How to Be Your Own Barista


Your New Year's resolutions -- or the tanking economy -- may have eliminated your daily $2 to $5 beverage from the local coffee shop. That doesn't mean you have to go without.

With the proper equipment and some basic barista skills, you can brew a latte or cappuccino that's every bit as good as the specialty drink you enjoy from the Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) or Dunkin' Donuts down the street. But before you begin brewing, you'll need to equip your kitchen with a few essential items.

Making any coffee drink requires a coffee grinder, a brewing device, coffee beans and water. The higher the quality of these items, the better your coffee will taste.

Coffee beans begin losing their flavor as soon as they are ground, so avoid buying pre-ground coffee. Steel-blade coffee grinders can be found for less than $30, but it's worth paying more for a grinder that uses steel plates called burrs to crush the beans.

Burr grinders will produce a more even grind, preventing overly bitter or gritty coffee. Capresso's Infinity Conical Burr Grinder retails for about $90.

If you prefer regular coffee to specialty espresso drinks, a well-designed automatic drip machine can brew a great cup.


Automatic drip is the standard brewing method in most homes. These machines are easy to use and simple to clean, but many models don't heat water to the high temperature needed in order to brew excellent coffee. Moreover, they usually use hot plates to heat the coffee after it's brewed, a method that can cause the coffee to turn bitter.

These problems can be avoided by using a high-quality model like Cuisinart's Brew Central Thermal 12-Cup Coffee Maker ($129). The Brew Central Thermal brews coffee into an insulated carafe that keeps it warm. This model also allows you to pause the brewing process while you pour a cup.

To experience the full flavor of the coffee you're brewing, use a French press. This method, which involves soaking the grounds directly in hot water, produces a smooth cup of coffee that's rich with the beans' oils.

French presses are inexpensive, require no electricity and take up little space in your kitchen. You simply pour coarse grinds into the glass container, add hot water and press down on a plunger attached to a screen filter. Bodum's excellent Chambord Coffee Press makes eight cups of coffee and sells for about $40.

If it's mochas, lattes and other fancy coffee drinks you're after, you'll need an espresso machine. Before shopping, decide how much you want to spend and how much counter space you can give up. Espresso-making devices can cost anywhere from $20 to several thousand dollars and range from teapot-size to refrigerator-size.

To make top-notch espresso drinks, you'll need a pump or piston-style model that comes with a frothing function. Pump models, which use a pump to push water through the coffee grounds, can be found for as little as $150. Gaggia's Baby Espresso Machine ($349) is a popular pump-style machine with great steaming capacity and a stylish design. Piston models, such as La Pavoni's Europiccola, can make great espresso when operated properly, but they take more effort to master and are much more expensive ($400 and up).

If your budget is tight, consider a steam-powered espresso machine, many of which sell for less than $100. These machines won't make exceptional espresso, but they usually steam milk well and offer a good starting point for an amateur barista.

Or buy a stovetop espresso maker, such as the Bialetti 4-Cup Brikka Coffeemaker ($59). With a milk frother from Bodum or Aerolatte ($12-$30) you can froth up a glass of warm milk for lattes or cappuccinos.

No matter how good your grinder and brewing device are, you can't make superb coffee without quality coffee beans and pure water. Buy coffee beans that are freshly roasted and store them in an airtight container. And always brew with pure-tasting cold water.

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