Not to hate on the 12-cup automatic drip coffee maker taking up approximately a quarter of the counter space in your kitchen, but there are far better ways to make coffee at home. When we want a superior cup of that good brown morning medicine—especially when we spent good money on quality coffee that we took the time to grind ourselves—we turn to a handful of low-tech brewing methods to get the most our of the beans. It’s time to learn how to brew a proper cup. These are our three favorite affordable, small-batch coffee brewing devices and what we like about them.
The French Press
No paper filter, no problem—and no waste! The French press brews by soaking ground coffee directly in hot water (also known as an « immersion » method) rather than letting water pass through the grounds and then a filter. For this reason, you always want to make sure to use a coarser grind than you would for drip coffee; since the grounds will be in constant contact with the water, a fine grind will leave you with a bitter, over-extracted brew. But when done right, coffee made in a French press is a dream—it tends to be more robust and richer than drip coffee because you don’t lose any of the flavorful oils to a paper filter.
The procedure couldn’t be more simple. You pour the grounds into the carafe, fill it with boiling water, and give it a quick stir to make sure that all of the coffee is properly saturated. Then you wait four minutes, put the lid on, and slowly depress the plunger to press all of the grounds through the water and to the bottom of the carafe. And there you have it: French press coffee. Pro tip: Once the coffee has finished brewing, decant it into your mug (or a Thermos if you aren’t drinking it all at once) as soon as you can. Since the grounds are still in contact with the liquid after the plunger has been pushed down, French press coffee can get sludgy and over-extracted if it sits in the device for too long.
Not quite as commonplace at a French press, the Aeropress is a favorite of coffee nerds on the go. This compact brewing device acts in the same way that a syringe does, with a plunger forcing hot water and grounds through a tiny replaceable filter and straight into your cup.
Coffee brewed in an Aeropress boasts a super-quick brew time and is generally a very smooth cup of joe with very low acidity. Some people claim that the Aeropress can brew coffee that’s as strong as espresso, since you are technically brewing it under pressure, but that’s not actually possible. No matter: It’s compact and lightweight enough to bring just about anywhere you go, and is the ultimate hedge against arriving at your Airbnb to find out the coffee maker is broken.
The Pour Over
The pour over is proof that you don’t need fancy gadgets or expensive equipment to brew a world class cup of coffee. This process is low tech and high return. A simple filter cone, be it a classy ceramic one or an indestructible plastic workhorse, is the best, cheapest, and easiest way to get a clean, coffeeshop-worthy brew in the comfort of your own home. It’s a simple process that requires just a bit of finesse, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it blindfolded (or at least half-awake). Here’s how to do it:
1. Arrange a pour over coffee filter in your cone and place the cone over a vessel. This could be your cup or something larger like a carafe, if you’re not going to drink the whole thing.
2. Flush the filter with boiling water, letting it drip out fully, and then discard the collected water in the vessel under the cone. This rinse prevents any papery bits and flavors from ending up in your coffee. We don’t want coffee that tastes like a paper filter. We want coffee that tastes like coffee.
3. Now you add your freshly-ground coffee to the cone and make sure it’s placed over whatever vessel you’re brewing into. Most coffee shops will add 22g of coffee, but if you don’t have a scale, go with 2-3 Tbsp. Give it a shake so the grounds are evenly distributed. You don’t want a mountain on one side and a valley on the other.
4. We want to keep the ratio of 16:1, water to coffee, so we want to have 352g (or about 6 oz.) of boiling water ready. Pour over enough boiling water to saturate the grounds fully, but not so much that there is water pooling on top of them. This is called “blooming” and helps the flavors in the coffee to really shine. Wait 30 seconds. You’ll notice the coffee start to expand (or bloom) as it hydrates.
5. Now we do the real brewing. Continue to add boiling water, pouring in a circular motion, and making sure not to pour it all in at once. You should be stopping and starting, so the cone never fills up totally with water. Repeat this until you reach your target water weight or pour out your measured volume of water. Now, the vessel is full of delicious, freshly-brewed pour over coffee. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Like we said earlier, if you want good coffee, you’ve got to start with quality beans: