendly unless they’re automatic. You’ll also need to do your homework and have a deeper understanding of the science behind espresso brewing in order to get the best flavor out of your beans. 

The cold brew method is fantastic for making large batches at once and you don’t even spend much time actively doing so. Hot brew methods allow you room for endless experimentation and are the go-to for most home coffee set ups.

A more useful way to categorize brewing methods is through the way in which coffee flavors are extracted from the beans: 

Steeping / Immersion – soaking coffee grounds in water so as to extract its flavor

This usually takes more time and produces relatively-strong coffee. 

Pour over / Infusion –  you pour water over the coffee grounds

Relatively faster process; plus you have full control over the brewing process e.g. speed of pouring, saturation of coffee grounds. 

Pressure – applying pressure to the coffee extraction process 

To a certain extent, applying pressure speeds up the coffee extraction process and gives you a shorter brew time. It also extracts more intense flavors.

Cool beans, we’ve made it to the actual equipment. 

“But which one should I get?”, you ask. There’s no one correct answer; it’s whichever fits your aesthetic, routine, or makes a cup of coffee you are happy with. And really, who said you can only pick one method?

Also, trust me on this: get a good grinder and grind your own beans for the best results (i.e. don’t buy them pre-ground). But of course, pre-ground beans get the job done too.

#3. Coffee Machines

There are your run-of-the-mill automatic coffee machines, the diner-style cup of joe drip coffee machines, and the ubiquitous pod/capsule-based machines. These machines automate your coffee brewing process and work well for those with less time or who want to spare the least amount of effort to brew a cup of coffee. There’s some trade-off on taste and control over the brewing process though, so these are a huge no-no for coffee enthusiasts but no one’s stopping you from getting one. 

Once you’re all set up and ready to dive deep into the actual coffee brewing process based on your equipment of choice, here are some concepts to get you started on understanding the science behind brewing a good cup of coffee. Yes, they all affect the taste of your coffee. 

  • Coffee-to-water ratio
  • Brew time
  • Water temperature
  • Grind Size
  • Brew manipulation techniques

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t fret and simply get started by following an online recipe. Don’t forget, there’s also a whole other world of tasting coffee beans to look into. Remember, brewing coffee is a small labor of love to yourself. Have fun experimenting and happy brewing!

Illustrations by Chow Siew Yeng; graphics by Sherryl Cheong

Weina Lai

My editor asked me to fill this in

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