All this talk about third wave coffee got me thinking a little bit about some of the hurdles of stepping up your home brewing game. I believe there are two main ones, you can't taste other people's coffee made at home and for the large part home equipment cannot be seen first hand except in very few choice places.
The first hurble in my opinion is taste, it's probably a pretty easy guess that a lot of the people that find a blog and a site this already really like coffee. To push it a little further they have probably had an experience where their eyes were opened to what coffee could be. That being said, it's pretty hard to know if you are drinking the best that is out there sometimes or if what you are brewing in your kitchen is any good.
I run into this problem a lot, not trusting my own coffee I am tasting. I have the fear that I am not always getting everything I could out of a bean, especially if it's a coffee that a lot of other people have liked. I will take Redbird espresso for an example, lots of people like it, I went so far as to buy a five pound bag of the roast since it's a reasonable price, $50, and it's reputation. However, after going through that bag I was underwhelmed. I got some nice coffee from it, but far from the raves of the masses.
So was it that I just didn't like the coffee or did I just somehow fail to brew the coffee to it's potential?
This brings me to my next point, did I fail to make the coffee right because the equipment at my disposal is inadequate?
This last one is really hard, most of the purchasing for coffee equipment has to be done without ever seeing or using it. I would say that there are a lot of things out there that we can buy that are hundreds of dollars, even thousands of dollars for an espresso machine that as a coffee enthusiast that you buy on faith. There are very few products that you buy on that sort of faith. Looking around my house I do not think there is a single other item that I have bought more just on dumb faith than anything else other than my coffee equipment.
The real horrible part of it is that it's really hard to know what is going to work for you and what is not going to work for you. Example; Baratza grinders there are many people that upon looking at them online compared to say something like a Mazzer Mini don't want to spend that money on something plastic. Mind you Baratza grinders are some of the most recommended home friendly grinders out there yet that plastic 'look' does them in to that person. These remarks always make me snicker a little bit because if you have ever had the opportunity to hold and look at one of these grinders they feel very solid/sturdy more so than what their pictures give off. Predictably some of those people that just swallow their gut reation and buy one are very happy they did.
I believe these pitfalls really hinder people from going out and buying a quality burr grinder like a Baratza or Capresso Infinity for their brewed coffee. Being able to see and feel the substantial difference between what is out there and what you see at Target give you an idea. For those of you on the fence with something like a quality grinder, search out a place you can see one of these. Perhaps a local coffee shop has a Baratza grinder to look at, check baratza.com for locations, or even going to a place like Williams and Sonoma or Sur La Table, should provide you with some good insights.
Obviously, check out a site like coffeegeek.com and look around.
Above all else go to coffee shops regardless of their location and try them out. You might be wasting a few dollars getting a poorly extracted coffee from some person that has no idea what they are doing, but at least you tried it. And who knows that might be the coffee that might push you to the edge as it was just that little bit better than your own brew. Local roasters are turning up everywhere just look at the Roaste roasters, Billings Mt (Revel Coffee) San Antonio TX (Brown Coffee Co) Irondale AL (Red Bike Coffee) they are all over the place, so there might be one closer to home than you think.
It's a little work but I think it pays big dividends.