Drip, cone, espresso, aeropress, stove top espresso, French press, cold brew, percolator, siphon, Turkish, sock, instant and cowboy — it sounds like a cross between a chemistry set and camping list, but you may have already figured out that it is an incomplete list of ways to brew coffee. This Brewponent offers a summary of home brewing, and more information on each method is widely available on the internet.
Although there are enough brewing methods to overwhelm coffee snobs with even the thinnest of moustaches, have no fear. All coffee making simplifies to one of four main processes: boiling, filtering, pressurizing and steeping.
When coffee is boiled, or submerged in boiling water, it becomes bitter. This is because the aromatic oils of coffee are released at about 96°C and the bitter acids are released at the boiling point. Most boiled coffee is aided by spices, sugar or cream, but there are always some hard-core types that say they like it plain. Turkish-style coffee is the most common method that uses boiling.
If you’re still making coffee with an old drip machine, you’re using a filtering method. Filtering is any process where hot water is poured over the coffee grounds and through a filter. Cone-brewed coffee is a good example of this style.
Pressure-brewed coffee is exactly what it sounds like, and you may remember espresso is made this way. If you like espresso and want to make it at home, look into an Aeropress. These cool tubes use hand power, don’t cost much and with a little practice make a tasty brew. My opinion: Don’t fool around with stove-top espresso or cheap home espresso machines. I’ve only been disappointed.
When coffee is immersed in water for a significant period of time, it’s being steeped. French press and cold brew are good examples. These methods are cheap and give good quality at home. Parts and filters rarely need replacing, and regional characteristics of the coffee will be more obvious.
One outlier to my tidy categories is the Clever Coffee Brewer (CCB), which combines steeping and filtering. Essentially, CCB is a cone brewing method with a stopper, which allows the water to sit immersed in the coffee. I’ve only tried this once, but still tentatively recommend it.
There are more ways to make coffee than to awkwardly ride an elevator. To borrow a phrase from my co-author Brent, trust me on that one. It’s absurd and expensive to own 30 different coffee makers. Do a little research, try new things when you get the chance and settle for something you like.