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The Ultimate Coffee Brewing Showdown: The Pros and Cons of Each Method

Got coffee brewing questions? We've got the answers.

According to award-winning barista Matti Nykänen, owner of Brooklyn-based coffee shop Little Brown Jug, the best coffee is brewed by mixing arabica beans with a strong solvent, filtering that solution, and exposing it to low temperatures to separate filler materials. Then, infusing it with red phosphorus. Then filtering any extra phosphorus, and neutralizing remaining acidity with a nice lye solution.

No, wait – that's actually how you make meth. But the fact that we had you going for a second goes to show that when it comes to the really fine points of brewing coffee, things can get really complicated, and most of us don’t know what we’re doing.

That’s why we’re dissecting the pros and cons of six brewing methods. Everyone likes a different cup of coffee, so we hope you’ll see one among these that grinds your beans. And we promise not to make any “that’s how I like my men/women” jokes. We’re bigger than that.

Before we start, note that all brew methods should be conducted with filtered water, at a temperature of about 200 degrees. That’s 45-60 seconds off a full boil. Also, buy your beans a week at a time, and grind them fresh right before you brew.

Ready?


French Press

We all have that friend who’s always ready to roll. Doesn’t matter if it’s breaking down a door with a sledgehammer because they were messing with your girl (yes, that’s from the excellent Ben Affleck film The Town, don’t you dare judge me) or just shootin’ the bull. A French press is that friend.

It extracts very pure, robust coffee by totally immersing the grounds, then filters the coffee with a mesh sieve and plunger.

Pros

  • A really clean, strong cup of coffee.

  • You are the coffee master. You control brew time, therefore you control strength and, ultimately, taste.

  • You can make 8 cups at a time – very handy for company.

  • In addition to run-of-the-mill hot coffee, you can use a French press to make cold brewed coffee or loose-leaf tea.

Cons

  • This is harder than pushing a button on a drip machine. You have to monitor it, grind size matters, water temp matters, and you can’t just let it sit for ten minutes while you iron your shirt, and expect it to not taste like crap.

  • Cleanup is easy if you have a garbage disposal. If you don’t, you’re going to be throwing a lot of coffee grounds in a bucket, or something. And since this takes coarsely ground coffee, you can’t just rinse them down the sink drain, unless you have a crush on your plumber.

  • Depending on your equipment and how carefully you brew the coffee, you could wind up with sediment or sludge in the bottom of the cup.

Grind Size: Coarse. Somewhere between the size of rock salt and raw sugar. When you push the plunger down, if it drops right to the bottom with no resistance, your grind was too coarse. If it’s really hard to push down, your grind was too fine.

Ratio: About 60–70 grams (some coffee scoopers have gram size inscribed on them – otherwise use a scale) per liter of water.

How-To: Add your grounds and hot water, wait, and plunge. And use a wooden spoon to stir the grounds in the press – if you use metal, the hot glass could break.

Brew Time: 4 minutes. Don’t let it sit in the press after that, or it'll continue to brew, and the coffee will get more and more bitter.


Pour-Over

If you’re trying to impress a date with coffee-making skills, pour-over is your ticket. Maybe it’s the whole Chemex six-cup with the wood and tassels – the allure of the rustic gentleman. Or the clean design of the Hario V60, with white ceramic and glass.

Whatever it is, pour-overs look sharp and make a very nuanced, smooth cup of coffee.

Pros

  • Produces a really magnificent cup of coffee that allows flavors in the beans to speak for themselves, so no need for any add-ins.

  • It’s fun to experiment and taste the difference between varieties of coffee. Good luck noticing those subtleties with your parents’ hand-me-down drip machine.

  • The bonded filter catches sediment and oils, preventing bitterness.

  • You can brew more than one cup at a time.

  • You'll impress the hell out of any morning-after guests.

Cons

  • With all of the available accessories, all of which are beautiful and make you look like you have some idea of what you’re doing in life, you can really spend some serious coin on this method.

  • To properly clean the vessels, you need a long-handled brush. Another expense.

  • While you can get versions that are big enough multiple cups, it’s most common to brew just one at a time with this method. So it takes patience. If you think you’ll do this every morning before work, take a good, hard look at yourself and ask if that’s even a little true.

Grind Size: About the coarseness of table salt.

Ratio: For a six-cup Chemex, four or five tablespoons of grounds and about two and a half cups of water. For the Hario V60, use 3-4 tablespoons of beans for 1.25 cups of water.

How-To: Wet the paper filter in the pour-over basket to wash away paper flavors and seal it in place, then dump that water out. Then add your grounds and slowly pour over the water. Use a gooseneck kettle to look cool – and, less importantly, to have optimal control over how fast and where you’re pouring the water.

Brew Time: Between three and four minutes.


Capsule Machines

Keurig. That’s what this means. Just like every other method on this list, these machines have pros and cons. But mostly cons.

That said, putting a little pod in, cranking a lever and getting coffee is what our grandfathers dreamed of. This is the future. At least, it was their future. We'd hope that our future will have better-tasting coffee.

Pros

  • Super fast.

  • Super easy.

  • Reusable coffee filters allow you to use your own fancy grounds and not their less-fancy pods.

  • Chai tea latte K-Cups exist. If you don’t think too hard about how dairy can possibly live in a shelf-stable capsule, it’s tasty.

Cons

  • K-Cups might be choking the earth.

  • Between the capsules, filters, and the inevitable, impending robot superwar, costs add up.

  • Some would say the coffee these machines make is worse than other methods. Most people, actually. The rest don't know what good coffee really tastes like.

If you go this route, take advantage of the reusable filters so you can start with quality product. The better the beans you start with, the better the coffee you end with. That’s science.


Drip Machines

This is your parents’ coffee maker. Drip machines = set it and forget it. They heat the water, push it through the coffee, and keep it hot.

Pros

  • You can program these things the night before, so when you wake up... coffee.

  • You control the water quality, coffee quality, and strength of the brew.

  • With 12-cup options, these things make a lot of coffee. We’re talking post-Thanksgiving dinner amounts of coffee.

  • Some have cool bells and whistles like a place to put a tea cup where just hot water comes out, or brewing coffee straight into a travel mug.

  • You can do other things while a machine makes your coffee.

Cons:

  • Years have been wasted by people trying to figure out why their drip machine coffee tastes “off” with no discernible answer.

  • You have to clean it by running vinegar through instead of water. Hot vinegar that smells faintly like coffee will cause you to stand over the sink and just take a minute.

  • When you leave coffee grounds in the filter for a few days, then open it up and find mold. Or when you accidentally leave a little coffee in the bottom of the pot for days and find mold. Basically, mold.

Grind Size: Table salt consistency.

Ratio: Varies. Check your machine's instructions.

How-To: As with any method, this requires a little trial and error based on how you like your coffee. But this method even more so, because your machine will make coffee in its own unique way, so you have to adjust to it. Basically, though, you're just inserting a filter, adding grounds, adding water, and then pressing a couple buttons.


Aeropress

These things look super cool, and make incredible coffee. The grounds become completely immersed in hot water, and then a high level of pressure extracts pure flavor. The strength of the resulting coffee is comparable to espresso.

Pros:

  • Extremely portable. Great for camping, Airbnb-ing, or impressing your parents when you visit.

  • Easy and oddly satisfying cleanup. You just pop out a puck of spent coffee grounds, and rinse. If only everything in life was so easy.

  • Because of the intensity of the pressure, brew time is less than two minutes.

  • Can be used to make espresso, too.

  • The resulting brew is, in a word, delicious.

Cons:

  • You need specific filters for the Aeropress. Not really a huge deal, thanks to the magic of the internet.

  • It makes a single cup of coffee, and not a big one.

Grind Size: Table salt consistency

Ratio: This is actually really convenient. Use one Aeropress spoonful of beans, and fill the press to the big number 4 with water. Or, if you have a scale, use 17 grams of coffee and 220 grams of water.

How-To: Rinse the the filter with hot water once it’s in place. Then just add the coffee and water and press down.


Siphon

Originally, we were going to put both the percolator method and the siphon method on this list. Percolators have been used for centuries by settlers, soldiers, cowboys and modern campers to brew a cup of coffee using only a pot and a heat source. The problem is that it boils the coffee, and as we’ve said, the best temperature for coffee is actually about 200 degrees. Those 12 degrees make a difference. Namely, they make the coffee a lot more bitter. So, scratch that method.

The siphon method was developed in the 1840s, and it solves that problem by forcing very hot (but not boiling) water into a separate coffee chamber. It makes a really nicely balanced cup of coffee, one that some in the coffee biz consider the best there is.

Pros:

  • Certainly the most dramatic of all brewing methods. If you want people to talk about how great the coffee you served was after they leave your house, this is for you.

  • Actually really fun.

  • Allows for maximum control of heat and steeping times.

  • Full immersion of grounds in water extracts a full spectrum of flavors from coffee.

Cons:

  • It’s delicate and not easy to store. If you’re planning on doing a lot of moving in the next few years, this might not be for you.

  • Cleanup is more intensive.

  • It’s like watching a toddler for 10 minutes. You have to stick around, or everything will fall apart.

  • Can be kind of expensive. Special filters, a butane heater, the apparatus itself.

Grind Size: On the finer side, slightly more so than drip methods.

Ratio: About 12 ounces of water and 20-25 grams of grounds per cup of coffee.

How-To: If you use cloth filters, as many siphon-users do, make sure to soak them for five minutes before use. And allow the finished coffee to cool for a few minutes in order for every flavor nuance to come out. It’s worth the wait.


So there you have it: a brew guide with options for any palate and lifestyle. Try them all, or zero in on one that works for you and never leave it. Either way you can’t go wrong with good coffee. Personally, we like ours like we like our significant others (we lied earlier): smooth, well-balanced, with a genuine excitement about life and financial stability.

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