Coffee Brewing 101

"Hey James, how do you brew YOUR coffee?"

This is a very common question my friends ask me. They never expect me to tell them: "I just use a french press"

What if I tell you that you don't need to spend a ton of money for great cups of coffee?

When we are brewing coffee, we are technically extracting the flavor of the coffee. There are 3 types of extracting methods:

  • Immersion
    Ground coffee is immersed into hot or cold water. e.g. French Press & Cold Brew
  • Filtration
    Water flows through ground coffee. Filter keeps coffee from flowing with hot water. e.g. Pour Over & regular coffee machine
  • Pressure Extraction
    Water flows through the more finely ground coffee with the assist of external pressure. e.g Espresso Machine & Moka Pot

There are both pros and cons of all these methods. There isn't really a best way of brewing coffee; it's a preference, hence finding your favorite way of brewing coffee might be the wise idea. But all of the above methods, except the espresso machine, will not cost you more than $25.

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Immersion

French Press

  • Easy to clean
  • Beautiful consistency
  • Quick and easy process

I personally have a 10oz french press that I use everyday.
French Press is simple, quick, and easy to clean up after.

Brew Time: 5 minutes
Grind Size: Coarse
Ratio Coffee to Water: 1:10

1. Put coffee grind into french press
2. Pour hot water half way
3. Stir gently (wooden utensil preferably)
4. Pour hot water to top, wait 4 minutes.
5. Press down and pour all the coffee out to prevent over extraction.

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Cold Brew with French Press 

French press can also be used to brew beautiful Cold Brew coffee.

1. Put coffee grind into french press
2. Pour room temperature water
3. Let it sit for 12~16 hours (room temperature) 24~30 hours (refrigerated)
4. Press down and pour all the coffee out to prevent over extraction.

Ratio should be 1:10 or less! Dilution is also an art of cold brew iced coffee. So if you think the coffee is too strong, just dilute the coffee with ice or water!

TIP - Clean Up Time!
Pour some water in the french press, swirl it couple of times, then pour it through a sink strainer.

Filtration

Coffee maker invention is probably in the same tier of discovery with "sliced bread". Automatic coffee makers made brewing as simple as a press of a button. But still my friends ask me that they just can't get the flavor "right". Two major methods of filtration brewing methods are pour over and drip coffee makers.

Pour Over

  • More evenly extracted flavor - tastes better
  • You look like a coffee expert
  • Can brew as little as a cup

Brew Time: 3~6 minutes
Grind Size: Fine
Ratio Coffee to Water: 1:16

1. Place filter
2. Wet the filter evenly with hot water
3. Pour coffee grind (1oz)
4. Pour hot water evenly until all grinds are wet, then stop.
5. Wait about 10 seconds for the "bloom" to finish then start pouring (4oz)
6. Pour hot water from inside to outside, not hitting the wall, in a circular motion (6oz)
7. Repeat step 6 (6oz)
8. You should have brewed about 12oz of coffee with 1oz of coffee grind (step 3) and 16oz of water (step 5,6, and 7)

Here is a short pour video featuring Jane's blend that was uploaded some time ago. This will give you the idea of how you need to pour the water evenly.

Tip - Alternative Style
If you brew a concentrated coffee by skipping step 7 and 8, and dilute the coffee concentrate with hot water, you'll get a different flavor. This method of brewing coffee is called "bypass" or "bypassing".

Drip Coffee Makers

Tip - Even Extraction!
If you stir the grind during the process of pouring hot water over the coffee, you can improve the flavor of the coffee tremendously. This is to extract the flavors evenly.

Tip - Time of Brew
For any filtration brewing methods, brew time is also recommended to be measured for consistency of the coffee.

For coarser grinds, try to keep the brew time above 5 minutes by pouring as little water as possible each pour.
For finer grinds, try to keep the brew time under 3 minutes by pouring as much water as possible each pour.

  • Easy as coffee, water, button!
  • Automatic
  • Can keep coffee hot for a longer amount of time 

Brew Time: 3~6 minutes
Grind Size: Fine
Ratio Coffee to Water: 1:16

1. Place filter in the basket
2. Pour water in the reservoir
3. Pour coffee in the filter
4. Close the lid and press the brew button

Pressure Extraction

In my opinion, just because aeropress coffee makers are part of this brewing method, (part of it filtration, also I guess), this wins the flavor contest. Pressure extraction uses external pressure for the water to go into extra fine ground coffee. Moka pots, aeropress, and espresso machines are the major representatives of this brewing method.

Brew Time: less than 1 minute (for moka pots, a little longer.)
Grind Size: extra fine
Ratio Coffee to Water: 1:3~12

Moka pot is the most common (and most historical) brewing methods of this kind found in households. It uses pressure from the water molecules expanding in the water chamber to push the steam through the coffee through a tube.

Espresso machine is the most common brewing methods of this kind in commercial areas. It uses water pressure and boiler pressure (built from heat) to push the water through the extra fine ground coffee stored in the basket of the portafilter.

Aeropress is a beautiful combination of filtration, pressure extraction, AND immersion where hot water is manually pushed through coffee and a round paper filter. In my opinion, coffee brewed by reverse aeropress was the best tasting so far.

There is a whole science and explanation behind pressure extraction and THAT I will bore you with NEXT time. Happy Brewing! :)