How Brewing Technique Affects Your Morning Coffee

Coffee is probably the world’s most-versatile beverage—you can enjoy it hot or cold, strong or weak, light or dark. Much of the outcome of your drink, however, is determined by how your coffee is brewed. Brewing impacts strength, flavor, and what you might call grittiness—that is, the size of the grounds that end up in your cup.

The Everyday Solution: The Coffeemaker

The coffeemaker (or “drip” method) is the Honda Accord of brewing. Depending on your beans, their age, and how well you’ve ground them, it can render you a very good cup of coffee or something decidedly forgettable. A drip coffeemaker won’t get you those last few percentage points you might earn for a perfect pour-over, but they are ubiquitous, and their ease of operation is beyond dispute—simply put, anyone can make coffee in a coffeemaker, and therein lies their enormous appeal.

Other pluses are:

1) Minimal clean-up—just toss (or ideally compost) the filter and grounds and handwash the pot for day-to-day use. Once a month, run a cycle of equal parts white vinegar and water through your coffee-maker, then wash again with clear water to decalcify the entire unit.

While you won’t be winning any brewing championships, coffeemakers are a very dependable way to brew coffee, so you’ll likely enjoy a consistently good cup.

The Middle Ground: The French Press

For those who enjoy calculated risk, French press coffee is your best bet. A bit more technique is required than with a coffeemaker. First, the grind—it’s necessary to work with a medium or—more likely—coarse grind of coffee beans, as finely ground beans will seep through the mesh filter of the press and end up in your coffee. You can either buy coarsely ground beans, or grind them yourself—it may take a few tries to find the correct size.

Next, there is an important chemical process called the “bloom” which you’ll want to take full advantage of, as it will mean the difference between brewing a cup of coffee that’s worse than the coffeemaker version, and one that is actually a good bit better.

First, a bit of chemistry:—coffee beans contain carbon dioxide, which is linked to the extraction of flavor compounds (what makes your coffee delicious) within the grounds. In order to release these gases properly, you must pour about half a cup of boiling water (not the entire kettle) over the grounds and swirl them a bit, which should generate a “bloom” of bubbles and gas from your grounds. Wait about thirty seconds, then add the rest of the water. Total brewing time is four to five minutes.

French press coffee is strong and delicious, but there’s also more cleanup involved (though a dishwasher does simplify things).

Chill Out: Cold Press

A variation on the French press technique is a wonderful discovery known as cold press, which simply eliminates heat (and thereby, some claim, a good bit of the caffeine and acidity) from the brewing process and compensates by adding time. Combine grounds and cold water in the press and refrigerate overnight; press in the morning; enjoy.

Hands On: The Pour-Over and Chemex Methods

The pour-over is the Lamborghini of brewing techniques—it requires some level of skill to master, but creates a cup of pure pleasure. The pour-over requires extra equipment—a kitchen scale, a ceramic filter and a gooseneck kettle—exact timing, and a good deal of patience.

The Chemex brewer, which requires a special filter, takes a bit of the mystery out of the process, but it’s still fairly hands-on.

The primary disadvantage of both these methods is that they use breakable components, which are somewhat expensive. Moreover, they only make one cup at a time, and you can make a terrible mess if you overflow the filter. But with the payoff tasting as amazing as it does, you’re hard-“pressed” to find a pour-over convert unwilling to make the effort or spend the cash.