How to Make Coffee

How to make coffee to extract the perfect cup – Find the coffee preparation technique that works best for you.

  • French Press
    Learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee with a French press
  • Woodneck
    A smooth, delightful coffee experience for connoisseurs
  • Pour-Over Filters
    Simple, classic, and great. How to make coffee with a pour-over filter
  • Stove-Top Coffee/Espresso Maker
    The “budget” coffee preparation method
  • Milk Foam
    It’s not just for coffee: how to make perfect milk foam
  • Espresso Machines
    How to make perfect coffee with a traditional espresso machine

There are many ways and techniques to make a good cup of coffee. But there are also many ways to mess up each technique.

I’ve been writing this coffee and barista blog since 2009. In that time, I’ve taken a deep dive into all things coffee, and I’ve learned a lot about many different ways to prepare coffee. I’m writing this article so that you can take advantage of my experience and learn more yourself.

Find out which coffee preparation method is best for you. Here you’ll find a barista’s best tips and recommendations.

Real talk: It’s impossible to say that one coffee preparation technique is always “the best.” There are lots of variable at play. But the good news is that you can still make excellent coffee even if you don’t have an expensive coffeemaker or espresso machine. The deciding factor is always going to be the quality of the coffee that you use.

When all is said and done, the coffee should simply taste good, and not be bitter or acidic.

Making Coffee: Different Ways to Extract Deliciousness

Regardless of whether we’re talking about drip coffee or espresso, your coffee needs to be in a solution with water before you can enjoy it. That process is called extraction, and it lets the coffee beans release their aroma, their caffeine and their wonderful taste. Their are different extraction techniques. Let’s look at them.

Making Coffee Through Contact Between Water and Coffee, for a Given Period of Time

With this method, the ground coffee comes into direct contact with hot or cold water. Two examples of this technique are a French press or cold brewed coffee. Another direct-contact example is so-called “cowboy coffee,” which is when water and ground coffee come into contact right in a coffee cup.

Making Coffee with a Filter, aka “Drip Coffee”

Filtered coffee takes many forms, which is why it’s one of the most well-known preparation methods. There are different kinds of filters and materials, but the most popular variation is the humble coffeemaker that you can find in almost any given kitchen. Pour-over manual filters, as well as reusable fabric filters, are both important parts of this realm of the coffee world.

Using Pressure to Make Coffee or Espresso

A traditional espresso machine uses a portafilter, the part with the handle that sticks out. These machines use pressure to make coffee — or to be more precise, to make espresso. The machine pushes pressurized water through thickly-packed espresso powder to make coffee.

You may have also seen or used a stove-top coffee pot that’s sometimes even called an “espresso maker.”. However, these coffee makers use a kind of vacuum and although some of the steps are similar to an espresso machine, these stove-top deals use less pressure and the resulting coffee is different. It’s just coffee, not actually espresso.

Other Hybridized Coffee Preparation Methods

There are also other ways to make coffee, and these techniques often combine aspects from several different methods. For example, the Aeropress combines filtration with pressure. The traditional German Karlsbader Kanne is another method that’s hard to pigeonhole into a single category.

Which Preparation Method Is the “Healthiest”?

A lot of ink has been spilled to debate the various health benefits and drawbacks of drinking coffee. Researchers have conducted several studies and even meta-studies, yet they all seem to show very different results. However, generally speaking, coffee seems to be consistently gaining a better and better reputation as time goes on.

Seeing as it’s a water-based liquid, coffee can help with your body’s overall hydration. Additionally, in contrast to what scientists once believed, it now seems that coffee has a positive effect on your circulatory system.

A 2013 meta-study entitled “Long-Term Coffee Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease” concluded that:

“Moderate coffee consumption was associated with lower CVD risk, with the lowest CVD risk at 3 to 5 cups per day of coffee consumption, and heavy coffee consumption was not associated with CVD risk.”

If the he results of this study can be confirmed, they seem to indicate that many previously-held beliefs about the negative health effects of coffee consumption were incorrect, and that the opposite case was actually true. That’s quite noteworthy.

Which Coffee Preparation Method is the “Tastiest”?

Let’s leave behind the world of science and move into the more subjective realm of experiences and preferences. Most of those scientific studies don’t even differentiate between the different coffee preparation methods. For them, coffee equals coffee.
However, we all know that high-quality coffee beans that are slowly roasted in a drum roaster will give you much better results than beans that are roasted too quickly and/or on an industrial scale (to say nothing of the even sorrier results you’ll get from K-cups or instant coffee).
Many people believe that an espresso machine is the tastiest way to make coffee. But to make a good shot of espresso, you need to be careful not to burn or over-extract it.
No matter which method you use, whether it’s a French press or a pour-over filter, if you use beans that are too finely ground, it’ll lead to a less pleasant coffee.
So if you want a nice, smooth cup of coffee, keep the following things in mind:

  • Use good (slow-roasted) coffee/espresso
  • Prepare it carefully (don’t burn it, and don’t over-extract it)
Pro Tip: If you notice that your coffee tastes acidic or sour after it cools down, that’s because the coffee you’re using has lots of chlorogenic acid. But good coffee should still taste good even if it’s cold!

Here’s my personal list of coffee preparation methods, ranked in descending order from smooth and tasty to harsh and unpalatable. Of course, this is just my own personal assessment, and isn’t based on science at all:

  1. Espresso Machine
  2. Woodneck
  3. Pour-Over Filter
  4. French Press
  5. Stove-Top Espresso Maker

How Your Coffee Preparation Technique Affects Your Coffee’s Caffeine Content

I always find it fascinating to read websites that claim to offer facts about caffeine content in coffee. It’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of confusing and misleading numbers. For example, many times these sites don’t even differentiate between different kinds of coffees.

In reality, beans from different kinds of coffee plants contain different amounts of caffeine. Arabica beans have less caffeine than robusta plants. The normal explanation for that difference has to do with the differences in size and height of the plants. Caffeine helps the plant survive by acting as a kind of natural insecticide. Because there are generally more pests lower on the plants, and because robusta plants are usually deeper, that would be a plausible explanation for robusta’s higher caffeine content.

Additionally, it also depends on how you prepare your coffee, as well as on the contact time with water and the temperature of the water. These are all important factors that affect the amount of caffeine in your cup.

To recap, here are some factors that influence the amount of caffeine in your coffee:

  • The amount of time the coffee and water are in contact.
  • The surface area of the ground coffee (in other words, the coarseness of the grind).
  • The temperature of the water (the higher the temperature, the more caffeine is released).
  • The caffeine content of the coffee beans.

In other words, there’s no simple answer. As a rule of thumb, espresso generally has more caffeine than other kinds of coffee. However, that “advantage” is almost always canceled out by volume — after all, most of us don’t drink a whole mug full of pure espresso. An espresso shot is around 30 ml (about an ounce), but the mugs that people use to drink drip coffee can be as small as 125 ml (just over four ounces, which is a bit too small for me), and get as large as a half liter (about 17 ounces), or even more if you’re hardcore.

Making Coffee with a French Press

The French press, also called a “coffee press,” is a true classic. This device was invented in France, which explains the name.

The advantages of using a French press are fairly obvious: you only need hot water and good coffee to use it. You can stop futzing around with filters.

French Press

French presses have a timeless style and fit in with any kind of kitchen. You can also get them in many different sizes.

The Danish/Swiss company Bodum is one of the most well-known manufacturers of French presses, and you’ll find their devices in many households throughout the world.

French press coffee can sometimes get a bad reputation, but that’s not really fair.

If people complain that French press coffee is too sludgy, it’s maybe because the person who made it ground the coffee too finely. Or they may have used cheap pre-ground coffee that was meant to be used with the kind of filters found in drip coffeemakers.

Those two problems can lead to over-extraction and bitter coffee. If the grounds are too fine, they can also make it very difficult to actually press down the filter, and in some cases that could even cause the glass to break.

To learn all about making coffee with a French press, check out this complete guide to the French Press. In the meantime, here’s a quick cheat sheet:

How to Make Coffee with a French Press

  • Grind the coffee yourself, using a coarse grinder setting.
  • For a 1-liter (4-cup) press, use 50-70 grams (1.8-2.5 ounces)* of coarsely-ground coffee; start with 55 g (2 oz) and adjust as needed.
  • Pour very hot — but not boiling — water onto the coffee. The water should be just over 90 degrees Celsius (195 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Stir the coffee once.
  • Let the press sit for four minutes.
  • Press down, drink and enjoy.

*These weights are approximate, but I didn’t include volume measurements like teaspoons or Tablespoons for the coffee because it’s much more precise to measure ground coffee by weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can pick up a digital one for under $20.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Using a French Press:

  • Don’t use coffee that’s too finely ground.
  • Don’t make a “half pot” of French press coffee. You should always fill up your French press. If you only want a half liter of coffee, for example, then use a 1/2-liter press, not a 1-liter press filled up halfway.
  • Don’t use boiling water. If you can’t adjust the temperature on your kettle, then once the water starts boiling, let it cool for 30 seconds after before pouring it into the press.

French Press Tips:

  • Be sure that the parts of the press are screwed together tightly (otherwise they can fall apart when you press down on the plunger).
  • Be sure to fill up the press all the way, so that the proportions work out.
  • Be sure to always use a decent grinder and good, freshly-ground coffee.
  • If you’d like you can pre-warm the cups with hot water (though I don’t really feel like doing so makes much of a difference with a French press).
  • For a somewhat milder, more refined coffee, use a spoon to scoop out most of the grounds before pushing down on the plunger.
  • Frequently clean the individual parts thoroughly.

The good thing about this brewing method is that the coffee has direct, uniform contact with the water, which means that it releases its flavors and aromas very evenly.

You can experiment with all the different parameters until you land on a combination that’s just right for you. Feel free to play around with the brewing time, the grind coarseness, the water temperature, the amount of ground coffee or whether you scoop the grounds out before plunging.

A French press from a company like Bodum is affordable yet still can deliver excellent results. Your coffee will be especially full-bodied and have a lovely, aromatic taste.

In contrast to other coffee techniques that use some kind of filter, the more-porous filter on a French press doesn’t remove those lovely oils from your final coffee. On the other hand, that same filter also lets more particles through, which means you’ll likely find a bit of finely-ground coffee debris at the bottom of your cup.

If you don’t like those grounds, you can minimize them by preparing the coffee as normal (being sure to use coarse-ground coffee) and then pouring it right into the cups after the brewing is complete. If you leave it in the French press, the coffee will continue extracting a bit, even if the plunger is pushed all the way down.
####As discussed before, I put in Amazon links below that I found (the ones in the original article don’t seem to be working, btw). You can feel free to change them if you’d like to highlight other products instead.####
I personally use a few different Bodum French presses. You can also get a cool stainless-steel one on Amazon for under $25, or if you’d prefer glass and plastic instead, a French press like this Bodum one can be had for about $15 or less.

My Video About Making Coffee with a French Press

(Video is only available in German)

Making Coffee with a Pour-Over Filter or Ceramic Filter

The pour-over coffee filter is another classic coffee-making technique. Before Melitta Bentz invented disposable paper filters in 1908, most coffee filters were made from cotton.

These days, cloth filters are coming back into style. They’re cheaper in the long run and more environmentally friendly.

Let’s talk about pour-over filters. We’ll look specifically at porcelain/ceramic filter holders that use paper filters.

You can get these filters in several sizes and colors, from the classic white models to bright red ones. The most popular manufacturers are still Melitta and Hario, which has grown very popular among coffee hipsters due in part to its more modern image.

This article will give you a quick introduction in how to use pour-over filters. If you want more information, check out our complete guide to manual pour-over coffee filters here (coming soon in English).

Manual Filter

Guide to Using a Manual Pour-Over Filter:

  • The amount of ground coffee you use depends on how much finished coffee you want. For a rough estimate, use between 8 and 13 grams (.3-.5 ounces) for every 120 ml (4 fluid ounces) of water — and again, it’s best if you use a kitchen scale instead of a non-standardized “scoop.” That will work out to between 30 to 38 g (1 oz to 1.3 oz) of coffee per half liter (about 2 cups). You’ll need to grind your beans more finely than you would with a French press. That’s because the extraction happens as the water flows through the grounds in the filter, as opposed to the longer, direct contact that happens with a French press.
  • Place the paper filter into the ceramic filter holder, then dampen the filter with tap water until it’s saturated. That will also make it stick to the porcelain filter holder. Pour out the water — that’ll get rid of any fuzz or paper dust in the filter.
  • After the water reaches a boil, let it cool for 30 seconds.
  • Use those 30 seconds to put the ground coffee in the filter. Give the side a tap to level it off.
  • Then, gently pour a quick spurt of water over the ground coffee until it swells up slightly. This infuses the grounds with water, which will give you a more even extraction. This swelling process is called “blooming.”
  • Finally, using a circular motion, slowly pour the rest of the water into the filter.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Using a Pour-Over Filter:

  • If your coffee doesn’t “bloom,” it might be because not all of the grounds are coming into contact with water.
  • Cheap coffee filters can rip easily.
  • If you don’t notice any kind of “action” (like bubbling or gurgling) in the filter when you pour in the water, your coffee is probably too old.

Tips for Using a Pour-Over Filter:

Use your cup to measure your water before you heat it up in a kettle. When making the coffee, you can then put the filter directly on top of your cup. That way, you won’t be pouring or transferring things as much, so your coffee will stay hot longer. You also won’t waste energy heating up extra water that you’d just end up pouring out.

Coffee made with a manual pour-over filter tastes wonderful and clean. You won’t find any grounds or debris here. It has less body than coffee from a French press, but it makes up for it with a refined aroma and taste.

You can find a fancy red Hario pour-over filter here on Amazon for about $25.

Hario Woodneck

The Hario Woodneck is another manual pour-over filtering method. It’s a glass container that uses a reusable cotton filter. It works similarly to the way that other manual filters work.

You might notice that the coffee you get from a Woodneck has a bit more body, though, and it might even taste a bit like French press coffee. That’s because the cloth filter doesn’t filter as much as a paper one. These days, I use my Hario Woodneck quite often. You can find my full review and guide to using the Hario Woodneck here (coming soon in English).

Woodneck

Making Coffee with an Aeropress

The Aeropress is a very simple invention that works similarly to a piston. It’s made up of just a brewing cylinder, a filter holder and piston or plunger-like device. Besides hot water and good coffee, the only other thing you need to use it is a cup.

There are two different techniques to make coffee with an Aeropress, namely the “classic” method and the “inverted” technique. You can find my full review and guide to using the Aeropress here (coming soon in English).

Aeropress

The “Classic” Way to Use the Aeropress

  • Have a coffee mug ready.
  • Place a filter in the filter holder.
  • Soak the filter with warm water.
  • Screw the filter holder onto the brewing cylinder, and place it on top of your mug.
  • Pour 15 to 22 grams (.5 to .8 oz) of ground coffee into the brewing cylinder.
  • Pour 90-degree Celsius (190 F) water onto the coffee until it reaches the middle mark.
  • Stir, then wait 10 seconds.
  • Press the piston down until the rubber gasket reaches the coffee grounds.
  • You’ll now have a very strong cup of coffee (which you can also dilute with hot water, if desired).
  • You can now unscrew the filter holder and “shoot” the coffee grounds and filter into the trash.

 

The “Inverted Technique” for the Aeropress

  • Put the piston into the brewing cylinder, but only partially.
  • Turn it upside down. The numbers will also be upside down.
  • Pour 15 to 22 grams (.5 to .8 oz) of ground coffee into the Aeropress.
  • Place a filter into the holder. Soak it with hot water, like in the “classic” method.
  • Fill the cylinder to the top mark with 90-degree Celsius (190 F) water.
  • Stir, then wait 30 seconds.
  • Now, attach the filter holder to the brewing cylinder.
  • Place an upside-down cup on top of everything, and then turn the whole set-up right side up.
  • Press the piston down.
  • To clean, detatch the filter holder, then press the coffee grounds and filter into the trash.

Tips for Using the AeroPress:

  • Your choice of coffee or espresso is especially important when using the Aeropress. Be sure to only use high-quality coffee. If you use bad coffee, you’ll be disappointed by a bitter experience.
  • Always use freshly-ground coffee. You should set your grinder to somewhere between paper filters and espresso. I can’t give a recommendation that works for all coffee brands and types, since they vary too much. I can only recommend that you experiment a bit until you get a setting that’s just right for what you’re using.
  • After pouring the water onto the ground coffee, give it a quick stir. That helps distribute it evenly throughout the water, which ensures even, uniform extraction. But if you stir it too much, you’ll get bitter coffee.
  • Experiment with the brewing time. The longer the coffee steeps, the stronger it will taste.
  • You should never use water over 95 degrees Celsius (203 F), but you should feel free to try it out with colder water. I’ve tried everything between 65 C (150 F) and 95 C.

The Aeropress is a great invention. It’s light and nearly unbreakable. It’s ideal for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. But it also scores points at home because it’s easy to use. It’s simple to clean and can also go in the dishwasher. The filter will give you refined, debris-free coffee. You can follow the above tips to help you adjust the taste until it’s just right for you.

The Aeropress is inexpensive and makes excellent coffee.

Making coffee with the Aeropress has even become a kind of competitive “sport.” You can join in by picking up your own Aeropress on Amazon for just under $30.

Making Coffee with a Stove-Top “Caffettiera”

Another way to make coffee and which doesn’t require much equipment is the stove-top coffee pot. It looks cool and makes wonderful sounds. You’re basically guaranteed to get that coffee house vibe going when you use it.

One thing, though: it doesn’t make espresso. One common name for these is a “caffettiera,” and some people often call something like an “espresso pot” or an “espresso maker.” But in reality, it just makes coffee. To make something that qualifies as espresso, you need to use significantly more pressure. These devices use about 1.5 bars of pressure, but a true espresso machine uses at least 9 bars.

That’s also why these stove-top coffee pots also don’t give you that lovely “crema” foam.

Different versions of these coffeemakers use different materials like aluminum or stainless steel. Some are actual stove-top devices, and you put those ones right on the burner of your stove. Others are electric variants on the same idea, and work similarly to an electric kettle.

The Italian company Bialetti is the most well-known manufacturer of these coffee makers. Whatever brand you choose, you should wash it out thoroughly with hot water before the first use. You can also read my complete article about stove-top coffee makers, including reviews and a guide to using them (coming soon in English).

Arne Bialetti

How to Use a Stove-Top Coffee Maker

  • Fill up the lower section of the coffee pot with warm water. Never use boiling water or else you’ll burn your hands when you attach the upper part.
  • Be sure not to add more water than indicated by the inner mark. If your pot doesn’t have a mark, only fill it up halfway, being sure not to go higher than the bottom of the valve on the side.
  • Your coffee beans should be freshly ground: grind them coarser than for espresso but finer than for a paper filter.
  • Now place the funnel attachment on the bottom part (which you should have already filled with water). Fill the funnel with ground coffee. You can fill it all the way up, but don’t tamp it down. If the coffee is too dense, the pot may build up too much pressure and burn the coffee.
  • If the coffee is too strong for your liking, you can try adding less ground coffee next time.
  • Next, screw the upper part onto the lower part. Be sure the rubber gasket seals well. It’s especially important to ensure that no coffee grounds make their way into the threads of the screw.
  • Turn on the stove or heating plate. Only turn it to medium heat — that’ll be enough.
  • As soon as you hear the pot bubbling and gurgling, take a look inside. As soon as no more liquid is coming out through the opening, remove the pot from the stove and rinse the base of the pot with cold water. It’s better to do this a bit early than a bit late, so that nothing gets burnt.

FAQ for Stove-Top Coffee Pots

  • Can I get “crema” from a stove-top coffee maker? No, at least not true espresso crema.
  • Can I put it in the dishwasher? No.
  • How can I descale my stove-top pot? This page will give you instructions.
  • Is a stove-top espresso maker a substitute for a traditional espresso maker? Sorry, no. (Fortunately!)

You can find all Bialetti stove-top coffee pots in all kinds of sizes and colors on Amazon, starting at about $25.

Making Coffee with an Espresso Machine

The only way to get a true espresso is by using an espresso machine. However, learning to use the machine properly takes some time. Espresso machines are also sometimes built differently from one another, which you’ll need to keep in mind when making an espresso.

What factors make the difference?

  • A good coffee grinder.
  • The right espresso beans.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

Espresso machines are a very complex topic in and of themselves — much too complex to cover in an article as generalized as this one. That’s why I recommend you check out my article about espresso machines. It’ll give you lots of information about different machine design styles, advantages and disadvantages, and tips for making the perfect espresso.

Arne with Professional PLH

Making Coffee with a Super Automatic Espresso Machine

Super automatic espresso machines promise you the perfect cup of coffee at the touch of a button. But, of course, it’s just not that simple. It all depends on the espresso you use, the settings you choose and the way you take care of the machine. If all of those factors align correctly, though, then yes, you can get good results from a simple touch of a button.

You can find tons of information including set-up tips, cleaning information and buying advice, here in my complete guide to super automatic espresso machines.

What Should I Know About the Water I Use to Make Coffee?

Coffee is almost 100% water. That’s why it only makes sense that the water you use will influence the taste of your coffee. You may have even noticed that when you travel, the coffee seems to taste different. Of course, that may just be because everything feels special while you’re on vacation, or it may be due to different altitudes or relative humidity.

But it also can taste different because of the water. Maybe there really is “something in the water,” as they say. Tap water can be very hard or very soft, depending on where you live. If your water is “hard,” it just means that it has more calcium in it. That calcium can affect the taste of your water, which affects the taste of your coffee and tea.

Many people who enjoy caffeinated drinks even buy jugs of water at the supermarket. Others prefer to use Brita water filters because they reduce water hardness. Some super automatic espresso machines include a built-in water filter.

If you have an espresso machine or a super automatic espresso machine, it’s important to bear in mind that the harder the water you use, the more quickly the machines will need to be descaled.

My Water Tips for Making Coffee

  • Find out how hard your tap water is (check with your provider or use a testing kit).
  • Make two batches of coffee, one with tap water and one with Evian bottled water. Compare the taste of both.
  • Try using a Brita filter for your water.
  • Take what you learned from trying the first three tips, then use what tastes best for you!

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