Quality coffee brewing is a combination of art and science. But what is the best way to do it? With so many coffee brewing methods out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We’re here to help you out.
Reportedly enjoyed since Kaldi saw his goats munching on coffee cherries and becoming overexcited in 9th century Ethiopia, we have been brewing coffee for a long time and a variety of increasingly sophisticated ways to enjoy the drink have been developed. Kaldi’s observations were reported to a local abbot, whose monks roasted the cherries on a fire before grinding up the beans and boiling them with water to create a stimulating drink.
This basic method of boiling ground coffee beans and pouring off the water as the grinds sink is known today as cowboy coffee, presumably as this is how it was commonly enjoyed by cowboys on the trail in the American West. While a lot of coffee is still consumed around the world in this most basic of ways, different cultures and groups of people have adapted the process in a vast range of ways, from the deliciously simple to the ingeniously intricate.
The methods of brewing coffee can broadly be categorized in one of three ways. These are immersion brewing, percolation (or drip) brewing, and pressurized brewing such as espresso.
Keep reading to find out which coffee brewing method suits you best.
In our discussion of immersion brewing, we are actually conflating two distinct methods of brewing coffee. Boiling of water containing ground coffee, or decoction, (as in cowboy or Turkish coffee) is one such method. The other, more commonly practiced now, is the steeping method. A good example of this is the French press where heated water is added to ground coffee once removed from the heat source. Below we will take a look at some of the more common ways of employing these brewing methods, skipping over cowboy coffee which we touched on above.
A classic method, the design of the French Press hasn’t changed much since its invention in 1929. Considering its simplicity and ease of use, it’s one of the most popular ways to brew coffee. All you need is a jar with a mesh filter (or French press), ground coffee, hot water, and a little bit of patience.
To get things started, you add the coarsely ground coffee, pour hot water onto it, and let it steep for a few minutes. How much coffee you use and how long you steep for will vary depending on the brew ratio and method that you choose. You then press down the plunger to separate the grounds from your brewed coffee. The result is a delicious cup of coffee, with a full body and heavy and dense texture.
Who Is It For
This technique is for everyone who values convenience but doesn’t want a plug-in machine on the kitchen counter. Anyone with a preference for rich, heavy-bodied coffees will love this method. If you’re relatively new to coffee and want to learn more about experimenting with the variables that affect your extraction this is a great place to start too. It’s very easy to tweak your method to get your coffee just how you like it and learn a lot of skills that are transferable to other brew methods at the same time.
Easy to use
Big jar volumes available
Mesh filters can leave a lot of sediment
Can be relatively challenging to keep clean
Turkish coffee, also known as Cezve/Ibrik, is an ancient brewing method that has its roots in the Ottoman Empire. Today, it remains a popular method in the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa. It’s best known for the small, strong cup of coffee it produces, which is commonly flavored with cardamom pods and drunk sweetened.
Brewing only takes about 2 minutes and involves heating up water with finely ground coffee in a Cezve or small metal cup with a long handle directly over the heat source. Just shy of boiling, as the foam reaches the rim, it’s ready to be served. Caution though, as it’s still very hot. It must also be poured very carefully to avoid the sediment from going into your finished cup, and you should leave the last bit. For a more in-depth guide, check out our article dedicated to Turkish coffee.
Who Is It For
If you love strong coffee and appreciate the beauty of an aesthetic brewing object, this method might be the right one for you. It has a very distinct mouth-feel and flavor that can take you straight back to memories of Turkey, or a meal in a Turkish restaurant. It’s also a deceptively simple brew method and doesn’t use a filter, so once you have the knack for pouring it, it can be a very quick and easy way to brew your coffee.
Perfect for after dinner
Small serving size
Very fine grind requires a higher-end grinder
Can leave too much sediment and be too full-bodied for some people
The Clever Dripper was invented by the Taiwanese company Abid and, although it looks very much like a pour over coffee maker, it is in fact an immersion method. It basically works like a French press with a paper filter instead of a plunger, which helps to produce a cleaner, lighter-bodied coffee than you might expect from an immersion method. It is still fuller-bodied than a pour-over technique, however, due to the relatively long contact time between grounds and water allowing more of the soluble compounds to end up in your coffee.
First, prepare and rinse your filter and heat your cup. Then, you have two choices. You can add coffee grounds first, place your dripper on the scales, and proceed to pour in concentric circles until all your water is in. Alternatively what we would recommend, as it gives you a faster draw-down (what we call the phase of the brew where the water leaves the brewer), would be to add your water first, and then add coffee, stirring it in to ensure no dry grounds.
Either way, you should then let your coffee steep for around two minutes, and then place it on top of your mug or carafe which will disengage the stopper and allow the brewed coffee to filter out. This stage should take between one and two minutes depending on the order you added your water and coffee, the coffee you are using, and the quality of your grinder.
Who Is It For
The Clever Dripper is perfect for people who may have been brewing with a French press for a while and want to try something that will give them a clearer and brighter cup of coffee, but that still enjoy quite a rich, traditional brew and don’t want to go full V60 just yet. Alternatively, this brewer might suit you if you’ve tried pour-overs and found them a bit too thin, or lacking what you enjoy in your coffee. Essentially they are a middle ground between French press and pour-over. If one is too full-bodied, but the other is too light, you will find your happy medium here.
Relatively inexpensive piece of kit
Quite straightforward brewing
Good middle ground between traditional immersion and pour over
Still requires paper filters despite being an immersion brew
Not as aesthetically pleasing as some brewers
It sits on the fence in terms of clarity vs. body
Cold Brew Immersion
In recent years, cold brewing has become the latest cool thing to do in the coffee scene. However, you don’t have to be a hipster to give this technique a go. The immersion method takes advantage of the fact that cold water extracts oils, acids, and sugar very slowly and leaves you with coffee that is particularly smooth and less bitter than conventionally brewed coffee.
All you do is submerge coarsely ground coffee with cold water in your cold brew pot, or any vessel. You then wait for up to 24 hours and finally filter the ground out of the brewed coffee. For more information on the various ways you can adapt your cold brew, or to see what kit you can get to level up your brew, see our post on cold brewing. Alternatively, for guidance on what beans will be best for your cold brew, we have a post for that too.
Who Is It For
The cold immersion method is for those who are looking for a practical and alternative way of brewing coffee at home. You’ll have to be patient though. It can also be great for you if you struggle with acid reflux or similar conditions as it yields a gentler and smoother result. Also if you don’t have much time in the mornings it can be a great way to do your brew the night before ready to enjoy in the morning with minimal hassle.
Difficult to mess up
Perfect for a hot day
Very low acidity
You can prepare it in advance
Long steep time
Less complex flavor
Hard to get fruity acids to shine through
Admittedly, the Siphon, also known as vacuum press, is not a very common coffee brewing method. That might be just the reason why so many people wonder about this beautiful and sciency way to make coffee. In essence, it consists of two chambers that are connected to each other. When heat is applied, the water from the lower chamber climbs up to steep with the grounds in the upper chamber. Once the heat source is removed the brewed coffee drips back into the lower chamber. It’s an artfully elegant set-up and isn’t actually as complicated as it looks. If you want to give it a go we’d recommend this one from Hario.
First, you should fit the filter to the upper chamber (or hopper) of your siphon, then fill the bottom chamber (or bulb) with water. For a good place to start, we’d recommend sticking to a standard recipe of 250 grams of water for 15 grams of coffee. You should then apply your heat source to the bottom of the bulb. You can then weigh and grind your coffee whilst the siphon draws the water into the hopper. Next, add your coffee grounds to the hopper and briefly stir to ensure full saturation.
Once you’ve prepared the initial set-up as above, allow the coffee to steep for around a minute, before removing the heat source and giving it a further stir. The brewed coffee should now begin to draw down to the bulb, which should take around a minute. Serve in the bulb with a cup for maximum science effect. Make sure to let the coffee cool before you drink it to get a fuller appreciation for its flavor profile.
Who Is It For
The siphon method is for science nerds who like to experiment or for anyone who simply wants to try something new, out of their comfort zone. If you want something to sit on your kitchen worktop this can be a stylish addition and will really wow guests. It is not just a gimmick however and will deliver you a good, full-bodied cup of coffee.
It’s great to watch
Advocates believe it delivers superior coffee
It takes a lot of time to get used to
The water temperatures necessary to create vapor can scald coffee
Brewing by percolation, filter brewing, or drip brewing. Known by many different names, this is perhaps currently the most popular form of home-brewing for specialty coffee and has been popular with coffee shops and restaurants for a long time due to its relatively inexpensive set-up costs. Not needing to buy an espresso machine, or train staff in how to use one has made this a popular option all over the world for businesses. Now at home too, with single-cup pour-overs taking the home-brewing world by storm, this is probably the most commonly found method of fresh coffee brewing found in the domestic kitchen.
But percolation brewing comes in all shapes and sizes. We will look at a few of those in more detail below.
Whether you’re a seasoned coffee brewer or a newcomer, the pour over method could work for you. Allowing it to unfold its full flavor and aroma, many people think this is the method to brew coffee. Plus, the visual effect of watching coffee drip from the filter into the carafe adds to the appeal. The pour over technique involves ground coffee, a filter, a filter holder, and a serving vessel.
While there are almost as many different combinations of techniques and brewing devices as there are coffee drinkers, it can be very simple to get started. Essentially, you pour the water through the grounds and the constant water percolation allows for the extraction of all that delicious flavor along the way.
Although this may vary somewhat depending on which device you favor (we will go into this a bit below), the following is a good, basic guide to pour-over coffee. Prepare your filter and preheat your vessel, then grind 15 grams of coffee and add it to your device. Next, you should pour a small amount of water, ideally, no more than three times the weight of ground coffee (so 30 – 45 grams here), over the grounds, ensuring they are all fully saturated, to bloom the coffee and allow the carbon dioxide to release. You should then pour the rest of your water. This can either be done in tiny stages, called pulse pouring, or in one go, or anything in between.
The next stage is the draw-down, where you wait for all of the water to drip through the coffee bed into your mug. The whole brew time from the start of your bloom to the end of your draw-down should be somewhere in the region of 2 minutes and 30 seconds to no longer than 4 minutes. This is a pretty broad window, as your extraction will depend on a lot of factors. Aiming for somewhere in that area is a good place to start though, and then we would recommend changing just one variable at a time until you have your coffee dialed in exactly as you like it.
Hario V60 vs. Chemex vs. Kalita Wave
Although there are many different types of pour-over coffee brewers available these days, three of the most popular, and arguably the best, are the Hario V60, the Chemex, and the Kalita Wave. The first two are both conical brewers, whilst the Kalita Wave is a flat-bed brewer. This is a big determiner in flow rate, which is essentially the main difference between the three. The slow-flowing Kalita Wave is more forgiving of poor technique and gives a fuller-bodied, sweeter cup than the other two.
At the other end of the spectrum, the V60 is the fastest flowing of these three thanks to its conical design and thin paper filters. This means that it places higher demands on the brewer, as there is an increased risk of channeling (where water runs through dry coffee, often caused by a poor bloom, and gives an uneven extraction). The payoff, though, is an unsurpassably clean tasting, bright, and vibrant cup of coffee, which is why it is the most commonly used device at the World Brewers Cup.
Sitting in between these two is the Chemex, which is conical in design, but uses a thicker filter. This is perhaps the most visually pleasant of the three, although they all have their merits here too. The Chemex is perfect if you are brewing for more people, and comes complete with its own carafe for serving.
Who Is It For
The pour-over method is for people who are into specialty coffees, want full control over the brewing process, or simply want to experiment. It is a very accessible way to get into specialty coffee without a huge financial outlay, and your coffee will continue to improve as your technique does. This is a great way for coffee fanatics to really learn the fundamentals of coffee extraction. For a more in-depth look at how to brew in a pour over, see our guide.
A lot of control over the brewing process
An enticing ritual aspect
It can take a lot of practice to get consistently good coffee
Other gear like scales and goose-neck kettles are advisable and can get expensive
Automatic Drip Machine or Batch Brew
By many simply known as “coffee”, the automatic drip machine is a popular choice in a lot of American households. Its popularity certainly stems from the easy and straightforward brewing experience. Basically, it’s the automated version of the pour-over method. With the rising popularity of specialty pour-overs in recent years has come a rise in innovations in automatic drip coffee, with the trendy newer models usually being referred to as “batch brew”. A great choice, if you are looking for a batch brewer, is the Bonavita.
You fill the filter with ground coffee, water is heated and forced through a showerhead onto the coffee grounds, dripping into the carafe. It doesn’t get much simpler for the user than operating an automatic brewer, which takes care of all the details with unsurprisingly robot-like precision.
Who Is It For
A good batch brew machine can be great for consistent results as there is no room for human error. If you are struggling to get consistent results with your pour-over devices, this could be a good option for you. It’s also great for those who prefer brewing large batches of coffee.
Very consistent results
Easy to use
You don’t have control over as many variables as with manual pours
The better machines can get expensive
Cold Drip Coffee
Cold drip coffee is a great alternative to the, for many people, more familiar immersion cold brew. It takes a fair bit more equipment and is not so straightforward as its steeped cousin, but cold drip has several advantages. You can almost consider the differences as being parallel to those between hot immersion like a French press, and a pour-over method. Cold drip produces a cleaner cup of coffee, which can be beneficial for highlighting fruity and floral notes that detractors of cold brew would argue become muddied in a traditional immersion brew.
It is still brewed cold though, as you may expect from the name. With this being the case it will always be lacking the acids that simply won’t extract without hot water. To get around this you can try hot blooming with either method (see our guide to cold brew for more details), or there is another option for cold brew. While not strictly a cold-brewed coffee, Japanese iced coffee is an increasingly popular way to prepare your cold coffee. Although not a distinct brew method in its own right, the process produces a quite unique cup of cold coffee. To try it at home, brew a pour-over according to your usual recipe, but with half of your water weight as ice in the vessel you are brewing into.
For cold drip coffee, you will need a cold dripper. This is a three-chambered device. You start by weighing and grinding your coffee beans. You should then put your grounds into the middle chamber, and fill the top chamber with your full water weight, with around half weighed in as ice. Place the third chamber underneath as your coffee will now begin, very slowly, to percolate. The dripper allows a drip at a rate of a maximum of one drip per second onto the bed of grounds. Once the coffee bed becomes saturated your brewed coffee will drip into the bottom chamber. The whole process is a little quicker than cold brew by immersion but still takes around 8 hours depending on your drip-rate.
Who Is It For
Cold drip coffee is perfect if you like cold brew, but find it lacks a bit of clarity. If you like a pour-over as your regular hot option it is likely that this will be a good choice for you when you fancy a cold one.
Produces a smooth, but still somewhat bright and clear, cup of coffee
Good for those that require low acid
It’s (a bit) quicker than immersion cold brew if you want cold coffee
The equipment is quite a bit more expensive than for a normal cold brew
You still don’t get fruity acids
It is still no good for cold coffee in a hurry
One form of pressurized brewing will be familiar to most coffee drinkers. The espresso machine, found in coffee shops everywhere in the world, has become the most common way most people get their coffee in second-wave shops like Starbucks. But brewing under pressure doesn’t stop at the espresso machine, as we will discuss below.
Even if your knowledge about coffee is very limited, most probably you know what an espresso machine is. As the name suggests, it produces that tiny, highly concentrated coffee beverage loved by so many. There are three different types: the manual espresso machine which requires manual force to press hot water through ground coffee; The automatic one that uses a pump; And the super-automatic one that comes with built-in grinders and a button.
To begin with, you must grind your coffee into your portafilter basket. The grounds then need to be distributed evenly using a toothpick and then leveled (a tool can be helpful here). Once you have a level bed of coffee grounds you should use a tamper to compact the grounds into a puck. You should then place your portafilter into your machine’s group head and apply pressurized water, either by pressing a button or with a lever depending on your machine. A naked portafilter can be a nice option to watch your shot leave the machine.
Who Is It For
Espresso machines are for coffee fanatics with a love for espresso, who want nothing short of the highest quality. Plus, if you like milk drinks, even better. You will need a fairly decent budget to get a good setup. We’d recommend either a Rancilio Silvia or a Gaggia Classic if you’re getting started.
Quick brewing process
Rich flavor of espresso is inimitable – if that’s what you like, you need an espresso machine
Machines are quite expensive, even at entry-level
It’s arguably the most complicated method of home brewing
The AeroPress originally emerged from the idea of brewing just one cup of coffee at a time. A pressurized immersion brewing method, it is capable of brewing both “espresso”-style coffee and filter strength coffee. The AeroPress is very popular with enthusiasts and has a cult following, and even its own World Championships, largely due to the sheer variety of different ways you can use it to prepare coffee.
To initiate the brewing process, all you have to do is place the chamber on the carafe, add the ground coffee and hot water, allow some time for brewing, and then gently press down the plunger. Inverting the process (with your brewing vessel on top and upside down) is a popular alternative to give you more precision in controlling your brew time. This stops the coffee from beginning to percolate gravitationally before you apply pressure. As the pressure comes from your hand, it requires some strength from your side. Finer grinds are preferred, approaching espresso fineness.
Who Is It For
People who usually drink one cup at a time, are on the road, and like a handy option will appreciate the perks that come with the AeroPress brewing method. It is very popular with campers and other outdoor brewers. A good tip is that you can fit most brands of manual grinders inside the chambers for tight storage!
AeroPress also has a very dedicated following with specialty coffee enthusiasts who like to experiment with their method.
Quick brew time
Great for experimenting
Compact, lightweight, and solid for travel
Easy to keep clean
Can be hard for beginners to get used to
You don’t get the same brightness and clarity as with pour over coffee
Invented in 1933 by the Italian Alfonso Bialetti, the iconic Moka Pot is nowadays an indispensable appliance in many European and Latin American households. This stove-top coffee maker brews coffee by steam pressure. It has a very classic flavor profile, producing good full-bodied coffees. For many people, there is a lot of nostalgia value in a Moka pot.
Fill the lower chamber with water and the upper chamber with ground coffee. Apply a heat source, most commonly by putting it on your stove-top. Once the water in the lower chamber starts to evaporate, the pressure pushes the water upwards. On the way, the boiled water is forced through the ground coffee in the basket and is funneled into the collecting chamber. As the coffee arrives into the top section of the device you should listen out for the classic sputtering sound which lets you know your brew is done.
Who Is It For
The Moka Pot is for those who love nostalgia and a good cup of coffee. It is another device that can also be used in a pinch if you want a replacement for espresso to make milk-based drinks but don’t have a machine.
Classic body and texture – think between espresso and French press
Aesthetically pleasing brew method
Long brew times
Requires a constant heat source
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there is such a broad range of ways to brew your coffee these days that, with a little persistence, you should be able to find the method that suits you exactly. Hopefully, this has been a useful discussion and has helped you to find the one that suits you best, or given you some other ideas to try for a method that you already know and love.
An extra mention should go to the single-serve coffee machines available (think pods and k-cups). They don’t really fit with the brew methods outlined above, but if you really want convenience at the expense of quality, they can provide that. If what you want is well-prepared specialty coffee, in a lot of respects you get out what you put in. You might be better off spending a bit more and getting a super-automatic espresso machine, or saving yourself a lot of money and spending some time learning more about manual brew methods.
For more coffee brewing tips, check out other tips & guides here.