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Instant is in, fancy is out: Nothing stays the same for long in the world of home-brewed coffee

By Associated Press
Published: January 27, 2024, 6:04am
8 Photos
Instant coffee spills from a spoon.
Instant coffee spills from a spoon. Photo Gallery

Instants that demand respect. Compostable pods. High-altitude blends. And myriad related home-brew goodies that lift the senses with the familiar fragrant waft of a humble roasted bean: coffee.

Coffee world can’t sit still, it seems — just ask Brooklyn Roasting’s founder and CEO Jim Munson.

“The coffee market’s shifted focus several times over the past 50 years,” he said.

“From the convenience-obsessed industry of the ’60s and ’70s — think Mr. Coffee — to the ‘single origin’ coffee and Italian espresso drinks in the ’80s and ’90s, to a ‘third wave’ that began around 2000, of baristas working $20,000 espresso machines, precisely dialing their grinders and weighing each shot digitally,” Munson said.

He’s getting the sense that people right now don’t really want to deal with fuss and fancy gear when brewing a cup at home.

“The modern coffee lover appreciates the difference of freshly roasted and ground coffee, but they don’t want their morning cup to be overly complicated,” he said. “They just want it to be delicious and sustainably sourced.”

Instant love

On the grab-and-go front, Food & Wine’s senior drinks editor Oset Babur-Winters is noticing interest in instant coffee.

“I’m seeing people take it more seriously. Maybe it’s because we’re traveling again, or maybe it’s just because the tech has gotten better, but real coffee roasters like Partner’s Coffee and Blue Bottle are investing in instant coffee powder,” she said.

Blue Bottle offers a craft espresso instant with notes of dark chocolate, molasses and toasted malt. Their limited edition Ethiopian Samra Origin instant tastes of berry, toffee and lemon.

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Instant or overnight

Partners has various instants and the option to use single-use biodegradable pouches. Pop a pouch into 24 ounces of water and put it in the fridge — the next morning, you’ve got a week’s worth of coffee. Or pour milk or hot water over one and enjoy right now.

Cold brew coffee is also hot as heck, though it, too, takes some prep time to steep. Fans say that makes for a more flavorful and less acidic brew. Cold brew’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past several years, according to the National Coffee Association’s fall 2023 trend report.

“Another trend is coffee cocktails,” said Babur-Winters. (A basic recipe: Add Irish whiskey and brown sugar to some hot brewed coffee, and top with lightly whipped cream.)

Brewing gear

What’s the benchmark for a good countertop maker? Many coffee people say it’s maintaining a steady heat.

Straightforward navigation is also a plus. More popular machines take up a smaller countertop footprint, have a simple dashboard and produce a consistently fresh, flavorful cup.

“Coffee machines in general have gotten smarter,” said Nicole Papantoniou, the Good Housekeeping Institute’s kitchen appliances and innovation lab director. “Many connect to apps, and some even use scales to recommend the perfect grounds-to-water ratio.”

She gave shoutouts to coffee-machine makers Spinn and xBloom. Other drip makers receiving positive test reviews from the Good Housekeeping Institute and Better Homes & Gardens were Breville, Cuisinart, Wolf Gourmet, Black & Decker and Braun. Forbes’ product testing staff in June rated the Oxo 9-Cup the best stainless steel home coffee maker.

For those who want to step up into pro brewing territory, sophisticated machines include Breville’s Barista Express espresso machine. It has a 15-setting bean grinder, built-in tamper, bean storage compartment, extraction pump, multi-angled steam wand for milk frothing — even a water extractor so the grounds become a dry puck for disposal.

Technivorm’s Moccamaster has a toggle switch that lets you adjust brew volume for your preferred flavor intensity, and the machine comes in decorator colors including turquoise, white and midnight blue. Kaffe’s got stylish glass and brushed stainless storage containers and also a USB-rechargeable milk frother.

For pod coffee fans, Nespresso’s slim-line VertuoPlus comes in an array of hues and has an adjustable water reservoir, convenient when there’s limited counter space.

About those pods…

Pod or capsule coffee’s early popularity took a hit over concerns about single-use-plastic waste, but makers are addressing the issue. Keurig, Nespresso and others now have pods made of recyclable materials.

Nespresso’s re:ground project is a collaboration with zeta shoes to make sneakers out of recycled nespresso cups; each pair is composed of about 12 cups. Get a free recycling bag when ordering cups, and the filled bag can be brought to any ups drop-off station, or to Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel or Sur La Table stores.

Keurig’s pods now are also made of recyclable plastic; consumer reports advises discarding the aluminum lid and paper filter, and rinsing before recycling; add the used grounds to your plants.

Nescafe has partnered with Terracycle on a recycling program. Call Nestle’s customer service to get a recycling box that you can fill and send back to them.

Or consider just reusing capsules. Order a supply of foil or paper capsule lids from My-cap (they make them for most machines) and then refill your capsules with your own coffee, and seal.

Cool beans

Arabica beans, grown above 2,000 feet, are especially rich and aromatic, and have less caffeine than those grown at lower levels. Munson said blends he buys from high elevations in East Africa and Indonesia have become bestsellers. And Carribrew, launched in 2018 by Beverly Malbranche while she was in the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Program, offers coffees grown in Haiti above 4,000 feet.

Wunderground sells beans or ground coffee infused with mushroom extract like lion’s mane and cordyceps. It has notes of chocolate, hazelnut, vanilla and orange.

Coffee on the menu

Food & Wine’s Food Editor Paige Grandjean has a hot coffee tip for bakers.

“The complexity and slight bitterness of coffee works wonders on desserts. Add a few teaspoons of instant coffee, or replace ¼ cup of liquid with hot coffee in your next chocolate cake. It’ll boost nutty, earthy and fruity notes and balance sweetness,” she said. “Or for a quick, easy treat, pour a shot of hot espresso over vanilla ice cream for an after-dinner affogato.”

Bon Appetit has some coffee-forward recipes like coffee-glazed vegetables, coffee butter, meat rubs and salted coffee custard pie.

Food 52 suggests a black bean dip infused with coffee. And they have a great gift for coffee lovers: dark chocolate molds filled with coffee cream.

Senses and skin

It’s not home brewing, but coffeephiles can also bring home all kinds of coffee masks, scrubs and body creams using leftover grounds and essences. Bee Inspired, for instance, has a Wake-Up Call box that holds coffee-and-cream bar soap, coffee-flavored honey and an espresso-scented soy candle. It might be just the thing for a sleepy Monday morning in the home office.

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