A Beginner’s Guide to Coffee Brewing Methods

According to the National Coffee Association USA’s findings, coffee consumption in the U.S. in 2013 increases by 5% per 83% of Americans. While more and more people favor espresso-based beverages comparing to coffee brewed in other methods, this is still a smaller segment of the market. For the majority, brewing from more common and inexpensive methods is still the mainstream.

Coffee-brewing methods can be summarized as: boiling, steeping, filtration and pressure. No matter which method is used, the ultimate goal is to allow hot water to penetrate through coffee ground and extract the best essence. Let’s find out more about each method.

Drip – Filtration

Drip is perhaps the most popular brewing method in the United States due to its simplicity and automation. Coffee is often brewed in an electric drip coffee machine whereby hot water drips onto the coffee grounds in a filter basket, hence the filtration. Coffee is clear and smooth. Strength can be adjusted according to your personal preference by varying water to coffee ratio and the grind size. The finer the ground, the more intense it will be. Too fine will result in over-extraction with a bitter after taste. Coarse to medium grind is preferred for this method.

The advantage of a drip coffee maker is that you can set it and forget it. It only takes a couple of minutes to grind the coffee beans and set it on a timer for next morning. It doesn’t take a genius to operate, and not much to tweak and experiment other than adjusting the grind size and use filtered or spring water.

It’s very affordable. You can get a decent drip coffee machine for as little as $20 and up. A well-made one will last for many years without much maintenance. There is no recurring cost other than buying filters if a paper filter is used.

The flip side is that the flavor of the dripped coffee is not as strong or smooth as an espresso and there is no crema on top. While you can add milk and sugar to it, there is no comparison to a cappuccino or latte made from an espresso.

Percolation – Boiling/Steeping

If you’d like to make coffee in the old-fashioned way, then consider a percolator. It’s simple to use and easily transportable. That’s why it’s a common staple item in the camping gear for many outdoor enthusiasts.

Making coffee in a percolator combines boiling and steeping methods. The secret to percolation is to keep the water below the boiling point of 212 F because the heated water is poured over the ground over and over again for several minutes. If the water is too hot and the grind too fine, you will taste the bitterness resulted from over extraction.

Most of percolators are made from either aluminum or stainless steel. They are very durable and can withstand a lot of “abuses” in an outdoor setting. They are light-weight and don’t take that much space. It doesn’t cost that much either.

The downside is that the coffee grind may not get filtered very well and you’ll end up with gritty coffee if not careful.

French Press – Infusion through Steeping

This is another economical way to brew a good cup of coffee which also gives you all the control over the brewing process.

A French Press refers to the coffee-making method as well as the appliance itself. It’s an excellent method with good outcome. Within a few short minutes, you’ll have a beaker full of fresh and tasty coffee.

The two things you’ll need to manage are hot water just under the boiling point and be patient enough to let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Increasing or decreasing coffee strength is a piece of cake by adding more or less coffee ground to water.

The beauty of this method is so visceral where you see the coffee grounds float in the water and tactile when pressing the plunger down to the bottom to separate coffee from water.

This method yields more uniform extraction comparing to percolation. Coffee made from a French Press is more full-bodied with a good balance between sweetness, acidity, aroma, and flavor.

Keep in mind to use coarse grind as fine ones tend to clog up the filter. One thing I noticed was that the coffee looks “muddy” compared to dripped coffee. Maybe that’s why it’s highly recommended to decant the brew to eliminate the grittiness and clarify the brew.

Espresso – Pressure

Espresso has been gaining so much popularity in recent years. With Starbucks opening stores every minute around the world, more and more people have turned into espresso making into a hobby or an obsession.

Espresso is made via the pressure method in an espresso maker of sort. Nearly boiling water is forced through the brew chamber onto the portafilter basket under pressure. The pressure is generated either by steam from heated water, a motor-driven pump in a semi-automatic, automatic or automatic espresso maker or by your arm muscle in a manual/piston type.

This is by far the best way to extract all the goodness from the coffee ground, coffee oil, flavor and crema. The process is very intricate with multiple variables that contribute to a perfectly pulled espresso such as freshness of coffee beans, uniformity of grinds, tamping pressure, brewing temperature, extraction time and pressure.

With different design features in each brand, the complexity is even more compounded for the user to figure out the best combination of the brewing environment. A steep learning curve is a necessary course for someone who is new to making espresso. Patience, trial and error will pay off in the end with a heavenly java pour.

Espresso is very unforgiving as far as coffee ground goes. A quality burr type of grinder is almost always recommended in order to achieve the optimum result. A grinder is even more important than the espresso maker itself if you’d ask a serious coffee connoisseur.

It can get quite expensive to embark on the espresso journey as equipment and accessories will add up very quickly. The other investment is time and maintenance.

Now you have it. Many methods lead to the same outcome of making great coffee. The examples cited in each method are only the tip of the iceberg. The challenge for you is to test different methods and find out which one coupled with different techniques and equipment will satisfy your taste and needs.

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