I hear a lot of people claim to be a coffee snob in this business, but I find many people are confused as to what makes great coffee. What matters and what does not matter? I thought I would make a minimum equipment guide for a self-proclaimed coffee snob. And remember, its OK to not be a coffee snob and instead just be a coffee lover. All of my suggestions below will help you enjoy coffee more, don't feel like you have to change everything at once.
1. Freshly roasted coffee beans. The coffee you use should be less than two weeks old, after roasting. The ideal flavor and aroma for most coffee is days 3-7 after roasting. So you should have a routine of buying freshly roasted coffee weekly, or at least every other week. If the coffee is more than a week to a week and a half old, it is probably not worth buying because it will be past its prime before you can drink it all. This also means buying smaller quantities is best unless you go through an amazing amount of coffee in a week.
2. Burr-mill coffee grinder. First of all, I am assuming that you coffee snobs buy only whole-bean coffee. Ground coffee starts to noticeably change in aroma and flavor after 15 minutes. The small $10 blade grinders are fine for starting out. But if you want to bring out all of the flavor nuances in a coffee you need a proper burr-mill grinder to get a good even grind. This is important for all brewing methods. Some people say that the French press is forgiving and does not need an even grind but you will notice a marked difference if your coarse French press grind is even. A budget burr-mill grinder will set you back about $40, and a high quality one that will last you much longer starts around $100. Or, if you want a morning workout, Hario makes a great manual burr grinder for $40-50.
3. Coffee brewer. If you want a good auto-drip brewer, get ready to pay a lot for it. But if you have the time for a manual method, then you have a lot of inexpensive options. The most overlooked part of brewing in auto-drip coffee makers is water temperature. The water must be between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit for proper extraction. With a manual method, you boil your own water, so that part is quite easy. The pour-over, French press, and vacuum, are all good manual methods. If you want an auto-drip coffee maker, look at Bunn, Bonavita, and Technivorm as these are all quality brands. You should also study brewing guides for your chosen device making sure that you get the proper water-to-coffee ratio, the right grind, and the best filter. (Of course, there are also espresso machines, but most people aren't willing to dish out the money for a true espresso machine. Those $100-200 espresso makers in the department store are not true espresso machines.)
4. Scale. A good kitchen scale that can measure in grams is very important for getting the right coffee/water ratios. Coffee varies in weight depending on the level of roast (dark-roasted coffee is lighter) so measuring by weight is better than by volume. At the farmer's market, I weight out 20 grams of coffee beans for each order and I use 12-oz of water to make sure every cup is the perfect ratio. They make scales specifically for coffee brewing, but a $10-20 kitchen scale is just fine.
5. Water. Your water should be free of any flavors or aromas and should have a mineral content of around 150 mg/L of total dissolved solids. This may seem fussy but it really affects the flavor. If you don't have much choice, I would go with water that is high in minerals rather than something that is low. Distilled water makes terrible coffee.
There are many other things that can be done to increase the quality of your coffee but if you get all of these basic elements right, your coffee at home should be as good, if not better, than your local coffee shop.