Be Your Own Barista

Reading Time: 5 minutes
In pursuit of caffeinated goodness...my window sill at work.
In pursuit of caffeinated goodness…my window sill at work.

For the last dozen years there have been two essential items in my developer’s toolbox: my Bose headphones, and some type of caffeine delivery system. Surprisingly, the latter is the one that was the hardest on my wallet. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to spend the cost of a new pair of headphones every couple of months at the coffee shop. Something had to change.

If you resolved to tighten up your finances in 2016, one of the easiest places to start is with your morning coffee or tea. Brewing your own hot or cold brew coffee, latte, cappuccino, or tea is not only more affordable than swinging by Starbucks, it also results in a better tasting cup and is much easier than you probably think. While there can be a not inconsiderable initial investment, depending on your desires, over the long run brewing your own can save you hundreds of dollars.

Macchiatos and Cappuccinos

While it’s something I try to avoid on a daily basis due to the high sugar and dairy content, there really is nothing better than a freshly brewed caramel macchiato (the real thing, not Starbucks’ over-milky version). I actually bought a used mini fridge from the local thrift store to put in the dev room at work so I could keep my own varieties of milk at hand. If you have faith in your fellow coworkers not to steal your $5/half-gallon organic whole milk, the best for making tasty froth, this is not a necessity. However, good, freshly ground beans, an espresso machine, and a method of frothing your milk are. While you can easily spend several hundred dollars on a giant machine to do everything, Mr. Coffee makes three excellent devices that won’t break the bank. You can find all three on Amazon or at Target, where they’re usually on sale.

Coffee Grinder

Mr. Coffee Grinder

If you want delicious coffee, you have to start with fresh beans. Pre-ground coffee is fine for a while, but unless you go through a bag a week, you’re probably going to start noticing a drop off in quality the longer it sits out – and you should definitely leave it sitting out. Placing ground coffee in the freezer is just asking for it to absorb the flavor of everything else, including that chicken Marsala someone put in there last fall. This Mr. Coffee Electric Coffee Blade Grinder allows you to tweak the grind size and quantity and will stop automatically once it reaches the desired consistency. It also has a handy “Chamber Maid Cleaning System” that scraps the sides of the bowl and makes it easier to get the grounds into your basket.

Espresso Machine

mr. Coffee Espresso Machine

This Mr. Coffee 4-Cup Steam Espresso Machine is one of the easiest to use I’ve come across. The whole thing is simple to clean and produces a nice, rich espresso. It doesn’t come with a frothing pitcher, and based on some of the reviews I’ve read the steaming arm can be finicky, but you don’t need to worry about either one because you’re going to want to get an automatic milk frother.

Automatic Milk Frother

Mr. Coffee Automatic Frother

Forget the spitting, steaming, splashing mess of the frothing wand built into the espresso machine, and instead use this Mr. Coffee Automatic Milk Frother. With settings for latte, cappuccino, warm milk, or iced cappuccino, it warms and/or foams your milk to the perfect temperature and consistency every time. Even if you’re the only coffee drinker, fans of cocoa will love the frothy goodness produced by this machine. Set it to latte, fire it up, add some Hershey’s syrup, and enjoy.

Caramel Macchiato Instructions / Recipe

  1. Grind 3 Tbsp of beans (I like Starbucks’ Espresso or Dazbog’s White Nights).
  2. Place grounds in basket and tamp. You can buy a tamp from Amazon or use whatever is around that is approximately 2 inches wide. At home, I’ve found a spice bottle fits perfectly.
  3. Add water to the pitcher to just over the 2-cup marker. Pour into espresso machine.
  4. Pour cold milk into frothing pitcher and set to “Latte.”
  5. Start espresso machine and start frother.
  6. While the espresso is brewing and the milk is heating, add one pump of vanilla syrup to a mug.
  7. When the espresso and milk are complete, pour the espresso into the mug and top with the frothed milk (to taste).
  8. Drizzle caramel syrup over the top.
  9. Enjoy!

Slightly healthier alternative:

  • Almond milk or coconut milk instead of whole milk
  • Vanilla extract instead of syrup
  • Leave off the caramel topping at the end

Note: You’ll want to rinse the frothing pitcher right away. There is a small wire disk that spins via a magnet to create the froth. Cleaning dried milk out of it is not fun.

Hot Brew, Cold Brew, Tea

Fellow Duo Steeper

Lattes are nice, but drinking one every day is a poor way to follow through on that other popular New Year’s resolution involving your waistline. For day-to-day caffeine infusion, the Fellow Duo Coffee Steeper is a great alternative to the messy French press or the old burnt tasting drip machine. Simply add your coarsely ground coffee or tea leaves, add your water, steep (3-5 minutes for hot water, 12 hours for cold), and pour.

If you’ve only ever had hot coffee, I cannot recommend enough giving cold brew a shot. Don’t be put off by the 12-hour brewing time. First, you can adjust this to suit your own tastes. The beauty of cold brew is that you can make your coffee as strong as you like it and it will never taste bitter or burnt. In fact, don’t be surprised the first time you enjoy a cold brew if you feel a little more wired than normal. When I was first experimenting, I left mine in the refrigerator for about 24 hours, then had a tall glass over ice the following morning. By the afternoon, as I watched my heart trying to beat out of my chest and questioned whether it was normal for teeth to buzz, I decided maybe a full day was a little long.

Instructions

  1. Make sure pitcher is set to steep.
  2. Add 2 Tbsp coarsely ground coffee or 2 Tbsp tea leaves.
  3. Add hot (or cold) water to taste. I found about 2 cups is a decent amount.
  4. Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes for hot coffee or tea, 12-24 hours for cold coffee.
  5. Twist the top of the pitcher and the coffee or tea flows into the jar below.
  6. Pour and enjoy.

I was provided a Fellow Duo Steeper for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

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