Today’s coffee drinker can choose, not only from many types of specialty coffee beans, but also from many popular brewing methods. Let’s examine how to brew coffee at home by comparing some of the most common coffee making devices and techniques.
Drip Coffee Makers
Drip coffee makers offer convenient, automated performance, often including programmable brewing options so you can have your coffee ready even before your eyes have opened in the morning. They’re simple in design, easy to use, and produce the exact same quality of coffee from a particular stash of beans time and time again.
Unfortunately, that uniform standard of quality isn’t always as high as it might be. For one thing, the ideal temperature range for extracting all the flavor from coffee beans falls between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Some drip coffee makers can achieve this range, but others cannot. Coffee brewed at too low a water temperature will taste somewhat bitter. And many machines’ warming plates can actually burn your freshly-brewed coffee, compounding the bitterness.
What can you do to get a nice-tasting cup of coffee while still enjoying the “Set it and forget it” convenience of drip coffee makers? Start by obtaining the best single origin coffee beans you can get your hands on. Ensure the freshness of your beans by ordering through a premium coffee delivery service like Javaya, which can ship small-batch coffee orders on the same day. Test the brew temperature of the water with a thermostat, and don’t be afraid to exchange one machine for another until you get one that brews at the right temperature. Last but not least, take your brewed coffee off the warmer plate as soon as possible.
When you think of percolators, you may conjure up images of cowboys making coffee over a campfire, or old movies where every cup of coffee seems to be issuing from the familiar elongated metal pot. You may also recall some pretty negative comments (or even first-hand experiences) related to this brewing method. Some complain that percolated coffee is strong; others claim that it is too watery. Still others insist that percolated coffee is always bitter. Let’s look at the truths, myths, and methods behind percolation.
The technology behind a percolator is pretty simple. A perforated metal basket toward the top of the percolator holds the ground beans. A metal tube extends down toward the bottom of the percolator. When you place the percolator on a heat source, the tube collect the bubbles from the boiling water and forces them up into the basket, brewing the coffee.
In truth, percolated coffee does tend to be stronger, and sometimes more bitter, than drip coffee. This is because the percolating process sends the hot water over the grounds in cycle after cycle, and partly because percolators tend to heat water very quickly, often raising the temperature too high and producing bitterness. But it’s also possible to make a cup of percolated coffee that tastes just as good as (or even better than) drip coffee. Strategies for achieving this goal include:
- Selecting a course grind – The medium grind so often used for drip coffee doesn’t really suit percolated coffee, while the finer grinds used for espresso are definitely a no-go. Percolated coffee needs a coarser grind than drip coffee for best results. While it’s always best to fresh-grind your coffee beans just before brewing, premium coffee delivery services like Javaya also will pre-grind coffee before shipping it to you.
- Selecting the right roast and bean – On one end of the spectrum, a very dark French Roast may make an already-strong cup of percolated coffee downright offensive; meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, the subtle floral aromas of a delicate product such as Geisha coffee may be lost to the percolation process. Choose a middle-of-the-road medium roast and/or coffee that brings lots of its own flavor to the party, such as a barrel aged coffee.
- Pre-heating your water – Warm your water up before you put it in the percolator, instead of simply adding it cold. The percolator will be less likely to heat the water too fast, reducing the odds of getting burnt-tasting coffee.
If you’ve been researching how to brew coffee at home, the term “French Press” has surely crossed your path. A French press is an extremely simple device that can brew coffee quickly and easily. The machine itself is a tubular glass or metal container with an attached handle. A plunger assembly goes on top. After pre-warming the container with a little warm water, the ground coffee is dropped into the bottom and hot water from a kettle is poured over it, where it steeps for about 5 minutes. Slow, gentle plunging then brews the coffee.
Many people swear by coffee made in a French press due to its simplicity and the fine control they have over variables such as water temperature and steeping time. This range of control can indeed allow you to get the most out of any particular type of bean or roast. Others swear at French presses because they keep finding grounds in their coffee or experience an unpleasant oily sensation due to the lengthy intermingling of the water and the ground beans.
If you’re maintaining good control over water temperature and steeping times but you’re bothered by grittiness or bitterness in your French press coffee, it’s time to adjust your grind. French presses need a very coarse, very even grind — and the best way to achieve that is by investing in a burr grinder.
Chemex and Other Pour-Over Devices
Water at the right temperature plus good, fresh ground coffee beans (brewed at the proper pace) equals delicious coffee. It sounds simple, even with all the elaborate brewing paraphernalia available for achieving this result. But no method is mechanically simpler than the pour-over method.
This brewing technique typically uses a special carafe with a top that widens like a funnel — the perfect shape for cone-style filter (either mesh or paper, depending on the brand of maker). The grounds go into the filter, and hot water is then added slowly and carefully in a spiral pattern, ideally with a pot that has a long, narrow spout. This gives the water sufficient time to mix with the grounds without flooding the top of the carafe. The brewed coffee drains into the carafe, and that’s it. You’re done!
As this technique gains in popularity, many companies offer pour-over designs for home brewing. Chemex may be the best-known pour-over make. This brand uses its own proprietary filters to help control the pace of the brewing and drainage process. Other brands permit faster brewing and drainage. This allows for a quicker cup of coffee, but also possibly a weaker one unless you add your water with a slow, steady hand. There are even single-serving pour-over devices that simply fit on top of a coffee cup. The smaller, more portable variants make great camping accessories if you want to enjoy great coffee in the great outdoors.
One great advantage of this method is sheer amount of control you have over the final result. You can adjust the brew strength simply by pouring the water more quickly or more slowly. This means you can enjoy the full benefits of the lightest, most aromatic beans or the boldest, richest roasts. But you need to pay strict attention to the size of the grounds. A overly-course grind will cause the water to pass through too easily, giving you weak, acidic coffee. An overly-fine grind will pass into the carafe along with the water, putting “silt” in your coffee and making it bitter. Javaya offers Fine, Medium-Fine, Medium-Coarse, and Coarse grinds in addition to its Whole Bean setting, so you’ll always be able to get a professionally-ground bag of coffee beans.
If you’ve been honing your coffee knowledge and skills through a craft coffee club or at an education center like Onyx Coffee Lab, you may have seen a variety of brewing methods and equipment in action — including an AeroPress machine. This relatively new technology from Aerobie brews coffee in a fraction of the time required by other methods. Better yet, it’s known for brewing spectacularly smooth-tasting coffee.
The secret of the AeroPress machine is its combination of full immersion and air pressure. A tubular glass chamber, into which you’ll place your grounds and water, sits on top of a coffee mug. After stirring gently, you place an included plunger into the chamber and press down slowly. About 20 seconds later, you have a perfect cup of coffee. The air pressure created by the plunger speeds up the brewing process, eliminating the risk of over-brewing. The total immersion of the grounds in the water gets the brewing process off to the fastest possible start. You can use a drip grind or an espresso grind to make any kind of coffee you like.
Espresso machines are the Lamborghinis of the coffee world — sleek, complex, high-tech makers of Italian-style coffee. Most home espresso machines have an electric pump and heating chamber. These devices drive steam from an internal reservoir through an internal filter called a porta-filter at high speed and high pressure. (You can also divert some of the steam into a small steam wand for frothing milk.)The process is just as quick as AeroPress (about 25 seconds) and results in a dark, thick, frothy cup of espresso.
While you can use any kind of roast in an espresso machine, the darker roasts will help you avoid excess acidity and achieve that robust flavor you seek. You’ll also want a very fine, almost powdery grind. But it’s possible to grind even espresso beans too finely, slowing the brewing process and introducing bitterness. Experiment to find your perfect combination of bean and grind.
As you can see, there’s no “best” or “worst” way on how to brew coffee. Choose the method that appeals to your individual needs, and enjoy your brewing adventures!