How to brew great coffee

We’ve talked about the pros and cons of different coffee grinders – that was the first step. Once the beans are ground, it’s time to brew them, and that’s just as crucial for a perfect cup of coffee. To understand which factors influence how your coffee tastes, please read on!

There are many ways to make coffee: You can use a Chemex, a Siphon or vacuum pot, a percolator, and other devices — the list is almost endless. But before getting confused with exotic choices, let’s get it right with the two most common (and straighforward) solutions: The French Press (also called Plunger Pot or Cafe Press) and the Filter method (also called Drip).

French Press / Plunger Pot / Cafe Press

Using a French Press is a beautiful way to make your coffee and produces a thick, bold and flavorful cup. The beans are ground fairly coarse (individual small chunks are clearly visible) and put into a pot that features a press-down strainer. Before the strainer is put on, add hot water (just below boiling, ideally 90 degrees Celsius or 194 Fahrenheit) and let it sit for 4 minutes. Some people like stirring a bit after a while, which increases the intensity of flavor — but be careful: Stirring it hard makes the coffee more sour because pressure releases more acids within the coffee grounds into the water.

After 4 minutes, slowly press down the strainer to filter the grounds out of the water. The slower the better — again, because pressure changes the flavor of your brew. Serve it as soon as possible, since the hot water keeps brewing the grounds below the strainer until the coffee has been poured into a cup. Even after pouring, sediments that cannot be filtered out continue to change the taste of the coffee. While these sediments give French Press coffee its thick texture, they also cause it to go sour more quickly.

The French Press works particularly well with beans that have a low level of acidity and a rather mellow flavor, such as Indonesia Sumatra Mandheling and other beans from East Asia. Of course, feel free to try any bean in a French Press — but those with a naturally bright flavor like beans from Latin America will turn out more acidic. There’s no right or wrong here: It’s all a matter of personal taste.

Filter / Drip

The filter or drip method uses a filter, most commonly made of paper, to separate the water from the grounds after brewing. After grinding coffee beans to a medium level (chunks should be similar to sand), they are placed in a cone-shaped filter before hot water is poured over. Again, the water temparature should be just below boiling, ideally 90 degrees Celsius or 194 Fahrenheit. For better flavor, first pour a little bit of water to moisten the grounds and wait 30 seconds to give the beans some time to “bloom”. The term refers to the coffee grounds “bubbling up” after hot water has been poured onto them. Blooming is caused by the gas that is released by recently roasted and ground coffee — it’s a reliable indicator of how fresh your beans really are.

How quickly the water runs through the coffee grounds depends on two factors: The shape and fineness of the strainer (or thickness if it’s paper), and the fineness of the ground beans. The finer the beans have been ground, the faster the flavors will be extracted, thus the faster the water should run through. The same is true the other way around: The slower the water runs through the filter, the more coarse the beans should be ground. Coffee connoisseurs recommend that it should take about two and a half minutes until all water has run through the coffee grounds, but in practice it really depends on what kind of strainer is used and, consequently, how fine the coffee has been ground.

The disadvantage of using an automatic drip machine is obvious: There is no control over how quickly the water is poured over the coffee grounds, and there is no control of how hot the water is. Due to how these machines work, the water is usually boiling when it hits the coffee, which leads to a more bitter taste. That’s why the drip method is best done manually.

Whether you’re on the manual or the automatic track, paper filters are very thorough in removing the sediments and create a delicate and relatively bright coffee flavor. Therefore, the filter method works particularly well with beans from Latin America — but mild beans from China (Yunnan Baoshan, for example) also turn out well.

Try and experiment

Although understanding the basics of coffee preparation will help make great coffee, it’s not about rules — it’s about pleasure and fun! Just like in photography and music, rules are there to break them: If you like soaking your whole beans in cold water before chewing them with milk, don’t let anyone stop you! But if you’re curious to find out how your breakfast brew can become even more flavorful, play with the grinder, try some plunging and some dripping, and let us know what you end up with.