Not long ago it was a common belief that the taste of your coffee was mainly determined by the coffee beans you used and the region from which they came. The next major factor influencing taste was the choice between dark roasted beans, light roasted or a combination thereof.
It was a time when the industry serving the needs of coffee drinkers concentrated on convenience for delivering that first shot of caffeine of the day. However, times have changed and specialty coffee is brewed in an array of machines, and variety of methods has become the norm.
Believe it or not brewing a cup of coffee is actually something of a science (unless you’re pouring hot water over instant granules). The method employed to get that perfect cup goes beyond just fiddling with the taste, it also changes some of the brew’s basic elements like the quantity of natural oils, caffeine and antioxidants passing into your morning brew!
Some of the most commonly enjoyed methods of brewing coffee are discussed below.
The Standard Drip Brew Method
This method is by far the most commonly used method in America. It is the typical way in which coffee is prepared in most homes, diners and restaurants. It makes use of an automatic coffee maker that can easily be purchased in most stores in a wide range of sizes and prices.
In this method, ground coffee is placed in a partition usually lined with filter paper and water is brought to near boiling with the use of heating elements embedded in the machine. The water is then trickled over the ground coffee, brewing it.
The more finely ground the beans, the greater the surface area coming in contact with the hot water and greater the amounts of oils, antioxidants and caffeine that can seep into the pot.
Brewing coffee using this method allows for significant amount of caffeine to seep through as compared to most other methods. A typical standard drip brew cycle takes from two to five minutes and the longer the cycle the greater the amount of caffeine that is released into the pot.
The type of roast also affects the amount of caffeine, as the process of roasting cooks caffeine out of the beans. This means darker roasts will deliver less caffeine than lighter ones.
This method also offers more than average amounts of antioxidants than other methods, but longer drip cycles will cook antioxidants away. For more antioxidants, darker roasts are better. Finally the oils in coffee grounds lend aroma and flavour to your cup of coffee, but the filter paper traps some of the oils letting limited amounts into the pot.
This is why some machines now come with metal mesh filters which are good for trapping grinds but not the oils. Build up of mineral deposits in the machine can also alter the flavour, so a monthly clean of the machine is necessary.
Instant coffee is perhaps the easiest way of producing cup of coffee and naturally what you gain in terms of convenience you have to sacrifice to a degree in taste. While a richer cup can be created by using more of the powder, it still falls short of the taste and aroma delivered by some of the other methods.
Instant coffee is made by roasting coffee beans and grinding them into a powder. After dissolving the powder in water, the extract is spray or freeze dried and sold as instant coffee.
Instant coffee in general contains less caffeine than any other brewing method because it is created from an extract. However, it is in no way lacking in antioxidants. The phenols and flavonoids are actually concentrated during the process of making instant so each cup houses more antioxidants than every other method of brewing.
Instant coffee contains no oils as they get filtered out in processing. This method offers a decent cup of coffee at very short notice with the convenience of not having anything left over to clean-up.
French Press or Steeping Method
This simple preparation technique was first embraced by the French in 1771 from where the name French press stuck. However it was Attilio Calimani, an Italian who popularized it in 1929.
Initially the straightforward method called for bringing water to boil in a metallic ampule with a spout, then dispensing it in the vessel containing approximately ten grams of medium ground coffee for each cup required, stirring and finally steeping it for some minutes. The preparation was enjoyed after straining through a mesh strainer into a cup.
Over the years, the process evolved into an extraction method using a pot having a built in plunger and given the name of French Press. In this modified pot, the same steps as employed previously are carried out except when the coffee is ready to be poured into the cup, the plunger is used to trap most of the grounds to the bottom of the pot.
Even connoisseurs agree that it is an excellent way to get that rich, pure coffee taste without much effort. The one drawback is that you get sediment in the cup.
Coffee prepared using the French press contains higher levels of caffeine because the grounds are totally submerged in the water where water is in touch with greater area of the grounds. The more finely ground the coffee and the longer it is allowed to steep, the greater the amount of caffeine released.
Unlike other methods that employ paper or cloth filters that trap antioxidants, the metal mesh filters that are a standard part of every press also allow for greater levels of antioxidants to pass into the cup. The method also allows for maximum amounts of oils to seep into each cup giving the coffee its luxuriant, smooth flavour.
The Greek and Turkish Coffee Infusion Method
While given the collective name of Turkish Coffee, this method of brewing is actually enjoyed all over the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. While ‘Turkish coffee’ encompasses a large variety of methods with slight differences, the traditional method makes use of an ibrik. This petite pot with a narrow neck (so aromas are contained) is made of either brass or galvanised copper and has a single long handle.
To prepare a single serving of Turkish coffee, one teaspoon of finely ground (nearly talcum powder consistency) beans, are added to one cup of water and half a teaspoon of sugar. The mixture is heated in the ibrik on low heat until it boils producing foam at top. At this point the ibrik is removed from the heat and the mix is allowed to settle.
The process is repeated another two to three times before pouring the brew into a cup. The process creates very rich cup of coffee which can be made stronger by reducing the amount of water.
The coffee can be enjoyed by either waiting for the suspensions to settle before drinking or consuming it while the grounds are still suspended in the brew. The taste is rather potent but the sugar provides a balance.
The Vacuum Pot
The vacuum pot also referred to as siphon, offers an entertaining way to make coffee. While the gadgets date back to 1830, they were most common from the 1930’s to 50’s. The standard principal in all the devices includes a lower container that is similar to the carafe in an auto-drip machine, which houses the fresh water. There is a second, funnel shaped upper bowl that fits on top of the carafe with its tube extending almost to the bottom of the carafe.
The top of the tube is roofed with filters, where the coffee is well ground coffee is placed. Once everything is ready, they whole system is placed in a heat source.
In a totally sealed carafe, growing air pressure pushes water through the pipe and mixes with the coffee in the top bowl, brewing it. When almost all of the water from the bottom carafe has been pushed to the upper bowl, the heat is turned down and the mixture is allowed to steep for a minute or two before removing the unit from heat.
As the lower bowl cools down, internal pressure drops, pulling the liquid from the upper chamber back down while making gurgling sounds. The filter keeps the grounds in the upper chamber which is detached and the coffee served using the lower carafe as the serving vessel.
While making the coffee involves major theatrics, the drink produced has a somewhat mellow flavour. And it does not offer the caffeine punch most coffee drinkers are looking for! What’s more, a great deal of patience and dedication go into making coffee this way.
The Aeropress was invented in 2005 by the president of Aerobie toy company Alan Adler. The system produces a good cup of coffee with characteristics of an espresso. The compact, almost unbreakable cylindrical device resembling an air pump comes with a choice of paper or stainless steel filters for a more full-bodied cup.
The Aeopress is used by placing the device on top of a mug, positioning the filter in place and adding coffee and hot water. After thoroughly stirring and steeping for about thirty seconds, the plunger is pressed gently to push water through the grounds to the mug below.
Just like in the French press, the coffee is totally infused in water but Aeropress makes use of air pressure to drive the water into the mug, thus leaving all the sediment behind. The system delivers a consistently low-acid, concentrated cup of coffee without much effort and very little to clean-up afterwards.
So, What is the Best Way to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee?
Every cup of ‘Joe’ has a unique taste based on the brand of coffee, roast, brewing time and method used to prepare it. Each of these factors affects the amount of caffeine, oils and antioxidants that are released into the cup of coffee.
So which is the best way to make coffee if all other factors are kept constant? Well, only you can answer that. It boils down (excuse the pun) to personal preference. I suggest you try every method at least once, because honestly speaking, each produces a different and great cup of coffee, and only you can decide which works best for you.
For more information on coffee makers, please read our Coffee Maker Buyers Guide – How to Choose the Right Machine for Your Budget, which will help you decide. Also in our review section, you can discover our Top 3 Coffee Makers and see what’s good and what is bad about them. We have written an in depth, non-biased review.