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Overview Of Coffee Brewing Method

Aug 23, 2008
Just as every coffee bean has its own qualities, each coffee brewing technique produces a different characteristic and taste to even the same bean. There are dozens of ways to brew coffee, and the examples below are only meant to pique your interest in alternatives to what your brew method of choice might be!

Note that each method has a corresponding brew type, grind setting and brew time. Brew type refers to the method by which the water is introduced to the grounds, not how the water is heated. The water for a French press might have to be boiled, however the grounds are not boiled along with the water, therefore the brew type for the press is steeping rather than boiling. The grind setting is a reference point; finer adjustments might have to be made depending on your grinder. The brew time is the time that water is in contact with the grounds.

American drip coffee: This barista keeps it quiet that her daily home-brewing coffee methods involve no more than a blade grinder and a Mr. Coffee. Drip coffee makers run the gamut from single-button no-name brands without timers to commercial brewers with programmable cycles. To make the perfect drip coffee, use the coldest, cleanest water possible. (If you can sneak in to stir the slurry in the filter while the coffee is brewing, even better!) Cold, cold water makes the best tasting coffee, and the reason seems a mystery to some. My personal opinion is that cold water takes longer to uniformly heat up, which gives the coffee grounds a faux pre-wetting stage in coffee makers that otherwise would not have one.
Brew type: Gravity
Grind setting: Fairly fine
Approximate brew time: Depending on water quantity, ~ 2-5 minutes

Percolator: The percolator looks like a misshapen teapot, tall and narrow, with a chamber on the bottom for water and a narrow metal cylinder with a spring to support a metal filter. Percolators can be electric or stove top, but the process that takes place inside the chambers is the same. When the water on the bottom is heated, pressure forces the water to rise up through the tube in the center. The tube passes through the metal filter, and water that comes out the top of the tube is distributed over the grounds. The cycle is repeated several times until the coffee reaches its appropriate brew strength.
Brew type: Gravity
Grind setting: Fairly coarse
Approximate brew time: 4 minutes

French press: Coffee grounds are placed in the bottom of the glass beaker, and hot water is poured over them. When brewing time is up, a plunger with an attached filter presses the coarse grounds to the bottom, separating them from the coffee and allowing it to be served sediment-free. Well, ideally.
Brew type: Steeping
Grind setting: Coarse
Approximate brew time: 4 minutes

Espresso: A concentrated, thick form of coffee characterized by a reddish-brown crema, a delicate foam containing the volatile lipids, sugars and proteins of the coffee bean. A shot of espresso is typically 1 ounce. This is the base of many coffee beverages, including lattes and cappuccinos. Contrary to popular believe, a shot of espresso does not contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee. Consuming an espresso of small volume allows for quick release of caffeine into the bloodstream, hence the -jolt- you get from it.
Brew type: Pressure
Grind setting: Very fine
Approximate brew time: 30 seconds

Moka: Another stove top coffee maker, the moka is has a water chamber on the bottom. A filter with a tube extending into the water is dropped into this chamber. The top (another teapot like oddity with a screen on the bottom) is screwed into the water chamber. Water is forced through the filter, through the grounds (never packed in!). Argued to be a type of espresso maker, there is simply not enough pressure generated in a stove-top moka to be truly espresso. The result is similar-a thick, syrupy coffee that when brewed correctly might develop a crema. The moka is sometimes mistaken as a type of percolator. The difference between the two is that there is no repeat in the brewing cycles in the moka.
Brew type: Pressure
Grind setting: Fairly fine
Approximate brew time: ~1-2 minutes

Vacuum/Siphon: Although they seem the product of the space age, vacuum coffee pots have been in existence since the mid-17th Century. The pot is two stacked glass globes (with the coffee grounds in the top, and water in the bottom vessel) placed on top of a Bunsen burner. Vapor pressure forces the water and air into the top vessel and through the grounds. When the coffee is finished brewing, the pot is removed from the heat, creating a vacuum in the bottom vessel which pulls the coffee back down and through a strainer between the two. The vacuum coffee pot produces an elixir of incomparably clean flavor and smooth texture. If you are willing to spend $40 per pound for Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, put out an additional $40 for a decent-quality vacuum pot to enjoy with it. You will be glad you did.
Brew type: Steeping
Grind setting: Fine (Just a bit finer than you would use for an auto-drip)
Approximate brew time: 1-3 minutes

Turkish coffee: An Ibrik, the traditional pot used to brew Turkish (or Greek) coffee, is filled with a bit of sugar and water, then topped with coffee grounds. The water is brought to a boil, that is, the coffee grounds will start to foam. The ibrik is removed from the heat, then reintroduced to it two more times to bring it back up to a boil. When served, the coffee grounds will leave a sludge on the bottom of the cup, called telve. The coffee produced by this method is nothing short of delicious, but the thick texture and strength of the brew might be a little overwhelming the first few tries.
Brew type: Boiling
Grind setting: Powder-fine
Approximate brew time: 3-5 minutes

Cold brew: The cold brew coffee method is gaining popularity. Essentially, a large quantity of coarsely-ground beans is placed in a large paper filter, and left to sit in a large bucket of cold water. The resulting coffee is; well, it is cold. More importantly though, the cold-brewing technique does not extract as much acid, averaging approximately 70% less acid from the same bean if it had been hot-brewed.
Brew type: Steeping
Grind setting: Coarse
Approximate brew time: 18-24 hours
About the Author
Before buying a coffee maker,check out the award winning Presso at Presso America. Focusing on the area of coffee makers, and espresso makers, Anthony Sastre writes articles for Presso America
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