Ever find yourself stuck for what to get someone when it comes to Christmas, birthdays or even 'just because'? I've created a number of gift guides with suggestions at different price points to help you do just that. This edition is all about coffee...
I actually started writing a coffee lovers section for the foodies gift guide and found I could do an entire post on just coffee related gifts, so here we are!
It's a bit ironic that I'm making these recommendations, as it's actually my husband who's the real coffee enthusiast. However, I've learned loads from watching coffee related YouTube videos, hearing about the new brewing methods he's found, being a guinea pig for his latest gadgets, and even attending the Bristol Coffee Festival with him. I am, in essence, a 'coffee wife.' (I jest! I love hanging out in coffee shops, too...).
I only really drink black coffee these days; however, it has to be good quality, and we love to support local roasters and shops, so the majority of the suggestions below either come from places close to where we live or are UK-based shops. Loads of them ship nationwide, and even internationally, though. Wherever you choose to buy, I hope you find something to help you choose gifts for the special people in your life.
As a note: I've tried to only recommend items on the big 'A' when I can't find them elsewhere. Independent shops are where it's at, people!
The most famous nationwide coffee subscription for the UK is probably Pact Coffee*. Dave and I tried it a number of years ago, before the subscription thing really took off, and we very much enjoyed trying new types and flavours of beans. For US-based readers, Andrew Rea (of Binging with Babish fame) often suggests Trade Coffee as the subscription of choice. I trust his judgement. Go forth and sign up at your leisure.
*We have a discount code for Pact Coffee subscriptions - give it a try!
Rave are a South-West based coffee roasters that offer a subscription service. I can highly recommend their Fudge blend, which is delicious and tastes like a chocolate fudge brownie. The brand is offering 50% off a first box for those that join their newsletter, so you can't go wrong.
The majority of roasters - including Square Mile (one of our favourite roasters), Hasbean, Monmouth and Origin - do a subscription variant for their coffee nowadays, so there's a lot of choice for your £££'s.
TIP: Most subscriptions have an option to vary the flavours of beans, and the regions they come from, as part of the subscription. This is something I'd very much recommend, as it allows the recipient to discover new varieties they like.
It's worth popping into some independent coffee shops near you and asking for their recommendations on the coffee beans they like/sell. If you can't get out and/or prefer to shop online, some of our favourites include Square Mile, Girls Who Grind, Coaltown, Hasbean and Extract. I could list loads more, as there are so many good roasters out there nowadays.
Pact (the subscription brand above) also have a 'Beginner's Brew Bundle' set that includes a couple of bags of their Christmas blend and a (plastic) v60 kit to get your person started. Many coffee roasters and shops will do sets similar to this, which is handy, if you're in a hurry.
For those on a budget, you can also look to supermarkets for a reasonable selection of beans. The best we've tried are CafeDirect's London Fields range (excellent for their ethical values) and Union Coffee. You'll get better quality from more independent brands, but these are good choices if you're looking for a cheaper option.
If you don't know what type of coffee your person is into, here are some pointers:
- Go for medium roast: it's a good middle ground for those that don't like too strong coffee or for some who prefer darker roasts.
- Try to find out how they'll be brewing their coffee: the grind type makes a huge difference in how well the grounds brew, and impacts the flavour and texture of the coffee. If you're buying a method of brewing for them, match it to that. If you really don't know, perhaps go for a generic 'filter' grind - it'll be a bit hit or miss, but should give the best outcome.
- Look at the flavour profiles provided: does your person like more mellow notes, such as chocolate, biscuit, or caramel? Or perhaps brighter, fruity notes, like cherry, grape or raspberry? It may sound silly, but much like fine wines, each coffee variety has different tasting notes, and with good coffee, you'll notice them more.
Whatever type of coffee you decide to go for, try to look for roasters that are local to the person you're buying for. Buying from places that are close to you is a really great way to support local businesses, and they're also likely to be stocked in coffee shops nearby.
Coffee shop guides
In the UK, there are a series of independent coffee shop guides available from Salt Media that cover different areas of the country: there are versions for the South West of England & South Wales; the North, Midlands & North Wales; Ireland; and Scotland.
They're released each year and every edition brings an updated selection of both coffee shops and roasters in that locality. We've got a couple editions of the South West guide, and it's been a fab way of finding new coffee shops to try, instead of just relying on our usual favourites. It's also great for exploring local towns you may not have visited before. Have a Google for similar guides in your country, if you're not based in the UK.
If you're really getting into brewing coffee at home, you (or your recipient/s) will need a decent set of digital scales. They don't have to be super expensive, but you want to look for a set that can measure to 0.1g. I bought Dave one of these scales for Valentine's day a few years back (I know, it's an odd choice for a Valentine's present, but he really wanted it), and he loved it. For a somewhat unknown brand, it did the job. We've since updated to this one - another somewhat unheard of brand, but again, it works really well.
I've also seen this Hario one recommended by a number of people, although it's a little more pricey. Of course, you can spend how much you like, but it's cool to know that cost isn't an indicator of quality for these.
Dave has started building a collection of grinders over the past few years. He started with a generic electric blade grinder, then moved onto the Porlex Tall (also comes in a Mini version); there are also the Rhinowares coffee grinder (slots straight onto the Aeropress) and Hario mini-slim to consider.
Electric burr grinders (e.g. the Wilfa Svart grinder, Sage Grinder Pro, Niche Zero). We have the Wilfa Svart grinder, which has a nice profile and does an excellent variety of grind sizes for filter coffee, e.g. V60, Chemex, Aeropress etc. It doesn't, sadly, do a fine enough grind for espresso, so if you're looking for something to complement your espresso machine, this one's not for you.
I wouldn't recommend choosing a blade grinder, whether electric or not - a good burr grinder is worth paying a little extra for and will give a better quality grind to help you get the most out of the coffee beans. Check out an explanation from Seattle Coffee Gear for more info on this.
Generally, I image most people would envision home brewing as including some kind of cafetière/French press. You know the ones - the kind that you'd find at the back of your parents cupboard that only ever came out when their friends were over for dinner. They're a bit retro, and would usually be brewed up with not-so-great coffee that's a bit muddy, I think people felt sophisticated when they did the big press down that they didn't really care so much about the coffee quality. French presses have come on a lot since then, and they're still a good way to make coffee for a larger number of people. There are some easier ways to do so that have become really popular in the last five years or so; so much so, you'll find them in many mainstream coffee shops to make your favourite beverages in the comfort of your own kitchen:
At the cheaper end of the spectrum is the V60. You may have even seen baristas using these in your favourite coffee place to make filter coffee. Relatively easy to use and available at pretty much any coffee shop/supply store, these come in plastic, glass and ceramic, and also, a variety of colours. I'd recommend the ceramic Hario version, as it can go in the dishwasher and is a bit more sturdy than their plastic and glass counterparts.
The Chemex is almost like a cross between the V60 and a French press, in that it's a wide necked vessel that uses a paper filter, but it can cater to multiple people. It's got a beautiful glass design that looks fab on your shelf, like some sort of vase. The wooden handle is also removable, tied with a leather cord. You can get large and a regular sized versions of the Chemex.
Espresso makers (non-electric)
For our first Valentine's (we're going for a theme here), I got Dave an AeroPress set with a bag of Rave Coffee in it. The AeroPress is one method of brewing coffee as close to espresso as you can get without an espresso machine. It's very analogue, with very few parts and being made entirely of plastic, is easily washable, and can be thrown in a bag to take with you to work, when visiting people, or even when travelling. In fact, you can even get a mini travel bag to do just that.
If you do choose an AeroPress, I also recommend getting a Cafe Concetto metal AeroPress filter - I originally found these when I was served an ad for one on Instagram. Dave says it's about 99% as good as the paper kind of filters, but the benefit of them is that you're not using paper (not sure how sustainable coffee filters are) and it lasts a long time.
A stalwart of many kitchens, the Moka Pot is a timeless classic. If you're looking for an espresso-like experience for your coffee, without breaking the bank, then a Moka Pot is a great choice. You won't get a proper espresso out of it, but the rich coffee it produces is more akin to that style than a more mild filter coffee.
If you haven't tried cold brew, you're missing out. Best enjoyed in warmer months, 'cold brewing' is the process of brewing coffee with cold water over 16-24 hours. That said, it's delicious at any time of year. The Hario cold brew jug is perfect for the job: just make up a batch, pop it in the fridge, then serve over ice, either black or with your favourite milk/m*lk.
I'm not going to go into a whole list this time. Espresso machines largely vary on your budget, how much effort and time you want to put in, and the types of coffee you like to make, and I don't have enough expertise to recommend them all right now.
However, there is one in particular that I'm going to tell you about: the Sage Bambino Plus (aka the Breville Bambino Plus**). This is definitely one for the coffee addict in your life who wants to take their espresso game up a notch. It's got digital temperature settings, makes barista-quality coffee drinks, and comes with a stainless steel milk jug, too. The coolest function is its automatic milk steaming wand that will steam and froth your milk to perfection without you needing to even pick up the milk jug. For someone with a relatively small kitchen, this would fit in nicely.
The Bambino's bigger cousin, the Barista Express, is the next size up (and step up in price), and would be an excellent choice if you/your person has enough counter space for it. One of the coolest features is that it comes with a built-in bean grinder/hopper, so you don't need to buy a separate one. We have this machine and absolutely love it - it's Dave's pride and joy! It doesn't come with the automatic milk steaming function, though, so just bear that in mind.
Pact are offering the Bambino Plus at one of the cheapest prices I've found (It's £319 for Black Friday) and it even has £60 credit towards a Pact subscription to go with it; they come and go out of stock pretty quickly, so if you can't find it there, try John Lewis or an independent retailer instead.
**Apparently, Breville is only known as Sage in the UK. If you're in Australia or the US (or other parts of the world), I think the products are the same, just under a different brand name.
This one was on Dave's wish list for a while, but a very kind friend gifted him one. After using it for the last few months, he thought I'd like an Ember mug too, and gave me a white one for my birthday.
It's a bit of a 'Internet of Things' techy item - like something you might find on Gadget Man - but I've heard it recommended by quite a few people, and now I have one, I wouldn't be without it. The Ember mug is an electronic mug and plate that keeps your favourite beverages at your preferred temperature, which you set with a mobile app. There's also a travel version, but I would say the best one is the 140z/414ml one (there's a smaller 10oz/295ml one that I've been told "doesn't quite hold enough"). Despite it being a super first-world problem solving gadget, it's certainly a neat gift - now we have a little one, I am often forgetting about or not getting to my cup of tea on time. Now I don't have to worry!
I won't bore you with all the different types of travel mugs out there. There are so many to choose from, and lots of people have reviewed the various types available, so I'd advise doing a search.
I will say, however, that Dave and I are fans of KeepCups. They're available pretty much everywhere, or you can design your own on the KeepCup website, which is cool. Take a look at the thermal one: it's double-walled and comes in a few colours, albeit fewer than the glass or plastic single-walled ones. Keeps your beverages nice and hot, though!
For more coffee related ideas, I recommend checking out the YouTube channels of James Hoffman and Morgan Drinks Coffee - they're two of our favourite coffee people and review some neat products, so they're great to watch for some further inspiration.