A barista explains how to make better coffee - at home

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Buying coffee ‘to go’ is a common part of many of our everyday lives, but it’s also an expensive habit.

In a bid to save you some money, we asked a coffee expert to share some tips and tricks for brewing coffee at home (or work) that’s just as good as the pros make.

Here, Robi Lambie of Edinburgh’s Cairngorm Coffee (and last year’s Lever Barista Champion at the Edinburgh Coffee Festival) covers everything you need to know about making a tasty cup of joe.

What sort of training do you have to do to become a barista?

“It all depends on the job required. At Cairngorm Coffee we encourage all budding baristas to experiment with coffee prior to any hands-on training. It’s really important to us that there is an understanding of the process of making espresso especially, and what we are trying to achieve when we do certain things.

“I encourage reading of blogs, listening to podcasts and browsing forums to start getting your brain to understand the terminology of coffee. From there, it’s much easier to give advice about how to progress with physical skills.”

What’s the most common mistake people make when making coffee at home?

“Not keeping tabs of the variables. It’s frustrating to think of the amount of people who buy fantastic coffee and maybe make a handful of great coffees, but also a handful of terrible ones. If you are taking note of time, dose, brew weight and even temperature (if you have a suitable kettle) then you can find the sweet spot and ensure you crack it every time.”

What’s the one bit of equipment that would vastly improve your morning coffee?

“Definitely a scale. Weigh in and weigh out every time.”

What is the hardest type of coffee to master?

“Absolutely espresso, to the extent that some days I wonder if we should just forget about it altogether. It’s fantastic when it’s perfect, but (being a natural product) it’s always changing as it ages – as the humidity in the air alters, as the burrs heat up and so on – which can all cause problems. It seems to be that these are emphasised so much more by an espresso machine.”

Is it ever right to put sugar in your coffee?

“In a coffee shop, an immense amount of effort that goes into ensuring that the coffee tastes fantastic every morning. This is done without sugar, so by adding it we can’t be sure what it is you’re really drinking.

“Generally speaking, it adds unpleasant dryness to the coffee and plays against all the beautiful natural sugars and acidity that we believe bring so much to the cup. We’ve noticed lots of our customers realising how naturally great coffee can taste without sugar once they give it a go.

“I don’t automatically reach to pour sugar on my apple, and – as a fruit – I feel coffee should be treated the same.”