The Only Tools You Need to Make Great Coffee

The Only Tools You Need to Make Great Coffee

Espresso is our first and only love. It’s our muse, our reason for living. Clive’s enduring central mission is guiding budding home baristas, hobbyists, and anyone interested in espresso to build an espresso setup with honest and rigorous expertise. Being there for you when you need help dialing in and pulling better shots is our passion. There's so much coffee gear out there that it’s difficult to know what you need to make espresso successfully. As a hobby, home espresso has been gaining more and more popularity over the last several years, attracting a lot of gearheads and gadget-obsessed enthusiasts, and while we’re not going to yuck anyone’s yum, we really want to cut through all of the noise and get back to the basics of what’s absolutely essential in making great espresso.

Below, we will go over the gear you absolutely need to make great espresso, splurge items that are fun but may not be necessary for you, and some unheralded accessories that should be part of every espresso bar. Remember, making espresso is fun and it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. What ultimately matters most is what works and tastes good for you. Don't let excess of choice make you anxious or be an albatross around your portafilter! 

The Gear You 100% Need 

Some of these items may seem painfully obvious to you already. Still, they all bear mentioning because they’re either the foundation or extremely essential in getting the best espresso possible from your machine. These are the things you can’t live without. 

Grinding coffee on a LUCCAQ Atom 75 espresso grinder lifestyle by clive coffee

If you're into home espresso, then by now, you know that you need a burr grinder and not a blade grinder in order to be successfully grind coffee beans with a consistent grind size. Ideally, the grinder will have stepless adjustment for more adept fine-tuning, an intuitive design logic, and a decent burr size and motor size for grinding consistency. Things not necessary for making great espresso exist purely for conveniences, like grind-by-weight, noise-dampening, and low grind retention—although those features are excellent. 

Ideally, we're using coffee brewed for espresso 7-14 days off the coffee bag's printed roast date. The more information on the coffee bag, the better. Not as significant is how much the coffee costs. Expensive coffees don't always mean they are well-sourced or well-roasted; most importantly, they must appeal to your palate. If it doesn't taste good to you, then try a different coffee. Also, remember that any coffee can be brewed for espresso, so there is no need to seek out espresso beans specifically. In the Clive office, we use Kickstep by Portland roaster The Great North

A good tamper is the equivalent of your favorite chef's knife—a multi-purpose utility honed and ready for any job. We want the tamper to feel good in the hand, have a nice balance, and, most importantly, have a snug fit. An end-to-end fit will help with tamping consistency and even extraction, so seek out sizes like 58.3, 58.5, and 58.55, respectively. Not as necessary are spring-loaded tampers, automatic tampers, or tampers that spin. 

Weighing a shot on an espresso scale lifestyle by Clive Coffee

We've spilled a lot of ink on this espresso essential. Here's why you need a scale. Think of the scale as your compass, helping you construct a recipe and how to troubleshoot extraction issues quickly. The most important thing you need is to have a scale small enough to fit on a drip tray that can weigh at least accurately within .5 grams. It is even better if it is water resistant and can weigh within a tenth of a gram. Extra modes like auto start and tare are typically unnecessary for making great espresso. 

  • Portafilter baskets

In "Portafilter Baskets—Do They Matter?,"we argue that aftermarket baskets like VST, IMS, and Pullman are a boon to home baristas because they are machined with precision and offer more shot consistency, resulting in more even extractions as opposed to stamped OEM baskets. 

Splurge Accessories

Full disclosure: we love most of the accessories in this category, but are they necessary to pull great espresso? Probably not. 

  • Distribution tools
WDT tool distributing coffee in a portafilter lifestyle by clive coffee

We’ve all seen the sleek, aesthetic Instagram and TikTok reels of home baristas using a $2000 grinder, but with 1000 steps in their puck prep, using tools that often total hundreds of dollars, but for a net of what? Tools like the SWORKS WDT  are beneficial if your grinder isn't very good or it produces grounds in clumps and boulders. The SAI Wedge distribution tool can be useful if you have multiple people at varying levels of experience using the same espresso setup. We recommend investing more in the grinder, so these extras are not needed. 

  • Bottomless portafilters
shot pulling with a bottomless portafilter bottom view lifestyle by clive coffee

Simply put, bottomless portafilters are great, especially if you need to push your extraction to larger brew ratios or if you need a basket to fit more coffee than single and double baskets. Because of this, they're more versatile than single—and double-spouted portafilters. But do you get better-tasting coffee from a bottomless portafilter, or is it inherently better than other types? The short answer is no. It's great as a diagnostic tool sometimes, but it's not necessary to make great espresso. 

  • Other tamping adjacent accessories 

Tools like the the tamping station, tamping mat, puck screen, and dosing funnels can all be lumped into the same category. They all have utility and can be necessary for cleanliness, for example, but are not necessary for making great espresso. Puck screens get negative points for potentially making for espresso workflow more frustrating and messy. 

The Underrated 

These represent the accessories that are unsung but are more helpful than they appear. These should be considered for everyones bar. 

It's always nice to not have to fish your portafilter basket out of a trash can. A knock box offers an easy and sanitaty way. If you're strapped for counter space, get a small one! 

RDT is simple. Fill a small spray bottle with water and give your coffee beans a spritz. This is especially helpful to reduce static electricity from single-dosing grinders. Spray the beans with one or two spritzes and shake or mix the beans before grinding. 

  • Brushes and towels 

Cleaning your mise en place is key to maintaining a happy and healthy espresso bar. You can never have enough microfiber towels handy. We like to keep one for keeping the machine spotless and another for keeping the steam wand clean. The Pallo Grindminder Brush is the best brush we have ever used. If these two items are not already on your bar, get them now!

  • Fancy milk steaming pitchers
Pouring Latte Art lifestyle by clive coffee

You're making espresso at home already, so treat yourself to the pitcher that has the ergonomic handle, different shaped spouts, and internal volume markings. The Fellow Eddy ticks all the boxes. 

One of the best things about making espresso at home that you're  both barista and consumer; you're in full control over your espresso bar and the tools you use, so you ultimately get to decide which tools work best for your setup. In the end all that should matter is if your espresso tastes great. Cheers!