How to make cafe style coffee at home on a shoestring budget? 

How to make cafe style coffee at home


Like most people, for me cafe style coffee was an occasional treat. Home brewed coffee was at best tolerable, at least until few years back.

The thing is, once you’ve developed a passion for coffee, you realize its just not worth drinking anything sub par, even at home!

Faced with this dilemma, I figured, I have got to save up, buy an expensive commercial grade espresso machine, coffee grinder and other fancy paraphernalia to finally be able to drink a satisfying cup of coffee every morning at home.

WRONG! All you need is about $100 to get started.

In Melbourne’s top cafes, a good quality cup of coffee will set you back $3.80, at least!

Whether you are reading this in Melbourne or elsewhere in the world, it still doesn’t change the fact that a cup of specialty coffee made at home is going to be cheaper than sub-par cafe coffee.

So why would you not invest a little in perfecting the art of coffee-making? Especially when it is reasonably simple.

Here in this post I will do a round-up of everything that you need to make the perfect cup of cafe style coffee at home without burning a hole in your wallet.

Coffee Machine a.k.a the Brewing Equipment {$20-$40}

First off, it comes to choosing the right machine for the kind of coffee you love drinking. Although I love most styles of coffee brews, my personal favorite is a milk based espresso. Almost all cafe style coffees are espresso based. And in these, the difference mostly comes in the milk or froth to espresso shot ratio.

The other main coffee variety is the filter coffee which is made using a drip filter, siphon or a classic French Press. In this post I will focus on perfecting the more common espresso style coffee.

To make an espresso, your options are to use either an espresso machine or a traditional stovetop espresso makerthe Moka Pot. While I have used both, the latter is my failsafe choice and that is what you need. Allow me to explain!

Espresso Machine vs Moka Pot

Even cheap espresso machines are more expensive than a good quality Moka Pot, not to mention the latter’s more consistent superior coffee brewing quality. An espresso machine also takes up more space on your kitchen counter and is noisier. Unless you invest in a good quality machine that is easily between the $100-$200 mark, the quality of coffee doesn’t justify the price spent on the coffee machine. The espresso machine also incurs a higher running cost because it uses electricity and needs technical expertise for repairs.

I love the Moka Pot for its simplicity and minimalist design. It can be used on any stovetop and is small enough for portability too.

bialetti moka pot
a 2 cup Bialetti Moka Pot

I use a cheap $25 Moka Pot for my everyday use and recently bought another, a 6 cup Bialetti Moka Express. While Bialetti sells few different designs of their Moka Pot, the Bialetti Moka Express is a timeless classic that still maintains the 1933 design patented by Luigi De Ponti. Featuring an eight face collector chamber (made in Aluminum) design for optimal heat dissipation, it is definitely more robustly built that my cheap replica.

But the truth is, coffee made in either cannot be easily told apart.

I use the Bialetti only when I have guests or need to make more than a few cups in one go (you can’t make anything less than the standard number of cups the size of the Moka Pot is meant for).

You can buy the 6 cup Bialetti Moka Express for about $50 online through eBay or Amazon. I bought mine on a Myer online sale for $39!

Tips on using a Moka Pot

(other than what’s on the accompanying leaflet)

  1. Once the coffee collects in the top chamber, make sure to stir the brew before transferring it into the cups. This will make the brew strength uniform.
  2. I haven’t heeded to the advice of replacing the washer & filter on my Moka Pots every 3 months as suggested by specialty coffee equipment vendors. If you clean and maintain them regularly it will last you a long while.  I wouldn’t bother until there are visible signs of the rubber gasket needing replacement.
  3. Always make sure you brew coffee on a medium flame and not leave the bakelite handle of the Moka Pot exposed to the flame or else it will melt!

Coffee Beans {<$1 per cup of coffee}

Next up is choosing the right coffee beans for your brew. You probably know what I’m about to say next, but for the benefit of all,

You should always get freshly roasted coffee beans!

They are cheaper (yes even cheaper than freeze dried instant coffee) and beans retain freshness for longer. Just make sure they are stored in an air tight container, away from direct sunlight in a cool spot.

There are a range of options available in the market and prices vary from $10/kg to $100/kg depending on whether the coffee is Specialty, sourced ethically or certified Organic, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ or FairTrade.

Until you develop a finer taste for coffee and begin to understand a bit of the complex flavor overtones some beans tend to boast, my advice is to trial with the cheapest ones first.

I do this to get a baseline understanding of what worst to expect. Well, that is not true always. I have come to like the Aldi homebrand coffee beans and feel it is quite understated. The 1 kg bag sells for about $11.50.

Occasionally as a treat, I buy my mate Syl’s batch roasted Minerva espresso blend coffee beans. This trademarked signature blend called Cremalux uses African and South American coffee beans for a robust full bodied flavor profile. You can buy them online at about $32 a kilo and can get a 10% discount if you use SYL10 code at the checkout!

McIvers coffee Melbourne
McIvers Coffee Merchants at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne is another of my fav haunts!

Having secured a grip on other aspects of coffee making, my next milestone is to be able to home roast green coffee beans! Apparently it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Here is an article that I found that gives you useful advice and great pointers to get started.

Coffee Grinder {$68}

Now that you know why it is imperative to buy coffee beans fresh, all you need is an efficient grinder. Ground coffee starts to lose its flavor almost immediately after the grinding process. To minimize flavor loss due to oxidation, it is important to grind just enough for each batch of brew you make.

The best entry level coffee grinder money can buy in Australia is supposedly the SunBeam Cafe Series Burr grinder. A fantastic piece of equipment, no doubt! But unless you have about $200 to shell out on a grinder, get a Hario Skerton hand-cranked ceramic burr grinder for $68 and it will impress you!

hario hand coffee grinder

Before getting this beauty, I used a spice grinder which gave inconsistent grind texture. Grinding coffee beans in a spice grinder also raises the temperature of ground coffee. During coffee roasting, temperature control is one of the most important steps. It is what gives each roast its own unique and consistent flavor. You can do justice to a good roast only by taking a reasonable amount of care while grinding it!

This Hario grinder comes with a rubber base to reduce slippage while hand cranking. You still need to hold it down firmly, making this a decent arm workout.

But hand grinding gives you that unique satisfaction and the smell of freshly ground coffee is totally worth the extra bit of effort.

coffee grind size moka pot grind size moka pot theinsanefoodie

The grind should be medium fine to brew with a Moka Pot. You will need to fiddle with the manual grind size adjustment a bit before you get the grind right for yours.  Unless you need a different grind size for making a cold brew or filter coffee, you will never need to change this setting again.

Milk {$1-$4 per liter}

Last but not the least, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using full cream milk for a good cup of coffee! That is if you have diary tolerance.

But I used to make coffees with Lite or Skim Milk for a long time and it didn’t matter what coffee blend I used, the end result just wasn’t optimal. I recently had this conversation with my mate Syl, and he too agreed! So if you must, use Skim milk for your cereal. Leave your coffee alone, a little full cream won’t hurt your waistline!

Milk Frother {$3}

Frothing milk is one final bit of alchemy that will take your coffee from good to marvelous.

perfect coffee needs frothed milkIt changes the consistency of milk and the creaminess from frothing compliments the strength of your brew further.  I got a dirt cheap $3 battery operated hand held milk frother from IKEA to confirm this claim.  What this little device could do to my coffee was magic!

That’s it! All up, your investment shouldn’t exceed $100.

I hope this post helped you a tad better at becoming a finer home barista. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

Do share this post with all your friends who’ll enjoy it!


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