People always ask me how they can make great coffee.
I’ve never had a good universal answer. The real answer is to get an expensive grinder1 and an inexpensive AeroPress, then brew freshly roasted beans and drink it black.
Anyone with enough money can buy the equipment, but most people don’t have a good source of freshly roasted beans. Very few people live within a convenient distance of a coffee roaster, and even for those who do, the nearest roaster might not be particularly good: it might roast poor-quality beans, or it might roast them much too light or dark for your taste.
I solved this problem by home-roasting. But home-roasting is impractical, time-consuming, and fussy. If you’re asking yourself whether you should home-roast, the answer is definitely “No.” (I shouldn’t, either, but I do it anyway.)2
I wasn’t able to roast for a few months during a recent home renovation, so I signed up for Tonx, a coffee subscription service. The deal is simple: every two weeks, they mail a 12-ounce bag of freshly roasted coffee to you for $19. (It’s billed at $38 every 4 weeks, so it’s effectively $19 per bag.)
As coffee goes, this is very expensive. But for high-quality, freshly roasted, mail-ordered coffee, it’s competitive: ordering a similar 12-ounce bag from Stumptown runs about $23 after shipping.
No good mail-order service will compare well to buying it locally: Tonx is effectively $25.33 per pound, while I’ve rarely seen beans at local roasters priced above $16 per pound. But even “expensive” coffee isn’t completely out of reach: if you use 15 grams of beans per cup, a cup brewed with Tonx beans only costs about $0.84. By comparison, $16-per-pound local coffee is about $0.53 per 15-gram cup. We’re not talking about a lot of money either way.
Since I signed up on February 1, Tonx has been very consistent: they’ve sent very good coffees reliably every two weeks, and I usually get them about 3 days after they’ve been roasted, since they’re sent via Priority Mail from Los Angeles.
This is close to ideal. Coffee actually doesn’t taste very good right after it’s been roasted — the full flavor takes 2–3 days to develop.3
While every Tonx coffee has been very good so far, none of their picks have blown me away. This might be because they roast a bit too light for my taste:
Left to right: A local roaster, Tonx, my home-roast. Tap to enlarge.
I’m not qualified to tell you exactly what roast level they use, but my home-roast above is between City and Full City.4 Maybe their roasts are a fairly light City. Regardless, I like it a bit darker, but I think most coffee nerds would be very pleased with their roasts.
Their customer service is excellent: my first shipment got misrouted by the USPS and was going to be almost a week late, so they sent me another one, expedited, at no additional cost. That was the only issue I’ve had to date, and they handled it extremely well.
Tonx is a great option if you want great coffee delivered to your house without having to think about it.
Now, I have a great universal answer whenever anyone asks me how to make great coffee: Get a burr grinder, get an AeroPress, and subscribe to Tonx.5
A lot of people have asked me about manual hand-crank burr grinders. I have the Hario MSS-1B for occasional travel use, and it’s acceptable for a coarse or medium grind (although people nearby will make fun of you). But it takes far too long and far too much cranking to achieve a fine grind, and since the AeroPress is best with a fine grind, I don’t recommend using a manual grinder with it. ↩
If you decide to home-roast, well… you really shouldn’t. But if you decide to do it anyway, get the Behmor. Roast under a window and put a good box fan on the sill, blowing out. Open a window on the other side of the room for intake. ↩
I once imagined inventing a truly all-in-one coffee machine that would roast, grind, and brew the beans freshly for each cup. The flavor-development delay after roasting is one of many reasons why such a machine should never exist. I have many terrible ideas. ↩
Normally I roast to Full City, sometimes just before Vienna, but that would be a poor choice for a fine Kona. ↩
You can even save some money on a great grinder if you buy it via Tonx after you subscribe. See the “Tonx Perks” section in your account’s control panel. They ask that people keep this relatively quiet, so it’s in a footnote. Nobody reads footnotes. ↩