Something you may not know about me is how much I absolutely love a good cup of coffee. I grew up watching my Dad sip on coffee throughout the day and always enjoyed the smell of it. There was rarely a time when the carafe was out of coffee, and I spent many evenings sitting around the kitchen table playing cards, talking and catching up with family and friends over cups of fresh coffee. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college, though, that I started drinking some myself. I never found a taste for it when I was younger, but the need for caffeine overcame my distaste for it. I was your typical college girl, hitting up Starbucks on the reg and getting all kinds of flavors, creamers and sugar added to my coffee to make it palatable. Basically, the sweeter the better.
And so went life, until one Christmas break when my family was at my aunt’s house for the holidays. After making myself a cup of coffee, I went to look for her creamer when I realized something… She doesn’t like creamer in her coffee. The only options I had were plain milk (ew) or powdered creamer she kept on hand for people like me (double ew). Neither sounded good to me (I mean, where were the seasonal pumpkin spice or mint chocolate sugar laden creamers when I needed them?!), so I decided to bite the bullet and drink my coffee black.
Y’all. If you could only see the look on my face as I suffered through that cup of coffee. I think my nose was scrunched up from the bitterness for an hour after finishing the cup, and I needed water to wash down the flavor. But I did it. And boy was I proud of myself! Over the course of the next few days I slowly learned how to drink my coffee without all the added stuff in it. Did I enjoy my coffee? No. Did it give me the caffeine I craved? Yes. Did I feel super cool doing it? You betcha. I felt like I was making my dad proud by not drinking my coffee in a varying shade of caramel brown.
And you know what? I eventually came to prefer my coffee black. Not only is it less hassle, but there are no calories AND you look super cool when you turn down sugar and creamer at restaurants.
I bet you didn’t know my coffee drinking history was so enthralling, did you? ; )
But I feel like sharing my story helps lead up to today’s post about building an epic coffee bar. Cuz in the last six years since I began drinking coffee, I’ve learned some things about it. I’m not claiming to be an expert by any means, but for other amateur coffee lovers out there, I’m here to help you out. From getting the perfect grind to my favorite way to brew it, I’m sharing it all!
So grab yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s begin.
How to Build an Epic Coffee Bar
Find a Place
This sounds simple, but I feel like I still need to mention it. Before you can even start building your coffee bar, you need to have a place to put everything. Whether it be a designated spot on your counter (props to you for having that much counter space!), a bar cart like I used to have, or a separate piece of furniture, you need to pick a place. I recently upgraded from a bar cart I bought soon after getting married to an awesome cabinet that I repainted and repurposed. It’s the perfect size for holding all my stuff, and I LOVE the glass in the upper doors so you can see all the mugs I’ve collected over the years. My favorite part, though, is the bottom storage. I’m able to keep all my coffee beans, tea bags, and extra supplies close by, but out of sight so everything still looks neat and pretty.
Some other ideas for your coffee bar could be a small table, or even a dresser with shelves installed above it to display your mugs. There are so many fun and unique ideas out there. I highly recommend checking out Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for inexpensive pieces of furniture you could use for your coffee bar. Then, with a little paint and elbow grease you can transform any piece of furniture into a million bucks!
Pick the Right Coffee
Now this is where I’m not much of an expert, but have come to learn some things about. There are three main “types” of coffee out there: light, medium and dark. When I first started drinking my coffee black, I stuck to all the light roasts because they were less bitter and the flavor was a bit milder. But now I’ve found my happy place in the medium area. Bold, but not too crazy! Isaac prefers dark coffee, but it’s still a bit too much for me even now.
Also: always. buy. beans.
I used to just get pre-ground coffee for convenience sake, but if you’re after a flavorful cup of Joe, go for the beans. Yes, it means you have to grind your own coffee (more on that next) BUT it’s so worth it. When coffee beans are ground, they release their oils, oxidize, and lose a lot of their flavor. It’s best to grind right before brewing to ensure you get the most out of your beans.
I could also get in to which coffee to buy, how soon after roasting you should use your beans, and so on, but those are not things I prioritize. I’ve found that locally roasted coffee is usually always better, but sometimes getting something at the grocery store is just gonna have to do. Someday I want to roast my own beans, but for now I just freshly grind and call it good enough. ; )
Get a Burr Grinder
So we used this old, cheap grinder for YEARS before finally investing in a burr grinder, and y’all. It was worth every penny. I’ve known about the benefits of using a burr grinder for a long time (like getting an even uniform grind, and having more freedom over your grind size), but just couldn’t justify spending so much money on one. But we finally bit the bullet and I’m so glad we did.
Not only is the grinder awesome, but I love that I can pick and choose which grind works best for my coffee. I can do a medium grind if I need to use my Keurig for a quick cup of coffee, a medium/coarse grind for my Chemex brewer, or a coarse grind for Isaac’s cold brew. And since it has a reservoir, I just have to press a button and out comes my coffee, ground to perfection! No more unravelling the cord from my old grinder, filling it with beans, finding a plug, grinding it till it looks decent and going from there. Now I know with just a few turns of a dial, I’ll get just the right grind and just the right amount, all in less than 15 seconds.
Grinding coffee never got easier, and the difference between freshly ground and pre-ground coffee is incredible. Trust me on this one!
Find the Right Brewer
If you’ve been to the appliance section in your local supermarket lately, you’ve probably seen the dozens of coffee maker models for sale. From cheap $10 brewers that know how to simply get the job done to fancy contraptions that cost hundreds of dollars, there’s a coffee maker for everyone. About four years ago I got a Keurig 2.0 brewer for Christmas and used it religiously. I loved how convenient it was, and that I could make a cup of coffee or a carafe of coffee by simply changing the size of the pod I was using. It got me through student teaching and three years of teaching, y’all!
Occasionally I’d use my French press, but it wasn’t until Isaac bought a pour over coffee dripper that I realized what I was missing out on. Yes, the Keurig is great and super convenient (especially if you’re the only one in the house who drinks coffee), but the flavor just never stood up to what you get in a fresh pour over. Even with pre-ground beans it was better!
And so on the mornings when I had a little more time to boil some water and make some pour over coffee, I would. Eventually, though, I decided it was time to upgrade. A single cup dripper just wasn’t big enough for both me and Isaac, and if we both had coffee in the morning we’d go through two filters just for a cup of coffee each. Which led me to the Chemex brewer.
I first fell in love with it because it looks so cool. I mean, it just doesn’t get much more hipster than a Chemex. But the more I read about it, the more I knew we needed to get one. Not only can you get different sizes based on how much coffee you want to make, but the science behind the shape, the filters and how to brew the coffee just made sense! So I bought the biggest brewer they have, some square filters and waited anxiously for it to arrive.
Once again, this investment was 100% worth it.
I read (and reread) the instructions to make sure I was brewing my coffee correctly, used my burr grinder at the right coarseness for the brewer, and excitedly watched the coffee fill the bottom as the water filtered through. Long story short… It. Was. Perfect. Nuff said.
Upgrade to a Variable Temperature Kettle
So this is a totally new thing for me, but let me tell ya… It’s quite the upgrade from the cheap stovetop kettle we got at Walmart years ago. I didn’t really see the need for a fancy kettle at first, but it really does help get the *perfect* cup of coffee. I just thought that all pour over coffee was made with boiling water, but boy was I wrong! Apparently the right temperature for the Chemex brewer is between 197 and 205 (for reference, boiling point is 212), and if you really start to do your research, you’ll find that different teas also require a specific temperature for optimal steeping.
Now, you could just get a thermometer and measure the temperature of your water as it heats up on the stove. OR you can go the easy route like we did and get a variable temperature kettle. Not only is it oh so easy to use, but it heats the water up faster than on the stove and that gooseneck spout is AWESOME. It’s definitely helped up our coffee game, and I love that the coffee is brewed at a lower temperature, meaning I can start sipping on it that much sooner without causing third degree burns to the inside of my mouth.
I actually keep our kettle near the sink so it’s easy to fill up, so it’s not technically a part of the coffee bar, but definitely an integral part of it!
And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed my tips on making an epic coffee bar. : ) Even though it can seem overwhelming at first, trust me when I tell you investing in some higher quality products really DOES bring your morning cup of Joe to a whole new level.
Now it’s your turn to talk! Answer one of these questions in the comments below:
What is your favorite way to drink coffee?
Is there anything you would add to the coffee bar?
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