Your New Year's resolutions -- or the tanking economy -- may have eliminated your daily $2 to $5 beverage from the local coffee shop. That doesn't mean you have to go without.
With the proper equipment and some basic barista skills, you can brew a latte or cappuccino that's every bit as good as the specialty drink you enjoy from the Starbucks (SBUX) (Stock Quote: SBUX) or Dunkin' Donuts down the street. But before you begin brewing, you'll need to equip your kitchen with a few essential items.
Making any coffee drink requires a coffee grinder, a brewing device, coffee beans and water. The higher the quality of these items, the better your coffee will taste.
(SBUX) Coffee beans begin losing their flavor as soon as they are ground, so avoid buying pre-ground coffee. Steel-blade coffee grinders can be found for less than $30, but it's worth paying more for a grinder that uses steel plates called burrs to crush the beans.
Burr grinders will produce a more even grind, preventing overly bitter or gritty coffee. Capresso's Infinity Conical Burr Grinder retails for about $90.
If you prefer regular coffee to specialty espresso drinks, a well-designed automatic drip machine can brew a great cup.
Automatic drip is the standard brewing method in most homes. These machines are easy to use and simple to clean, but many models don't heat water to the high temperature needed in order to brew excellent coffee. Moreover, they usually use hot plates to heat the coffee after it's brewed, a method that can cause the coffee to turn bitter.
To experience the full flavor of the coffee you're brewing, use a French press. This method, which involves soaking the grounds directly in hot water, produces a smooth cup of coffee that's rich with the beans' oils.
If it's mochas, lattes and other fancy coffee drinks you're after, you'll need an espresso machine. Before shopping, decide how much you want to spend and how much counter space you can give up. Espresso-making devices can cost anywhere from $20 to several thousand dollars and range from teapot-size to refrigerator-size.
Or buy a stovetop espresso maker, such as the Bialetti 4-Cup Brikka Coffeemaker ($59). With a milk frother from Bodum or Aerolatte ($12-$30) you can froth up a glass of warm milk for lattes or cappuccinos.