The Best Way to Brew Coffee

How do you enjoy drinking coffee?  Well, then that's the best way to brew it.  If you feel adventuresome or experimental, we are all for that.  At home, Alexarc and Teri USED TO drink coffee french pressed.  Alexarc USED TO grind the coffee at work and we used an electric kettle to heat the water (now we have a home burr grinder and grind the night before).  We're sleepy, we don't want to work so hard to just wake up, you know? We can pretty much do this in our sleep now. If we feel like taking the time, Alexarc prefers a pour-over cup of coffee through a Swissgold filter and Teri - this is weird, I know - likes to use a coffee sock. (No, not an actual sock!) When our french press broke, we were at an impasse:  Teri wanted to invest in a better french press, while Alexarc wanted to get his dream machine, a Technivorm Moccamaster.  Alexarc won the battle and has been enjoying "dialing in" the grind and the water flow on the new machine using a Swissgold filter.  The cool thing about this coffee maker is that the water is heated to the proper temperature and there is a lever on the filter basket where you can control the amount of time the water is in contact with the grounds.  Alexarc is in heaven and Teri misses her french press, but that's OK.  There's no one right way to enjoy your coffee..  When we go to a cafe, Teri orders a double shot six ounce americano and Alexarc will get either drip coffee or an espresso.  So that's what we like.  If you like lattes or mochas or what have you, then that's what you like and that's the best way to enjoy coffee.  We don't care if you want caramel or whip, we are just happy that you are drinking coffee!

But if you want to try new things, here are some alternatives to drip coffee or french press:
  • Chemex or Melitta pour-over:  brews as you pour.
  • Coffee sock or muslin filter:  some people (ahem, Teri) say that more of the good stuff gets into the cup than by paper filter.  You can even get fabric filters for your drip coffeemaker, just make sure you get the right shape for your basket.  Drip coffeemakers, however, are notorious for not getting the water hot enough.  You can get these filters for pour-overs, too.
  • Swissgold filter:  Some people (ahem, Alexarc) think that this filter lets more good stuff into the cup and is easier to clean.  But also Alexarc is a neatnik, so there you go.  Teri thinks that more sediment passes through the Swissgold than the muslin, but whatever, that is actually not a very big deal.  These can be used in drip makers or pour-overs, too.
  • Vacuum pot or moka pot:  looks kinda little mad-scientist and operates by siphon but it makes good coffee and it is fun.
  • Aeropress:  doesn't quite make "espresso" but darn close, using pressure.  Also these fit in your suitcase if you're traveling; all you need is a hot water source.
  • Espresso?  Espresso is just about the most distilled coffee deliciousness you can get. This isn't easy to do at home unless you're really willing to spend some bank on a grinder and near-professional espresso machine.  The main flaws that the typical home machines have are insufficient brewing temperature and insufficient pressure.  And don't even get us started on the texture of steamed milk that those things "froth."  If you don't want to make a substantial investment in your home rig, enjoy your espresso at a cafe!  Otherwise be sure to do some research before purchasing equipment.

  1. Grind
  2. Temperature
  3. Time
Whether you use a percolator on a campfire or splurge on a Technivorm or run out of filters and brew through a paper towel, these are the three elements that determine whether your coffee tastes great or not so great.  The particle size of the grind depends on the brewing method, because different methods extract coffee oils differently.  The temperature must be hot enough to avoid a sour brew.  The time must be long enough for optimum extraction but not so long that the bitter elements taint your cup. Here is a great guide to navigating these proportions with additional advice on choosing your technique and product wisely.

Most home drip brewers don't heat the water enough to fully extract the coffee grounds. Alexarc's suggestion is to fill your carafe with fresh, cold water, pour that water into the brewer reservoir, and run the brewer without a filter or coffee in the basket.  Then use that same water to actually brew the coffee (with filter and coffee in the basket). He feels that this not only will preheat the water but will also aerate the water and and better extract the coffee than if you had just used hot tap water.

Did you see that thing I said in the first section that will probably make most aficionados cringe? If you missed it, we confessed that Alexarc grinds our coffee at work.  This works for us because:

A. This solves our cold war over who will crank the handle on our little burr grinder for 10 minutes before being awake enough to behave like a decent human being,
B.  We drink a lot of coffee so it doesn't really hang around our kitchen for very long,
C.  Alexarc has the benefit of using his very own, very clean professional grinder whenever he likes.

Any professional (even us) will tell you that the best way to enjoy the best coffee is to grind per use and they are totally right. Grinding the coffee straight up makes it go stale faster.

You can get really crazy and spend hundreds on a burr (metal or ceramic collars with teeth that grind up the beans) grinder, but even those are tricky because it's difficult to clean the burrs with the more affordable grinders marketed for use at home (coffee houses use burr grinders and SHOULD be cleaning their grinders at least every night).  Our hand-cranked burr grinder works fine if you the civility and the patience for it.  We just don't, that's all.  The (affordable!) grinder you can buy by clicking that hyper link is great because you can adjust the grind and also take it completely apart and clean it well.

However, If you just want a decent cup in the morning, we think blade grinders are fine.  The trick is the uniformity of grounds and size of grounds.  The flaw of blade grinders is that they kind of chop the grounds instead of actually grinding them.  Teri thinks that you can get pretty OK results with a blade grinder by turning it upside down and gently shaking it as you grind.  The grounds are a bit more uniform that way.  

Bottom line, do what works for you.  Here is a pretty good guide to choosing a home grinder.  If you must use the grinder at a grocery store, just take an extra moment to examine its cleanliness.  Not only do coffee oils accumulate, but they go rancid over time.  That crap can taint the pristine bag of beans you just bought.  Personally, we'd go blade grinder over grocery store grinder, and if neither was an option, we'd buy ground (but really hate doing it).  The good news is that your local coffee shop is more likely to have a nice clean grinder.  I think you know which one we'd go to.