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Best coffee maker? TikTok hacks? Wet or dry process? A Bay Area java expert weighs in

Devorah Freudiger, director of coffee culture at Equator, pours a latte at one of the local chain's San Francisco cafes. | Courtesy Equator Coffees

San Francisco Coffee Week is right around the corner, and coffee lovers are marking the occasion the best way they know how—by getting highly caffeinated. This weekend, industry insiders and enthusiasts meet up at Fort Mason Center for the sixth annual San Francisco Coffee Festival.

Part industry expo, part food festival, the two-day event will have specialty roasters and baristas on their grindset at Fort Mason, passing out samples and hosting cupping sessions. Now that third-wave coffee culture has transcended the bean, local startups like the Chaga Company and Minus Coffee blend in with old guard roasters, introducing innovative alternatives like chaga mushroom and beanless coffee that attempt to confront environmental and human rights issues that plague the industry. 

The festival will also host a series of “coffee convos.” One of the featured speakers, Devorah Freudiger is the director of coffee culture at Equator. She’ll share her company’s approach to sustainability in a panel called “Mission Control: Coffee With a Purpose.” A Bay Area chain that was founded in a garage in Marin, Equator now partners with a Nicaraguan cooperative called Sacaclí to produce regenerative organic coffee, the first certification to address animal welfare issues, ecosystem restoration and labor conditions on farms.

In a city like San Francisco, where a $75 cup of coffee shattered a world record in 2019, and as Starbucks menu hacks continue to spread like wildfire on TikTok, The Standard turned to Freudiger to tamp down on the hype and demystify the perfect home brew.

A barista from Equator Coffees serves a cup of black coffee from a Chemex pour-over glass in San Francisco. | Courtesy Equator Coffees

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Take us through your favorite way to make coffee at home. 

Freudiger: As someone who has worked in coffee for 20 years, I've actually become all about convenience in the morning. My first cup is from a large pot my husband and I take turns brewing for each other. He works in coffee, too, and if I'm honest, he brews it 75% of the time. We have a Baratza Encore grinder and a Breville Precision brewer, and that is a consistently good first cup every morning. I also have all sorts of single cup cones to use. I love the Origami dripper. It brews a great cup, and it's beautiful. I have a pink one so it makes me smile just putting it on a cup!

What do you prefer, wet-process or dry-process coffee? 

Freudiger: This is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child! Impossible! This depends on the time of day and my mood, how I'm brewing and how much coffee I've already had. I generally like to start my day with very mild and "clean" tasting coffee. So a very mellow washed coffee. But in the afternoon, I'm all about acidity! This is when I want dry-processed coffee, or some funky fermentation style or unique variety. Malic or citric acid notes, brewed hot or iced, floral or berry-like, I like it all when I want a flavorful and bright coffee. 

Best coffee maker?

Freudiger: Again! Too hard to choose! If you want a coffee machine, Breville is doing great things! Their precision brewer makes the best drip at home, and their home espresso machines are great. 

For pour over, I would recommend a Fellow kettle for a consistent pour with an Origami dripper (although I do have a Kalita and a V60 in my cupboard also!). Clever is great if you want something easy. AeroPress can't be beat for speed and portability; I bring mine on every trip I take. 

Coffee is so personal, I think folks need to lean in to what works for them. When I'm recommending a brewer to someone I need to know what matters to them. Speed, ease of use, beauty on their countertop, amount they drink—all of these are valid reasons to choose one brewer over another. We can dial in the specifics and get them to a great cup. I always like to note that, however, using fresh beans and grinding right before you brew will make any method better. 

Most overrated coffee maker? 

Freudiger: Keurig or other "pod brewers.” I know folks love the convenience and that you make one cup at a time, but this is where I draw the line. You cannot get good coffee out of a pre-ground small dose that was roasted months and months ago and has been sitting in a plastic pod. Not to mention that these plastic pods are an incredible waste. Coffee and paper filters are compostable. We have managed to add plastic to something zero waste! Ditch the pods, people! 

Natural & Experimental Processed Coffees

Freudiger: I love the experimentation happening on so many coffee farms right now. I know that fruity or wine-like flavors are not what everyone is looking for in a cup of coffee, but it's so good to folks who like it. I like that some coffee growers are continuing to diversify their offerings and are pushing the limits of flavors. It might not become a mainstream part of the market, but it's an exciting demographic of coffee lovers. 

Craft Coffee Cocktails

Freudiger: This makes sense to me as consumer tastes in coffee continue to refine. There's plenty of options for "milkshake" coffees out there. Specialty roasters should have specialty crafted coffee drinks. It's like the difference between a margarita from an Icee machine, and a hand-crafted margarita made with fresh squeezed lime juice. Both are margaritas, and both have customers who want to drink them. It's just a different experience. 

The Pour Over Revival 

Freudiger: I know that pour over takes time, both in training of how to brew and in waiting for your coffee to brew. However, this is the only way you are going to get to taste truly fantastic coffees in a cafe. We always have coffees on our menu that are simply too expensive to brew a gallon at a time, most roasters in the country can say the same. If you want a chance to try a cup of a gesha [an Ethiopian varietal] or pacamara [from El Salvador], or explore a different type of fermentation, you need to pay for and wait for a pour over. Remember, most coffee bought and sold is undervalued. That batch brew should be more than three bucks, but consumer trends haven't caught up. If you want to really taste how good coffee can be, and also support innovation on the farm level, you could be paying over $5, and it should be brewed one cup at a time.  

Vietnamese Egg Coffee 

Freudiger: I haven't tried this. I generally don't like the texture of drinks with raw eggs. I've tried many cocktails to see if i can get over this aversion, and I haven't been able to. I love strong Vietnamese iced coffee, especially with sweetened condensed milk! So I can imagine this recipe is good, just not for me. 

Coffee in a Can 

Freudiger: I'm amazed it's taken so long for this trend to catch on! Coffee in a can is convenient and can be good! And aluminum is actually recyclable. Often, you see sweet options for these ready-to-drink products, because the process of making these cans shelf-stable degrades the coffee. It's nice to see some specialty roasters doing a cold-chain version of this product and actually having a tasty black coffee in a can. We have one!  

What are your knee-jerk reactions to these at-home TikTok hacks?

Whipped Dalgona Coffee

Freudiger: Really fun and tasty! But it takes way longer than you think. I've done it. You are not going to be whipping coffee daily. Once a year to impress your friends or treat yourself? Sure! 

Cold Brew Ice Cubes  

Freudiger: Freezing coffee is chemically fine as long as it's done quickly and in a controlled environment. I do like Cometeer coffee (yes, a pod, but it's recyclable, not plastic). They rapidly freeze concentrated coffee that you can keep in your freezer or fridge to have one cup at a time. My worry is about freezing coffee at home and the content of most people's freezers. It takes a long time to freeze liquid in a noncommercial environment, and coffee is going to absorb odors from your freezer. I think if I froze coffee in my freezer it would taste like Dino-Nuggets and peas. 

Proffee, or Protein Shakes with Coffee

Freudiger: Too functional for me. I want to taste and enjoy my coffee. Coffee is such a pleasure by itself, I don't want to adulterate my coffee.  

Cold Brew Ice Cream

Freudiger: Yes. Any coffee ice cream or dessert I'm a fan of. I have different things I'm looking for with morning coffee vs. afternoon. If I ever have coffee in the evening it's as a dessert. A concentrated cold brew in an ice cream makes sense to me, but you can also add grounds to your milk/eggs mixture to make your ice cream (or frozen custard) with. Cold brew floats are also delicious! Cold brew with a scoop of vanilla or chocolate. Yes to every coffee-ice cream combo!

San Francisco Coffee Festival

Fort Mason Center | 2 Marina Blvd., Suite 260
9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. | $25