It sometimes feels like there are two types of coffee drinkers in this world. The connoisseurs (snobs to some), and the casual drinkers (ignoramuses to some). Here’s how to chart a middle path – and enjoy coffee without having to take it too seriously.

My coffee drinking journey started off firmly in the casual drinker column. I enjoyed coffee from a jar marked ‘Instant’, and adulterated with plenty of sugar and milk.

That changed following a visit to a coffee plantation, where I learnt about the different varieties and got the chance to taste the freshest, most delicious coffee I’ve ever had. I veered unashamedly into the connoisseur column, and sought to deepen my knowledge of the black gold and find ever more complicated brewing methods.

Yet I found the coffee world intimidating in its purity and dedication to perfection. I still – secretly – enjoyed a sweet and milky coffee milkshake from the big coffee chains.

So here’s my guide to enjoying coffee’s guilty pleasures while also giving this roasted bean the respect it deserves.

DON’T drink instant. It’s made from the cheaper Robusta beans which tend to have a bitter, even burnt, flavour. That’s why it tastes good only once sugar and milk is heaped in. It also contains higher levels of a potentially harmful chemical, acrylamide. The promise of ‘instant’ coffee is also oversold, as other brewing methods can be pretty quick (see below).


A guilty pleasure – there’s coffee in there, somewhere. / © Unsplash

DO drink any other type of coffee. Most coffee served in cafés is made with the generally sweeter and smoother Arabica beans. Yet depending on where and how they’re grown, Arabica can have a wide range of different flavours. It’s often chocolatey or caramelly, but can also be more acidic and taste closer to fruits or berries. Two rarer varieties are Liberica and Excelsa – the first has a woody taste, while the second is quite tart.

DO try out different brewing methods. An easy replacement for instant is to get yourself a cafetière (also known as French Press). I find a ‘3-cup’ one is perfect for individual use in the office. You’re supposed to leave it to brew for four minutes, which can feel like an age after you’ve got used to instant. But if you’re impatient, try using a bit more coffee than normal and give it a good stir to get that caffeine hit quicker.

Quicker methods include the AeroPress, an ingenious contraption that uses a sealed chamber to force coffee through a filter. As well as its ‘California cool’ associations (it’s partly made in the Golden State), the AeroPress has the benefit of taking as little as 60 seconds to prepare. Pretty close to instant.


The v60 dripper in action. / © Unsplash

Another easy method is the v60 dripper (a.k.a. Hario v60). This is essentially a manual way to make filter coffee. It’s a simple V-shaped cone, made from plastic, glass, or ceramic, to which you add a filter paper. Spoon in some coffee and pour over hot water, and the brewed coffee then drips into your cup. It’s another quick, easy method of making great-tasting coffee.

DON’T go overboard on the brewing methods. There’s no need to buy a coffee capsule machine (think Nespresso) when a simple device like one of the above can still make a decent cup. And there’s certainly no need to get your own espresso machine at home unless you’re really dedicated. For a start, they’re a pain to clean. And with great espresso available at many independent cafes, it’s also a waste of time and money.


Make use of your local, independent coffee house. / © Unsplash

On that note, DO enjoy a coffee when you’re out and about. Your local café is best, as then you’re supporting neighbourhood commerce and community. But, as I mentioned above, DON’T feel too bad about the odd guilty pleasure from a big coffee chain. That includes all the weird and wonderful sugary concoctions with a side of coffee – a spiced pumpkin latte is a wonder to behold (I’m not so sure about the unicorn latte, though…)

When buying coffee to make at home or in the office, DO experiment with different brands. I recommend buying the coffee already ground. If you want the freshest coffee, grinding the beans yourself is better. But this article is about charting a middle way between practicality and purity – and pre-ground coffee tastes good enough for most people, most of the time.


Coffee roasting takes some real expertise. / © Unsplash

DON’T even think about roasting your own beans – unless you’re happy to spend a fortune on equipment and energy bills.

DON’T go for the cheapest coffee. There’s a rule of thumb with wine that while the cheapest bottles are no good, the most expensive ones cost too much compared to the extra quality you get. If you’re not a sommelier, the middle-priced ones are the best bet. So too with coffee – go for coffee which isn’t bargain-basement cheap, but nor is it eye-wateringly expensive. That way you’re more likely to get better quality without paying over the odds.

DO check the label. The fresher the coffee, the tastier. And nothing beats that fresh coffee smell - as all Apocalypse Now fans should know (just replace ‘napalm’ with ‘coffee’). If there’s a little green frog symbol, that tells you the coffee is Rainforest Alliance certified, which is supposed to help with sustainable agriculture. Organic coffee has higher environmental standards, such as a ban on synthetic pesticide use, while the Fairtrade label indicates a higher price has been paid to the primary producer.

And, last but not least, DO put your feet up and enjoy a brew of the black stuff. With cow milk, plant milk, sugar, black, espresso, filter, flat white, whatever (just not instant!) – nothing beats a good cup of coffee.