Brewing coffee has been a daily activity for me for almost twenty years. At first I was content with drinking a cup of flavored coffee with enough milk and sugar to render the coffee itself undetectable. But over the years, my taste and expectations for coffee has changed, and I have been using different methods to brew a cup of joe.
Those methods have included the following:
This might be the most common method for brewing coffee with a machine. Almost everyone has done it, and while it is certainly convenient, it almost never produces good coffee, partly because the water is not hot enough.
One of the first appliances I had my mom buy for me when I left for college was a $60 Krups espresso machine. It was a perfectly servicable way to brew coffee, except that after several moves, including a cross-country one, I have no idea where I lost it. I also found that my own coffee was too bitter, but that’s because I didn’t know much about coffee, such as tamping, steam pressure, and properly “pulling the shot” to get crema.
French press pot
The first sign of a serious coffee drinker is that he or she owns press pot. It is often the final step in a coffee drinker’s evolution. What I really like about the press pot, and all of the subsequent methods of brewing I catalog here, is that you never have to spend much money on a machine to get a good brew.
About 2002, I moved on to a press pot. My coffee was good enough, but now I realize that the water probably was too hot for brewing with a press pot and that my grounds were bad because, until 2004 or so, I ground my coffee with a blade grinder. When I bought a burr grinder, my coffee changed dramatically because those grinders will produced evenly ground coffee. Since then, I can almost always get a really good cup of coffee from a press pot.
Around 2002, a roommate of mine had one of those plastic, cone filter holders that would hold your grounds. It’s basically the same concept as the drip method, but instead of requiring an electric drip coffee maker, you only need a kettle and a stove. It’s a very simple and effective way of brewing coffee provided your water is really hot, that you use a fine grind, and that you pour the water slowly and evenly over the grounds. If someone recently charged you a mint to make coffee this way, you stumbled on to the pour-over trend. Be sure you watch them make it. You’re paying for the show.
This method was completely foreign to me until I was told about it about two years ago. Until I broke it, I had a stovetop vacuum coffee maker. It uses water pressure for just-hot-enough water to escape a heated chamber to another chamber with coffee grounds. After removing the pot from the heat source, a vacuum siphons the coffee through a filter and produces a very smooth cup of coffee.
Summer has always been a hard time to drink hot coffee. For years I used to make iced coffee by brewing coffee at double strength and pouring it over ice cubes. But about two summers ago, it became impossible to do that because having the stove became intolerable. Cold brewing makes great coffee without requiring any heat. Over time, I settled on using the New York Times ratio: two parts course coffee grounds to nine parts of room-temperature water. I leave the grounds in a Mason jar for fifteen hours. Straining it, yields a double-strength coffee mixture that you can pour into a half-glass of ice water.
Regardless of what brewing method you use, you cannot make a good cup of coffee without a burr grinder. You also need freshly ground coffee and filtered tap water at the correct temperature, both of which depend on your particular brewing method.
Earlier today, I used yet another method to brew coffee. After hearing and reading about it among a particularly finicky set of coffee drinkers, I brewed using an AeroPress. This method produces espresso, which I normally don’t drink, so once I figure out how to make a proper Americano, I’ll report on my experience with the AeroPress.