Back to school season is in session at college campuses across North America, bringing with it a flock of young, impressionable, born-in-the-90’s Freshmen who are living it up on their own for the very first time. Caffeine and college go hand in hand, but take it from us: No-Doze is a poor substitute for a delicious cup of coffee. That’s why we’ve put together this back to school guide for the best in dorm room coffee setups. We believe that you shouldn’t be held at the mercy of your hallmate’s communal Mr. Coffee, and with our help, you can rise above the bottom of that all-night IHOP diner mug.
From the lowly three bunk dorm cluster to the nicest Manhattan boutique cafe, each and every coffee service is beholden to four factors: Brew method, grind, hot water, and beans. Making great coffee at home can become an endless rabbit hole of intense geekery, but it doesn’t have to, and anyway, you probably ought to be studying that $300 Econ text book instead of reading internet coffee forums. Here’s our collegiate advice for the newly be-dormed, because if we’re going to ruin this country with our college loan debt, we may as well sip on something nice in the process.
Headed off to college? Our guide to your new favorite local roaster is available here in a companion piece.
The Aerorpress – it’s a handy brewing device that doesn’t require a bunch of tools. You don’t need a fancy kettle, just hot water. You don’t even need a pack of filters; opt instead for a reusable stainless steel filter from Portland’s own Able Brewing. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, it’s pretty forgiving, cleans up easy. $40 for Aeropress and DISK steel filter from Able Brewing.
The Chemex – perfect for hosting a group of people in the communal study lounge, the Chemex is a decades-old glass coffee vessel enjoying a recent resurgence amongst specialty coffee conoisseurs. A 6-cup Chemex doubles as a fine wine aerator, or you can use it to mix a batch of dorm room mojitos (not that we condone underage collegiate drinking). $40 for the handsome Wood Collar edition via Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea.
Electric kettle – there are a ton of hot water heating options, from the plastic and clunky to the exotically overpriced. We like the Bonavita electric kettle, perfect for hand pouring delicious coffees AND heating up a Cup O Noodles, with an attractive price point that’s made it an at-home favorite for the specialty coffee set. The folks at Clive Coffee have a standard model for $49.99 and a variable temperature model for $89.99.
Filtration – depending on where college takes you, plain old tap water might be ruining your otherwise-exemplary home brew. Cafes spend thousands on precise water filtration systems and softeners, but you’ll be fine with a plain-old $12 Brita pitcher.
Porlex “Mini” Hand Grinder – sleek, precise, and approved by The New York Times: there’s much to recommend about the Porlex “Mini” grinder, not least of which being it will actually fit inside the chamber of your Aeropress brewer. Plus it’s damn cool looking. $70 from Sweet Maria’s, a website whose archives may distract you from your readings for HIST 302: Narratives Of The Tokugawa.
Baratza “Virtuoso” Conical Grinder – if you don’t want to spend a few minutes manually milling your beans, the Virtuoso is a perfect microwave/hot pot/mini fridge companion. Expect a consistent grind and no risk of RST. $229 from EspressoParts.
ADE Pocket Scale, “Graduation” Model – If you’re gonna grind some beans, first you gotta weigh them. A small pocket scale is a must-have for any coffee kit, and the ADE “Graduation” is a small as they come. Plus they’re quite precise and the battery lasts for a really long time. $41.75 from Espresso Parts.
We are currently living in the golden age of fine specialty coffees. Never before in human history have there been more excellent boutique roasters, more producers pushing quality at origin, or more traceability to help you connect the dots between the two. Whom you buy from to brew matters, in a thousand tangible and intangible ways, and there’s a gleeful kind of gluttony in selecting from the bumpercrop. But where to start?
We humbly suggest you begin with our roster of sponsor roasters, all of whom are happy to ship coffee to you, wherever your new academic Valhalla might be. They include Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Counter Culture Coffee, Batdorf and Bronson, Verve Coffee Roasters, Dogwood Coffee Roasters, Equator Coffees, Sightlgass Coffee Roasters, Dallis Bros. Coffee, and Caffe Ladro.
Still unsure which beans to brew? A coffee subscription service might be the way to go. Fortunately for you, many fine coffee roasters offer monthly, bi-monthly, or even weekly coffee subscription services, ensuring that you’ll have fresh coffee waiting for you on the regular at your dorm’s mail center. Counter Culture and Intelligentsia both offer exemplary subscription services, as do Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters, Handsome Coffee Roasters, MadCap Coffee Company, PT’s Coffee Roasting, TONX, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Sweet Maria’s, Four Barrel Coffee Roasters, Craft Coffee, and many more. Prices vary, quality does not, and your dorm hall mail service work-study jockey will be very, very jealous.