“Making coffee” for most people involves eyeballing a couple of heaping spoonfuls of pre-ground coffee from a can into a plastic basket lined with a paper or mesh filter while half asleep, dumping some water into a reservoir, and pressing a button. And while that’s a perfectly viable brewing method—especially if you drink a lot of coffee and don’t want to spend much time or money per cup preparing it—it’s certainly not the only one. In fact, there were many different ways to make coffee prior to the rise of the automatic drip maker in the 1970s, and adventurous coffee connoisseurs continue to invent new ways to make a cup of Joe to this day.
We’ll be detailing ten of these brewing methods in just a moment, but first, some ground rules…
Avoid the pre-ground stuff that you find at the supermarket in three-pound cans for under $10. All of these brewing methods require more effort than your Mr. Coffee machine does, so you may as well treat yourself to some whole beans. A good place to start is your favorite coffee shop. You’ll usually pay $10-15 for a pound—decidedly more expensive than $10 for three pounds, so whether or not you make this a habit is up to you. Here’s a handy guide to the flavor profiles of coffees from different growing regions, courtesy of Serious Eats.
To get the freshest coffee possible, you’ll want to grind the coffee you need right before you use it. Burr grinders are best, as they crush the beans into fairly evenly-sized grounds. Electric ones are pretty expensive, but manual, hand-cranked grinders are much more affordable and aren’t too much of a workout (I like Hario’s offering, which can be had for about $30).
And avoid blade grinders—they chop the beans, and you’ll end up with a fine powder, large chunks, and everything in between. If you can imagine coffee that’s simultaneously weak and strong, that’s what you’re most likely to get with one of these. In fact, for better results than you’ll get with a blade grinder without having to buy a burr grinder, just ask them to grind the beans at the store for you. Yeah, I know, I already said you should grind them yourself, but if you keep the grounds in a sealed container and use them within a week or so, they’ll be just fine.
Alright, let’s get to it!
1. Cowboy Coffee
You can probably guess how this one works. If you can’t, here’s a hint: It involves a pot of boiling water and some coffee.
Of course, the specifics vary depending on personal preference. Sure, you could throw some coffee and water into a pot and bring it to a boil, but you would end up with bitter coffee. Coffee is best brewed at anywhere from 195 degrees to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on who you ask. Water boils at 212 degrees, and while that doesn’t sound like a huge difference, it’s enough to overextract the coffee, bringing out some undesirable flavors.
So instead, bring your pot of water to a boil, remove it from your heat source, and let it sit for 15 to 30 seconds. This will allow the water to cool down enough that it won’t overextract your coffee grounds. Add your grounds (fine grind—here’s a cool visual guide to grind sizes), stir, and let the brew steep for three to four minutes, stirring a couple more times throughout the process. Afterwards, sprinkle some cold water on the grounds that will be floating on the top—according to those in the know, this causes them to settle to the bottom so less of them get into your cup.
2. Mud Coffee
This is basically the same concept as cowboy coffee, only instead of making it in a pot to avoid getting grounds in your cup, you just pour not-quite boiling water into a cup full of grounds. Again, you’ll use finely ground beans (two tablespoons per six ounces of water is a good rule of thumb for most brewing methods, by the way), and you’ll let it sit for about three or four minutes, stirring occasionally but ultimately allowing them to settle to the bottom. You won’t want to down this whole cup—once you reach the thick, gritty stuff (the “mud”) you can stop drinking it.
This is a simple, traditional method of brewing coffee, and like cowboy coffee, it’s really not very precise. You’ll get good coffee, but you won’t get good coffee all the time—since you can’t limit the extraction time, some bitterness isn’t uncommon. Still, nostalgia is cool, so give these first two methods a whirl if you’re feeling up for it.
3. Turkish Coffee
In Turkey, it’s Turkish coffee. In Armenia, it’s Armenian coffee. In Bosnia, it’s Bosnian coffee. In Greece… you get the idea. It’s all basically prepared the same way in that region of the world—the “Near East”, where the Middle East reaches up into Mediterranean Europe—but in the west, the name “Turkish coffee” is the one that stuck. Actually originating in Yemen (I know, it’s confusing), this one is kind of a cross between the above two methods, but the process is a bit more refined. First of all, it requires really powdery grounds, so you’ll either want to pulverize the beans with a mortar and pestle, or grind them at the store (most pro grinders have a “Turkish” setting). If you don’t want to fool with any of that, you can still get good results with the finest setting possible on your grinder.
If you want to be legit, you’ll need a cezve, a small copper pot with a long, wooden handle, but until you know whether you’re into Turkish coffee or not, you can try this method out with the same equipment you’d use for cowboy coffee.
This method includes sugar, to make the intense flavor of this coffee more palatable. Combining sugar, water, and your powdery grounds, you’ll heat the concoction over medium heat until the coffee starts to foam (keep in mind that you’re not trying to boil it, however). Before it overflows, you remove it from the heat, stir, and repeat the whole process a couple more times. Then you serve it—foam, grounds, and all. You can read about all the specific measurements here.
This method yields a really unique, intense flavor. You also have to avoid the grounds at the bottom as you do with the second method in this list (I learned that the hard way the first time I ordered Turkish coffee in a coffee shop).
One important note—unless you really like pooping a lot, you do not need to drink a lot of Turkish coffee. A few ounces will do.
4. French Press
Having nothing to do with France, what’s known in America as the French press was patented by an Italian guy named Attilio Calimani in the late 1920s, back when the word “French” was used for everything from fried potatoes to fried toast for some unknown reason other than actually being French.
This is probably the most popular—and therefore, the most easy to acquire—of the “not automatic drip machine” brewing methods, likely because it’s easy to use and you can get French presses in large sizes, making them ideal for daily use.
For French press coffee, you’ll use a coarse grind, since the metal screen you’ll be pressing would let finer grounds slip through. Drop the coffee into the pitcher, bring water to a boil, let it cool, and pour it in. Again, two tablespoons of grounds per six ounces of water is standard for most brewing methods.
Give it a quick stir—just once is necessary, to make sure that all of the grounds are in contact with water. You’ll let the coffee sit for anywhere from three to six minutes. While you wait, put the plunger in and the lid on, but don’t press yet. Once the time is up, press down slowly, and the coffee is ready to drink! (I mean, pour it into a cup or other standard drinking vessel first, unless you’re just really tired.)
The brewing time varies depending on the kind of coffee beans you’re using and your own personal taste, though a good starting point is 4 minutes.
French press coffee is a bit thicker in texture than automatic drip coffee, with a little bit of grittiness. However, since the coffee doesn’t pass through a paper filter, more of the coffee’s oils will make it into your cup—you’ll actually be able to see them floating on top. This makes for a bolder flavor than filter coffee. Usually, this is good, though bright, acidic coffees can sometimes taste sour when brewed with this method.
5. Pour-Over Coffee
This works exactly the same way as an automatic drip machine: Hot water is poured over grounds, and gravity pulls that water through the grounds and a paper filter into a server. The advantage of the manual pour-over brewing method is control—over the temperature of the water, and over the brewing time. Heck, you can even control the coffee to water ratio down to 1/10 of a gram (notice the scale in the photo?). Plus, hot water never makes contact with anything plastic. So if you’re worried about BPA, this method is for you—all you need is a drip cone (usually ceramic, sometimes metal or glass), a kettle with a long, skinny spout, and something for the coffee to go into.
I use this brewing method any time I just want a cup or two for myself (so basically every day), using the Hario V60 drip cone, a Hario kettle, and, unless I’m just setting the drip cone on top of a coffee mug for one cup, a Hario serving vessel that holds 24 ounces of coffee.
For this one, you’ll be using a medium-fine grind. Two tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water, as usual, and water that’s been boiled and allowed to cool for 30 seconds.
There are all kinds of ways to do this, so I’ll just tell you how I do it. If you want to try something different, Google will give you more information on the subject than you could ever want.
Slowly pour some water over the grounds in a spiral motion from the inside, just to wet the grounds. You’ll see some bubbling—that’s the coffee releasing CO2. Let it do that for 30 seconds before you continue brewing, to make sure that bubbles aren’t getting in the way of the brewing process. I’ve skipped this step before just to see if it makes a difference in flavor, and I can’t tell the difference, but I still allow the coffee to “de-gas” as it makes me feel like I know what I’m doing.
After that’s done with, pour with that same motion until there’s about a half-inch of water over the grounds. As it sinks, add more, maintaining that half-inch. Do that until you’ve poured the correct amount of water over the grounds.
This coffee tastes really clean. Since it’s passing through a really fine paper filter, you don’t get anything resembling sludge.
This coffee maker was invented in 2005 by Aerobie, a company that makes Frisbees, of all things. Functionally, it’s a single-serve brewer that works kind of like a French press and kind of like a drip brewer.
Basically, you put hot water and finely ground coffee into the AeroPress, stir, then press the liquid through a paper filter and into a cup. Then you add some more hot water to the cup, and it’s ready to drink. This all takes about one minute.
AeroPress is fast and costs about $30, making it accessible to anyone who wants to try something different but not spend a bunch of money or have to go through a big learning curve.
I’ve never used an AeroPress or tried coffee made with one, but it’s described as being really smooth and rich—makes sense, since it’s prepared almost like espresso (quickly, and with fine grounds).
7. Vacuum Press
Fundamentally, these things work by steeping coffee in nearly boiling water for a few minutes, then allowing it to pass through a filter into a serving vessel. Based on that information, you can probably see the similarities between this brewing method and others listed here. It’s almost like an AeroPress, only not as quick.
Of course, that’s far from all there is to it. The main appeal of the vacuum brewer is the visual presentation, hence the video above.
As the water in the bottom reservoir is heated, the pressure of the steam forces the water up through a filter and into the top portion of the brewer. The water cools as it travels upwards, so even though it’s boiling in the bottom, it’s at an ideal brewing temperature by the time it reaches the top. After it’s brewed a few minutes, you remove the heat, and as the water in the bottom cools, a vacuums is created, sucking the coffee down through the filter.
This isn’t practical, as it has a lot of parts. What’s more, those parts look like they’re pretty tricky to clean.
Aside from that, the way the coffee is actually brewed isn’t necessarily unique, so it’s not like there’s an end result that you can only get with a vacuum press.
But man… it sure is awesome to watch!
8. Cold Press Coffee
Cold brewed coffee is brewed at room temperature, relying on time rather than temperature for coffee extraction. This yields coffee with very low acidity.
Fortunately, you don’t need any fancy equipment for the cold press brewing method—you just need a French press brewer, a little more coffee, and a lot more time. While the typical rule of two tablespoons of coffee to six ounces of water is based on a coffee to water ratio of 1:10, cold brewed coffee uses a ratio of 1:7.
Aside from that, it works just like the hot French press method—dump the water (room temperature, of course) into the pitcher with your coarsely ground coffee, and attach the plunger and lid.
Here’s where the process changes: Rather than three to six minutes, you’re going to let the coffee steep for 12 hours. So if you want cold brewed coffee in the morning, you’re going to have to do all of this the night before.
Cold brewed coffee is served diluted with milk or cold water for delicious iced coffee, or hot water if you want a warm cup of bold and low-acidity Joe.
9. Cold Drip Coffee
This one requires a specialized contraption—a device that drips water over coffee grounds, but does so really slowly. Other than that, nothing new here, really. This brewing method uses the same coffee to water ratio as the cold press method, and yields the same flavor, though the resulting brew won’t have any grittiness since it passes through a filter.
Percolators reigned supreme before automatic drip machines came around in the ’70s, and they’re still popular with some who want their coffee made automatically, but without any plastic parts, due to BPA concerns. As water is boiled at the very bottom of the percolator, it travels up a skinny metal tube, where it hits the top of the machine and falls onto the grounds, which sit in what can be described as a metal can with smalls holes in the top and bottom. It’ll do this until the coffee inside reaches a particular overall temperature, and the percolator will shut off (the electric ones, anyway).
This method brews coffee with boiling water, so it’s not the best for flavor. However, they work great for folks who need to make a lot of coffee and not spend much time doing it, and who don’t want to drink hot liquid that’s touched plastic.
Feature Image: Thinkstock