How to Create Barista-Level Coffee While You're Working From Home
Whether you’re working from home or self-isolating, your favourite coffee shop may feel miles away. Read up for some tips on how to recreate the experience at home until the next time you venture out
A cup of coffee means many different things, depending on who you ask. For some, it’s jet fuel to kickstart the day—a bang-for-buck caffeine injection, spewed at the touch of a button and a mechanical whirr while your eyelids still droop. For others, it represents a certain feeling of hygge—a cheeky afternoon break, perhaps enjoyed in tandem with a baked treat, to jolt oneself out of a lull in productivity. And let’s not forget Hong Kong’s myriad coffee shops—little buzzing oases spinning locally roasted beans into silky flat whites and bracing single origin pour-overs, where conversations both sobering and frivolous thrive over mugs clutched in the hands of kindred spirits.
These days, visits to the cafe are few and far in between, not to mention inadvisable—in the eyes of the authorities, anyway—in a time of social distancing. Coupled with the fact that many of us are working from home, it’s quite possibly the best time to pick up some coffee brewing skills to bring that café feeling closer.
You’ll find that there is a true sense of reward in prepping a high-quality cup of coffee at home—much like baking your own sourdough, or making other simple foods from scratch, there is a calming, almost meditative quality to carving out some time to create something we used to take for granted. When we eventually return to a semblance of normality, brewing your own coffee will be second nature. But don’t forget to go back and support your favourite coffee shops when all is said and done.
Bean To Brew
Much like getting the best quality produce before you cook, sourcing the right beans will elevate your cup. Forget the flavourless packs that have been sitting on the supermarket shelves for an indeterminate amount of time and head straight to—or order online from—a local independent roastery or cafe that sells high-quality beans. Do yourself a favour and refrain from asking the barista to pre-grind the beans for you—it’s a surefire way to lose maximum flavour in the shortest amount of time possible as the coffee oxidises.
Urban Coffee Roaster has a wide range of beans available, packed in eco-friendly tins that can be refilled at your next visit, as well as cans of cold brew coffee.
At Coco Espresso, beans are roasted on Mondays and Tuesdays and will be sent out on Wednesdays for the freshest cup. They also sell coffee making equipment, including filters, gooseneck kettles and ceramic drippers.
The Daily Grind
One of the best pieces of equipment you can invest in is a proper grinder, says Noddy Lau of Artista Perfetto. After all, you wouldn’t butcher a beautiful sea bass with a blunt knife—do the right thing and treat the beans with respect. A decent grinder means your coffee grounds are most likely to be evenly sized—crucial if you want to get the most out of your delicious beans, and avoid the unpleasant flavours (either too bitter, or overly sour) that come from under- or over-extraction of inconsistently sized coffee grounds.
Make sure you’re investing in a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder—the latter does not so much grind as brutally chop up your precious coffee beans. Hand grinders are economical—the Porlex Mini is often touted as the best value manual grinder out there, priced under HK$500. If you’re feeling fancy (or simply drink a lot of coffee), electric grinders are a bigger investment but saves you time (though not necessarily space); Baratza is a barista favourite when recommending home options.
Tip: Cohee is currently doing a "work from home" sale on their coffee products, from grinders to kettles and drippers.
“Precision is the key to making a good cup of coffee,” says Rity Wong, founder of Elixir in Sheung Wan. She recommends investing in a scale, which will help you measure out just the right amount of beans each time as well as the correct volume of water. “From a top-grade Acaia scale to an affordable Hario V60 scale, you can find the right ratio and helps you to be consistent when brewing at home.”
Many coffee shops swear by a 1:17 ratio of coffee to water, meaning around 18-20g of beans for a smaller cup and 30g for a larger carafe of the good stuff.
“Water temperature is important in brewing a good cup of coffee as it might affect the flavour of the extraction,” says Sophie Chan, founder of Coffee Daily, a platform for coffee lovers. She recommends around 88-93℃ to brew most types of coffee: “But if you don’t have a proper thermometer at home, you could bring your water to boiling hot then wait for a few seconds till it settles. Then it should be ready.”
Other Brewing Tips
Always rinse your paper filters, whether or not you’re using bleached or unbleached ones. Doing so will help avoid tainting your brew with an unpleasant papery smell, and also helps to warm up your brewer and mug/vessel beforehand.
“I usually pour in 50g water in and wait 30 seconds for the coffee to bloom—a process also known as degassing,” says Chan. “This part helps release the CO2 from the coffee, especially with freshly roasted coffee, and can help make an even extraction. And I try to manage my brewing time within 3 minutes as the longer the brewing time, the easier your coffee will get over-extracted with bad flavours coming through.”
When in doubt, consult online. Wong recommends following the hashtag #brewathome on Instagram for inspiration. "It is a global social campaign to help the coffee community," she explains. "There are lots of brewing tutorials and tips available, so you can learn and improve your coffee making skills even you can't go out."
Still Not Convinced To DIY?
Life is still too short to drink bad coffee, so if you're in the mood for a decent brew but lack the motivation or equipment to do it yourself, you can support these local coffee shops by purchasing their pre-packaged drip coffee bags or ready-to-drink coffees.
The team at this little Causeway Bay cafe will deliver their coffee beans and drip coffee bags around Hong Kong—just purchase HK$320 or more for free delivery. Direct message them via Instagram to order.
This popular cafe sells Onyx coffee beans via their online store, along with coffee brewing equipment and cute shiba-themed merch inspired by their real life dog mascots: Black Sugar, Lady Sugar and Sugar Bear.
This roaster does regular coffee subscriptions (both bean and drip bags available) for coffee lovers to enjoy quality brews all year round, as well as multi-packs that can be filled with your favoured combination of single origin beans.
The "DeliverCrew" are back with free delivery over HK$500, and a minimum spend of HK$250—spend a grand and you'll also receive HK$100 coupon to use at your next visit to the cafe. On the list are items such as cold brew coffee, cold brew tea, drip bags.
The cafe sells sparkling flash-brewed coffee in a can, made using Ethiopian "Bale Mountain" beans. The web shop also offers drip bags, coffee capsules and freshly roasted beans. Local shipping is free for all orders over HK$60.
The cafe's cold brew coffee bags are super easy to use and gives you 500ml of cool, aromatic coffee after 12 hours in the fridge. Simply pour over ice and enjoy. You can also stock up on their coffee beans. Delivery is HK$30 per order, or free if you purchase over HK$500—DM them via Instagram to order.
This story was originally published on 9 April 2020 and updated on 10 January 2022