This post will cover a few fundamental topics to guide you into the world of filter coffee. There are multiple scenarios that I imagined for different individual’s preferences and criteria. To keep it simple, there are only 3 fundamental topics. An advanced guide about taking your filter coffee to next level will be covered in a separate post, that you can read if you want to invest more time or effort. Do take note that this guide is tailored for Malaysians (and its neighbours), so the product availability and currency are adjusted for the Malaysian market.
This is a guideline to help you choose your first filter coffee equipment, tailored to your budget and effort appetite as well as your expectation towards the taste of coffee. Do bear in mind that there are always new brands and models releasing every now and then. If you find a better alternative to my recommendations below, please leave your comment! Before we go deep into the recommendations, let me first tell you what is the importance of each equipment type. This information will help you to decide what equipment to prioritize when you work out your budget. Some equipment has less significant impact on the final result of your brew, while some are critical.
|Very High||Grinder: Used for grinding whole coffee beans into ground coffee for brewing.||The most important piece of equipment. A lousy grinder will produce inconsistent ground coffee particles which can end up wasting your coffee. Most of your budget should go into this.|
|High||Dripper / Brewer: The main equipment to brew your coffee in. It is used to hold your filter paper and ground coffee||Important to have but you don’t need to spend a lot. A plastic V60 is very good, unless you want better aesthetics.|
|High||Digital scale: To measure the weight of the coffee and water used.||Important to have but you don’t need an expensive one. A digital one with up to 0.1g precision is good enough.|
|High||Gooseneck kettle: It has a thin spout to help you pour water better than normal kettles.||Very helpful for filter coffee pouring. A normal kettle is unable to pour precisely due to the large spout. You also don’t need an electrical or expensive one unless you are willing to.|
|Medium||Electric kettle: To boil your water (Surprisingly, many used a pot on stove to boil water)||Electric kettle boils faster and safer than boiling using a pot on stove. Most of you already have one. There are electrical gooseneck kettles as well but it comes with higher cost.|
|Low||Coffee server / decanter: Usually a glass server put under the dripper. Used for serving coffee||It looks beautiful! Also useful if you’re brewing a big cup or for more than 1 portion. An optional equipment.|
|Low||Thermometer: Measure the water temperature.||Very optional, you don’t really need one unless you’re very serious about coffee.|
|Must have||Filter papers: Non-negotiable, you need this for every brew unless you’re using a French Press.||Self-explanatory.|
Now we can look at the recommendations. Notice that the below builds have the total budget stated at the end of the title. If you wonder where can you purchase the products mentioned, I have curated a list of product and their respective stores/online shop for your ease of shopping HERE. Click the spoiler to show the details.
1.1 Optimal and balanced recommendation [Budget total = RM325.00]
This is my most recommended which has the best balance between quality and cost. It focuses to get best value out of your money spent to produce the best results (i.e taste) without compromising the important factors.
- Grinder: Timemore Chestnut C2 hand grinder – RM200
- Dripper: Hario V60 Plastic Dripper Size 02 – RM31
- Digital Scale: Digital scale with timer – 0.1g precision – RM39
- Gooseneck kettle: Generic gooseneck pour over kettle 600ml – RM33
- Filter papers: Hario V60 size 02 filter papers 100 pieces – RM25
- Electric kettle: Not needed, assuming you have one at home
Total one-time cost (grinder, dripper, scale and gooseneck kettle): RM300
Recurring cost (filter papers): RM25 every 3-4 months
TOTAL COST: RM325.00
The Timemore Chestnut C2 is the best grinder at this price point, period. You might have heard people recommending the Hario grinders (mini mill, skerton, etc..) but I am here to tell you that the Timemore is 20x (if not 100x) better than the Hario, in every way. You get an aluminium body which is much better in build quality, and the burr is made of sharp stainless steel, stabilized on top and bottom, which produces a more uniform grind. The Hario is only very slightly cheaper than the Timemore. For V60, you don’t need a glass or ceramic one because the plastic one is 100% heat and food safe. It actually insulates heat better for brewing purpose. The digital scale and gooseneck kettle are both the lowest cost I can find. You can refer to other builds below for better quality or designed ones, but they are REALLY not necessary (unless you’re like me, hahaha).
To most people’s surprise – coffee beans is not as cheap as you think. Good coffee beans, at least. If you browse the aisle at your local grocery like Tesco, you can find a bag of roasted beans at RM20 or so. The common packaging will say “100% Arabica coffee” or something along the line. These coffee beans are commodity grade, and will not taste anything like what you drink at your favourite cafe. The coffee beans that we should be looking is called specialty coffee (also known as Third Wave coffee). Specialty coffee, in short, is coffee that went through high scrutiny from seed to cup, including planting, picking, processing, trading, roasting, storing, and finally, brewing. To understand more about specialty coffee, you can read more here. The quality of coffee beans is the most important factor among all other aspects such as equipment. The way you identify specialty coffee is rather simple – usually the packaging does not mention just “arabica cofee”, but it should contain more information about the coffee, such as origin (country, region, farm and/or farmer), altitude, variety, processing method, tasting notes and roast date. An example of a bag of beans I recently tried has these on the label:
Kenya Thageini (country, region/mill) SL28/SL34 (variety) Natural processed (processing method) 1800masl (altitude) Blackcurrant, plum, berries, dried mango (taste notes) 31st May 2020 (roast date)
Unlike commodity coffee which labels only expiry date, specialty coffee’s roast date is important because coffee beans lose freshness over time. They are best consumed within the first 4 weeks after roasted, unless you freeze them – we will save this for the advanced topic. Another important fact about coffee beans is that the flavours and aromas of the coffee beans dissipate within 10 – 15 minutes after grinding them to powder. (Why? Read here) Therefore, I highly recommend everyone to get your own coffee grinder instead of buying pre-ground.
2.1 Buying Specialty Coffee beans
You can buy specialty coffee beans from a coffee roaster or local cafe. To ease your effort, I have compiled a master list of most (if not all) specialty coffee roasters and cafe in Malaysia. You can start with those S-ranked and A-ranked roasters if you don’t know where to start. When you are choosing, it is very likely you come across 2 types, mainly single origin and blend. Some also label whether the beans are roasted for espresso or filter brewing method. I summarized them below:
- Single Origin = coffee beans from a single farm of a region. E.g. Kenya Thageini above. It does not mix with other farms or region.
- Blend = a mix of at least 2 origins, usually mixed by the roaster to create a new profile. More commonly used for espresso roast.
- Espresso roast = coffee beans roasted for espresso method, usually a little darker roasted (more suitable with milk, chocolate, nutty flavour)
- Filter roast = coffee beans roasted for filter method, usually medium or medium-light roast (easier to taste the coffee’s origin flavours such as fruitiness or floral
2.2 Price of specialty coffee beans
Broadly speaking, a bag of 200g to 250g coffee beans will cost around RM40 to RM75. Anything lower than that is a possible indicator that it is not specialty grade, but of course there are exceptions. Breaking it down, a cup of coffee (240ml) usually needs about 15g of coffee beans. If a bag of 200g beans costs you RM50, then a cup will be 15/200*RM50 = RM3.75. Not too bad consider that a cup of latte is sold a RM10 – RM12 nowadays in a cafe! (RM15 – 25 for filter coffee.. do the math) Just don’t compare the price of it with your instant Nescafe – it’s comparing apple and oranges. Do take note that some rare varieties and microlots like Gesha can cost up to RM150-250 per small bag, you DON’T have to buy rare geshas to enjoy!
3.0 Brewing Guide
There are so many brewing guides out there, I am not going to create yet another one. There is simply no one perfect method, it pretty much boils down to personal preference. Here I link up a few videos that I personally recommend and I learnt a lot from them:
- James Hoffmann – Coffee Brewing Ratios Explained (High recommended as a foundation)
- James Hoffmann – The Ultimate V60 Technique
- Scott Rao’s V60 Method
- James Hoffmann – The Ultimate French Press Technique
I will share my personal brewing method later, however in a nutshell I basically follow the James Hoffmann’s method with some variations. Hope this post is helpful for you to kickstart your home brewing journey!