Something for everyone
Let's face it: The coffee lover on your list might know their stuff, but you don't know what they already have in their arsenal. No worries! There's an easy solution that's perfect for both novices and experts that you're shopping for.
One of the best coffee decisions I've made is getting fresh beans delivered to me on a regular schedule. I only run out during cold brew season, when I'm using a lot more coffee for both hot and iced beverages. And I could easily fix that by adjusting the frequency. In my experience with Counter Culture and Hatchet, you can get two bags of single-origin beans for around $35, shipping included.
I'm not recommending those roasters per se, even though I've found they deliver consistently good quality and a range of rotating options. You should explore what's available from your recipient's favorite roaster. If they have a local one that's solid, that's probably your best option for the freshest beans. A lot of coffee companies will roast and ship the same day, or at least the day after. Plus, you can choose a frequency that fits their consumption habit. I usually get two bags every two weeks (typically one bag is 12 ounces), but two bags per month also makes a nice gift.
The AeroPress wasn't the answer to my coffee woes while traveling, but it's still a nice piece of brewing gear to have on hand. With its plunger-driven design, the device offers immersion brewing that extracts flavors from the beans without a lot of the bitterness. The end result is a great cup of coffee that tastes much different than if you brewed the same variety with a pour-over or French press.
Besides brewing a smooth, full-flavored cup, another key advantage of the AeroPress is speed. You can make a cup of regular coffee in about two minutes and espresso in about 30 seconds. When I run out of cold brew (or have planned poorly), I like to brew a stronger cup, plunge it over ice and add a splash of milk. All the accoutrements pack up neatly and take up little space, which makes the AeroPress a great gift for aspiring coffee nerds to add to their arsenal.
Plus, it was designed by an engineer who spent much of his career making toys. How's that for holiday spirit?
While any coffee aficionado will go exploring a new city for a solid cup or decent cortado, sometimes their schedule doesn't allow it. You can pretty much always carve out a few minutes in your hotel room to make something good though, and these devices will help the person on your list do just that. It's time to skip the lobby swill.
Pakt Coffee Kit
I tried for years to piece together my own travel kit for work trips, but I wasn't able to solve a key piece of the equation: the kettle. Sure, you can heat water a myriad of ways, but pouring was always the issue. You need precision when trying to brew a pour-over or an AeroPress. Thankfully, Pakt designed an all-in-one solution that makes nearly the perfect travel kit for coffee lovers.
Taking cues from Russian nesting dolls, the grounds container and travel cup fit inside the kettle to save space. The kettle's base and collapsable dripper sit snugly against it in a zippered case about the size of a pair of shoes. The whole setup weighs less than four pounds, so you can easily put it in a carry-on or checked bag. You might get some funny looks from TSA, but after a quick explanation, you'll be on your way.
The two things this kit doesn't have are a grinder and a scale. But I'll be honest: I'll gladly trade a kettle, one with a spout that allows slow pouring like my usual gooseneck model does, for those two pieces of gear. While I prefer freshly ground beans every morning, I can make an exception. With how convenient the Pakt Coffee Kit is to stash in a suitcase and the stellar brewing experience it offers, I'll bet the coffee snob on your list won't mind the sacrifice either.
Miir camp cup and tumbler
I can appreciate people who want a travel mug that keeps their coffee hot for several hours, but to me, that's a job for a thermos. I'll drink my coffee within an hour, so I prefer more-stylish drinkware than your stereotypical travel cup. A few years ago, I discovered Miir's vacuum-insulated camp cup, and recently I added the 12-ounce tumbler, which fits better in a cup holder.
No, these won't keep your coffee hot all day, but they will keep it warm for at least a few hours. And if you're not finished with a cup in that time, I question your dedication to the cause. But seriously, Miir's choice of surgical-grade stainless steel means your hot (or cold) beverage won't taste like metal, and neither of the cups sweat if your drink contains ice that'll eventually melt. Plus, there's a fancy new speckled version of the camp cup that offers an outdoorsy vibe in an everyday mug.
Miir also donates a portion of each sale to various projects around the world. Those include initiatives for clean water, strong communities and a healthy environment. You can see which project your cup is helping by entering the code on the bottom at Miir's website.
For the at-home barista
I'm not going to recommend espresso machines in this guide, but there are a few barista-grade devices that you can employ at home to improve your brewing skills. They're a little pricey compared to some of the alternatives, but they're useful, well-designed and will boost the street cred (bean cred?) of the coffee lover on your list.
I'll admit I wasn't sold on the Acaia Pearl when I first reviewed it, but after years of use, I've come around. The Pearl is quick, accurate and sensitive, plus there's a degree of customization available. You can get time and weight right on the scale. And thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, you can pair it with one of the company's many apps. Those software options provide brewing guides, log your coffee brewing data and record your brewing process. What's more, the Pearl looks a lot better than most other scales.
Yes, you can get an electric kettle for much less that allows you to set and hold a certain temperature. But a lot of the alternatives are stainless steel, and they're rather boring looking. They can also be kind of bulky. Fellow's Stagg EKG is anything but that. While you can choose a polished-steel version, there are also polished-copper, white and matte-black options. The overall design is modern and minimalist, which will surely give any at-home brew bar an aesthetic upgrade. The handle, for example, is a lot more comfortable to hold than most gooseneck kettles' and offers better control for your pour.
The Stagg EKG also features variable temperature control with an LCD display, and it can hold temp for up to an hour. Like the Acaia Pearl, there's a built-in timer here, so you can keep tabs on your brew session once the water is heated. And you won't have to wait long for the water to come to temp either: The Stagg EKG is powered by 1,200-watt current. There's also a $199 Bluetooth-equipped model that adds the ability to control the kettle and monitor things from your phone.
Coffee grinders come in all shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of performance. You can get a solid Cuisinart for less than $40 that will serve you well, but if you're looking to impress the coffee aficionado in your life with a nice gift, you'll have to do better. Baratza's Encore grinder has been a popular choice among roasters and coffee pros for a while now. It's a little pricey for a grinder, but it offers a ton of attractive features that will immediately improve brewing across a variety of methods. Plus, it grinds coffee a lot more consistently, so you have more-uniform grounds for your method of choice.
The controls are simple: There's an on/off button on the side and a pulse button on the front. The Encore also offers 40 grind settings so you can get the exact coffee you need for a variety of methods: automatic brewers, AeroPress, Chemex, French press and more. This grinder is also relatively compact, so it won't take up a lot of counter space, and it fits nicely under your cabinets.