Best Brew: 6 Ways to Make Coffee
Part 1 in the Best Brew series.
There are many ways to brew a cup of coffee, from very simple methods like putting grinds in a cup and pouring in hot water to the more complex methods requiring heavy-duty machinery and a college degree. Here we will overview five of the most common methods of coffee brewing, how they work, and the pros and cons of each.
Drip Coffee – The “Classic Coffee Pot”
Method: Water is heated in a closed (usually plastic) container, then poured/dripped over a basket of medium-to-course coffee grinds.
Pros: This is an easy way to make a large batch of coffee. With the drip method, it is just as easy to make a dozen cups of coffee as it is to make one. Also, this method is rather quick, with some machines heating the water in a matter of seconds.
Cons: Drip machines tend to get old fast and need to be cleaned regularly in order to yield a consistently decent cup of coffee. The interior and exterior parts are often made of plastic, which can negatively affect the flavor of the coffee.
Verdict: Machine over bean?! That’s mean.
Espresso Machine – The Connoisseur’s Cup
Method: Water is converted to steam in an all metal machine then sent under pressure (180 p/s.i.) through finely ground coffee.
Pros: The steam extraction method makes a nicely balanced, full flavored dose of coffee. Espresso was invented in Italy and has now made its way around the world and is used as the basis of the famous coffee drinks – the Cappuccino, the Latte, the Mocha, etc.
Cons: The (relatively expensive) espresso machine makes coffee in small amounts. If you are drinking the espresso with milk, as in a latte, then your drink will fill a whole cup. If, on the other hand, you are just drinking espresso, then your drink will look a little small. Also, these machines, like drip machines, require cleaning every so often.
Verdict: If you’ve got the time, it’s worth the dime.
Percolator – Boiling Action Brew
Method: The percolator is a simple, two part metal stove-top device widely used in Europe and South America. It looks a bit like two cones, with one inverted and set atop the other. Between the two cones is a small basket of finely ground coffee. As water boils in the bottom cone, it steams and bubbles up through the coffee basket and into the top cone.
Pros: This is a rather elegant device that makes a nice, strong cup of coffee. (Due to the sturdy design, the device can be used on a grill while you’re camping.) Depending on the size of your percolator, you can make anywhere from small to large amounts of strong coffee.
Cons: Coffee experts would tell you that the true flavor of a bean is ruined when boiled water is used in the brewing process. However, depending on your own preferences, boiled water may not be bad at all. The only con, in this writer’s opinion, is the preparation time. Especially if you’re watching the pot, water takes its sweet time to boil.
Verdict: An elegant show, but slow.
French Press – For the Believers
Method: Hot water is poured over coarsely ground coffee at the bottom of a glass container, covered and steeped for several minutes. The coffee is then “pressed” through a strainer/plunger and poured hot into the cup.
Pros: According to experts, this method brings out the full flavor of the coffee bean. There is no plastic and very little machinery in this earthy brewing method. The French Press seems to belong to an old world culture, though the containers available to-day are sleek and sometimes beautiful. This is also a very portable method of brewing, good for camping or picnics. Anywhere you can heat water you can use a French Press.
Cons: The French Press method makes a muddy cup of coffee. The flavor is full, and even delicate, but the body of the coffee is anything but delicate.
Verdict: The best camping cup; a good show “to go”.
Cone – A cone or a sock. (It’s hard to wax poetic about this one.)
Method: Medium grind coffee is placed in a cone that stands atop a cup. Hot water is poured directly over the coffee which then drips into the cup. A cloth or paper filter is used inside the cone. In some countries, there is no cone, and only a cloth filter (resembling a sock) suspended from a wire stand. In this variation the coffee sits in the bottom of the sock and water poured into the sock drips into the cup or coffee pot.
Pros: This makes a very true cup of coffee, bringing out the full flavor of the coffee bean without compromise.
Cons: The cone method makes small batches of coffee and the amount of coffee placed in the cone, as well as the temperature of the water, is essentially humanly controlled, which can lead to some inconsistency. The more methodical you are, the more consistent you will be with this brewing method. Also, every cup brewed yields another paper filter to throw away.
Verdict – Home alone, this is the way to go. High five!
Best Brew: Coffee Lingo, Latte Language, Espresso Expressions, etc.
When you are in line at your local independent coffee house and you hear someone order a “half-caf’ grande skinny latte” do you wonder what language is being spoken?
Does the phrase “Caramel Macchiato” on a menu board intrigue you, but leave you at a loss for pronunciation?
Do you feel like you ought to have a guide book in your back pack as reference when you hear someone ask for a “tall mocha with whip and an add shot”?
Well, wonder no more. Here is a run down of some common coffee terminology.
Let’s begin with the basic coffee drinks – the classics and then the rest.
Drip or Brewed Coffee. This is your “regular” coffee, just like what you brew at home in a drip machine or a French Press. This is not espresso.
Café au lait. This is drip coffee mixed with a good amount of milk. The milk is usually steamed.
Espresso. Quickly, we have left behind the land of drip coffee, entering the empire of espresso. Espresso is a concentrated coffee made from a medium-to-light roast bean using a steam driven extraction process. Basically, water is pressured through the grinds to make espresso (with drip coffee the water literally drips through the grinds).
Cappuccino. A cappuccino consists of three parts in roughly equal proportion to one another. 1/3 Espresso. 1/3 Steamed Milk. 1/3 Frothed (foamed) Milk.
Latte. As one might guess from the name, this is a milky drink, much like a cappuccino but with less frothed milk. The proportions here are 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk, with a dollop of frothed milk on top.
Flavored Latte. In American coffee shops today, the latte is often flavored with syrups. The vanilla latte, for instance, is a very popular coffee drink. Other typical flavored lattes are hazelnut, caramel, and cinnamon. Cappuccinos can be flavored in the same way.
Espresso Macchiato. A lesser known drink is the espresso macchiato (“mock-ee-ahh-toe”). This particular drink title has been usurped so that the popular caramel macchiato does not technically resemble the original drink. If a latte falls on one side of the cappuccino, the traditional espresso macchiato falls on the other. Here we have a drink that is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 frothed milk. The frothed milk should be poured in the cup first and the espresso poured over the foam. Thus the name macchiato. In Italian this term means “stained”, which is exactly what happens to the frothed milk when the espresso is poured in. The foam gets stained and becomes macchiato.
Caramel Macchiato. The popular American drink, the caramel macchiato does not use the same proportions of espresso to frothed milk as in an espresso macchiato. The caramel macchiato is essentially a flavored cappuccino, the added flavors being caramel and vanilla mixed into a drink of equal proportions espresso, steamed milk and frothed milk.
Mocha. The mocha is a cappuccino with chocolate syrup and a dash of vanilla.
That sums up the common drinks. Here are a few terms that get tossed around that you might want to toss around too.
Skinny. This refers to the use of non-fat milk and sometimes also sugar-free syrups. A skinny latte is a normal latte with skim milk.
Half-Caf. A person asks for “half-caf” when they want some regular espresso and some decaffeinated espresso used to make their drink.
Add Shot. This is an extra shot of espresso added to a drink. (Espresso is brewed in 2 oz. doses called shots.)
Well, that does it for this installment of Best Brew. This column is part of the great wellspring of coffee passion, Sagebrush Café. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email them to: email@example.com