How Do You Brew?
By Elvis Dyer, Owner/Roaster, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters (Southbridge & Dudley, MA)
This article originally published in The Sturbridge Times, July 2017
Coffee is more than just a caffeinated beverage. With such a variety of beans and machines, coffee brewing has turned into a delicate art. No matter what brewing technique you use, the quality of the beans is the most important. Once you have found quality beans, and are storing them properly, you can experiment, and modify, the right brewing method for you. The following are some popular methods.
Automatic drip coffee (or filtered coffee) is one of the most popular brewing methods in North America. The method involves pouring hot water over ground coffee beans. The brew is strained with a paper filter, or a metal or plastic mesh. The coffee from a drip brewer is clear and clean, with a high ratio of caffeine extracted per spoon of ground coffee. The amount of time the grounds are exposed to water (the brew cycle) influences the quality of the extraction. For the most desirable flavor compounds to be drawn out, that exposure should be no more than 8 minutes long. If the water spends more time than that in contact with the grounds, it begins to extract undesirable compounds, leading to bitter-tasting coffee. Pros of automatic drip: you can set it and forget it and it makes reasonably good coffee for a moderate investment. Cons: no matter how much you spend on specialty coffee, your drip coffee maker can only do so much with it.
French press (or cafetière à piston, or press pot) consists of pouring hot water over coffee grinds and letting it steep for a few minutes. After the steeping is over, the plunger/filter is pressed down, to separate the grinds. Oily and thick from minute particles of the grind suspended in the brew, French press coffee is impossible to confuse with drip coffee. French press coffee has a medium body, less than espresso but more dense than drip. The aroma and flavor of a press pot coffee are intense, and the method is gaining more and more popularity. The French press is the perfect choice for everyday delicious coffee. It only takes four minutes, so even people who need coffee on the go can find time to make a great cup. Also, the French press doesn’t use filters or create waste. A good French press is relatively inexpensive, the brew is consistently good, and there is a minimal learning curve. Cons: requires additional equipment to boil water, and lack of experience or attentiveness can lead to over-extraction of the grounds, or too many grounds in the cup. And there is a limit to how much coffee you can make in one French press.
Pour-Over coffee brewers are gaining popularity, especially among coffee enthusiasts, who love manual pour-over brewing devices because they let you control water temperature and steeping time—both key to a good cup. Details such as how hot your heat your water (usually between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit), your water-to-coffee ratio, how much you rinse your filter, and your rate and style of pour are entirely up to you. Since the pour-overs use a cone shaped coffee filter, this device gives you full-bodied coffee without the sediment often found in a French press. In addition to having greater control of coffee flavor outcomes, pour-over equipment can be purchased relatively inexpensively with a minimal learning curve. However, it is more work-intensive and it does require additional equipment to boil water, which could be viewed as less safe than other methods.
Espresso is prepared by pushing hot water through a layer of compacted ground coffee, contained in a portafilter. Espresso is a very concentrated coffee, with a lot of body, aroma and flavor. It contains a lot of coffee oils and solids. The most distinctive features of espresso are the foamy layer on top (the crema), and the low volume of the drink. With the right coffee and equipment, you can pull incredibly delicious espresso shots. The cons of brewing espresso is that quality equipment can be expensive, and there are many options to choose from (manual, semi-automatic, automatic), and whichever machine you choose, a steep learning curve often follows.
Moka pot is a device for making coffee that uses steam pressure to push water through coffee grinds similar to espresso method, but with much lower pressure. The pressure in a Moka pot is about 1 bar compared to an espresso machine with 9 bar. The coffee made in a Moka pot is very bold, similar to espresso. Stove top espresso, as it is also called, lacks the crema and it has much less aromatic oils.
Cold brew methods are also gaining popularity. The process involves steeping ground coffee in cold water for several hours/days, depending on how you prefer, and is largely hands-off. It produces a smoother, less acidic brew than conventional hot-water extraction, and yields a strong concentrate that can be stored in the refrigerator and diluted to taste with hot or cold water (or poured over ice) to make instant hot or iced coffee. Because it takes so long to brew, people prepare large batches and store it in the refrigerator for several days. Cold brew is the favorite way of preparing coffee for people with stomach problems. If regular, hot, coffee brews upset your stomach, cold brew is a good alternative. The pros of cold brew is that there is no special equipment needed (although there are cold brew equipment options available) and it yields a consistently excellent coffee with no learning curve. As the name implies, it makes cold coffee (which you could reheat/add hot water) and it has to be planned out, as it takes the better part of a day, or overnight.
These are just a few of the options available. Experiment with different equipment and find the one that gives you the perfect brew