I love coffee, and I enjoy writing about it. As a former barista, I tested various coffee preparation methods and equipment.
Coffee Brewing Methods - An Introduction
If you want to know how to make coffee at home, this is your first step. It’s a quick overview of all the popular brewing methods.
This list is not complete; it's just an introduction, and its purpose is only to show you the most popular brewing methods, and to give you an idea on what to try next.
A more scientific approach is this listing of coffee brewing methods by physics and chemistry.
We’ll review here all popular brewing methods, and we’ll point you to a brewing guide whenever we have it. However, we can only cover so much in this coffee brewing introduction.
Coffee Methods Compared - French Press vs AeroPress vs Pour-over ...
The video above is a great comparison, if you don't want to read. However, if you want to learn more about all preparation methods, and what type of coffee they produce, I suggest reading the entire article.
We review here espresso, Turkish coffee, drip coffee, French press, and cold brew. We also review some variants, such as pour over as a manual drip coffee method, or cowboy coffee as a Turkish coffee variant.
Why so many variants? To each their own, but it comes down to two major things: convenience, and taste. The balance of these two is the reason we have so many brewing methods.
If you want more control over the brewing factors, and you want to tweak the recipe to your taste, then you choose a manual method. This means less convenience, you need to give your coffee a full 5-10 minutes of your morning.
It doesn't sound much, but not everybody has their own life style, and I have friends and family who love the coffee I make, but they wouldn't spend the 10 minutes in the kitchen. The coffee capsule is their choice.
Espresso is my favorite coffee brewing method. The small concentrated coffee drink is almost coffee essence, but the flavors are different than any other coffee type. I loved espresso as a customer, way before I worked in a coffee shop. I drink coffee prepared in many ways, but my daily cup is an espresso shot.
Espresso is prepared by forcing pressurized hot water through a layer of compacted, finely ground coffee.
The standard serving for espresso is a shot, which is about one fluid ounce, (30 ml). The double shot is very commonly ordered in coffee shops, and is a 2 ounce drink.
Espresso is a very concentrated coffee, with a lot of body, aroma, and flavor. Espresso contains a lot of coffee oils and soluble solids, which create the unique mouthfeel. Espresso can be described as a thick coffee with flavors that linger on your palate for up to 30 minutes.
Modern espresso is prepared with a pump espresso machine that generates 9 bar pressure when extracting the shot. A shot of espresso is extracted very fast, in about 20 to 30 seconds. Most other brewing methods are extracted for 3 to 5 minutes.
A common misconception is that a stronger coffee is espresso. If we prepare a drip coffee to the espresso strength, it would be undrinkable. Espresso as a brewing method is unique, selectively extracting good coffee flavors and avoiding tannic and bitter flavors.
Espresso is unique as a coffee beverage, there is nothing else like it. The foamy layer on top of the drink can only be produced at a high pressure.
Espresso is the base for many coffee drinks from the coffee shop menu. Popular espresso drinks are the Americano, latte, cappuccino, cortado, and flat white. More info about espresso.
Turkish coffee, is a method of infusing very finely ground coffee in hot water. this brewing method is very popular in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and is also called Greek coffee, or Arabic coffee.
Contrary to a common belief, we do not boil Turkish coffee. If the brewing temperature raises too much, the brew will boil over. Some recipes call for a second boil, in order to extract more from the coffee grounds. This will extract compounds that need higher temperatures. However, the single raise has a better flavor, since all of the bitter compounds need more brew time in order to extract.
What is unique to the Turkish coffee method is the grind size. Grind size for Turkish is the finest possible, almost to a powder.
Turkish coffee is often compared to espresso, and is one of the strongest coffees among brewing methods. Turkish coffee is a very thick. concentrated coffee, similar to espresso, however, it doesn’t contain too much caffeine, as we might be inclined to think.
Turkish coffee is for those who like bold flavors, and think that French press is not strong enough.
Turkish coffee is prepared in a traditional coffee pot called cezve. In North America the pot is called ibrik, a word imported from the Eastern European immigrants.
If you like clear coffee, stay away from this brewing method, as the spent coffee grounds grounds are not filtered, they are left to settle at the bottom of the cup. The grounds simply sink completely at the bottom of the cup, forming a compact disk that is not disturbed if coffee is drunk carefully.
It is very easy to over-extract Turkish coffee, and to get a bitter cup. It is common practice for many Turkish coffee lovers to over-extract it on purpose, since they add sugar to it, and that balances the bitter notes.
Cowboy coffee is very similar to Turkish in many ways. The preparation method is the same, we grind coffee and we infuse it in hot water. The main difference between cowboy coffee and Turkish is that cowboy coffee uses a coarse grind. The coarse grind extracts slower, so we need to boil coffee more. Cowboy coffee doesn't boil over as easy as Turkish, hence can be over-extracted. The coarse coffee grounds don't sink as they do with Turkish so you will get more floating bits. Many people use a strainer with cowboy coffee, because it is easier to filter it with a strainer.
Cowboy coffee is the "emergency brewing method". You only brew coffee that way if you don't have any other option. A Moka pot, or a percolator, or a French press will make you a better cup, and the equipment costs are really low. But if you are camping and all you have with you is a pot and some ground coffee, then cowboy coffee is your choice.
Drip coffee, or filter coffee is the most popular coffee preparation method. Drip coffee method requires pouring hot water over ground coffee beans. The coffee grounds are contained in a filter which allows the brew to pass through in a collector vessel. Drip coffee relies on gravity.
The most popular method of filtration for drip coffee is the paper filter. The paper filter brews a clean cup, and retains almost all of the coffee oils.
For drip coffee lovers that prefer a fuller body, a perforated metal filter, or a sieve coffee filter are great options. The non-paper filters allow coffee oils and fines to pass through into the cup, for a different mouth feel than traditional paper filters.
The coffee from a paper filter drip brewer is clean, with a high ratio of caffeine extracted per spoon of ground coffee.
Automatic Drip Coffee Makers
Automatic drip coffee makers are a convenient way to brew. They are meant to produce consistent results, using a standard recipe.
Most often, electric drip coffee maker is calibrated to brew 8 coffee cups. Medium ground coffee is placed in a paper filter, and the the machine will heat the water to around 200 °F, (96 °B). Then hot water is poured over the coffee bed at a predetermined flow rate.
There is a strict relationship between grind size and brew temperature, and if one of the two variables is off, the other one needs to be adjusted as well. Machines are calibrated for medium grind size. (The preground coffee from the store.)
While good electric coffee makers make great coffee, there are a couple of problems with this approach.
Firstly, you can only brew a pot of coffee, which is typically more than most people need.
Secondly, cheap equipment is often poorly calibrated. Most of the times the temperature control is not accurate, resulting in over-extracted, or under-extracted coffee. Adjusting brewing variables is not possible because temperature and water flow rate are predetermined.
Pour-Over, or Hand Drip
Pour over, or hand drip, is the manual way of making drip coffee. Pour over uses the same principles as the automatic drip coffee maker, however, because we have more control over the brewing variables the final cup is different.
The specialized paper filters and the dripper are also part of the success. The dripper’s shape, flow rate, material, and the flow rate are all brewing variables that affect coffee flavor. There are a variety of paper filters, with various flow rates, and filtration capabilities. However, dripper manufacturers create the filters to complement the brewing device. Incorrectly pairing drippers with filters will result in average results.
Most pour over manufacturers appeal to a special segment of the market. People who love Chemex coffee don’t love coffee made in a Kalita Wave cone, or in Hario V60.
Many pour-over devices compete with high-end automatic coffee makers such as Technivorm or Bonavita. Manual drippers offer more control over the brewing process, whereas automatic drip coffee makers offer convenience.
Most manual drip coffee brewers are single cup brewing devices, but there are some that brew more than a cup at a time. These compete with automatic drip coffee machines in third wave coffee shops.
Pour Over Coffee Bags
The pour over bag is a convenient adaptation. It's still drip coffee, except coffee is prepackaged ground, measured for exactly one cup, and ready to brew. The customer opens the sealed bag just before brewing, places the bag over a coffee mug, and pours water similarly to the pour-over method.
With single serve drip bags, you get everything that you love in a pour-over, without the need of using a grinder, or a cone. The drip bag brews a stronger cup, with more body than your regular drip coffee cup.
This method is very convenient, and is a great way to make good coffee in a hotel, while camping, in a vacation...
The biggest problem with pour over drip coffee bags is the packaging. The other problem is the shelf life of coffee. The packages need to be flushed with nitrogen, or vacuum packed, to maintain freshness. Ground coffee goes stale fast. Check with the vendor, and ask about their packaging technology.
Single use drip coffee bags need a lot of extra packaging to ensure freshness. This isn't quite ecofriendly.
French press, or press pot, is a simple coffee maker with a beaker and a plunger/filter. The beaker contains the coffee grounds and the filter, and the plunger has a circular screen filter that helps with the filtration.
The French press, as it is known in North America, is called a coffee plunger in Australia and New Zealand and cafetière in the United Kingdom.
In order to brew a French press coffee we need to pour hot water over coffee grinds and to let it steep for 3 to 5 minutes. When steeping is finished, we press the plunger-filter to the bottom of the beaker, to filter the coffee.
French press coffee has a full body, and is a thinner cup than espresso but thicker than drip coffee. The aroma and flavor of a press pot coffee are intense, and compared to espresso many times.
French press as a brewing method is very versatile. As a manual brewing method, French press allows the barista to change brewing factors and parameters. We can make a few tweaks to the brewing recipe to create a different cup.
As other methods that brew a strong cup, traditional French press delivers a cup with an ample body, but this will mute the brightness we get with drip coffee. However, by tweaking a few things, we can get a cup that is very similar to a pour over.
Single Serve Coffee Bags
Single serve coffee bags are just like the tea bags, only they contain ground coffee. Steeping coffee bags use immersion as the brewing method. You should expect a coffee similar to French press. However, the bag that holds the ground coffee acts like a paper filter, and the method will produce a clearer cup, and with less oils than French press, but stronger than drip.
The single serve coffee bag method is cheap and convenient. You don't need any equipment, and no special skills to brew a cup. Just steep a coffee sachet in hot water for a couple of minutes, and you have a decent coffee.
The disadvantage of this method is that coffee might get stale if the bags are not individually packaged. The other disadvantage is the restricted selection choice.
The Moka pot uses steam pressure for coffee making. Similar to the espresso method, the steam pressure pushes the water through coffee grinds, but with much lower pressure. The Moka pot can create about 1 bar of pressure, compared to a real espresso machine that deliver 9 bars of pressure.
Coffee made in a Moka pot is very bold, and resembles espresso. It has less aromatic oils and lacks the crema. However, it is a great espresso alternative as a base for coffee drinks such as latte and cappuccino.
A big problem with the Moka pot is thermal inertia. The coffee pot is hot for a long time after taken off the stove. Because of this, coffee must be poured in cups immediately otherwise we over-heat the coffee, and extract to much bitter flavors. Despite this little problem, Moka pot coffee is very easy to make, and even if you do it wrongly, it will still be a decent cup.
Cold brew is a good way to prepare coffee for people with stomach problems. But many people choose cold brew for its delicate flavors. To make a batch of cold brew, we need to steep coffee grounds in cold water for 12 to 36 hours, then filter it.
Because it takes so long to brew, people prepare large batches and store them in the fridge for several days.
Modern cold brew coffee makers use various methods to speed up the extraction. Vacuum extraction is one of the most popular choices, but spinning, or agitation is another method. Modern cold brew coffee makers can make a cup in a few minutes.
Cold brew lacks the well defined coffee flavors that we find in hot brewed coffee. People who love drip coffee, or espresso, might not enjoy cold brew. However, cold brew appeals to many coffee lovers who appreciate delicate flavors.
Cold brew is sweeter than regular coffee, and maybe this is why so many people love it. There is no bitterness and no acidity in cold brew. People who want to reduce their sugar consumption can can drink it as is.
The caffeine content in cold brew is about the same as with hot brewed coffee. However, it is important to compare beverages with the same brew ratio. Since cold brew is prepared as a concentrate, it needs to be diluted to normalize caffeine content and TDS.
The bitter flavors are extracted from the grounds only at higher temperatures. This is why cold brew can be steeped for days in the fridge.
The most important though, is that you can start brewing cold brew using the items in your kitchen. Buying a cold brew coffee maker makes brewing more convenient, much more expedient.
Learn here How To Make Cold Brew Coffee at Home.
Single Serve Capsule Coffee Maker
There is no consensus whether single serve coffee machines are a distinctive brewing method or not. However, if you think about it, Keurig brewers use pressure to push water through the coffee grounds. The pressure is not as high as with espresso machines, so the flavor profile is different. But the pressure addition improves the extraction, and the capsule can be smaller.
Coffee specialists don't agree if single serve coffee makers such as Keurig are a different coffee brewing method or not. Water is pushed under pressure through the coffee grounds, so it's not a drip coffee. However, the coffee puck resistance in the capsule is much to low to create any considerable pressure during extraction.
No other coffee maker can brew coffee in a similar way. This type of coffee makers provide a clean cup, with a decent aroma and flavor. The most important feature of the Keurig machines though, is the convenience.
AeroPress is a manual coffee maker that uses a combination of immersion and pressure for brewing a cup. The preparation is a two step process, with a few minutes of steeping followed by pushing the coffee sludge through the coffee grounds under pressure. This second step helps to extract more soluble solids from the grounds, for a stronger cup.
The AeroPress was invented by Alan Adler, a retired Stanford University engineering instructor. He wanted a better tasting coffee, and none of the options at the time were able to make the coffee as he wanted it.
AeroPress coffee is strong with an ample body and reminds of espresso. The AeroPress method is known for its versatility. You can brew from the mildest and brightest cup of drip brewed coffee to an espresso-like cup. People also make cold brew in the AeroPress.
The most notable detail about the AeroPress brewing is the lower brewing temperature, compared to other methods. This gives the AeroPress a milder taste compared to espresso, or drip. Coffee is still extracted fully because of the longer immersion time and the pressure added to the extraction.
The AeroPress holds 8 ounces of water, so we can only brew one coffee cup at a time. If we brew the coffee stronger, we can then dilute it with water, similarly to an Americano.
Percolator is one of the oldest types of coffee makers. Percolating coffee gets a bad reputation of producing bitter and over extracted coffee, but the reality is that you can make an awesome coffee cup using the percolator.
The coffee percolator brews by continually cycling the nearly boiling brew through the coffee grounds until coffee gets strong enough to be consumed. The steam pushes the water through a column to the top of the percolator, in the grounds basket. Water then falls on the coffee bed and gravity pulls the brew back into the percolator pot. The cycle repeats until the desired strength is obtained.
It is very easy to expose the ground coffee to higher temperatures, especially if the percolator is on a hot stove, or fire. Also, the partially brewed coffee is still heated to a high temperature so that it can be pushed through the column back in the coffee bed. All these make coffee brewed with a percolator very susceptible to over-extraction, hence a bitter taste in your cup. However, if we carefully control the brewing process, we can avoid over-extracting coffee.
The vacuum pot, or syphon as it is also called, is a coffee maker that uses vacuum and gravity as the brewing energy. It is composed of borosilicate glass chambers, connected tightly, so that air pressure is not lost between the two chambers. The two glasses are separated by a coffee filter.
The vacuum pot is a full immersion brewing method that uses vacuum to improve the extraction.
A heat source boils the water in the lower chamber, turning it into vapor and forcing it in the upper chamber, (the immersion compartment). When all of the water was forced up, the barista adds coffee grounds in the brewing chamber, (upper glass), and mixes in the slurry to facilitate the grounds saturation, and turns off the heat.
As it cools down, the lower chamber will have a lower pressure, which will pull the brew down, through the filter, decanting the brew. This lower chamber will become the collector recipient. The whole brewing will take about 3 minutes.
The relative complexity of the vacuum pot is not for show only. The special brewing technique produces a smooth, full-bodied, crisp, and clean coffee, without muting any of the origin flavors.