The Ultimate Coffee Brewing Guide
While coffee has been around for thousands of years, it has not always been good coffee. It has only been in the last 50 years or so that this humble little bean has been poured over (no pun intended!) and studied by artisans the world over.
At present, good coffee (and we still recognize that there are many, many bad examples out there) has become a sort of status symbol of the well-cultured and artisanally skilled.
Still, it should not take you hours in a grocery store followed by hours in your kitchen trying to extract the best brew from a few tiny beans. Here are quick step-by-step guides with barista-backed tips to brew great tasting coffee at home...today!
History: Did you know that the first espresso “machine”, if you can even call the boiler-like contraption just such a thing, was born in Italy in 1884 at the hands of one Angelo Moriando. It would not be until 1903, however, when steam was incorporated into the design by one Luigi Bezzerra and his Steve-Jobs-like partner Desiderio Pavoni, who marketed this handmade masterpiece to workshops and industrialists throughout the Italian countryside.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Be sure to give your machine, regardless of make and model, time to warm up; use this time to calibrate your grinder so that coffee grinds are not too coarse and not too fine...but just right!
- Once your machine is purring along, remove the portafilter from the head, pull your grinds (tips below), tap and tamp, reinsert and hit start
- After 25 to 30 seconds, and no errant water streams, you should have a nice double espresso with crema to boot...sip...savor...and enjoy!
Tips to improve: As previously alluded to, be sure you pull grinds that are between 15 and 16 g (NOTE: this will require a scale and zeroing your device with the portafilter onboard).
Common mistakes: Pulling a nice doubleshot of espresso should not take longer than 30 seconds; if it does, then go back to your grinder and adjust the settings. Remember that if it runs fast, then you need to make the grinds more fine so the water runs slower and the opposite if it is taking forever for you to get your caffeine!
Best for the...connoisseur: Depending on your taste preferences and profiles, espresso is not for the faint of heart (or former Folgers fiend). Do not be put off, though, as the more high-end your machine, the more of the work it will do for you and, so, offset some inaccuracies in measuring grinds or timing out a shot.
2. Moka Pot
History: Just as it took two inventors to bring the espresso machine to fruition in the early twentieth century, so, too, were the demands of the seemingly humble Moka Pot. Industrialists Luigi di Ponti and Alfonso Bialetti took espresso to the Italian proletariat in 1933 by crafting an art deco pot that still works its magic today by percolating pucks of espresso without the need for a fancy machine.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Place water in the lower chamber and boil over medium heat
- Make sure to evenly place coffee grinds in the middle chamber leaving the top, or third chamber, to collect the espresso (well, that and the spout)
- Once the water begins to boil and the coffee rises to the neck of the spout, remove the pot from the heat source, pour, and enjoy
Tips to improve: Consider filling the lower chamber with hot or boiling water so as to not ‘cook off’ the flavor profile of the coffee in the middle chamber. This will also expedite your espresso. A final note is that if you experience a metallic taste, consider cleaning your Moka Pot or investing in a new one as you want an espresso-like taste (not bitter; smooth!).
Common mistakes: Be sure that you remove the lid during the boiling phase and only replace once you are ready to serve. This is key in that you do not want to ‘bake’ your coffee accidently, which could occur with an obstructed view and leaving the water to boil too long.
Best for the...connoisseur: While this Italian innovation is far less expensive than a full-on espresso machine, the process is a bit more in-depth and less automated. This means that getting temperatures just right could prove either frustrating or fun.
3. The Aeropress
History: This scientific-looking apparatus is one of the newest (and dare we say, geekiest) devices on the market. It was born in 2005 and is great for the avid traveller who just can’t do without a good cup o’ joe.
Quick 3-step guide:
- For the classic method, begin by boiling water and grinding your coffee; measure out and aim for approximately 16 g of grinds
- Bring water to boil and place in the plunger (smaller cylinder) as well as the mug that is catching the final coffee product, which needs to be nested in filtered cap of the larger cylinder, or brewing chamber
- Take care when pouring the hot water from the plunger into the brewing chamber as well as when inserting and depressing the plunger into the chamber effectively creating your next best Americano...yum!
Tips to improve: Try not to overgrind your coffee as you should be aiming for a mid-range grind that looks a bit like sugar, or, somewhere between a French press grind (i.e., coarse) and an espresso grind (i.e., fine)
Common mistakes: There are two ways to use your AeroPress: in the classic way and the inverted way. We recommend learning classically (detailed above) and then transitioning to the inverted once you feel more confident.
Best for the...connoisseur: Like the other pressure-based methods, the AeroPress can be a bit intimidating at first. The temperature can be hard to control for with so many pieces (seven, counting the grinder and kettle!) to account for; do be sure to take care and enjoy the brew process as frustrations can abound.
4. The French Press
History: The origins of this brew method is not as clear cut as one would imagine. That said, grab your globe (or Google Earth) since the press began in France in 1852, but then was usurped by yet another dynamic Italian duo (i.e., Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta) in 1929. Then, the Swiss, in an uncharacteristic move, swooped in and re-branded this simple device as a ‘Chambord’ until the Danish nabbed it from the United Kingdom. Got all that? Good, because here’s how to brew a great cup of coffee no matter where you land!
Quick 3-step guide:
- Begin by boiling water in the amount you desire and begin to prep your grinds
- Reach for the coarsest setting on your grinder, measure out your preferred amount (i.e., weak to strong), and place in the carafe
- Pour your water in and just hover the lid with plunger over the carafe giving the coffee time to settle, then press, pour, and enjoy!
Tips to improve: Again, it is best not to rush this process. Thus, it may be best to take a walk around the kitchen while you allow the water to activate, or bloom, your coffee. This process could take anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes.
Common mistakes: Besides rushing the process, overwatering the coffee could prove to be an issue and remembering to keep a coffee to water ratio of 15 grams of coffee to one 8-ounce cup of water.
Best for the...craftsman: While this method is easy, brewing the perfect cup o’ joe in a French press is nothing to scoff at or take lightly. While coffee grinds and water will yield sufficient caffeine to power your day, we recommend a little bit of experimentation around grinder settings and extreme patience when depressing the plunger.
5. The Soft Brew
History: The SoftBrew method and resulting teapot-like kettle were born in 2010 by world-renowned designer George Sowden who hails from the United Kingdom, but has found fame in Denmark with French press manufacturer Bodum as well as smaller firms in Italy.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Ready the ‘teapot’ with a quick and cleansing rinse and then place upwards of 65 grams of coffee in the filter; set 32 ounces of water to boil
- Pour half of the boiling water over the grounds, allow to settle, and then pour the rest
- Put the lid on the ‘teapot’ for 3 to 4 minutes and then remove the filter, serve, and delight in the full-bodied flavors, aroma, and mouthfeel
Tips to improve: This method is just about as easy as they come, but was developed so that coffee fans can enjoy single origin beans without the loss of taste that often takes place alongside pressurization (i.e., espresso).
Common mistakes: While you can make any type of coffee in your SoftBrew ‘teapot’, single origins bloom the best and boost the flavor profile of a Sumatra or a Colombian. Thus, we recommend going beyond the common blend and exploring the world (and flavor wheel!).
Best for the...apprentice: Any coffee fan can enjoy this method and take their coffee game up a notch by exploring the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s flavor wheel.
6. Coffee Bags (like tea, but not!)
History: Instant coffee, which is not unlike what is produced from a coffee bag, was invented and patented in 1881 by Frenchman 1881. Of more import, is the popularity of this brew method in Japan, which is growing its coffee counter-culture (no pun intended) and discovering a robust (again, no pun intended) demand for their Drip On bag brand.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Source a ready-made coffee bag or, alternatively, your own bags and coffee
- For both methods, boil enough water to yield your ideal coffee around strength (e.g., weak, strong, etc.)
- In the case of the former, submerge your bag and allow to steep for three to four minutes; in the case of the latter, open the bag, deposit your favorite coffee grinds, seal, submerge, seep, and enjoy!
Tips to improve: The biggest tip might be avoiding this method at all costs, well, unless you find yourself severely under-caffeinated on the side of Mount Everest or some such similar pursuit. Seriously.
Common mistakes: While you may be saving time, the waste profile of coffee bags is a bit concerning and something to consider if you do, in fact, find yourself summiting Mount Everest (or skiing to the South Pole).
Best for the...apprentice: Using the latter method, or creating your own coffee bags, might prove a fun experiment in the kitchen, there are far better means and methods in which to not only get your caffeine-fix, but also create your own blends.
7. Siphon, or: Vacuuming
History: While Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, CA, made this process popular around their founding in 2002, the method was originally developed in Germany circa 1830.
Quick 3-step guide:
- As a word of caution, there is really nothing ‘quick’ about this process, but in keeping with the theme: bring water to boil in the lower glass carafe while simultaneously placing coffee grounds in the upper glass bauble
- When the water is boiling, then insert the stem of the upper glass container into the lower, allowing for the water to siphon upward, submerge the grounds, and remove from heat to allow for the brewing process to take place
- While the coffee concoction cools, evaporation will draw the water back down (this is the vacuuming bit) and yield your cup of (complex) coffee...enjoy (if you’re not too tired, yet)!
Tips to improve: This is a bit of a ‘show-off’ method, but if you’re going to commit to it, then go all out and invite friends over to watch!
Common mistakes: This method should not be undertaken on a daily basis given the fragile nature of the equipment and the cost of your time dedicated to upkeep.
Best for the...connoisseur: Again, this brew method could either boost your coffee game or consign you to being considered a know-it-all jerk. That said, keep it classy and geek-out on your own or only with you closest friends.
8. The Percolator
History: This final steeping method is a 1889 byproduct of one sleepy, tired Midwestern farmer looking for a quick pick-me-up. What’s more, and in keeping with this mini American history lesson, the device gained some notary in the 1970s courtesy of Richard Nixon’s impeachment proceedings.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Grab the percolator and fill the lower chamber with water; set on stove or range top
- Add coffee grounds to the top chamber and bring to boil
- Once you hear a perking noise, then you know your coffee is read; remove from heat and serve
Tips to improve: The percolator works on a continuous cycle and, so, is apt for overtraction, which could leave coffee tasting burnt (think gas station coffee). Additionally, using more coarse grinds could improve your coffee’s flavor profile.
Common mistakes: Be sure not to overfill the lower chamber as the tube requires space between both chambers in order to form a vacuum and continuously force water (followed by previously brewed coffee) through to the top chamber.
Best for the...apprentice: There is nothing particularly difficult when it comes to ‘perking’ coffee, which means those who employ this method may miss out on all the potential this little bean has to offer.
9. The Chemex
History: The Chemex was created in response to the burnt tasting coffee so often found in America (courtesy of the percolator (see above)). The single hourglass brewer was designed by American chemist Peter Schlumbohm and released by the Chemex Corporation in 1942.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Set water to boil and insert your Chemex filter into your hourglass bauble
- Once the water begins to boil, immediately remove from heat and wet the filter; carefully re-insert and add your medium-fine coffee grinds
- Pour half of your water to the grinds and filter (NOTE: stirring is optional); allow to settle and then add the rest of your water; remove the filter and grinds to serve
Tips to improve: The Chemex filter is a bit robust (no pun intended!) and so should be thoroughly wetted to avoid transferring a watery taste to your brew. Additionally, many Chemex now come with an environmentally friendly metal basket. If you do elect to go this route, then do take care to select a stainless steel variety so as not to swap a papery-taste for a metallic-mouthfeel.
Common mistakes: While most coffee brew methods previously covered yield one, maybe two mugs of coffee, this method can provide three to four and so should be dosed accordingly. On that note, a coffee to water brew ratio of 1:16 is not uncommon.
Best for the...apprentice: This simple method is ideal for the brewer that is looking to grow beyond his or her Mr. Coffee habit in the morning.
10. Hario, Kalita, and Clever
History: The Hario, or Hario V60, came by way of Japan in 1921 with the Kalita and Clever coming shortly thereafter (and also from the Land of the Rising Sun) in 1951 and the early aughts, respectively.
Quick 3-step guide:
- Prepare enough boiling water to obtain a rough 1:16 or 1:17 ratio of medium-to-coarse coffee grinds to water
- Prepare your dripper by inserting the correct filter and coffee
- Pour the hot water over your grinds in a circular motion taking care to allow the coffee sufficient time to bloom, then remove and enjoy!
Tips to improve: While drippers are not too sophisticated (please, take no offense), using the wrong filter or trying to speed the process with a stirring rod could prevent your brew from reaching its full potential in terms of taste profile and mouth feel. That said, take your time and only use a stirrer for the Clever, which must be activated.
Common mistakes: The most common mistake with pour overs is underestimating the great cup o’ joe each can yield and the consistency inherent in each method; so, experiment and enjoy!
Best for the...apprentice: These little tools can help you feel like a chemist around the kitchen without a great deal of upkeep or start-up costs.
11. Bonus: Vietnam
History: Coffee came to Vietnam by way of France in 1857. The country received its first Arabica-bean tree and hasn’t looked back since! It is most famously known for a condensed milk variety of coffee known as cà phê đá or cafe da, which you can add fish sauce or egg to for an extra boost of the feel-goods!
Qucik 3-step guide:
- Set your water to boil and grab your stainless steel Vietnamese coffee filter (looks like a little rice pot) and fill with coffee grinds, reinsert the filter and seat atop your 15 ounce travel mug
- Pour hot water over the grinds and allow the water to pass through for four to five minutes; meanwhile, ready your condensed milk, fish oil, or egg and prepare a few ice cubes
- Once the coffee is done brewing, stir in your milk (and fish oil or egg), stir, and serve over ice for a protein-packed on-the-go ‘meal’
Tips to improve: Take care that the coffee does take four to five minutes to traverse through the coffee grinds. Again, and like espresso, if it goes too quickly then refine the grind (i.e., make more like sand) and if it takes too long, then make your grinds coarser.
Common mistakes: Not all coffee types will mix well with fish oil and egg, which means you may need to invest in some Cafe du Monde chicory yourself.
Best for the...craftsman: This coffee is not terribly difficult to brew and can be enjoyed by the sports lover looking for a high-energy snack before or after the gym.
In summary, coffee is what you make it, but we here at the Coffee Grind Guru hope that you now have the tools, tips and tricks of the trade to brew great tasting coffee at home.
Tyler Heal is not only a Barista, but a coffee and writing fiend. He’s the editor (and owner) of Coffee Grind Guru, a blog that’s dedicated to providing coffee lovers of all experience levels with the knowledge needed to improve their daily cup o’ joe.