Your home coffee setup is a carefully curated masterpiece, a collection of tools and devices composed to help you make the perfect cup of coffee. With the holidays coming up, you’re likely taking your coffee brewing routine on the road (or maybe people are gathering in your home), and it’s important to know not only what tools are must-bring items, but how to dazzle your holiday compatriots with delicious brews that are accessible and hit the spot for a wide range of palates and preferences.
Every home is different, and every family member or friend has their go-to coffee recipes. From kitchen setups with few tools to that one great aunt who swears that the coffee you’re making can’t be as good as that one espresso she had at a gas station in Italy, here are some of the best ways to adapt your coffee brewing game while visiting or entertaining for the holidays.
Be mindful that brewing water will be different
Coffee is 98 percent water. In some areas, drinking directly from the tap is totally ok — in others, the tap water might not be ideal to drink. In general, these same principles apply to coffee brewing.
What affects water quality is water hardness, which is different in every city or town depending on where your municipality pulls water from. Soft water (low level of dissolved minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium when it comes to coffee) will produce a cup that tastes weak and hollow, while hard water can produce a cup that tastes astringent and chalky.
If you’re used to brewing at home, you’ve likely adapted your brewing recipes to your local water without even knowing it—or you know the water isn’t ideal for brewing and have a filtration system set in place. When you travel, that changes. A coffee that tasted light and delicate at home might taste out of balance on the road. Most cities have information about their local water supply online that you can research, so you can adapt your gameplan. Consider running water through a filter if you’re used to using tap water or even perhaps go the extra mile and grab some water packets from brands like Third Wave Water, which take distilled water (water with no dissolved minerals) and add the ideal balance of dissolved material for coffee brewing.
Blends are great, but don’t be afraid of single origins
Blends are designed to capture a wide audience. Roasters often employ a few coffees to create a flavor profile that is balanced and consistent throughout the year. A blend is a surefire bet for a crowd, especially for folks who love the coffee you brew and want to brew it themselves — a coffee blend is an option that your family members can rely on without issues of seasonality affecting the availability of the coffee.
However, there are great single origin coffees that still hit the crowd-pleasing mark. Coffees from Costa Rica and Brazil, for example, tend to be sweet and highlight flavors like chocolate and cherry —flavors that everyone likes! They’re also versatile and can be adapted to fit any coffee brewing situation, from the ancient coffee maker on your mom’s counter to the AeroPress you stashed in your carry-on luggage.
More people drink decaf than you think
If you’re brewing for a crowd, don’t discount decaf! According to a study done by the National Coffee Association, around 16% of people drink decaf. That means if you are at home with eight people, at least one of them is reaching for a caffeine-free coffee option.
Like you would for those with dietary restrictions, if you’re charged with bringing coffee to your next family gathering, it’s worthwhile to ask if anyone prefers decaf or is sensitive to caffeine. There are dozens of incredible decaf options that’ll still impress your guests while making them feel considered and welcome.
If you bring one tool with you, bring a grinder
The challenge of making coffee in a new environment is almost like a puzzle and most issues can be fixed with a couple of smart fixes and tweaks. Maybe you’re with a crowd that likes their coffee strong, so you updose from your regular coffee ratio. Maybe the coffee pot at your aunt’s house hasn’t been cleaned in years, so you give the coffee urn a little elbow grease before brewing. Maybe there’s no scale, so you have to rely on cups and milliliters instead of your precise measurements. All these hiccups can be adjusted for and still yield a great final product, but there’s nothing that can fix poorly ground coffee.
Of course you’re bringing coffee, but if you have to bring another tool, think about bringing a grinder. Most brands make lightweight burr hand grinders, which are often touted for camping but are lifesavers during travel in general. If you know you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have a burr grinder, bringing your own is the most helpful tool to brew high quality coffee.
Create recipes for a crowd by bypassing
Bypassing is the process of brewing a coffee that’s intentionally stronger than you intend to drink and watering it down afterwards. For example, most coffees are traditionally brewed around a 1:16 ratio. Bypassing would ask the brewer to make coffee at a tighter ratio — say, 1:10 — and then add water to get it to the appropriate strength.
Why does this matter? It can be hard to make coffee for a crowd. Let’s say you’re brewing coffee for everyone on an AeroPress: you’d probably have to make each cup individually. By brewing the coffee a tad stronger, you could batch brew or have fun with your guests and let them decide how strong they want their coffee to be.
Pick coffees that go well with milk and sugar
Most people drink coffee, but most people drink coffee with cream, sugar, or both. It’s difficult to determine what percentage of people take cream or sugar, but it seems like a safe guess that more people drink coffee with cream and sugar rather than take it black.
Medium- and dark-roasted coffees take especially well to having things added to them. These profiles tend to be more robust and their strong flavor can cut through additives like milk and sugar. If you’re used to drinking your coffee one way, it can be difficult to imagine how others enjoy their coffee, so picking something that can meet a drinker where they’re at is helpful and a sign you care about picking something tasty for the entire group.
No matter what, have fun! We hope you get to spend time with friends and loved ones over the next few weeks and create new memories over a cup of coffee!