Coffee brewing techniques. What’s the difference?

Coffee Brewing Techniques

When looking for a way to make coffee you can be overwhelmed by the myriad options presented to you. With so many choices it’s hard to know what to go with. Here are a few facts about each to help you decide.

Before using any of the methods, a few steps need to take place first. Coffee straight off the tree is not suitable for brewing. Before any brewing can take place berries are processed to remove the fruity flesh and then roasted. Roasting the beans gives the coffee the flavour and depending on how dark the roast can vary from vanilla or caramel to more burnt and astringent flavours. Roasters pride themselves on the blends of different roasts to achieve their signature flavour. Roasted beans should be ground just before brewing to reduce oxidation of the bean.


Coffee Brewing Techniques - Espresso
Coffee Brewing Techniques: Espresso

To make an espresso, one of the most concentrated coffees, an espresso machine is required. A basket with a fine filter is packed with ground coffee beans and locked into place. Once turned on, the machine forces hot water under pressure through the coffee grounds into a cup. The size of the grind and the packing of the coffee will change how long the water takes to pass through the coffee. Baristas will grind and pack the coffee to deliver the espresso flavour they want. Coffee oils emulsify with the water under pressure and a golden ‘crema’ is produced. This crema often provides a pallet for latte art once steam foamed milk is added.


Coffee Brewing Techniques - Syphon
Coffee Brewing Techniques: Syphon

A method that dates back to the late 19th century. The Syphon relies on pressure like the espresso but from a simpler source. Vapour pressure is the force behind syphon coffee. The method uses two glass vessels, one on top of the other. The top vessel has a screen or filter and the ground coffee beans. A small opening at the base of this vessel slots into a similar small opening on the lower vessel which contains water. The water in the lower vessel is heated to boiling and vapour enters the upper vessel. Once the top chamber is full the device is removed from the heat and allowed to cool. The vapour condenses into water and drips into the lower pot, bringing coffee with it as it passes through the grounds. The coffee is still hot enough to drink and can be poured from the lower pot once the top chamber is removed. The syphon is a common way to produce coffee but it isn’t as concentrated as espresso. As such you need more of it to get the same hit.

3French Press

Coffee Brewing Techniques - French Press
Coffee Brewing Techniques :French Press

A simple process and one used by many at home. The French press is a pot with a screen on a plunger. Ground coffee is put loose in the pot and hot water is poured on top. This is allowed to steep for several minutes depending on desired strength. Once steeped the screen is plunged down pushing coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot. Coffee can then be poured straight out of the pot into a cup. Again it won’t be as concentrated as an espresso and the screen isn’t as fine as a filter paper so some small particulates can make it through, but it’s a quick and reasonably effective brewing method.


Coffee Brewing Techniques - Chemex
Coffee Brewing Techniques: Chemex

An early incarnation of filter coffee brewing introduced in the 1940’s, Chemex employs a flask and thicker filter paper specifically designed for the method. An hourglass shape with a wooden collar in the centre, the bottle neck of the vessel allows for filter paper, the top half holds the coffee grounds and boiling water is run through the ground coffee beans and collected in the lower half. The filter can then be removed and coffee can be poured from the Chemex flask. The fine filter paper removes the oils in the coffee giving a unique flavour to Chemex coffee and producing a rich black coffee with no crema.


Coffee Brewing Techniques - Aeropress
Coffee Brewing Techniques :Aeropress

The Aeropress method falls somewhere in between filter and espresso coffee. It’s a tube-in-tube system similar to a large syringe with filter paper in the centre. The outer cylinder holds the coffee, hot water and filter paper. The paper is what makes it similar to filter process and if left to drip would yield a similar result. The Aeropress replicates the pressure of the espresso system, when the inner tube is pushed down and compresses the air in the cylinder, forcing the coffee through the filter. The result is a coffee shot with similar strength and flavour to espresso, without the bulky equipment of an espresso machine.

6Cold Brew

Coffee Brewing Techniques - Cold Brew
Coffee Brewing Techniques :Cold Brew

Not a method that can be used for a quick coffee, Cold brewed coffee steeps the coffee grounds in cold or room temperature water. This is left for several hours, usually over night to draw the coffee into the water. Proponents of this method claim that it the resultant brew is less acidic and so features more coffee flavour rather than the burnt notes in an espresso. Once steeping is complete the coffee needs to be pressed and filtered to remove any of the coffee ground particles. Then it can be enjoyed as a cold shot, over ice or with milk as an iced latte.

Each option has pros and cons. The espresso produces the most concentrated coffee with a golden crema it needs a bulky machine, while a French press is a simple one pot option. It comes down to how passionate you are about your coffee compared to how much bench space or money you have. Or you can forget it all and meet your friends at the local café and have somebody else make it.

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