Coffee brewing is as much of an art as it is a science. The history of coffee brewing devices is rich and the methods of brewing are culturally dependent. Of the thousands of coffee machines and brewing devices invented since the advent of coffee consumption, only a few have gained worldwide popularity. The methods discussed below are recommended since they have been found to maximize the extraction of the most desirable flavors of coffee, while minimizing the extraction of bitter and unappealing components.
General rules: The following general rules apply to each brewing method discussed. Coffee should be brewed for 4.5 to 5 minutes using a ratio of 1-2 tablespoons, (30-60 grams) of ground coffee per every 6 ounces, (.177 liter) of filtered water. Concentration may vary depending on taste. Filtered or spring water is recommended at a temperature of 195°-205°F, (90.5°-96°C). Unfiltered tap water may impart some undesirable flavors to coffee. Some minerals are essential to coffee flavor therefore distilled water is not recommended.
The best way to control the time and temperature is to use a French press. The French press offers unparalleled flavor due to perfect extraction time and delivery of the volatile oils that are often trapped in filters. A French press is also the least expensive brewer available. To brew in a French press: boil the correct amount of water, freshly grind the beans using a course setting, remove the plunger, place the grounds at bottom of the glass, add the hot water and stir. After 4-5 minutes, press the plunger down to separate the grounds from the extracted coffee. The best French presses are made by Bodum and come in sizes of 3, and 12 cups. An insulated version is also available.
Unfortunately, the French press is not quite as convenient as a drip maker due to preparation time and cleaning time. The French press also loses heat faster than some other methods, but extraction at slightly varying temperatures will promote a more dynamic and complex cup of coffee. To minimize heat loss effects, Bodum has developed an insulated coffee press. This press is highly recommended for both design and attention to coffee brewing details.
A novel integrated electric water heater-French press is available from Chef’s Choice. This French press minimizes the complexity of using multiple devices to boil and then brew the coffee. We use it daily at the Coffee Research Institute and highly recommend it for those who want to simplify the brewing process without sacrificing quality.
The vacuum pot is a clever device invented by Robert Napier in 1840 that prepares an exceptional cup of coffee with a potent aroma. This is an appropriate alternative for those who have an aversion to the taste of the paper filters from the drip brewers or who do not like the sediment in the bottom of the cup from the French press method.
To prepare coffee in a vacuum pot, add the proper amount of filtered water to the bottom bulb, attach a filter to the upper bulb and fit the upper glass bulb tightly over the bottom glass bulb. Place the vacuum pot on the stove making sure that the bottom bulb is completely dry on the outside. Use a medium grind and add the grounds when the water begins to fill the upper chamber. Leave the pot on the stove for 3.5 minutes and then place on a hot pad. Within 30 seconds, the lower pot will cool enough to form a vacuum to pull the brewing coffee into the lower chamber, thereby separating it from the grounds. Experiment with the heating and cooling cycles until the total extraction time is between 4-5 minutes. The best and least expensive vacuum pot available is the Bodum pot (pictured to the left). An electric vacuum pot (pictured to the right) is also available.
Automatic Drip Brewer
The easiest way to brew coffee is by using an automatic drip brewer. Unfortunately, few machines brew at the right temperature for the correct amount of time. The best drip brewers currently available are produced by Technivorm and distributed by Boyd’s coffee. Of the available models, the MoccaMaster Clubline KB 741 with the insulated carafe is probably the best drip brewer available on the market. The Capresso MT500 has recently been making the news as a great new ten cup brewer.
To brew coffee in a drip brewer, place a paper filter in the brewing cone (basket) and wet thoroughly with water. This helps remove the paper taste from the filter. Alternatively, a reusable metal mesh filter basket may be used in lieu of a paper filter. Use freshly ground coffee from a medium grind setting and place in filter. Then just add water to the water chamber and turn your machine on. Brew time and temperature are taken care of automatically. If your brewer has a hot plate under a glass carafe, remove the carafe after the coffee is fully brewed to prevent the coffee from burning.
Espresso is a bit more difficult than the above brewing methods and an espresso section of this website has been dedicated to it. No other brewing method is recommended due to problems with either over-extraction, under-extraction, or timing.