The 10 Coffee Tools I Bought After Working as a Barista for 21 Years

published Oct 6, 2021
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Espresso dripping from stainless steel portafilter into coffee cup
Credit: Getty Images/ Norman Posselt

Making coffee was supposed to be “just a job” when I started working as a barista in college. That was more than 20 years ago — and I very quickly found myself tumbling down the rabbit hole of espresso extraction, single-origin flavor notes, experimental processing at the farm level, and, yes, latte art. (My photo albums from the years between 2004 and 2012 have more pictures of rosettas than relatives.)

Coffee very quickly became my world, and it wasn’t long before I started taking my work home with me, wanting to perfect the art of the perfect cup in my own kitchen. Now I’m a coffee educator, journalist, consultant, and author — and I do still make a very artsy latte.

Thanks to everything I learned working behind the counter — and, later on, in various coffee-industry jobs at other points in the supply chain — I’ve developed a pretty sweet coffee setup at home. Here are 10 coffee tools I bought based on my days as a barista.

1. American Weighs SC Series Precision Digital Kitchen Weight Scale

Precision is everything when it comes to making a fantastic brew. I threw out every “coffee scoop” in the house and started using weight instead of tablespoons. And this pocket-sized scale is my favorite tool for weighing beans or grounds, as well as water when making a pour-over.

Note: While you can get by with a cheaper scale, you need one that weighs down to the 0.1 of a gram, as even just five or six coffee beans can make a big difference to the brew’s final flavor. 

2. OXO Conical Burr Grinder

Most professional baristas will tell you that your grinder is the most important tool in your caffeine toolbox. Without the right grind size and a consistent grind, even the most expensive brewer on the market won’t be able to make your coffee taste great. A burr grinder is a far better investment than a whirly-bird blade or spice grinder because the burrs give you the ability to adjust the particle size minutely and accurately, offering versatility if you want to switch from, say, a French press to an AeroPress (coarse vs. fine grind). I love my OXO Conical Burr Grinder because it has a small footprint, is relatively quiet (which is saying a lot for a coffee grinder), and is incredibly durable (I’ve had mine for years) — especially considering its approachable price point.

3. Full Circle Mini Dustpan Set

I’m usually in a rush when I’m making coffee — it’s an old habit, working fast to try to take care of a line of customers — which means I’m prone to spilling and knocking things over. I learned the hard way that it’s much easier to sweep up grounds than it is to wipe them away with a sponge or paper towel. Which is why I always keep a mini dustpan near my coffee-brewing station!

4. Kalita Wave 185 Dripper

I like a coffee maker, but I love the connection that brewing manually gives me to coffee. It offers me three minutes of meditation, peace, anticipation, and that wonderful coffee aroma. The Kalita Wave has been my favorite brewer for about a decade now: Its flat-bottom design keeps the coffee grounds level under a pool of brewing water, which creates an even extraction even if I’m too sleepy to pay close attention. The metal dripper is also nearly impossible to break, and simple to clean. And the proprietary, wave-shaped filters are relatively easy to find both online and in specialty coffee shops that sell brewing gear. 

5. Hario Gooseneck ‘Buono’ Stovetop Kettle

This is the classic gooseneck pour-over kettle, with a beehive body and perfectly angled precision spout. While using a gooseneck kettle isn’t a necessity, it does offer a lot more control over water flow when making pour-over coffee. This Hario kettle has been on my stovetop for years now — a reliable old friend that’s ideal when working with a Chemex, Kalita, or an AeroPress.

6. Umeshiso Cupping Spoon

When I started tasting coffee professionally (what we call “cupping”), I realized the importance of having the perfect spoon for the job. Cupping coffee requires you to spoon an appropriate amount of liquid into your mouth, but also that you aspirate it across your palate in order to taste it fully (just like a wine taster might vigorously slurp a merlot to evaluate its flavor notes and acidity). The perfect coffee tasting spoon does exist, and in a collection of very chic colors, no less. Umeshiso spoons have the right weight, a fantastic depth, and the ideal shape for the job: They’re the only cupping spoons I use these days. 

7. The World Atlas of Coffee

If you only have one book in your coffee library, it should be mine. Just kidding! You need two books: mine, and this bean-to-barista resource written by former World Barista Champion and coffee YouTube sensation James Hoffmann, cofounder of Square Mile Coffee in London. Hoffmann is not only an insatiably curious coffee professional and a true coffee geek, but has an approachable, entertaining, and encouraging voice when explaining topics like how coffee extraction works or what makes beans from separate regions in Colombia taste different from one another. This is my go-to reference book when I have a question about a coffee-growing region, and I recommend it to everyone who is looking to learn more. 

8. The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel Poster

As soon as I started tasting coffee seriously, I realized my lexicon of flavor descriptors was seriously lacking. Doesn’t all coffee taste like … coffee? The Specialty Coffee Association developed the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel in the 1990s to help guide more accurate sensory analysis conversations, and the Wheel’s most recent update in 2016 offers an at-a-glance library of the kinds of “notes” you might find in a cup of fine Arabica coffee. When I’m stuck for a descriptor, I turn to the wheel and can more quickly discern whether what I’m tasting is white grape, peach, or jasmine. 

9. KeepCup Brew Cork Reusable Glass Cup

Once I switched to really high-quality coffee, I realized I would need to upgrade my to-go mug collection, too. Most insulated or vacuum-sealed travel mugs keep coffee too hot for too long, that by the time it’s cooled down enough to drink, it’s already started to lose its flavor, and I prefer to bring a reusable cup with me rather than waste more paper or plastic. I also needed one that would be easy to clean, because coffee oils can really cling to stainless steel after continuous use. (Have you ever smelled the inside of your travel mugs, even after a vigorous cleaning? Oof, talk about the ghost of dark roasts past.) The KeepCup became my favorite travel buddy when I bought my first latte-sized version at a trade show in 2009. And all these years later it’s still going strong, and I’ll take the feel of the cork band over a paper cup sleeve any day.

10. Milliard Citric Acid

Cleanliness is key when it comes to coffee brewing, and I love to keep a pound of pure citric acid powder around to descale my kettles and remove coffee oils from stainless steel equipment. This odorless, tasteless, food-safe substance is the main active ingredient in commercial espresso-machine cleaning powder. I like a concentrated solution for tough jobs like removing coffee oil from my Kalita Wave, and a more diluted version for things like cleaning the water reservoir on an auto-drip machine or the inside of my Hario kettle. A little soak and a few minutes of light scrubbing always does the trick!

Related: What Is Coffee Descaler and How Often Do You Need to Use It?

Do you have any of these? Tell us about it in the comments!