The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’re Making with Your Coffee Equipment — and How to Fix Them

published Jun 3, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Of all the jobs I’ve had in the coffee industry, one of my favorites was being an in-home coffee tutor: I taught brewing classes, did espresso training in people’s kitchens, and made equipment and maintenance recommendations. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of caffeine. I loved getting a close look at the different setups people had, and being invited into their daily coffee routines. It felt very personal — and often people were a little shy about letting me see it all, as though I would scold them and confiscate their filters.

On the contrary: I’ve come to believe there’s no single right way to make coffee at home. One of the beauties of brewing is that there are countless ways to make something delicious just by combining water and coffee grounds. And everyone has their own set of preferences. That said, there are some pitfalls I’ve seen folks fall into over and over — especially with buying, using, and caring for their coffee equipment. That’s why I’m here! To help guide you and make sure your coffee station is humming along like a well-oiled machine.

These are the three biggest mistakes I see people make.

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Investing in the wrong equipment.

One of the biggest regrets people confess to their coffee confidant (that’s me!) is buying a piece of equipment because of cost and/or convenience, only to find out it isn’t up to the job. 

The most common example would be those half-coffee maker, half-espresso machines that don’t make neither option all that well. (Espresso in particular requires precise pressure and temperature controls in order to taste truly great.) My advice: You’d probably be better off investing in a great automatic-drip machine and a stovetop espresso pot, or a fancy espresso machine and a not-too-pricey pour-over setup, depending on your priorities. 

The same goes for those whirly-blade spice grinders that often get sold as coffee grinders. They’re cheap and easy to find, but they offer no control over the particle size of your coffee grounds, making it impossible to switch between brewing methods like a French press (that takes a coarse grind) and drip coffee (that requires a medium-fine grind). Grind consistency is important for great coffee, and a blade grinder makes it very hard to do just that. If your coffee grounds have uneven particles — big chunks mixed with powdery, fine stuff — this will lead both under- and over-extraction. I suggest a great burr grinder, which can be purchased for around $100 to $150, and will level up your coffee brewing, no matter what your method is.

Not sure of what gear to get? Ask a coffee professional: Most of us are also at-home coffee fanatics and happy to chat about our favorite caffeine-delivery systems. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley
Finding the perfect grind takes some tweaking.

Failing to tweak things.

The vast majority of coffee drinkers think of their morning ritual as “set it and forget it,” but to do that is missing out. Not only does it take some trial and error to arrive at the perfect ratios and techniques, but it’s also good to remember that some of your equipment will require a bit of tweaking as you use it. 

Grinders, especially, tend to get ignored. Lots of people are afraid to make adjustments to them. “What if I make the grind too fine or too coarse?” you ask. My answer: Don’t worry! Any change you make on your grinder can be unmade. Just snap a photo of your current setting before switching it up, and, worst-case scenario, you can just change it back. 

But why might you need to make adjustments, if it’s working well now? Over time, the burrs in your burr grinder (which I definitely convinced you to invest in by now, right?) will wear down and become less sharp, just like a kitchen knife. As they wear, you need to adjust them closer together in order to achieve the same grind size. You also need to change your grind size if you’re switching from, say, an automatic drip machine to a Chemex.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Not cleaning your brewing gear.

Unfortunately, a quick rinse isn’t enough to keep your coffee-brewing gear in tip-top shape. And this includes the tools that don’t even touch coffee grounds. For any coffee-brewing and serving equipment, you want to make sure you remove the residual coffee oils left behind after each use, as they build up and can go rancid over time. Even your standard stovetop kettle needs deep cleaning because of the sediment, called “scale,” that builds up from boiling water over and over again.

In both cases, it’s my opinion that a citric acid-based cleaner is far superior to vinegar — unless you want your coffee to always taste a little bit like pickles from now until eternity. 

This post originally ran on Kitchen. See it there: The 3 Biggest Mistakes People Make with Their Coffee Equipment