Coffee For Dummies
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Your brewing method is an important part of making a great cup of coffee. Whether you use immersion, a pour-over, or a more exotic approach, you can create a delicious drink.

Immersion methods

With any brewing method, coffee and water come together for a defined period of time, and then they’re separated. What’s left is the liquid you consume and the grounds you dispose of later. Here are three immersion methods you can try.


Perhaps the simplest immersion brewing method is cupping. Coffee companies around the world use this method, as tasters evaluate coffees for potential purchase and do the work of quality control by testing through tasting at different stages of production (the following figure shows an example). The SCA provides a specific protocol for cupping, but the general idea is that a small, measured amount of coffee, ground precisely, is combined with a measured amount of hot water in a bowl or cup for a specific time.

Cuppers taste test coffees. Cuppers taste-test coffees.

The combined ingredients are smelled and stirred gently, once. The grind size is large enough so that the coffee grounds will saturate and sink, leaving the coffee toward the top of the cup or bowl. The person doing the cupping can then dip out a spoonful of coffee and taste it.

French press

If you want to sip a whole cup of coffee, French press immersion works wonderfully.f

A French press. A French press.

French press also goes by these other names:

  • Cafetière
  • Cafetière a piston
  • Cafeteria
  • Coffee plunger
  • Coffee press
  • Press pot

Italian designer Paolini Ugo came up with one press idea, and designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta patented it in 1929. A similar design was patented earlier by two Frenchmen, Mayer and Delforge, in 1852. The first presses were made in France, which is why so many people call them French presses.

This method uses carefully measured doses of ground coffee and water at the correct temperature. The coffee dose is ground medium to coarse. Extraction begins when the ground coffee and water are combined in the cylindrical vessel, which is often made of glass, but sometimes plastic or metal.

Thorough extraction will result only if you completely mix the ground coffee and water, and successful brewers develop a knack for pouring the water in a way that ensures this saturation occurs. They may even stir the coffee and water at the start. The recommended brewing time is four minutes, and then you push the plunger.

The plunger is fitted with a screen that looks like a fine mesh window screen, although it is also sometimes plastic. Plunging that screen through the liquid forces the grounds to the bottom but leaves the liquid above the screen and pourable. Some people who brew with a French press add a last step of decanting the liquid into a second vessel in order to maintain flavor integrity.

Coffee that is brewed with a French press is often noteworthy for its fuller flavor, body, and richness. This is because the coffee is coarsely ground and the screen mesh, the filter, is porous enough to allow quite a lot of the solids to pass through into the liquid. That creates a signature feature of the brewed coffee: Residual grounds left behind in the empty cups of those who have finished their coffee.

Clever brewer

A variation on immersion is known as the clever brewer. This brewer is similar to the French press in that the measured water and coffee sit together for a given amount of time.

The difference is, as soon as the time is up, you place the brewer on your cup. The apparatus is designed so that the bottom opens and allows the coffee to pour out into the cup, carafe, or vessel below. This filtering method uses a paper or cloth filter instead of mesh, which makes for a cleaner cup of coffee.

Use the force of gravity: The pour-over

Another variation, referred to as the pour-over, uses gravity to control the process as the brewer pours the water onto, and eventually through, the coffee grounds. Here are some details.

The basics of a pour-over

A pour-over makes a single cup or small batch of coffee. Most people experience this brewing style when they have coffee at a restaurant, coffee shop, or convenience store. Think of the familiar urn or airpot-style dispenser; the machine the establishment used to brew the coffee was an automatic pour-over that makes one or two gallons per brew cycle.

A pour-over. A pour-over.

Pour-over coffee is easy-peasy. If you’re ready to make the perfect cup or pot of pour-over coffee, make sure you have the following equipment and ingredients:

  • Paper, metal, or cloth filter
  • Apparatus (cone-shaped, wedges, flat-bottomed) to hold the filter
  • Carafe, cup, or vessel on which to place the cone
  • Ground coffee
  • Water
  • Kettle to heat, hold, and pour water
  • Scale (optional)

Make your own pour-over

Here is my favorite recipe for brewing. Some steps may vary, depending on the specific recipe and your preferences. You'll have to decide the amount of ground coffee and water, whether you stir and for how long, and how long you wait between pours. When you’re ready to make your own, just follow these steps.
  1. Measure the coffee. This is where your recipe begins to unfold. The amount of ground coffee you begin with determines the total quantity of water to be poured. I use 40 grams, a recipe ratio of 1:18, and thus my target for a final weight is 720 grams. I can adjust this final volume weight up or down to brew a bit less or more if I have company. I keep the 1:18 ratio and calculate accordingly.
  2. Heat the water. Water will compose more than 98 percent of your finished brew, so you need good, clean water. A general rule is that if you’re comfortable drinking your tap water—that is, it has no off tastes, like chlorine, rotten egg, salty, or metal—then you can brew with it. If it has any quality that makes you question it, more than likely it will spoil your brew. The water should be boiling when you begin pouring.
  3. Fold the paper filter and place it in the cone (holder). You may notice that most paper filters have a seamed edge, and the fold should be on that edge. Folding the filter allows it to sit more easily in your cone.
  4. Pour the heated water over the paper to rinse the paper and heat the vessels. This step is super-important because you don’t want your coffee to get a taste of paper, which it almost always will if you skip the rinse step. Another benefit: The rinse will serve to heat up your cone and the vessel the coffee will eventually drip into.
  5. Discard the rinse water.
  6. Put the measured ground coffee into the paper cone.

    Tap the cone to level the coffee grounds in your filter so that in your first pours, you get good saturation and good coverage.

  7. Pour 50 to 100 grams of water over the grounds to saturate. This step is vital to get all your grounds wet. Just don’t pour too much water. The grounds will begin to expand a bit; this is called the bloom.
  8. Wait 60 seconds. During this time, the blooming, you may see some bubbling in your coffee and water as carbon dioxide leaves the coffee.
  9. Pour more water.

    The total brew time will be three to five minutes. Pour 150 grams more water, bringing the coffee and grounds up in the filter paper. At this point you’re at about 250 grams total. You can either gently stir five to six times, or perhaps gently roll the entire brew cone to create a swirl. At about the three-minute mark, pour another 250 grams of water, and around the 3:45 mark, finish by pouring the remaining water to hit the target total of 720 grams. Enjoy.

Keep in mind that quite a few designs are available for the cone that holds the paper, as well as different papers to use for filters. You can even purchase some metal insert cones that eliminate the need for paper.

A few more options

Here are four more ways you can choose to brew and enjoy your coffee:
  • The AeroPress: Invented in 2005 by Alan Adler, this is an increasingly popular device for brewing. Coffee steeps for a brief amount of time (about 10 to 50 seconds) and then is forced through a filter (paper or metal) by pressing the plunger through the tube.
  • Vacuum or siphon method: One of the oldest brewing methods and often considered the most intriguing, this method uses two chambers, vapor pressure, and gravity to extract. It was invented by Loeff of Berlin in the 1830s. The design, materials, and heat source vary, but the basics are the same. Heating the water creates pressure, and the water finds its way to the upper chamber where the coffee grounds are placed. You stir, wait, and remove the heat source. A vacuum is created that pulls the brewed coffee through the filter and back into the lower chamber.

    A vacuum brewing method. A vacuum brewing method.
  • Iced coffee: Traditional iced coffee is created by adding ice to hot-brewed coffee, adjusting the recipe to be strong enough so that when ice is added, you get a flavorful beverage. A general rule is to use either twice the coffee grounds or half the water to essentially create a double-strength concentrate, to which you can add ice.
  • Cold brew: With cold-brewed coffee, you eliminate hot water and use only cold water and ground coffee together to extract. With no heat, the extraction time needs to be much longer, approximately 10 to 12 hours. The ratio of ground coffee to water is also much higher. Cold brew is often brewed as a concentrate and diluted prior to consumption.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Major Cohen, a certified Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) licensed trainer, recently retired from Starbucks. He is a passionate coffee guy who has a unique knack for making the complex and confusing coffee world easily understood.

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