I'm a Nespresso guy, and I'm trying to make a latte that's as good as Starbucks. It's not going well.

Coffee dripper and filters
I'm learning to make coffee. This is my new pour-over rig.Henry Blodget / Business Insider
  • I love my Nespresso machine, but it makes me sad to throw all those pods away.

  • Also, my coffee-snoot friends tell me Nespresso sucks.

  • So I'm learning to make real coffee!

I'm late to the coffee game.

After drinking tea most of my life, I didn't have a coffee until I was late in my fifth decade.

But then I had one. And now I'm hooked. Now my craving has intensified to where, each evening, I get stoked about the next morning, when I can press the Nespresso button and get my fix.

I love the simplicity and speed of my Nespresso machine. And the coffee tastes pretty good! But the pods are startlingly expensive. And it's a bummer to dump the used pods in the recycling bin.

Nespresso machine and coffee pods.
My marvelous Nespresso machine. And pods.Henry Blodget / Business Insider

Also, my friends who are coffee snoots turn up their noses at Nespresso. These friends have "real" coffee machines, obsess about the freshness and origin of beans, and do things like measure water temperature to the degree and water-to-grounds ratios to the milli-liter.

These friends also, of course, declare that the coffee served at popular chains like Starbucks is, well, swill.

So imagine my surprise when, separated from my Nespresso machine by a trip, I got a Starbucks latte and found it… delicious. Way better than my Nespressos.

Suddenly, I understood why people become coffee snoots!

If I became a coffee snoot, I thought, maybe I could make coffee that tasted as good as Starbucks. And maybe I could reduce my environmental footprint by weaning myself from those pods.

So I decided to try!

I'm now a few weeks into my coffee-snoot education.

The first week, I confess, did not go well.

It went so not well, in fact, that my kids don't want me to tell you about it for fear that I will humiliate myself. And them.

But, in the interests of maybe saving you from my mistakes, I'll tell you about it anyway.

My first week as a coffee snoot

One of the keys to learning a new skill is being honest with yourself about how much time, care, and effort you are willing to put into it.

And as I read the (voluminous) literature about how to be a coffee snoot, I realized that there is a good reason that I love my Nespresso machine (convenience) and that, at best, I am going to make it to the coffee-snoot Little Leagues.

I am never going to weigh my grounds to the gram, for example. Or measure my water temperature to the degree. Or roast my own beans. Or only use beans that have been grown in the shade. Or use only expensive, special-order white filters because the cheap, brown super-market ones affect the taste. Etc.

I'm also never going to drop $8,000 on an espresso machine, especially one I have to clean every day.

So I set what seemed like a modest goal for my coffee-snootiness:

Make a latte that tastes as good as a Starbucks.

A friend recommended I start with "the pour-over method." It seemed easy enough. So, I did.

I studied the literature, learned about the best pour-over equipment, and ordered it. Then I ventured into a nearby Stumptown roastery, inspected a wall-full of beans, and — clueless — selected a bag marked "staff pick."

Ethiopian coffee beans and grinder
My neighborhood Stumptown coffee-bean "staff pick." Also, a propeller grinder (sub-optimal, I gather).Henry Blodget / Business Insider

And then, the next morning, I made coffee!

It looked and smelled good!

Alas, it did not taste as good as a Starbucks latte.

It didn't even taste as good as my usual Nespressos.

It was fancy and sophisticated, I suppose. But thin.

Disappointed, I consulted a coffee-snoot friend.

  • Perhaps I had used the wrong grinder? (I inherited one of the ones with a little propeller blade, not a "burr grinder," and not using a burr grinder, I gather, is a sin).

  • Perhaps I had used the wrong beans? (Ethiopia? Do they grow good coffee there?)

  • Perhaps I hadn't used enough beans? (Maybe the two tablespoons recommended in some of the literature wasn't enough?)

  • Perhaps I should have steamed my milk instead of frothing it in one of those whirly things?

My coffee-snoot friend allowed that all of those theories — and many more — might have merit. She suggested that I keep experimenting.

But she also added this:

"You do know that lattes are made with espresso and that espresso and drip-coffee are different drinks?"

Did I know that?

Yes, um, I knew that. I think.

But did it really matter that much?

Well, yes, my coffee-snoot friend said. They're different.

And then she explained the difference — water vs. steam, drip vs. pressure, Italy vs. France, night vs. day, etc.

And, while my friend explained, I realized that the main problem I was having in trying to make a latte as good as Starbucks using "the pour-over method" was that I was basically trying to make a pie with a cake recipe.

You probably saw that one coming.

Yes, I feel like a moron.

But, hey, I like to think it's not failure if you learn something!

And I will tell you that, 10 days later, I have learned how to make pretty darn yummy pour-over coffee. Also, I'm now venturing into the land of espresso!

So, stay tuned for further episodes!

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