These are optional, not mandatory. Although I live by them if you will.
- Buy local. This goes for a lot of things, and it’s true for coffee beans as well. Buying local beans is not only a means to support local business, it also ensures that your beans are fresh. Buying beans at the supermarket means that they’ve been sitting on the shelves for a while, and they’ve had a long way to get there. If your beans are e.g. from Italy you can pretty much imagine how long it took them to get into your coffee. As a rule of thumb your beans shouldn’t have been roasted more than two weeks ago.
Don’t refrigerate your beans. Whoever told you that’s a good idea is just wrong. You won’t see your coffee shop of choice doing it, so you shouldn’t do it as well. What you should do is keep them in a sealed bag with a valve so you can press out the air every once in a while.
Stay away from coffee machines using coffee pads and capsules. You can imagine how long ago the coffee in them was ground, and how much of the aroma has been lost already. It’s usually okay coffee, but it’s not good coffee. What it definitely is: a rip-off. The prices for capsules and pads are outrageous. Still, people are willing to pay them for the added convenience. In the end, you don’t really get what you paid for. You paid a lot for the pads and capsules, but what you don’t get in return is good coffee.
Foam your milk using the espresso machine’s capabilities. There’s some appliances out there that claim to make steaming and foaming milk easier for you, but the results will never be the same as doing it yourself. There’s a good rule of thumb when you’re steaming the milk. Keep the nozzle close to the surface, and stop foaming when the milk pot feels too hot to hold with your hands. It’s also easy to see how coffee shops feel about foaming the milk. Some will just put the pot under the nozzle and let it steam without supervision, usually ending in milk that’s burnt and too hot. I only go to shops like that once. That also includes Starbucks, at least in Germany.
Pre-warm your cups and glasses. That way your beverage will stay warm longer. Especially important for espresso which (as opposed to filtered coffee) is almost undrinkable all by itself when cold. A good espresso machine has a warm surface area on top just for that purpose. Use it! For instant heatup (or in case your coffee makes doesn’t have a warming surface area) you can also just let a bit of water from the machine (or the tap when push comes to shove) into glasses and cups. Cleans the machine a bit more, and you get a nicely heated cup.
That’s all I can think of really. It’s all these little things that add up to a good coffee. There’ll be more little tips in the future though, not to worry.