You'll have noticed that at the heart of Coffeeness is coffee. Pure and simple. Which is why I keep putting together new guides on how to brew coffee with a pour-over, work a French press, operate a coffee machine or even the thoroughly German Karlsbad drip-brewing pot.
You’ll have noticed that at the heart of Coffeeness is coffee. Pure and simple. Which is why I keep putting together new guides on how to brew coffee with a pour-over, work a French press, operate a coffee machine or even the thoroughly German Karlsbad drip-brewing pot.
Each of these brewing methods has its own quirks. But this is neither yet another set of detailed instructions on making pour-over coffee nor a rant about various filter coffee machines’ failings.
Nope, my plan is to home in on the key questions about brewing.
At the same time, I’ll put a bit of a professional spin on some colloquial terms and make the fine art of brewing coffee feel as easy as a Sunday morning.
That means getting into grind consistency, quantities and dosages. Getting up close and personal with coffee beans and filter paper. Don’t worry. I’ll keep it short and sweet and tackle common problems. Ready? Let’s do this!
A Guide to Brewing with a Filter
Quick confession. There’s a sneaky subtext to that heading – that coffee filters are the best way to brew coffee. While you can, of course, also use a French Press or Karlsbad drip-brewing pot, these are cruder implements. The downside to a French Press is that it entails full immersion, while the Karlsbader pot’s porcelain strainer is the very opposite of fine.
Aside from the more painstaking pour-over infusion process and a drip-coffee machine’s electrical cord, both devices do the exact same job – provide support for a paper, metal or fabric filter packed with coffee grounds.
Hot water poured over the top seeps through the coffee, filter and holder. And hey presto – black coffee in your cup.
Five Things to Remember
Compared to super-automatic coffee makers or home espresso machines, this really is a back to basics process. Which means the potential for fumbles is high. The things that make coffee foul or fabulous are all in your hands:
Only use fresh, high-quality coffee beans (preferably lighter roasts)
Grind them to the correct degree right before brewing
Prepare the dripper to ensure perfect extraction (i.e. rinse before use)
Be careful to get the water temperature right (205 degrees Fahrenheit)
Pour sloooowly and with a blooming stage first
Even if you do nothing else, these five things will make a world of difference to your coffee. Promise. The sad truth is that many folks aren’t scrupulous enough about these “famous five.” And just in case there’s any doubt: yes, they apply to drip coffee machines, too!
Admittedly, there are very few models that let you harness or take control of the blooming process. Still, Breville Precision Brewer is a notable exception.
The real make-or-break aspects are, however, quality beans in the right quantities, ground to the perfect consistency and a carefully prepared filter. It’s no different for a French press, Chemex or even a filterless Turkish coffee maker.
How Much Ground Coffee do I Need per Cup?
When testing a drip coffee maker, I like to follow a bit of folk wisdom when measuring out coffee grounds: “A spoon for each cup, plus one for the coffee pot.”
It seems all those bygone grannies were right – as long as you use a coffee scoop. These are specially designed dosing spoons that you’ll often find in a bag of mass-produced beans. And there’s invariably one buried in every coffee tin.
Dosing spoons should (hopefully) measure out a quarter of an ounce of coffee. This is the gold standard for brewing the perfect 4-ounce (118-milliliter) cup of medium strength coffee.
As a day-to-day rule of thumb, this works just fine. Even if I personally heap my scoop each time before emptying it into the machine. The spoon “for the coffee pot” not only gives the brew a bit of extra strength but also corrects for a cheaper model’s inevitable free-and-easy approach to brewing specifics. What’s more, it compensates for the scoop method’s fuzziness – especially with larger coffee volumes.
Of course, professionals always use a precision coffee scale to measure a fifth to a quarter of an ounce for about every 3.5 ounces of water. Because they’re more accurate, metric measurements are often preferred – i.e. 6 to 7 grams for every 100 milliliters of water. And since no two coffee roasts are the same, you have to figure out the perfect ratio of coffee to water for each one.
Incidentally, you should usually be more generous with lighter roasts than darker ones.
What’s the Ideal Steep Time?
Strictly speaking, coffee only “steeps” with full-immersion methods. That’s because if you’re a fan of filters, the water is really trickling through the bed of ground coffee. So what we’re actually talking about here is extraction time. And the variations are smaller than you might think.
Total extraction time never exceeds four minutes – even if what’s going on during that time does differ.
With a French Press, you let the coffee stand for (up to) four minutes before depressing the plunger. At most, you give it a quick stir again before the final push.
In contrast, creating a pour-over infusion is four minutes of activity:
After initially moistening the coffee grounds, you have to wait 30 seconds (blooming). Then you fill up the filter once, wait until the water has drained completely before repeating the process until you’ve used up all the water.
If you’re new to the game, use a stopwatch at first to time your four minutes and get a feeling for the perfect brewing time.
Which Coffee Is Best for Manual Brewing?
Fresh beans. Obvs. And a quality roast should also go without saying. Coffee beans for manual brewing are lighter than their espresso cousins – even though today’s espresso beans are more lightly roasted than they used to be.
I know that for many coffee drinkers the mere mention of “acidity” makes you shudder involuntarily. But the lively vivacity that comes through in manual brewing puts a whole new spin on coffee.
Itching to try out this brewing style? You can’t go wrong with African single-origins. To my mind (and palate), Ethiopia supplies some of the most stellar beans for manual brewing. Kenya also has a lot to offer and you can also live it up just as much with the Rwandans. Brazilian beans – which are just everywhere at the moment – often have a more traditional, sweet flavor profile.
Why Does the Coffee Pass Through the Filter Too Slowly?
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, your grind consistency is off. The grounds form too solid a barrier, so that the water struggles to pass through it. The end result? Over-extraction that’ll make your coffee taste bitter.
If you use a coffee machine and order your coffee pre-ground from your preferred roasting company, your problem is almost certainly that your coffee maker needs to be cleaned and descaled.
What if I don’t Have a Coffee Filters?
Contemplating using a sock? Toilet paper? Paper towel? Heck, there’s no shortage of YouTube videos showing you how to make hot coffee or cold brew sans filter. And it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Tightly woven fabrics are after all used for permanent filters. Paper towels also work – as long as they’re the seriously strong variety.
So yes, you can make brewed coffee with all these emergency solutions. The big BUT in my opinion is the questionable taste. That’s because fabrics often retain traces of detergent and the paper towels are quick to fall apart. With that in mind, you’re better off scratching out any tea filters you might have in the house.
A filterless brewing method that’s currently very much in vogue is the ibrik or cezve. This is a traditional, long-handled Turkish coffee pot used to brew ultra-fine grounds. In this case, a darker roast is the better option.
Last on the list of options is brewing in the cup. This works best with a slightly coarser grind at a lower dosage than when using a filter. Oh, and don’t forget to stir immediately after brewing.
I tried direct brewing a cup of coffee with a finely ground espresso. Complete flop. I prefer fruity roasts and this java was simply too sour.
How do I Make Coffee Ye Olde Way?
You won’t believe how often I get asked this. So here’s my best shot at answering it. In the “old days,” coffee was obviously never brewed with a machine. But hot water and ground coffee were always part of the equation.
The earliest brewing methods involved long steeping periods where the coffee grinds remained in contact with water for a long time. It’s basically the same principle as a French press. In fact, all direct brewing methods like the ibrik also use this method.
“Old days” is relative here. After all, Melitta Bentz invented the coffee filter as early as 1908. That makes pour-over coffee one of the og brewing methods.
Do you have any other questions about brewing and preparing coffee? Ask away in the comments section!