The most popular coffee brewing methods reviewed: Drip Coffee, Espresso, French press, Cold Brew, Moka Pot, AeroPress, and more. Learn to make coffee at home.
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Coffee Brewing Methods - An Introduction
We created this list to help you in your quest of making perfect coffee. If you want to learn how to make coffee at home, this is your first step. We review here all popular brewing methods, and we point you to brew guides for each of them.
The list is not an exhaustive one; it is a brief introduction, and contains the most popular brewing methods in the Western hemisphere. If your intention is to learn how to make coffee at home, you are covered; we point you to a brewing guide whenever we have it. However, we can only shove so much into this coffee brewing introduction.
Espresso is prepared by pushing pressurized hot water through a layer of compacted finely ground coffee, contained in a porta-filter. The standard serving is a shot, although a double shot is very commonly ordered in coffee shops. There is also equipment that can pull a triple shot. An espresso shot is 1 oz, and is called a solo, or a single. A double, or doppio, is a 2 oz volume beverage, and contains two espresso shots.
Espresso is a very concentrated coffee, with a lot of body, aroma, and flavor. It contains a lot of coffee oils and soluble solids. For someone who hasn't tried it before, it can be described as a thick coffee.
Modern espresso is brewed with a pump driven espresso machine that can create 9 bar pressure when pulling the shot. A shot of espresso is typically extracted for 20 to 30 seconds, regardless of the size. In comparison, most other brewing methods are brewed for 3-4 minutes, or more.
The most distinctive features of espresso are the foamy layer on top and the low volume of the drink. Pulling a shot of espresso requires training and knowledge, take a look at our espresso brewing guide, for a comprehensive tutorial.Espresso is the base for many coffees you can buy in the coffee shop. Some popular espresso based beverages are the Americano, which is an espresso shot with hot water added on top, cappuccino, a beverage made from roughly 50% steamed milk and 50% espresso, or latte which is 1/3 espresso coffee and 2/3 or more steamed milk.
Turkish coffee, (also called Greek coffee, or Arabic coffee), is a method of infusing finely ground coffee in nearly boiling water.
Contrary to a common misconception, Turkish coffee is not boiled. The very fine grind makes it so that coffee boils over if we raise the brewing temperature too much. In order to compensate for this, some recipes call for a second boil. This helps extract compounds that need higher temperatures, though in our opinion the flavors are better with a single raise.
What is very specific to the Turkish brewing method is the grind size which is the finest possible, almost a powder. There are no electrical Turkish coffee grinding machines for residential use, but the manual mills work perfectly.
Turkish coffee is one of the strongest coffees of all brewing methods. If you like clear coffee, stay away from Turkish coffee. As an anecdote, I got long stares at my Turkish coffee mug in the office. Some would even ask: “How can you drink that?” It is a very strong cup of coffee, but it doesn’t contain a lot of caffeine. So if you like bold flavors, and you think your French press is not strong enough, maybe it’s time you tried Turkish.
Turkish coffee is prepared in a traditional coffee pot called cezve. In North America the pot is called ibrik, a word imported from the Eastern European immigrants.
There are no electrical Turkish coffee grinding machines for residential use, but the manual mills work perfectly. Turkish coffee has the fullest body of all brewing methods, and is the perfect choice for coffee enthusiasts that love a strong brew.
If you like clear coffee, stay away from Turkish coffee. The spend grounds are not filtered as in all other preparation techniques, they are left to settle at the bottom of the cup. The very fine grind ensures that the grounds sink completely forming a compact disk that is not disturbed if coffee is drunk carefully.
Turkish coffee is not boiled as many people think. The brew temperature is lower than most hot brewing methods. The extraction is very high because of the very fine grind.
It is very easy to over-extract Turkish coffee, and to get a bitter cup. It is common practice for many Turkish coffee lovers to over-extract it on purpose, since they add sugar to it, and that balances the bitter notes.
Learn here: How To Make Turkish Coffee.
Cowboy coffee is very similar to Turkish in many ways. However, cowboy coffee uses a coarse grind, which extracts slower, and can be over-extracted even easier than Turkish coffee, since we have to boil it longer. The coarse coffee grounds don't sink as easily, so you will get more floating bits. You could say that cowboy coffee is French press coffee without the filter.
If you want our opinion on this brewing method, we just added it here because you need to know that this is an option, but why cowboy coffee when a percolator is 10 times better, and it doesn't cost much to buy. But if you are now camping and all you have is a pot and some ground coffee, then cowboy coffee is worth the inclusion.
Drip coffee or filter coffee is the most popular coffee brewing method. The method involves pouring hot water over ground coffee beans, which are contained in a filter.
The paper filter is the most popular method of filtration for drip coffee, since it brews a clean cup, and it retains most of the coffee oil.
Many drip coffee lovers enjoy a fuller body, and they like the extra oomph that coffee oils impart to their cup of joe. They can use a non paper filter, that can be a perforated metal filter or a sieve coffee filter.
The coffee from a drip brewer is clean, with a high ratio of caffeine extracted per spoon of ground coffee. The brew is good if you use a good coffee machine, but only average with cheap equipment.
For great results we recommend you use an SCA certified coffee maker, or a manual dripper. You will also need a burr grinder, which will ensure freshly ground coffee.
Pour-Over, or Hand Drip
Pour over, or hand drip, is the manual drip coffee method. Although pour over uses the same principles as automatic drip coffee makers, coffee brewed this way is different.
Some of the difference comes from the specialized filters used, and the dripper itself. The drippers are typically inexpensive coffee brewers, but depending on the features and materials, some of the manual drip coffee makers can get expensive. The dripper’s shape, flow rate, material, and the flow rate affect how coffee tastes. Most pour over manufacturers appeal to a special segment of the market. People who love Chemex coffee typically don’t love coffee made in a Kalita Wave, or in Hario V60.
Many pour-over devices compete with high-end coffee makers such as Technivorm or Bonavita. Manual drippers offer more control over the brewing process, whereas automatic drip coffee makers offer convenience.
Many hand drip devices are meant as a single cup brewing, but there are some that can brew 2 to 6 cups of coffee, thus competing with automatic drip coffee machines, and being even used in coffee shops, commercially.
While some brewing factors are variable, allowing the barista to tweak the coffee taste, some factors are better to be followed religiously, as they make the subject of many hours of research and testing.
Learn how to make drip coffee with an automatic machine here.
Pour Over Coffee Bags
The pour over bag is not a method, but an adaptation rather. It's still drip coffee, except coffee is purchased ground and measured for exactly one cup. With single serve drip bags, you get everything that you love in a pour-over, without the need of the equipment. However, pour-over can brew many types of cups. The drip bag is a bit on the stronger side, with an ample body.
We love this method because of the convenience. This is the perfect way of brewing coffee for those who travel. In a hotel, while camping, in a vacation, you get the idea...
The biggest problem with pour over drip coffee bags is the packaging. The other problem is the shelf life of coffee. If the packages are not flushed with nitrogen, or vacuum packed, coffee will oxidize pretty fast. Your Ethiopian single origin will taste bland, and flat.
And let's admit it, single use products are not eco friendly. Single use drip coffee bag need a lot of extra packaging to ensure freshness. But let's suppose you only use them for travel. Not so bad...
French press, or press pot, is a very simple coffee brewing device with a beaker and a plunger/filter. The French press, as it is known in North America, is called a cafetière in the United Kingdom, or coffee plunger in Australia and New Zealand.
The preparation technique consists of pouring hot water over coffee grinds and letting it steep for 3 to 5 minutes. After the steeping is over the plunger/filter is pressed down, to separate the grinds.
French press coffee has a medium body, less than espresso but thicker than drip coffee. The aroma and flavor of a press pot coffee are intense, and the method is gaining more and more popularity.
French press is very versatile as a brewing method, and can be changed to deliver a different cup of coffee with a few tweaks. This is a common trait for most manual brewing methods, because it allows the barista to change brewing factors and parameters.
French press is a brewing method known to deliver an ample body that mutes the brightness we get with drip coffee. However, by tweaking a few things, we can get a cup that is very similar to a pour over.Check our guide on How to Brew with a French Press for a detailed coffee brewing tutorial.
Single Serve Coffee Bags
Single serve coffee bags are similar to the tea bags, only they contain coffee. Steeping coffee bags use immersion as the brewing method. This means you should expect a coffee similar to French press, but more clear, and with less oils.
This is a new method that has a few advantages. It is cheap to start with, you don't need any equipment. No coffee grinder, no coffee maker, and a regular pot should be good enough if you don't have a kettle. The second great advantage is the convenience. Nothing easier than steeping a coffee sachet in hot water for a couple of minutes. The third advantage is that the bag acts as a filter, and this filter is a decent compromise between paper filters and metal ones.
The disadvantage is that coffee is pre-ground and this means coffee gets stale if the bags are not individually packaged. Individually packaged means a lot of packaging for a month worth of brewing, and this is not eco friendly at all.
Moka pot is a device for making coffee that uses steam pressure for extraction. The steam pressure pushes the water through coffee grinds, similarly to the espresso method, but with much lower pressure. The pressure in a Moka pot is about 1 bar compared to a real espresso machine at 9 bar.
The coffee made in a Moka pot, as you would expect, is very bold, and it resembles espresso. Stovetop espresso lacks the crema, and it has much less aromatic oils. It is a decent espresso alternative, and it is often used as a base for milk based espresso drinks, such as latte and cappuccino.
The biggest problem with the Moka pot is the thermal inertia that is many times ignored by the home baristas. The coffee must be poured in cups immediately after the brewing is over in order to avoid the bitter flavors of over-extracted coffee, or even worse, burnt coffee.
You can take a look at our Moka pot brewing tutorial if you need to learn how to make coffee with "La Macchinetta". It's a great resource.
Cold brew is the favorite way of preparing coffee for people with stomach problems. If regular, hot coffee brews upset your stomach, cold brew is your choice. The brewing method involves steeping coffee grinds in cold water for extended periods of time, (12 to 36 hours), then straining it and serving it cold or hot.
Because it takes so long to brew, people prepare large batches and store it in the fridge for several days. Check our cold brew coffee making tutorial article for a great step by step tutorial.
Cold brew lacks the well defined coffee flavors typically associated with hot brewed coffee. For this reason, people who love drip coffee, or espresso, might not be great fans of cold brew. However, cold brew appeals to coffee enthusiasts with its delicate flavors that wouldn’t survive higher temperatures. The caffeine content is also up to par with hot brewed coffee. Maybe most importantly, cold brew is sweeter than regular coffee, so people who want to cut their sugar intake can try it as a viable alternative.
The bitter flavors can be extracted only at higher temperatures, this is why cold brew can be steeped for days in the fridge.
You don’t need any equipment to make cold brew. You can probably start brewing it using the items in your kitchen. Having a cold brew coffee maker is very convenient, and it makes the process much more expedient.
Learn here How To Make Cold Brew Coffee at Home.
Single Serve Capsule Coffee Maker
There is no consensus whether single serve coffee machines are a distinctive brewing method or not. However, if you think about it, Keurig brewers use pressure to push water through the coffee grounds. The pressure is not as high as with espresso machines, so the flavor profile is different. But the pressure addition improves the extraction, and the capsule can be smaller.
A Keurig machine brews coffee in a unique way, like no other coffee maker. Single serve provides you a clean cup, with decent aroma and flavor, and minimum effort. However, if you want great coffee, and convenience is not your ultimate goal, please, learn to brew coffee with a dripper. The coffee is much better.
AeroPress is a manual coffee making device that uses both immersion and pressure for brewing a cup. It is a two step process, with a few minutes of steeping followed by pushing the brew through the coffee grounds under pressure to extract even more soluble solids.
The brewer was invented by Alan Adler, a retired Stanford University engineering instructor. He wanted a better tasting cup of coffee, and none of the coffee makers at the time were able to brew the coffee as he wanted it.
AeroPress coffee is strong with an ample body and resembles a lot to espresso. The method is most known for its versatility. You can brew from the mildest cup of hot brewed coffee to a strong cup with bite.
The most notable detail about the AeroPress brewing is the lower brewing temperature, which gives the AeroPress the milder taste compared to espresso, or drip. Coffee is still extracted fully because of the relatively long immersion time and the pressure added to the brew.
AeroPress can hold about 8 ounces of water, which means that we can only brew one coffee cup at a time. If we brew this cup stronger, we can then dilute it with water, similarly to an Americano.
We wrote an AeroPress brewing tutorial that has many tips and tricks, if you want to learn more about it.
Percolator is one of the oldest types of coffee makers. Percolating coffee gets a bad reputation of producing bitter and over extracted coffee, but the reality is that you can make an awesome coffee cup using the percolator.
The coffee percolator brews by continually cycling the nearly boiling brew through the coffee grounds until coffee gets strong enough to be consumed. The steam pushes the water through a column to the top of the percolator, in the grounds basket. Water then falls on the coffee bed and gravity pulls the brew back into the percolator pot. The cycle repeats until the desired strength is obtained.
It is very easy to expose the ground coffee to higher temperatures, especially if the percolator is on a hot stove, or fire. Also, the partially brewed coffee is still heated to a high temperature so that it can be pushed through the column back in the coffee bed. All these make coffee brewed with a percolator very susceptible to over-extraction, hence a bitter taste in your cup. However, if we carefully control the brewing process, we can avoid over-extracting coffee.
Learn here How To Make Coffee In A Percolator.
The vacuum pot, or syphon as it is also called, is a coffee maker that uses vacuum and gravity as the brewing energy. It is composed of borosilicate glass chambers, connected tightly, so that air pressure is not lost between the two chambers. The two glasses are separated by a coffee filter.
The vacuum pot is a full immersion brewing method that uses vacuum to improve the extraction.
A heat source boils the water in the lower chamber, turning it into vapor and forcing it in the upper chamber, (the immersion compartment). When all of the water was forced up, the barista adds coffee grounds in the brewing chamber, (upper glass), and mixes in the slurry to facilitate the grounds saturation, and turns off the heat.
As it cools down, the lower chamber will have a lower pressure, which will pull the brew down, through the filter, decanting the brew. This lower chamber will become the collector recipient. The whole brewing will take about 3 minutes.
The relative complexity of the vacuum pot is not for show only. The special brewing technique produces a smooth, full-bodied, crisp, and clean coffee, without muting any of the origin flavors.
How To Brew the Best Coffee at Home
When you start making coffee at home, you will need a few things, if you want to succeed as a home barista.
- You need knowledge and skills, which you can get from our website.
- You need patience and tenacity, we can't help with that but we can only tell you that if you don't give up too early you will be rewarded not only with a skill, but with a hobby. And you will turn up your nose at coffee shop joe.
- You will also need equipment. The equipment won't compensate for the technique, but will help you get a great cup of coffee, and not an average one.
If you are worried about the cost of the equipment, note that, typically, the cost is recovered in the first two months of drinking coffee at home, instead of buying it at the coffee shop. Unless you buy the most advanced super automatic espresso machine, or other fancy brewing system.
We have a dedicated article where we show you in detail "How to Make Better Coffee at Home", but if you are a beginner stick with this shorter version.
Here are the most important things you need to consider for a better cup of coffee at home:
- Never use pre-ground coffee. Ground coffee is only fresh on the first day after opening the bag.
- Use a burr grinder, as they give you the most uniform grind, and this is pretty important. Here is more info on how to choose a coffee grinder.
- Use a scale to measure coffee beans and the brew volume.
- Filter your water, or use spring water, although bottled spring water is more expensive. Bad tasting water will reflect in the coffee taste.
- Time your brew. For a Chemex, for example, the total time should be around 4 minutes. Espresso, on the other hand, pours 20-30 seconds.
- Buy specialty coffee. Good quality coffee costs more, it's a fact.
If your coffee taste is mature enough, you probably know what you like. But if you are still exploring, we have a few articles recommending coffee beans. In this post we recommend some of the best coffee beans for espresso.
- Extraction yield and ratio determine how strong your coffee is. Grind size, brew time, water temperature, and brew ratio can be tweaked to achieve the perfect cup.
- Make sure you start with a tested recipe and tweak it from there.
- Avoid if possible the single serve capsule based brewing systems. Most of them make underwhelming coffee. If you like the coffee brewed with these, and you are attracted by the undeniable convenience, it's fine. But if you want great coffee, these are not it, (with exceptions).
Bitter coffee typically means over-extracted coffee. Here are a few reasons coffee gets over-extracted: coffee is ground too fine, water temperature is too hot, brew time is too long. Change one variable out of the three and you might fix your cup.
Sour and weak coffee means an under-extracted cup. Here are a few reasons: coffee is ground too coarse, water is not hot enough, brew time is too short.
Take French press and AeroPress, which are immersion methods. With these brew methods, coffee is in contact with the water for a long time, over 3 minutes, up to 5 minutes. The brew temperature is lower for these techniques, to compensate for the long immersion time.
Choosing your coffee brewing equipment might prove difficult, no matter what your budget is. We always want to get the most of our spend. Check our article for a cheap espresso machine that is decent. In my household we have both espresso lovers and drip coffee lovers, so we have both a drip coffee maker, a few manual drippers and two espresso machines. It's a busy coffee station, I can tell you. You can avoid that with a drip coffee and espresso combo machine, and save some space on the counter.
As a final recommendation, I will suggest you try as many of the techniques above and find your favorite method. Taste these coffees at the local coffee shop, so you have a comparison term. When you find your favorite method, start experimenting with it, and tweak it so it suits your taste perfectly.