Posts in Brewing Guide
Pour-over brewing

The pour-over coffee brewing method has become my new favorite. It is great at bringing out the full flavor of a coffee as well as all the nuances. I especially like it for our Guatemala and Brazil . I am currently drinking a cup of our Guatemala brewed with my $6 red, ceramic pour-over coffee maker and it is bright, complex, and lingering. This is also the method that is most popular with the third-wave of coffee roasters. Ten-second history: the first-wave was Folgers and their like making themselves a household name in the 19th century. The second wave was Peets, Starbucks, and their imitators in the 70s and 80s. The third wave consists of small, independent roasters who believe coffee can be a fine, artisanal food just like wine or cheese. The third wave doesn't have much representation in the burbs of Houston. But I think that will change in the near future as people start demanding higher quality coffee.

The pour-over coffee brewer is very simple and there are a lot of options out there. The one I use is ceramic, conical and takes a #4 Melitta filter. It has one drip hole. You can find flat brewers, ones with two or three holes. The Hairo V60 has one bigger hole that the tip of the filter fits through.  The Chemex brewer uses a special carafe and an extra thick filter. Everyone has a favorite but I find the majority of them make a great cup of coffee. So pick a cheap one, or one that you think is pretty and make sure you get the right filters. The process is very similar to an auto-drip coffee maker, except that you get to control the entire brewing process. If you like having a single cup of coffee, this is far better and cheaper than a k-cup. And its better for the environment. I use compostable, unbleached filters made of bamboo fiber. This method takes some practice to get it perfect, but even an imperfect pour will still be pretty great. It really helps if you have a small kettle with a long spout (gooseneck) to allow for a slow, even pour, but I find a small, glass Pyrex measuring cup gives you pretty good  control. The brewing method below is for a single 8-10 oz cup of coffee, but you can do some math if you want to brew into a carafe, or just a really large mug.

Brewing Method

  1. Heat water to 195 to 205 degrees F. Use good tasting water. 
  2. Grind to a medium-fine consistency (you can go a little finer if you want to slow down the brewing process) .
  3. Preheat your pour-over coffee maker with the filter in (be sure to put your mug under the brewer). This is important as the paper flavor in a filter is more noticeable with a smaller amount of coffee. 
  4. Add the ground coffee (I like 20-23 grams (4 level tablespoons) for an 8-10 ounce cup).
  5. Pour a small amount of hot water onto the grounds and let the coffee bloom for 30-45 seconds. You will see the coffee grounds rise a bit and then settle back down. This is more drastic with fresher coffee.
  6. Pout the rest of the water, as slow as you can onto the mass of coffee. The goal is to keep the water level low but constant so that the grounds are always being extracted. The entire brewing process should take 2.5-3.5 minutes.
  7. If you want to, you can let the last bit drain off of your cup. It has a lot of bite, which you may or may not want in your cup.
  8. Enjoy your fabulous cup of coffee.

Moka pot brewing

Here is another inexpensive and easy method for coffee brewing. It produces a bold, concentrated cup similar in strength to an espresso (it is also called a stove-top espresso maker). But the Moka pot is not a true espresso maker. It cannot produce nearly the amount of pressure required to be called a true espresso. That said, it can make a great cup of coffee. The flavor profile is more like a press pot so if you like your coffee bold and a little muddy, this is a great option.

The Moka pot was created in 1933 and is still sold by the Bialetti company. These days, a lot of companies make a brewer using the basic Bialetti design.  I bought my 6-cup Moka pot at IKEA for $20 and it works great. The Moka pots come in both aluminum and stainless-steel. I suggest stainless-steel as it is sturdier and imparts less metallic flavor to your brew. They do take longer to heat up than the aluminum models, though. The brewing concept is similar to espresso, by boiling water you cause pressurized steam to move through the coffee grounds and into the top portion. 

Brewing Guide

1. Make sure your pot is clean, if this is your first time using a new pot it helps to run a batch of coffee that you are not going to drink through it to remove any factory smells or flavors. You can use grounds that have already been brewed for this if you don't want to waste your coffee. 

2. You have two options for water. A. You can use cold water and let all the heating happen in the Moka pot. B. You can pre-boil the water before putting it into the Moka pot. The second method will produce a cleaner cup, but I find you are more likely to burn yourself trying to assemble the pot while it is hot.  Or at least, I did. As always, use good-tasting water. Pour water into the bottom portion up to or just above the pressure release valve.

3. Grind your coffee to a medium-fine consistency, you don't want to go as fine as espresso because you risk clogging your Moka pot. Grind enough coffee to fill the filter basket. Wipe off the excess with your finger and place the basket back in the pot.  Unlike regular espresso, do not tamp the coffee grounds down.

4. Screw on the top portion tightly (use a pot-holder if you are starting with hot water). Put the pot on a small burner on medium heat. 

5. Open the lid and wait for the brew to begin (5-10 minutes starting with cold water). When the brew is nearing completion you will hear a sputtering sound. Pull the pot off the heat immediately when you hear this sound, or a little before once you get used to your pot. This is very important as the brewed coffee will cook if the heat is still on after brewing is complete. This can ruin the coffee's flavor very quickly. 

6. Serve the coffee immediately, or pour into a thermal carafe. Once the pot has cooled a bit, you should clean it out thoroughly. You are dealing with pressurized steam so it is important to keep the pot clean for it to work in safe manner. 

Coffee from a Moka pot is pretty concentrated and is delicious on its own, but you can also add some hot water for an americano, or cream and sugar. Treat it like you would a shot of espresso.

Auto-drip brewing

This is my second coffee brewing installment. I choose auto-drip because it is still the most popular brewing method for the average home coffee drinker (and yes I do include K-cups in the auto-drip category). The reason this is the most popular is largely because of the ease of use and the ability to automate the brewing process. 

The truth is, there are a lot of bad auto-drip coffee makers and a few good ones. The main problem with most auto-drip coffee makers is that they don't get the water hot enough for proper brewing. A good number of them also tend to under-saturate the grounds. This is true for K-cups as well. One of the reasons I love manual brewing devices is that they are usually inexpensive, and produce much better results. A $20 auto-drip coffee maker and a $20 french press make vastly different coffee. To get a good auto-drip coffee maker you are looking at $100 at least, and top-of-the-line models are $220-300. The three companies that I like are Bunn, Bonavita, and Technivorm. Yes, your dad's Bunn is actually a pretty good coffee maker...mostly because it gets the water hot enough.

My personal favorite is from Bonavita which sells for around $170. It is a simple machine where the quality is put into the parts that matter and the rest are kept as cheap as possible. It consistently gets the water hot enough and brews into a thermal, glass-lined carafe, no need for a warming plate. This is one of the big problems with auto-drip coffee makers. The warming plate can really destroy the flavor of fresh coffee in a short amount of time.

Brewing Guide

1. Before you do anything, make sure your coffee maker is clean. If you can smell old coffee, it is not clean.

2. Rinse your paper filter before use to remove any residual paper flavor. 

3. Grind to a medium consistency (use 1-2 tablespoons (7-15 grams) per 5 oz cup). Use good quality water. Run the brew cycle.

4. If your coffee maker has a warming plate, it is best to pull the brewed coffee and put it in a thermal carafe if you are not planning on drinking it immediately.

Note: If you are used to grinding your coffee the night before and setting the auto-timer you might try getting up a few minutes early and grinding your coffee just before brewing. You may be surprised at the results. Coffee will stale overnight sitting ground in your coffee maker. 

French Press brewing

Introduction to the French Press

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a collection of articles with basic brewing guides. This week, I am starting with the French press (or press pot). because it happens to be my favorite brewing method.

The French press as we know it today was invented in 1929 by Attilio Calimani. It consists of a glass or plastic beaker and a tight fitting plunger with a metal or nylon filter. The French press is a total infusion method that allows the coffee grounds to be in contact with the water throughout the brewing process. This produces a cup with more body but you end up with a bit of sediment at the bottom of your cup. Some people also think that the French press can muddle the more delicate flavors found in bright, clean coffees. I personally find that the extra body is worth sacrificing a bit of clarity for.

The French press is a completely manual process which allows you to control every coffee variable. The reason I love it is that you can get a near-perfect brew with very little skill or effort. It is also relatively cheap and easy to find at Walmart or Target.

Brewing Guide

  1. Begin by boiling good, filtered water. 
  2. Measure out your beans and grind to a coarse consistency. This will insure that the plunger goes down easy, and will produce a cleaner cup than a medium grind. The ratio should be 6-7 grams per 4-oz cup. Or a little less than a scoop per cup if you are using the provided scoop. 4-cup press (26 g, 3.5 scoops), 8-cup press (52 g, 7 scoops), 12-cup press (78 g, 10.5 scoops).
  3. Pour a small amount of boiling water into your empty French press to preheat the pot. Discard the water, or use it to preheat your mug. 
  4. Add the grounds, pour in hot water in a circular motion, insuring that the grounds are fully saturated.  The water temperature should be 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, or just off the boil.
  5. Using a wooden or plastic tool (a chopstick works great) stir the grounds briefly. You will likely see a medium brown foam rise to the top when you do this.
  6. Put on the lid (but leave the plunger up). Set a timer for 4-6 minutes. 
  7. Once time is up, push the plunger down slowly and try not to apply more force than is necessary. If the plunger is really hard to push down, try a coarser grind next time. The coffee is now ready to serve. If you wont be drinking it immediately, pour it into a thermal carafe to keep the coffee hot and to completely stop the brewing process. 

Cleanup is pretty easy. Most presses are dishwasher safe and you can unscrew the filter to clean parts individually on most models. And, no paper filter to throw out.