Ah, coffee. The ways in which we drink it are as varied as we are: cream, sugar, half-and-half, a dot of chocolate, or just black, the variations are endless. And for those of us who enjoy a cup of joe at home, there are multiple ways to create that perfect cup as well. Today we’re going to look at and compare the four most popular methods: standard drip, pour-over, presses (including Aeropress and French presses), and percolators.
Before we discuss how the various methods brew a cup, it’s important to know how a roasted coffee bean transforms ordinary water into that delicious elixir. When coffee beans are roasted, the starches in the bean are broken down into simple sugars through a chemical reaction (called the Maillard reaction). The sugars brown and begin to caramelize, changing how they taste. Additionally, caffeol starts to form. Caffeol is an umbrella term for over 850 different compounds that give coffee its distinctive aroma and taste. So how do the various methods make our coffee? The hotter the water, the more quickly it will absorb caffeol, resulting in stronger coffee over shorter brewing times.
This is the coffee making that most of us grew up with. A venerable glass or metal carafe under a filter containing coffee that comes from a can. Water is heated in a reservoir in the coffee maker and slowly dripped over the coffee grounds. The water winds its way through the fine grounds, picking up oils, thus forming coffee in the waiting container below. The different drip coffee makers vary in capacity and carafe style, but making coffee this way is the easiest of all four ways. Additionally, drip makers create a consistent cup of coffee. You know the standard 1 Tbsp. of coffee per cup of water to brew coffee will produce the same coffee every single time.
Pour-over coffee is a close cousin to the standard drip machine, but instead of a mechanical pump pouring water over the ground coffee, you control the water. Pour-over uses a simple brew basket that rests above your cup or carafe. To brew coffee in a pour-over, heat water to about 200 degrees F. (An easy way to do this is to boil the water, then let it cool for thirty seconds.) Use a cup of hot water to rinse the container, the brew basket and the filter. This eliminates any residue and warms the system. Discard this water. In the brew basket, add 10 grams of coarsely ground coffee per six ounces of water (this works out to about 2 Tbsp.). Pour just enough water onto the grounds to saturate them, stopping just before coffee comes out of the bottom. Now pour the remaining water over the coffee slowly. You want to take about 3 to 4 minutes to finish pouring the water, keeping the cone about 1/2 full at all times. Serve immediately after coffee starts to come out irregularly.
Pour-over coffee is a lot of work for a simple cup of coffee. But aficionados swear by it, saying that it produces one of the best cups of coffee you will ever taste. For beginners, it can be difficult to create a consistent taste, because varying the amount of time you take to pour the water will change how the coffee tastes. With practice however, a consistent cup becomes easier.
To see a percolator is to evoke images of cowboys sitting around a camp fire with a pot of coffee perking over the coals. The percolator remains basically unchanged from its first incarnation. The basic design is a metal or glass pot, with a tube assembly and a basket with holes. As the water is heated, it is drawn up through the tube and splashes onto the coffee in the basket. The coffee drains into the pot, where the process repeats. Depending on how long the coffee is allowed to perk will determine how strong the resulting brew is. In general, the ratio for coffee to water is 2 tsp. per cup of water, using a coarse grind. The water should be heated to just below boiling, because boiling will cause the coffee to become bitter. Allow the coffee to percolate for about eight minutes for a fairly robust pot of coffee. With practice controlling the heat, you can create a good consistent cup. It is important to watch the process, because the temperature of the water is important to creating a good cup.
The last type of coffee brewing involves pressing. There are two general types of presses: the French press, and the Aeropress. To brew coffee in a press, hot water is put into the carafe with the ground coffee and steeped for a few minutes. The filter is then slowly pressed down, separating the grounds from the coffee. The major difference is that the Aeropress is a completely separate unit and the coffee is pressed out into your cup, with the used grounds remaining in the press. A French press uses a traditional glass or metal carafe and a plunger-type press that pushes the grounds down. When using a French press it is important to serve the coffee immediately. If it’s left in the carafe, it will turn bitter. The general ratio of coffee to water is roughly 1 Tbsp. per cup of water. Make sure to rinse the carafe or Aeropress and the filter with hot water and then discard the water. Stir the coffee and the water together and steep for four minutes. Press the coffee and serve. Creating a consistent cup of coffee is easy with a press because the steeping time can be kept constant.
One of the easiest ways to ensure a consistent brew is by using washable metal filters and measuring your coffee by mass instead of by volume. Also for press and pour-over methods, heat the water to boiling, remove it from the heat, and let it sit on a cold burner for 20 to 30 seconds. This allows the water to reach an optimum temperature for extracting maximum flavor from the coffee without excessive bitterness. In a couple of weeks, we’ll discuss how changing the variables of brewing can influence your cup of coffee, from size of the grounds to the temperature of the water, so you can truly tailor your coffee to your taste.