How to Brew Coffee

Brewing Methods

While the methods of brewing coffee are not as numerous as the kinds of coffee you can brew, there are still enough of them to confuse and delight us.

Here are some of the more popular methods, a long with a couple of more unusual ways, to extract a beverage from the bean. Of course, everyone has his or her own favorite method, and as you have probably discovered about people involved with specialty coffee, everyone holds the staunch opinion that his or hers is the best.

The following descriptions are over views of each method and the principles of brewing they represent. For a detailed how-to guide for each method, refer to the instructions that come with your particular maker.



This method was used throughout the Middle East and Greece. It is perhaps the original means of extracting liqueur from coffee beans. The process is simple and results in a very strong, sweet and thick brew that I would find difficult to enjoy on a daily basis. As a ritual, the grinding of the coffee by hand in a special brass grinder is an enjoyable one after a Turkish or Middle Eastern meal. The coffee is ground, then placed in a pot, called an ibrit, with sugar and water and brought to a boil three times. It is seved in small cups.

To judge your success with the Turkish method, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Do you have to stir it with both hands ?
  • Does it stay black when you pour milk into it?
  • When you stir it, does the spoon:
    1. Stand up by itself ?
    2. Completely disintegrate ?

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This method passes brewed coffee from a heated reservoir below up through the grounds above, again and again and again. Although accompanied by a comforting aroma and that distinct morning music as it gurgles away, the brew it produces is far from soothing. The familiar stainless steel pot, full of bubble and brew, is often seen in movies and TV serials of the fifties. Nostalgia aside, this is where I would like to keep it. There have also been recent reports that percolated coffee is correlated with high cholesterol.

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This is today’s most popular method of brewing coffee, largely due to its convenience. Near boiling water is poured slowly through the grounds, either manually through a cone containing a filter, or sprayed over the grounds by any of the numerous electric drip machines. Many electric models even come with timing devices so that morning zombies can clutch their first cup with little or no effort. It is important to remember that water temperature must be maintained at 195 F, so make sure you purchase a capable machine. Also, it is important to remove the pot from the “keep-warm” burner to prevent the coffee from deteriorating.

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French Press

Often referred to as Melior, after a brand name of plunger pot, this method utilizes infusion and pressure. After placing ground coffee in the beaker, hot water is added to create a coffee “stew”. This is allowed to steep and then a plunger filter pushes the grounds to the bottom of the beaker, and the coffee is left at the top. The French press method produces coffee that allows more brewing substances (oils, colloids, etc.) to remain in the coffee than would be left by methods using paper filters. For this reason, many people of the “I like coffee I can chew” school consider this the perfect cup.

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One of the showier and more unusual methods of brewing coffee. The problem here is that the equipment is not readily available. As the water nears boiling it is forced up into a glass chamber with the coffee grounds. After all the water is in the upper chamber the mixture is allowed to steep and then the heat is turned off. As the temperature cools the coffee is sucked back down to the lower chamber by the vacuum. You then separate the two pots and serve. This makes for a fascinating (and quite loud) after dinner entertainment and beverage in one.

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Stove-top versions, heated by the stove’s burner, contain two chambers: water is in the bottom a chamber and is forced up through a filter containing the coffee grounds. It arrives gurgling in the upper chamber models which inject hot water through the coffee grounds directly into a cup, very much like those huge machines seen in coffeehouses. These home espresso machines have become almost as commonplace in the average kitchen as percolators were in those fifties movies I mentioned. Most models come with the means of steaming milk for cappuccinos and lattes.

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Cold Water Method

This method is not recommended for the impatient coffee drinker, although it is an especially useful means of making coffee for use in cold coffee drinks, recipes and homemade liqueurs. Mix ground coffee with cold water in a large container (I pound finely ground coffee to 1 quart cold water) and let set at room temperature for approximately 10 to 12 hours. This will create a coffee “extract.” Strain out the grounds and refrigerate the extract and, when ready, fill a cup one fourth (or less) full. Fill the reminder of the cup with hot water and drink up. There are a number of cold water coffee markers on the market. There is evidence that using this method provides coffee that is easier on the stomach because it extracts fewer of the coffee’s natural oils, making the coffee less acidic. This essence will keep refrigerated for weeks.

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Neapolitan Flip

This isn’t the latest move in gymnastics, but an Italian twist on coffee making, also know as a reversible drip pot. The mechanism, usually made of aluminum, consists of two chambers, with coffee secured in between them. The lower chamber is filled with water, and the whole contraption is put on the stove. When the water is boiling, stream escapes from a pinhole below the coffee grounds. At this point the pot is removed from the stove and flipped over. Water drips through the grounds into the now right –side-up serving pot.

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