What’s so complicated about learning how to make coffee?
What’s so complicated about learning how to make coffee?
Nothing, really. Then again, everything!
It all starts with the question of whether coffee is the same as filter coffee. Or whether (and when) an espresso is also part of the equation. It ends with the question of the taste that results from any particular preparation method.
In between, there are questions like “How many grams per cup?” or “Which tastes better: porcelain or paper filters?”
Many novice coffee drinkers first need guidance to find their favorite among the preparation methods. Questions about the “perfect” water or the dosage per cup come much later.
That’s why I’ve taken a different approach to the topic of black coffee. In this tutorial, I’ll give you an overview of how to make good coffee and what you’ll get with each preparation method.
I’ll give tips on how to make coffee with and without electricity — no matter where you are. We’ll even take a look at why some brewing methods are more popular than others and find out which method suits you best.
In the end, you should take away at least two things:
- When choosing your favorite method, there’s no right or wrong, no best or worst option.
- What really counts is high-quality beans that are always freshly ground, even if you just want to pour a tablespoon of powder over water.
Table of Contents
Coffee Preparation: What Does Making Coffee Mean?
Every form of coffee preparation — whether by hand or by machine — is based on the same principle: hot (no longer boiling!) water meets ground coffee. This then dissolves the flavorful solids that bond with the water and end up as coffee in the cup.
When you look at it this way, it’s complete nonsense to draw a line between filter coffee and espresso. But if it were that simple, we wouldn’t need this guide on how to make coffee.
After all, it’s not just a matter of hot water meeting ground coffee. Much more important is in what form and for how long water and coffee grounds meet. Here are the three takeaways about the conditions for coffee preparation:
- Medium (with a filter or direct contact)
- Pressure (positive, negative or neutral)
- Contact time (cycle time or preparation time)
These three points have a direct impact on the choice of coffee types or roasts, as well as on the best temperature, the ratio of ground coffee to water, the degree of grind, etc. You see where I’m going with this, right?
Anyone who wants to know how to make coffee taste good must always consider all these basic conditions or parameters. Whether they want to quickly prepare a drip coffee maker or spend hours with a ceramic coffee filter or espresso machine.
In the past, common wisdom held that manual methods were superior to machines, at least for drip coffee. We’ll see that this is becoming less and less true. We’ll also see that the apparent contrast between preparation with a filter and with pressure is also not completely clear.
So, in the end, does it really matter which method we use to bring our ground coffee and hot water together?
Strictly speaking, yes.
How to Make Coffee With a Pour-Over: Paper Filters Live Up to the Hype
When I say “pour-over filter,” I’m talking about a paper filter. Just like most fans of this manual brewing method. Though it’s easy to forget that there are also filters made of porcelain, metal or fabric.
But make no mistake, paper filters do just fine. They keep out unpleasant bitters while bringing very floral, tangy or fruity notes to the cup when brewing coffee.
It’s because of these qualities that manual brewing using a filter is the hyped brewing method. Drip coffee was completely redefined with the return to manual brewing, and in the process, it took on some adventurous traits.
Still, a barista fiddling with the pour-over dripper doesn’t exactly justify the price of a cup of coffee in your local hipster “slow bar.”
It really does take a lot of care and understanding of the ratio between coffee quantity, time and water (brew ratio) to tease out all the decisive aromas, especially from light roasts. Not everyone can or wants to take the time to learn how to make pour-over coffee — particularly when it comes to making more than one cup.
But once you understand how to make coffee this way, the cup reveals an incredible subtlety and variety of aromas that you didn’t even know existed. Remember when the filter coffee machine seemed to be our only option?
- Ranges from affordable to very affordable
- Offers an enormous variety of flavors
- Works really well with lighter to medium roasts
- Is coffee preparation as meditative therapy
- Demands knowledge, patience and care during preparation
- Is relatively error-prone (grind, dosage, amount of water, method, etc.)
In all the hype about the paper filter, alternatives like filter coffee from the Karlsbad coffee pot are quickly swept aside. Its porcelain filter is much coarser and produces a very different style of coffee.
Though cloth filters are a more environmentally friendly and permanent solution, in terms of taste, nothing beats paper filters — at least that’s what I believe.
How to Make Coffee With a French Press
In theory, coffee from a French press or press pot is also a type of filter coffee. After all, there are fine-mesh metal screens pressing the ground coffee to the bottom after preparation.
But here’s the thing: unlike when using a pour-over dripper or drip coffee maker, the “filtering” can only happen after the actual preparation.
The French press is a so-called “full-immersion method.” That means all the ground coffee is in contact with water for the entire duration of the brewing process. Plus, the coffee is ground coarser to balance this constant, intense contact.
You can hardly make coffee more directly than in a French press. It’s also pretty much impossible to make coffee more easily and affordably.
Instructions: French Press Coffee in 5 Steps
The instructions for this close relative of filter coffee basically consist of just five mini-steps. Here’s how to make coffee in a French press:
- Grind the coffee beans.
- Measure out about 7 grams of coffee per cup (reasonably) accurately.
- Pour water to just below the rim.
- Wait a total of 3 to 4 minutes.
- Press down the plunger slowly and evenly.
The taste is very bold but over-extraction will make the coffee taste bitter. Plus, the super fine flavors that you’ll find in filter coffee are hard to achieve here. That’s especially true if you put one too many teaspoons into the stainless steel or glass pot. And doubly so if you use boiling water instead of water at the optimal temperature of around 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius).
These are mere subtleties, though. You don’t have to dose to the milliliter, and the classic spoon method (one per cup) also gets results with a little practice. Only the grind should be halfway right and coarser than for a pour-over (about five or six out of 10).
This isn’t just about the taste but also about running the risk of finding coffee grounds between your teeth.
The pots come in countless varieties and price categories that start below $10. So while you’re learning how to make coffee in a French press, do yourself a favor and look for a quality one. I recently blew up a super cheap French press the first time I used it when the hot water hit the cheap glass.
The French press:
- Ranges from affordable to very affordable
- Is super easy to prepare with a high margin of error
- Doesn’t involve consumables (paper filters)
- Can be prepared anywhere (if hot water is available)
- Is an ideal method for darker and classic filter roasts
- Can sometimes have a very unrefined aroma
- Can leave coffee grounds in the cup and mouth
How to Make Coffee With a Coffee Maker: This Is Just Too Easy!
Just a few years ago, any barista colleague of mine would’ve laughed in my face and shredded my membership card if they heard me say:
Filter coffee from a coffee machine tastes just as good as filter coffee from a pour-over.
Anyone who still thinks of a $20 plastic drip coffee maker has missed an enormous leap in quality. Everywhere you look nowadays, you’ll find machines that come as close as possible to the subtleties of manual filtration. And they’re succeeding!
This shift has some undeniable advantages: you can enjoy (almost) perfect drip coffee without putting in too much effort. Pour in water, grind fresh beans — that’s all it takes!
Compared to the manual method, you can prepare large quantities of this filter coffee with little effort. Nice, right?
Still, anyone who needs the automatic filter that much will have to pay for it. A lot, actually. You can get a drip coffee machine that’ll satisfy even a professional, though it’s only available for well over $100.
This seems to run a bit counter to the drip coffee maker principle. Because when we get right down to it, the biggest problem with this sector isn’t the machine — it’s the ingredients!
I blame it on our “upbringing” as a coffee-drinking nation that we equate a cup of coffee from a machine with pre-ground supermarket garbage, some of which is cheaper than the box of filters.
That doesn’t leave much room for quality, though. Even optimal water temperature or an excellent brewing technique can’t improve the taste. It just isn’t there. That’s why there are coffee makers with grinders now.
As clever as this idea is, there’s still a hitch in the execution. The Breville Grind Control is one of the few usable devices in this category.
On the other hand, the new high-performance models prove that the drip coffee maker can easily conjure up full-bodied, multifaceted and outstanding coffee. That’s right, even when it comes to very fresh, bright and tangy roasts that would only have otherwise turned sour in a cheap plastic coffee maker.
The filter coffee machine:
- Is available in all price ranges
- Can make plenty of (good) filter coffee at the touch of a button
- Requires little to no knowledge
- Tends to be ahead of the curve (thanks to the manufacturers)
- Can be (for the most part) used with all filter roasts
- Can be cheap, tempting you to use substandard beans
- Can cost a lot of money, especially the really good ones
How to Make Coffee With an AeroPress: Code Red Nerd Alert!
Just in case you haven’t noticed, we’re slowly tiptoeing toward making coffee with pressure but still sticking with the filter: there’s really no other device that even comes remotely close to the AeroPress.
In this case, you not only use a filter but also create pressure by hand with the so-called “press plunger.” Doing this creates a drink that’s neither filter coffee nor espresso. This uniqueness is a good explanation of the hype behind why the AeroPress has somewhat replaced the pour-over dripper.
Because you can assemble the device in a variety of ways and use it to brew, the AeroPress almost begs you to experiment and figure out how to make coffee with different coffee beans.
You’ll need special tools for this, though, and will have to spend more time on the preparation. In return, your reward is the many nuances of flavor often lost even in manual filter coffee. The beverage becomes fuller but still sits comfortably in the filter style.
At the same time, you can drop in (lighter) espresso beans, which barely work as drip coffee under ordinary circumstances.
On the other hand, the AeroPress is a minimalist’s manual tool for single-serve coffee. And since it’s made of plastic, it’s a good choice for making coffee while traveling. All you need is hot water and coffee, of course.
Price-wise, using the AeroPress means spending slightly more money than for the pour-over because you need special filter paper and the patented “plunger.” But with a price of around $30 for the whole set, you certainly won’t break the bank.
- Is an ingenious and special preparation method
- Makes coffee with unique character
- Is inexpensive
- Is ideal for making coffee while traveling
- Is suitable for all roasts and coffee beans
- Makes only a single cup of coffee
- Requires a little practice
How to Make Coffee With a Moka Pot: Let's Take It Italian Easy!
Espresso: the quintessential Italian coffee. And of course, it only comes exclusively from an espresso machine. Too bad no one told the Italians that!
They don’t install an expensive machine in their kitchen. Instead, they use an ordinary, often super affordable moka pot. It’s almost easier to put on than a pot of hot water.
In this multi-piece coffee pot, hot water is forced through the ground coffee from below simply because it expands while it boils. This creates minimal pressure, partly because the ground coffee is packed tightly in a filter basket.
But we’re a long way from the requisite 9 bars of pressure necessary for true espresso, not to mention being just as far from its elegance. Still, coffee from a stovetop pot is at least as full and strong — if not more so.
The compact sip of coffee you get from a moka pot comes close enough to espresso but is easier and less expensive to prepare. Just like with the French press, you don’t have to measure all the parameters down to the last detail and can work almost freely.
You can also choose between countless styles and sizes, but I recommend the Bialetti Venus, a more compact stainless steel model for all types of stoves. Classic espresso pots usually come in aluminum.
For the best results, use medium-to-darker roasts with chocolate, nut and cocoa accents for the stovetop coffee pot. Just make sure there are minimal bitter compounds and avoid Robusta beans altogether.
The moka pot:
- Offers a very simple preparation method
- Makes nice strong coffee
- Is super affordable
- Is suitable for darker roasts and espresso beans
- Is forgiving of inconsistency in preparation
- Can quickly “burn” coffee
- Makes coffee with more caffeine and less subtlety
Making “Coffee” With a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine: Finally!
One of the most common beginner questions in my super-automatic espresso machine reviews is whether any of the coffee makers can also make regular coffee. If by that we mean the version we usually make by hand and with a paper filter, then the answer is yes — it’s impossible.
That’s because the super-automatic coffee machine imitates an espresso machine, so it relies on pressure and a specific grind to extract coffee in a few seconds. On top of that, the taste is close to espresso, and the drink looks the same, too.
The only difference is that the characteristic crema is “whisked up” afterward because the machine builds up less pressure to brew the coffee.
If you want “coffee” in the sense of “a lot of drink at once,” you can use more water during extraction. I usually go for a water volume of around 4 ounces (120 milliliters). Technically, this would be a lungo, even though manufacturers call it “coffee” or something similar on the coffee specialties menu.
Until now, this usually caused a problem: the espresso drink was already not quite “right,” so the coffee would be very watery. Not only that, but the more coffee the machine prepared at once, the more the water came through.
Of course, this is now changing. And rapidly. Everywhere you look, manufacturers are making machines ever more refined and finely tuned, with Jura coffee makers currently leading the way in this unmistakable leap in quality.
This leap has made it possible that once-watery coffee approximations now taste full-bodied and multifaceted. The push-button principle is one of the biggest pros. Once you’ve set the machine up properly, you can make successful coffee drinks until the drip tray cracks — but don’t, of course.
When it comes to choosing a roast, coffee from a super-automatic is best with classic flavors from the chocolate and cocoa side of things. You need a little more “oomph,” though, to balance out the compromise principle that comes from the interaction of the grinder and brew group.
The super-automatic espresso machine:
- Makes coffee at the touch of a button
- Makes it easy to adjust coffee quantity, water temperature, etc.
- Offers excellent coffee from high-quality equipment
- Is suitable for medium, darker espresso beans
- Can also prepare cappuccino, latte macchiato, etc.
- Demands a substantial investment (especially for very good quality)
- Doesn’t prepare drip coffee
Making “Coffee” With an Espresso Machine: Ciao, Americano!
When it comes to the question of how to make coffee using an espresso machine, we first have to ask ourselves what “coffee” actually is. I draw the line at not using a filter, while others say when there isn’t enough water or fill quantity.
The way I see it, coffee from an espresso machine is the furthest we can go from the actual definition of the beverage because there’s no filter. You extract the ground coffee in the basket directly through pressure, with water shooting through it quickly.
Since you have to do (almost) everything yourself on the espresso machine anyway, a preparation that goes beyond the classic lungo as “coffee” is preferable.
With the americano, we can create a world of flavor that I personally find very tasty (and consider a better alternative when using a super-automatic coffee machine).
Because the americano is an espresso extended with water after extraction (not during), this separation always ensures a full-bodied, well-rounded beverage with quite a bit of kick. If you put the water in the cup first, you can even preserve the crema.
All that to say, an espresso machine is only worth it if you’re a real espresso drinker who won’t crave a big cup of regular coffee after three days. And when you think about it, even the espresso machine never comes close to creating filter-style coffee.
Then again, an espresso machine opens the entire world of roast flavors and coffee beans to you. And it doesn’t have to be all dark and chocolatey, either. Super bright and floral espressos work just as well. That’s rarely the case with super-automatic machines.
The espresso machine:
- Makes real espresso in its most delicious form
- Gets the best out of the full variety of espresso roasts
- Provides plenty of opportunity to try, experiment and discover
- Requires a high investment (especially for accessories like scales and grinders)
- Requires intensive work for optimal results
- Doesn’t make filter coffee
How to Make Coffee With a Siphon: Boring!
Look, I have nothing against the siphon. Honest.
After all, there’s a long tradition of using negative pressure (or a vacuum) to brew coffee. Plus, the apparatus is an eye-catcher. But even my most basic instructions show why brewing coffee (again, without a filter) can be unnecessarily complicated:
- Fill the lower flask with water.
- Place the siphon on the stove (or other heat source).
- Wait for the water to get hot and rise to the top.
- Add the medium-ground coffee.
- Stir to completely infuse the coffee grounds with water.
- Turn off heat, wait for the coffee to flow back to the bottom, leaving the coffee grounds on top.
In terms of taste, siphon fans swear that vacuum coffee beats any filter coffee, hands down. They’re not wrong! Even if you break down the flavors a bit differently, it still makes it quite a distinct beverage.
Cost-wise, a decent siphon coffee maker starts around $75. It’s usually made of (breakable) glass and needs to be thoroughly cleaned after each use. Of all the ways to prepare filter coffee (and its relatives), for me, the siphon is the most about the spectacle of it all.
If it were otherwise, expensive coffee bars wouldn’t serve you $5 pour-over coffee but would instead line the counters with siphons.
Making Turkish Coffee: There’s More to Cowboy Coffee Than Campfires and RV Parks
Forget filters, coffee grounds or the elaborate drip coffee maker.
Sometimes all you need to do is add finely ground coffee to your cup with a pinch of your thumb, pour in hot water and drink the brew as soon as the grounds sink to the bottom. (A little tip from a pro: don’t forget to stir.)
And no matter what you call it — in grind/in quantity, in brewing/in coffee choice — nothing comes close to bringing coffee and water together without embellishment and sophistication like Turkish or cowboy coffee.
The biggest problem is how to get the water hot and start the day without coffee grounds between your teeth.
Turkish coffee is a version of an Arabic preparation method, where you take extremely finely ground coffee powder and boil it twice, directly in the water, using a special Turkish coffee maker (called an ibrik).
This double brew only works well with certain coffees or roasts that taste incredibly sour (and nasty, to be honest) in any other form. I tried it once as filter coffee and never did that again! Mocha is considered the strongest coffee in the world, and I can definitely agree.
Cowboy coffee, on the other hand, is considered the laziest coffee in the world. But it’s not quite that simple. Pouring water directly onto coffee grounds without using anything else isn’t just a makeshift solution for backpackers and campers.
The method is called cupping in specialty coffee circles. And fans are hell-bent on making sure that the grind, the amount of coffee and all other parameters are exactly the same in each cup. Not to mention implemented according to scientific standards.
Here, no one waits for the “crust” of coffee grounds to settle on the bottom because it’s broken with a special tablespoon to get to the liquid. Once that’s done, you can slurp and give your senses a test for all it’s worth.
If this is the case, then why don’t we all just make our coffee without a machine or stuff — the pros don’t do it any differently, do they?
Well, actually, yes!
Similar to the French press, this full-immersion method is what we use to assess a particular varietal or harvest. Professionals can tell how this sample will taste as drip coffee or espresso.
Although they (the professionals) accept that the cupping results can only hint at some aspects, they know how those aspects might present themselves in the finished preparation form.
Lay people don’t know that. We want to experience the flavor, not just evaluate it from a scientific standpoint.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee: So Wrong Never Tasted So Right!
Almost everything I just said about the “unfinishedness” of coffee brewed directly with water is taken to levels of absurdity with a cold brew.
This popular form of iced coffee relies on cold water, wherein the coffee grounds sit around comfortably for up to 24 hours. This extracts an incredible array of flavors, every form of freshness, fruit and sweetness.
Cold brew coffee, much like French press, is a relative of filter coffee, even though the filter isn’t used until after extraction. But the thing is, the grind and quantity (or the ratio of water to coffee) must be adjusted a bit more precisely for good cold brew coffee than with the press pot.
And because the grind is finer than the standard for drip coffee machines, cold brew just doesn’t work with supermarket coffee. It also falls flat, of course, because of the lack of any obvious flavor profile.
The coffee of the moment, it’s so trendy that even super-automatic coffee machines claim to have figured out how to make cold brew coffee. The Jura Z10 is leading the pack, while the DeLonghi Dinamica Plus and the Spinn Coffee Maker are along for the ride.
Nope. Not possible.
Unless, of course, you leave the machine on in continuous operation for up to 24 hours. And you could provide some sort of float chamber for the cold brew. Still, the Jura model makes a cold espresso with less pressure that’s actually very tasty — it’s just not cold brew coffee.
Conclusion on How to Make Coffee: It All Comes Down to Taste and Quality Beans
Like I said in the beginning, if you want to learn how to make coffee, all it really comes down to is your taste and good beans. You can even use a Thermomix, as long as you pay attention to the quality of the beans.
If you want to learn how to make coffee without relying on experiments, find the right “ingredients” in my super-automatic machine guide 2023 and coffee machine guide 2023. But if you’re counting pennies and want to get intense with your coffee, you should reach for the pour-over coffee maker.
Each brewing method has its own pros and cons and can produce completely unique taste experiences. Let me know how you brew your coffee at home, in the office or anywhere else!