If you haven’t read our post Coffee Brewing Basics and you’re really new to brewing, you might want to read it. It’s short.
So. You’ve bought some fresh, high-quality, ethically-sourced single origin coffee. Now what?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone shout, in the middle of our showroom, “BUT HOW CAN I DRINK BEANS? DON’T THEY NEED TO BE TURNED INTO LIQUID? HELP!”
And so I wanted to take a moment to discuss five brewing methods that currently enjoy cachet amongst specialty coffee professionals and serious home enthusiasts. All equipment can be purchased for around or under forty bucks (the price of your daily lobster dinner!), so if you’re curious, you might as well try them out.
<— This is my charming outsider art.
French press was the first manual brewing method to become de rigueur in Third Wave coffeeshops, popular for its drama (a whole pot just for me? And I get to plunge it?) and for the ability of a smaller serving size to highlight particular coffees. All of a sudden, you didn’t have to have a cup of what was already made and sitting in the big auto brewer. You could have what you wanted, and have it made fresh. So this was a big deal. Now, Chemex and multi-pourover stations are more common.
French presses/pour pots/cafetieres have fallen out of popularity because it’s not necessarily the best way to taste the particularities of different coffees. Because French press coffee has so much sediment in it, the higher, lighter, more delicate notes (fruits n’ florals) are buried. It can be flat. On the other hand, the heaviness and gritty kick of French press coffee is exactly what some people are looking for in a cup. It’s important to note that French press coffee is different to the other types mentioned below, but not worse.
In fact, French press is, of the methods discussed here, the most similar to brewing for cupping. It has its place.
The last thing I’ll say about it is that French press coffee retains cafestol and kahweol in much higher levels than filter coffee. This has been shown to raise serum cholesterol in humans. That’s bad, apparently. But the other thing about these molecules is that cafestol has been shown to be anticarcinogenic in rats, and kahweol is an anti-inflammatory, possibly explaining why the consumption of unfiltered coffee is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. So, maybe you should ask Dr. Google, because there are clearly pros and cons.
To brew: Grind your coffee coarsely, like Kosher salt. Pour in your water, to the top. Keep an eye on the clock, because you want the total time the grounds steep to be four minutes. About a minute in, you can gently stir the bloom. After four minutes, plunge, baby, plunge!
Chemex is the captain of the football team. Oh, he’s dreamy. He’s popular. He’s so talented! But who knows what things will look like in ten years? That nerdy foreign exchange student that nobody likes anymore, French Press, might come out on top after all.
Anyhoo, it’s considered THE method for brewing at the moment. It has an absolutely lovely design, wherein the filter cone and carafe are one part (one less dish to wash!), and it has this classy wooden collar around the middle for pouring. The main difference between Chemex and any other manual pourover is its thicker filter. This filters out more of the sediment we mentioned earlier, so you get a really crisp, acidic coffee that can taste really pure—as if the flavors were jumping out at you. It’s decidedly unbitter. It’s also a bit easier to get the timing right with a Chemex than with a cone pourover.
The cons of the Chemex are its difficulty to keep clean (unless you have small children. You can force them to stick their tiny hands into the bottom for you) and the cost of its special filters. Also, if you are into dark roasts and big body, it can sometimes show roasty flavors too much, and can be a titch thin tasting. Chemex is perhaps better suited to a medium-roasted single origin that you want to show off than a French Roast.
To brew: Grind about 6 tablespoons (for the standard 40oz Chemex) as coarsely as you would for French Press. Pre-wet your filter, discarding any leftover water from that, and then add your grounds and pour just-boiling water over them until they’re evenly saturated. Let grounds bloom for 30 seconds, giving them a quick stir at this point. Now keep slowly pouring water in, aiming for the dark areas and avoiding the light ones, until you’ve filled the beaker up to its glass button. Discard your filter. Et voila.
I use a Melitta every day to taste our coffees before they go out. It all started by accident, because we got a free ceramic filter from Melitta (thanks, you guys!) and I started using it because I’m always trying to make tiny quantities of coffee and it allowed me to do so. And I eventually became a drip cone enthusiast.
Because most of our customers use automatic drip brewers in their restaurants and cafes, I want to taste our coffees with a method that’s very similar to that, so I can sort of anticipate how something will taste in its natural habitat. The pourover produces an intensely flavorful but clean and bright cup, which I find useful when I’m trying to articulate coffee flavors and aromas. It’s got better body than a Chemex. It also offers very easy cleanup, takes up no counter space, and its filters are cheap and universally available.
There are lots of different kinds of drip cones. The Hario V60 is very popular among coffee freaks. There’s one called the Clever Dripper that’s almost like a hybrid between French press and pourover, in that you dump all the water in at once and let it steep, and then it filters out through paper. I have not tried that one. My professional opinion is that it doesn’t particularly matter which one you get—you just need to learn how to pour and you’ll get a great extraction.
To brew: Grind at #3, or as fine as table salt. Slightly finer than for an automatic drip brewer. I can’t tell you how much to use, because I don’t know how big your mug is, but for my little 6 oz morning coffee I use two level tablespoons of ground coffee. Keep that ratio in mind. You should pre-wet your filter, which gets rid of the papery dust that may befoul your drink. The pouring is so easy once you get the hang of it. Just pour in enough water to fully saturate the grounds and let the coffee bloom for 30 seconds. If you’re nasty, you can give it a stir during the bloom. This helps evenly extract. Next, pour more water evenly in a spiral until you fill up the brewer. For the best extraction, pour on top of the dark parts of the coffee and avoid the bubbly beige ones. When the mug is full, you’re done.
The Aeropress is another sort of hybrid, this time between an espresso machine and a French press. It’s a little plastic tube, into which you put coffee and water, and then a plunger thing, with which you force the coffee out through a paper disc. I think it was our friend Alex Willis who called it “a giant syringe for mainlining coffee.” The pressure involved in the plunging is what makes this method similar to espresso. You get quite an espresso-like extraction, with fantastic intensity, good sweetness, and a foamy sort of crema on top. Then, you can add water, for a coffee with a drip-brew-like strength, or leave it as is. This is one of those things, like cold brewing, where its lower acidity means that you can accidentally drink WAY too much coffee without realizing what a punch it’s packing.
To brew: Grind 15 grams of coffee (a heaping tablespoon) finer than for drip coffee but less fine than for espresso. Place the filter in the bottom, put the coffee in, add hot water, and stir gently for 10 seconds. Then plunge. This is the so-called traditional method. For even more fun, Google “Inverted Aeropress Method.”
If you like espresso but do not have several thousand dollars or the counter space for a machine at home, I would highly recommend the Moka Pot.
It produces espresso by boiling water, and then using steam pressure to force hot water upwards through coffee grounds. Just make sure you clean your Moka Pot and that you take it off the heat as soon as you hear the gurgle, otherwise it will get GROSS.
To brew: Grind coffee for espresso. For a four-cup pot, you should used around 20 grams (maybe about 1.5 tbsp?) of coffee, or enough to fill up the filter basket. Boil water in kettle, and fill up to line on inside of pot. This is imperative for taste. Do not use cold water. Put filter basket in, and fill it with ground coffee, then level it. Brush away any loose grounds before screwing on the top. Don’t over-tighten. Put it on medium flame. If the coffee comes sputtering out the top, that’s too hot. It’s done when it starts hissing and gurgling. Let that bad boy cool before you unscrew it to clean.
Trying different brew methods than I’m used to is one of the greatest coffee pleasures there is. It’s actually as much fun as finding a wonderful new coffee.
Also, a note: water boils at a lower temperature at Albuquerque altitudes than at sea level, so if brewing instructions ask you to wait 30 seconds after boiling water to pour it, you don’t have to! Right out of the kettle will never be too hot up here.