How to Make Coffee to Extract the Perfect Cup – Find the Coffee Preparation Technique That Works Best for You
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There are many ways and techniques to make a good cup of coffee. 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 have taken a deep dive into all things coffee, and I have 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.
Real talk: It’s impossible to say that one coffee preparation technique is always “the best.” There are lots of variables at play. However, 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 rely on your coffee’s quality.
When all is said and done, the coffee should simply taste good, and not be bitter or acidic.
- 1 How to Make Coffee to Extract the Perfect Cup – Find the Coffee Preparation Technique That Works Best for You
- 2 Making Coffee: Different Ways to Extract Deliciousness
- 2.1 Making Coffee Through Submersion
- 2.2 Making Coffee With a Filter: aka “Drip Coffee”
- 2.3 Using Pressure to Make Coffee or Espresso
- 2.4 Other Hybridized Coffee Preparation Methods
- 2.5 Coffee’s Health Benefits
- 2.6 How Your Coffee Preparation Technique Affects Your Coffee’s Caffeine Content
- 3 Making Coffee With a French Press
- 4 Making Pour-Over Coffee
- 5 Hario Woodneck
- 6 Making Coffee With an AeroPress
- 7 Making Coffee With a Stove-Top “Moka Pot”
- 8 Making Coffee With an Espresso Machine
- 9 Making Coffee With a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
- 10 What Should I Know About the Water I Use to Make Coffee?
Making Coffee: Different Ways to Extract Deliciousness
Regardless of whether we are talking about drip coffee or espresso, your coffee needs to mix with water before you can enjoy it. That process is called extraction, and it lets the coffee beans release their aroma, caffeine and wonderful taste. There are different extraction techniques, so let’s discuss them.
Making Coffee Through Submersion
With this method, the ground coffee comes into full, direct contact with hot or cold water. Two examples of this submersion technique are a French press or cold brewed coffee. Another direct-contact example is the so-called “cowboy coffee” method, when the water and ground coffee come into contact directly in your coffee cup.
Making Coffee With a Filter: aka “Drip Coffee”
Filtered coffee takes many forms, which is why it is so well-known. There are different kinds of filtering devices made from a variety of materials, but the most popular variation is the humble coffee machine that you can find in almost any kitchen. Pour-over manual drippers, 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 handled part that holds the ground coffee beans. The machine pushes highly pressurized water through packed coffee grounds to make your espresso.
You may have also seen or used a moka pot, which is sometimes called a “stove-top espresso maker.” These coffee makers funnel steam from its lower chamber through the coffee grounds, brewing coffee into the top chamber. Although some of the steps are similar to an espresso machine, these moka pots use less pressure, and the resulting coffee is different. It’s just coffee, not actually espresso.
Other Hybridized Coffee Preparation Methods
There are other ways to make coffee that often combine aspects from several different methods. For example, the AeroPress combines submersion with filtration and pressure. The traditional German Karlsbader Coffee Pot is another method that is difficult to pigeonhole into a single category.
Coffee’s Health Benefits
People have spilled a lot of ink debating 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. Generally speaking, though, coffee seems to be consistently gaining a better and better reputation as time goes on.
At some point, coffee developed a reputation for being dehydrating. Actually, this isn’t true. Caffeine is a mild diuretic, but this does not affect your overall hydration.
Additionally, in contrast to what scientists once believed about coffee and cardiovascular disease (CVD), 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:
If the results of this study can be confirmed, they seem to indicate that many previously held beliefs about the negative health effects of coffee consumption are incorrect – the opposite is 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 on an industrial scale. That’s not even getting into the terrible results you will get from Keurig’s K-cups or instant coffee.
Many people believe that an espresso machine is the tastiest way to make coffee. However, to make a good shot of espresso, you need to not burn or over-extract it.
No matter what method you use – whether it is a French press or a pour-over – if you use beans that are ground too finely, it will 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 or espresso.
- Prepare it carefully – don’t burn it and don’t over-extract it.
Here’s my personal list of coffee preparation methods, ranked in descending order from smooth and tasty to more harsh and unpalatable. Of course, this is just my own personal assessment and isn’t based on science at all:
- Espresso Machine
- Pour-Over Dripper
- French Press
- 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. Caffeine helps the plant survive by acting as a kind of natural insecticide. The normal explanation for that difference has to do with the plants’ differences in size and height. However, the amount of caffeine that ends up in your cup also depends on how coarse you grind your coffee, how long you steep the grounds in water, and how hot your water is.
As a recap, here are the big factors that influence the amount of caffeine in your coffee:
- The amount of time the coffee is in contact with the water
- Surface area of the ground coffee – the coarseness.
- Water temperature – the higher the temperature, the more caffeine is released.
- The coffee bean’s 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 of pure espresso. An espresso shot is around 30 milliliters (about an ounce). Meanwhile, people can drink drip coffee out of mugs as small as 125 milliliters (a bit more than four ounces, which is too small for me) and as large as half a liter (about 17 ounces) – or even more if you are 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 presses have a timeless style and fit in with any kitchen. They also come in many different sizes.
Bodum, a Danish and Swiss company, is one of the most well-known manufacturers of French presses. You will find their devices in many households throughout the world.
If people complain that French press coffee is too sludgy, the person who made it probably ground the coffee too finely. Another option is that they may have used cheap, pre-ground coffee that was ground for the kind of filters found in drip coffee machines.
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 press down the filter. In some cases, that could even lead to breaking the glass.
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 fresh, using a coarse setting.
- For a 1-liter (4-cup) press, use 50 to 70 grams (1.8 to 2.5 ounces)* of coarsely ground coffee. Start with 55 grams (2 ounces) and adjust as needed.
- Pour very hot – but not boiling – water onto the coffee. The water should be 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. I didn’t include volume measurements like teaspoons or tablespoons for the coffee because it is much more precise to measure ground coffee by weight. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can buy a digital one for less than $20.
Avoid These Common Mistakes When Using a French Press:
- Don’t use coffee that is ground too finely.
- Don’t make a “half pot” of French press coffee. You should always fill up your French press. If you only want two cups of coffee, then use a half-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 let the boiling water cool for 30 seconds after before pouring it into the press.
French Press Tips:
- Make sure to screw the French press parts together tightly. Otherwise, they can fall apart when you press down on the plunger.
- Fill the press up all the way so the coffee-to-water proportions work out.
- Always use a decent grinder and good, freshly ground coffee.
- If you would like, you can pre-warm the cups with hot water. However, I don’t really think this 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.
- Clean the individual parts thoroughly and frequently.
The good thing about this brewing method is that the coffee has direct, uniform contact with the water. This means the French press releases the coffee flavors and aromas very evenly.
A French press from a company like Bodum is affordable and can still deliver excellent results. Your coffee will be especially full-bodied and have a lovely, aromatic taste.
In contrast to other coffee techniques that use a paper filter, the more-porous filter on a French press doesn’t remove those lovely oils from your final coffee. However, that same filter also lets more coffee particles through, so you will 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 (remember to use coarsely ground coffee) and then pouring it directly into your cups once the brewing finishes. If you leave the coffee in the French press, it will continue extracting even if you push the plunger all the way down.
I personally use a few different Bodum French presses. However, you can find a wide variety of brands and styles of French presses on Amazon. For example, you can get a solid stainless-steel French Press on Amazon for less than $25. If you prefer glass and plastic instead, you can have a French press like this Bodum one for about $15.
My Video About Making Coffee With a French Press
(This video is only available in German.)
Making Pour-Over Coffee
The pour-over coffee dripper 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 are cheaper in the long run and more environmentally friendly.
Let’s talk about pour-over drippers. We will look specifically at porcelain drippers 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. They have grown very popular among coffee hipsters due in part to its more modern look.
This part of the article will give you a quick introduction on how to use pour-over drippers. If you want more information, check out our complete guide to pour-over coffee.
A Guide to Using a Pour-Over Coffee Dripper:
- 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 (0.3-0.5 ounces) of coffee for every 120 milliliters (4 fluid ounces) of water. That means you will use between 30 and 38 grams (1 to 1.3 ounces) of coffee for every half liter (about 2 cups). Again, it is best if you use a kitchen scale instead of a non-standardized “scoop.” You will need to grind your beans more finely than you would with a French press. This is 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 dripper, then wet the filter with water until it is saturated. This will make the filter stick to the porcelain dripper. It will also get rid of any of the filter’s fuzz or paper dust.
- 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.
- Gently pour a small amount 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 is called “blooming.”
- Finally, slowly pour the rest of the water into the filter using a circular motion.
Avoid These Common Mistakes When Making a Pour-Over Coffee:
- Use quality coffee filters, as cheap filters can rip easily.
- If your coffee doesn’t “bloom,” it might be because not all of the grounds are coming into contact with water.
- 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 Dripper:
Use your cup to measure your water before you heat it in a kettle. You can put the dripper directly on top of your cup when making the coffee. That way, you don’t have to pour or transfer the liquid too much, which will cool it down. You also won’t waste energy heating up extra water that you would just end up pouring out.
You can find a fancy, red Hario pour-over dripper here on Amazon for about $25.
The Hario Woodneck is another manual pour-over filtering method. It’s a glass container that uses a reusable cotton filter.
You might notice that the coffee you get from a Woodneck has a bit more body, though. It might even taste a bit like French press coffee 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 (currently only available in German).
Making Coffee With an AeroPress
The AeroPress is a very simple invention that works similarly to a piston. It has a brewing chamber, a filter cap and a plunger. Besides hot water and good coffee, the only other thing you need is a cup.
There are two different techniques to make coffee with an AeroPress: the “classic” method and the “inverted” technique. You can find my full review and guide to using the AeroPress here.
The “Classic” Way to Use the AeroPress
- Have a coffee mug ready.
- Place a filter in the filter cap.
- Soak the filter with warm water.
- Screw the filter cap onto the brewing chamber, and place it on top of your mug.
- Pour 15 to 22 grams (0.5 to 0.8 ounces) of ground coffee into the brewing cylinder.
- Pour 90-degree-Celsius (190-degree-Fahrenheit) water onto the coffee until it reaches the middle mark.
- Stir, then wait 10 seconds.
- Press the plunger down until the rubber gasket reaches the coffee grounds.
- You will now have a very strong cup of coffee, which you can dilute with hot water, if desired.
- You can now unscrew the filter cap and “shoot” the coffee grounds and paper filter into the trash.
The “Inverted Technique” for the Aeropress
- Put the plunger’s rubber gasket into the top of the brewing chamber – but only partially.
- Turn the AeroPress upside down so the plunger rests on the counter. The numbers will also be upside down, with “1” at the top and “4” at the bottom.
- Pour 15 to 22 grams (0.5 to 0.8 ounces) of ground coffee into the AeroPress.
- Place a filter into the cap. Soak it with hot water, like in the “classic” method.
- Fill the brew chamber to the top mark with 90-degree-Celsius (190-degree-Fahrenheit) water.
- Stir, then wait 30 seconds.
- Screw on the filter cap to the brewing chamber.
- Place an upside-down cup on top of everything, and then turn everything right-side up.
- Press the plunger down.
- Unscrew the filter cap and “shoot” the coffee grounds and paper 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. Otherwise, you will be disappointed by the bitter experience.
- Always use freshly ground coffee. You should set your grinder to somewhere between pour-over coffee and espresso. However, I can’t recommend a specific coarseness that works for all coffee brands and types because they vary too much. I suggest that you experiment until you get a setting that is just right.
- After pouring the water onto the ground coffee, give it a quick stir. This helps distribute the grounds evenly throughout the water, which ensures even, uniform extraction. However, if you stir it too much, you will get bitter coffee.
- Experiment with the brewing time. The longer the coffee steeps, the stronger it will taste.
- You should never use water hotter than 95 degrees Celsius (203 degrees Fahrenheit). However, you can try it with colder water. I’ve tested temperatures as low as 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit).
The AeroPress is a great invention. It’s light and nearly unbreakable, which makes it ideal for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. However, it also scores points at home because it is easy to use. The AeroPress is easy to clean and can also go in the dishwasher. Additionally, the filter will give you refined, debris-free coffee. You can follow the above tips to help you adjust the taste until it is just right for you.
Making Coffee With a Stove-Top “Moka Pot”
Another way to make coffee that doesn’t require much equipment is the stove-top espresso maker. It looks cool, smells amazing and makes wonderful sounds. You are basically guaranteed to get that coffee-house vibe going when you use it.
The stove-top espresso maker goes by many names, including “moka pot” or “caffettiera.” One thing to clarify, though: It doesn’t actually make espresso. It just makes coffee.
To make something that qualifies as espresso, you need to use significantly more pressure. Moka pots use about 1.5 bars of pressure, but a true espresso machine uses at least 9 bars. This is also why moka pots also don’t give you that lovely “crema” foam.
Different versions of moka pots use different materials, like aluminum or stainless steel. Some are actual stove-top devices, which you put directly on your stove burner. Others are electric, which work similarly to an electric kettle.
The Italian company Bialetti is the most well-known manufacturer of these coffee makers. However, 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 moka pots, including reviews and a guide on how to use them.
How to Use a Moka Pot
- Fill the lower section of the coffee pot with warm water. Never use boiling water or else you will burn your hands when you attach the upper part.
- Do not fill up the water past the indicated mark inside the lower chamber. If your moka pot doesn’t have a mark, then fill it up halfway, making sure the water does not cover the side valve.
- Your coffee beans should be freshly ground – coarser than espresso but finer than what you’d use for filtered coffee.
- Place the funnel filter into the bottom part (which should be filled with water). Fill the funnel with ground coffee. You can fill it all the way up, but don’t tamp down the grounds. 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.
- Screw the upper part onto the lower part. Be sure the rubber gasket seals well. It is especially important that no coffee grounds make their way into the screw threads.
- Turn on the stove or heating plate to medium heat and place the moka pot on the burner.
- As soon as you hear the pot bubbling and gurgling, lift the lid to look inside. As soon as no more liquid is coming out of the opening, remove the pot from the stove and rinse the base with cold water. It’s better to do this a bit early, so you don’t burn anything.
FAQ for Moka Pots
- Can I get “crema” from a moka pot? No, at least not true espresso crema.
- Can I put it in the dishwasher? No.
- How do I descale my moka pot? This page will give you instructions.
- Is a stove-top espresso maker a substitute for a traditional espresso maker? Sorry, no.
You can find all Bialetti stove-top moka pots in all 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 properly use the machine takes some time. Espresso machines can also be designed differently from one another, which you will 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 is why I recommend you check out my article about espresso machines (currently available in German.) It will give you lots of information about different machine designs, advantages and disadvantages, and tips for making the perfect espresso.
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. Of course, it’s just not that simple, though. 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 percent water. It only makes sense that your water will influence the taste of your coffee. You may have even noticed that when you travel, the coffee seems to taste different. Of course, maybe it’s because everything feels special while you are on vacation, or maybe it’s due to different altitudes or relative humidity.
However, your coffee can also 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 contains more calcium. That calcium can affect the taste of your water, which affects the taste of your coffee and tea.
If you don’t like that flavor, you have options. Many people who enjoy caffeinated drinks buy jugs of water at the supermarket. Others prefer to use Brita water filters because they reduce water hardness. Additionally, some super-automatic espresso machines even include a built-in water filter.
If you have an espresso machine or a super-automatic espresso machine, keep in mind that the harder your water, the sooner you will need to descale your machines.
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 tastes.
- 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!