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The different ways to brew coffee

There are many different ways to brew coffee and we all have our favourite. Making good coffee is an art and a science although the various methods share the same basic principle of maximising the extraction of the beneficial flavours of coffee while minimising the extraction of bitter and undesirable tastes.


The general rule is that coffee should be brewed using a ratio of 50g of ground coffee per litre of water. For brewing by the cup: use two tablespoons of coffee per 6ozs of water. Filtered or spring water is recommended. Tap water, depending on where you live, can impart undesirable flavours to the coffee.

Filter/drip method – automatic - is possibly the most widely-used method. Drip brewing is simply the method of pouring hot water over the grounds in a filter and letting the brew drip out the bottom.

To brew coffee in a drip electric brewer place a paper filter in the brewing cone (basket) and wet thoroughly with water. This helps remove the paper taste from the filter. Then freshly grind the coffee using a medium grinder setting and measure into the basket. As the water reaches the pre-set machine temperature it will slowly release the hot water into the coffee filter. As the water pours over the coffee, shake the basket slightly to ensure an even extraction. Brew time and temperature are taken care of automatically. If your electric filter brewer has a hot plate under a glass carafe, remove the carafe after the coffee is fully brewed to prevent the coffee from burning.

A Neapolitan pot is another drip method brewer in which the ground coffee is secured in a two-sided strainer at the waist of the pot between two closed compartments. The brewing water is heated in one compartment while on the stove, then the pot is flipped over and the hot water drips through the coffee into the opposite compartment.

Drip method – manual - the same principle as the automatic drip method with the difference being that the water is heated in a kettle or other device and then manually poured over the grounds in the filter cone. The brew then filters through into a pot or mug and is ready to drink.

Cafetiére (French Press or Press Pot) – said to have been invented in the 1930s is the plunger method. This is the second-most popular way to make fresh, ground coffee. The best way to control the time and temperature of the brew is to use a French Press as it offers unparalleled flavour due to the perfect extraction time and delivery of the volatile oils that can often be trapped in filters.

The pot is warmed, course-ground coffee is placed in the bottom, hot water added to the grounds and stirred. It is then left to steep for three to five minutes before the plunger is pushed down, separating the coffee grounds from the coffee liquor. This prolonged, direct contact of the grounds with the water allows for a more complete, controllable and even extraction. However even with the highest quality burr coffee grinder or coffee mill, a course-grind will still result in some very small coffee grounds. As these are not filtered by the French-press filter they can end up in the cup.

A cup of coffee brewed in this way will be noticeably fuller, with more body and often with more flavour. It will often have the tell-tale sediment at the bottom of the cup.

Unfortunately this method is not quite as convenient as a drip maker due to its preparation and cleaning time. It also loses heat faster than some other methods but extraction at slightly-varying temperatures will promote a more dynamic and complex cup of coffee.

Espresso – invented in Italy is the basis of the many coffee drinks enjoyed today. Our daily Latte, Cappuccino, or Macchiato are all essentially an espresso with hot steamed milk added in varying degrees. An Americano is basically an espresso topped with hot water. Because brewing espresso is slightly more complicated than other brewing methods we will dedicate a section to this method in the near future...

Moka (stovetop espresso) – no Italian home is without one or more moka pots of varying sizes. These beautifully designed, double beaded stove-top pots combine the characteristics of espresso and percolator coffee. Forcing the water, which has been boiled in the lower chamber, up a tube and then down through the finely-ground coffee, moka pots can satisfy a coffee craving and produce an ‘espresso’ style coffee in less than a minute.

Middle Eastern, Turkish or Greek – is another form of coffee infusion. Very fine, powdery coffee grounds, sugar and water are placed in an ibrik - a long-handled, narrow-necked device. The ibrik is placed on the heat to boil and the liquid inside rises to produce a dark foam which comes through the ibrik’s small opening. The coffee and foam are then poured immediately into demitasse cups. Quite often spices are added with the Middle Eastern flavour of choice being cardamom. As the coffee isn’t filtered for this method one is left with a thick sweet, rich cup of coffee.

Concentrate brewing – also known as the jug method is popular in Latin America and other parts of the world. It is the simplest brewing method of all. Large amounts of coffee are brewed with a little water to produce a concentrate. The coffee and grounds are then strained and the concentrated liquid is stored and then mixed with a little hot water whenever a coffee is desired.

Vacuum brewing – invented in the 1840s. The vacuum brewer is a great visual, scientific and romantic experience, although it doesn’t always produce the best cup!

Coffee is extracted by water around 212F, whereas it is usually extracted between 195F-205F. There is limited control over the extraction time. However, this method is growing in popularity.

To prepare coffee in a vacuum pot add the proper amount of filtered water to the bottom bulb, attach the 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 about three minutes. The water in the lower globe begins to heat to a boil, increasing the pressure and forcing the water up a tube connecting the globes and into the upper globe containing the grounds. Once all the water has made this air pressure-induced trip the apparatus is taken off the heat source. This allows the lower globe to cool back down to room temperature decreasing the pressure and thus sucking the brewed coffee back down (through the filter) into the lower globe.

Experiment with the heating and cooling cycles until the total extraction time is between 4-5 minutes.

The Percolator - heats coarsely ground coffee and cold water so that it boils and bubbles up into the top of the unit. Continuous brewing of coffee grounds using boiling water which then turns to boiling coffee liquor will only lead to brewing over-extracted grounds resulting in a thin, bitter, tarry cup.

It is an excellent way to have the relaxing sound of the coffee liquid burbling and gurgling with the aroma of coffee wafting throughout the home as all the volatile wonderful flavours flow out of the percolator and into the air! Beware however that there is possibly no worse way to prepare fresh coffee than this!!