A Quick and Handy Guide
Most coffee lovers swear by a favorite brewing method. Many have more than one favorite—a different brewing method depending on type of coffee, time of day, or even mood!
There are countless ways to brew coffee, and new (or newly discovered) brew methods constantly appearing on the cultural radar—each with its own distinct quirks and characteristics. That said, most methods of brewing coffee fit into two categories: drip and immersion.
The basic difference is right there in the names: drip brewers allow water to drip freely through the coffee bed/filter as dictated by the grind size, dose, and gravity. Immersion brewers retain a given quantity of water in full contact with the coffee bed for a desired period of time before filtering. Additionally, drip brewing methods re-introduce fresh water to the grinds with every pulse or pour, while immersion methods use the same water throughout the brew.
Below is a quick rundown of the most popular brewing methods. If you don't already have a favorite, we recommend experimenting with different methods at home or at one of our coffeehouses.
The drip method is widely considered to be the most popular way to brew coffee in the United States. Water heated to 195 – 205°F is slowly poured on the grounds and drips through a filter, resulting in a clean, smooth cup of coffee. While drip machines are easy to use, remember that the longer the coffee sits in the pot on the warmer, the less exceptional the cup of coffee.
With the pour-over method, you have a lot of control over the different elements of the brewing process. Some popular pour-over brands include Melitta, Kalita, and Hario. All you’ll need is a filter, filter holder, hot water, and, of course, your fresh grounds (a medium-sized grind works best). Start by heating the water until it is 200°F, then place the filter over the top of the cup. Pour just enough water onto the grounds to fully wet them. Let it soak for 15 – 20 seconds, and then drain into the cup. Repeat this process until you have a full cup of coffee to enjoy.
The Chemex is an easy and reliable method for brewing coffee. Because the Chemex uses a thicker filter than typical pour-over coffee, it takes slightly longer for the water to filter through, and more solids are captured in the filter—resulting in coffee that is cleaner, with less body. (Whether you prefer this is a matter of personal preference.) Bring to a boil twice as much water as you’ll need for the actual brewing—which about 42 ounces for a 6-cup Chemex. Pour your ground coffee into the filter—for best results, the coffee grind should be about as coarse as that of a French press. Starting at the center of the bed of grounds, pour twice the amount of water that you have coffee into the grounds. Work your way outward slowly, avoiding pouring down the sides of the filter. Allow the coffee to expand, or “bloom” for between 30 – 45 seconds. Then continue pouring into the center of the grounds. The brewing process should take about four minutes.
The espresso brewing method involves hot water, very fine grounds, and strong pressure. An espresso machine takes water that is just below boiling temperature and uses pressure to force it through compacted, finely ground coffee. The espresso method extracts the flavorful and aromatic oils while leaving behind the bitter elements of the bean. The result is a strong, concentrated cup of coffee that is full in flavor without the bitterness.
In this method, the ground coffee is totally immersed in the hot water, which results in quick, extensive, and uniform extraction of the flavor compounds. The device consists of two nesting cylinders. One cylinder has a flexible airtight seal and fits inside the larger cylinder, similar to a syringe. Coffee is steeped for 20–40 seconds (depending on grind and preferred strength) and then forced through a filter (paper or thin metal) by pressing the plunger through the tube. The AeroPress’ shorter brew time is known to reduce acidity and bitterness.
Cold brew, or cold-water extract, refers to the process of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for an extended period of time—say, overnight. Cold brew coffee is not the same as iced coffee, which is coffee that is brewed hot and then chilled by adding ice – although iced coffee can refer to cold brew coffee served on ice.
Also known as the “vacuum coffee” brewing method, a siphon works by heating water in the lower vessel of the device until expansion forces the contents through a narrow tube into an upper vessel containing the coffee grounds. When the water exceeds the boiling point, the water-vapor pressure in the lower vessel exceeds the atmospheric pressure in the top vessel and water is pushed up the siphon tube into the upper vessel. When the water cools, the pressure in the lower vessel drops as steam condenses into dense water, taking up less volume and hence dropping the pressure. This creates a partial vacuum, causing the atmospheric pressure outside the container (along with gravity) to force the liquid back into the lower vessel. The liquid can then be decanted from the lower chamber, and voilà—coffee!
The use of a French Press is a sure way to brew an excellent cup of coffee—as long as you pay attention to the correct size of the grinds and temperature of the water. The grinds should be a medium-to-coarse grind (any smaller and they will clog the filter and seep into the brewed coffee). Because of the larger grind, this brewing process tends to take a little longer than other brewing methods. When you’re ready to add the water, it should be between 195 – 200°F. As the coffee brews, the grinds stay in contact with the water, which allows for a fuller, more defined flavor that would otherwise be lost to the filter of a drip machine.
The Clever coffee dripper is a Japanese-manufactured cone brewer similar to a Melitta (but made of medical grade plastic), or the ceramic drippers (like the Hario V60). Unlike most dripper cones, though, the Clever marries the principles of immersion brewing – or steeping like a French Press – with the principles of extraction. The method involves pouring water over the grounds into a conical brewer which suspends the immersion inside the cone while it steeps, after which you release the coffee (via a weight-controlled valve) over a cup. To brew a cup, place a filter in the brewer, add ground coffee, pour water over the coffee, steep for 2 – 4 minutes, and then place the dripper on top of your cup. Contact with the cup’s rim engages the release valve and the coffee will begin to drain through the bottom of the dripper into your cup.