Visiting a café to enjoy a carefully brewed cup of coffee is a great thing and an integral part of many people’s daily routines. Every day, hoards of people stop by coffee shops to either grab their favorite drink for the road or just to study and relax.
A balanced cup of coffee can create a great environment that is suitable for work, leisure, and hospitality.
Visiting a coffee shop is not the only way to have this experience, however. The possibility of enjoying a pristine cup of coffee at home or work is not that far out of reach.
This buyer’s guide examines some of the different ways you can take your coffee game to the next level. For those hoping to enter into the wonderful world of specialty coffee, reading this guide is a great place to start! We will be looking at 10 different coffee brewing mechanisms that are a viable choice for those hoping to improve their coffee game.
Warning: This in-depth guide contains roughly 3.000 words. No time to read all just now? You can download this guide as a handy and well-formatted PDF by clicking below:
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Before we start…
First things first, before investing in a suitable coffee maker make sure you got the essentials on hand. A grinder, kettle, scale and thermometer are tools you want to have, even if some of it may sound excessive at first, we will explain the importance of having these tools in your kitchen further in this guide. The price range for these items can be anywhere from $100 to $1500. Sounds likea lot? Keep in mind that investing in good coffee gear could end up saving you money. By making coffee at home more and drinking coffee at shops less, a coffee budget can slim down significantly.
This guide is by no means slandering the way anyone enjoys coffee. There is a certain style of coffee that is advocated within this guide, and all information accedes to that style. If diner coffee is your favorite form of the beverage, that is completely alright!
Over time, coffee found its way into almost every kitchen cupboard. Many drink coffee to just kickstart a heavy work day, but over the years, people found that coffee could actually taste good without any added sugar or flavor! This way of experiencing coffee is known as Specialty Coffee.
Specialty coffee focuses on the intentionality of the “seed to cup” process. The farming, roasting, and brewing of the coffee is carefully managed and monitored. The extra love and care involved in this process assists in international job security, environmental integrity, and of course, overall coffee quality. Patience and intentionality is really what makes coffee taste good – not super expensive equipment.
A common misconception about coffee is that one must drink it at an expensive specialty shop to enjoy coffee’s wonder and magic. Many shops do offer incredible and delectable coffees, but anyone can learn to make great coffee.
The Basics of Getting Started
Before discussing which brewing device will suit your needs, we must define a few things.
There are three different methods that can be used to brew coffee: Pour-over, Immersion, and espresso (a form of pressurized brewing).
Pour-over – In this method, water is poured over the coffee. Water only stays in contact with the coffee for a short period of time. Imagine pouring water into a sock filled with sand. As the water is poured in, it will seep into the sand and quickly seep out at the bottom of the sock. The sand is a pathway for the water. Now imagine coffee in a sock. The same principles apply. Water is poured onto the coffee and seeps into a decanter underneath the brewing mechanism.
Immersion – With this brewing process, coffee is completely submerged in water. The water stays in contact with the coffee for most of the brew process. Most tea is actually brewed this way (think tea bags or loose leaf). Timers are generally used to measure the extraction process, and after the desired time has passed, the coffee slurry is strained through a filter. The result is coffee with a juicy mouthfeel!
Espresso – Espresso isn’t actually a different substance than brewed coffee, as many think it is. It is a brew method. For espresso, coffee is brewed in small doses and extremely fast. This can be accomplished with machines that have the ability to regulate pressure, volume, and temperature. The end result of a shot of espresso is a slightly viscous liquid and a layer of crema. Crema is primarily water and CO2. It has the appearance of light foam and is achieved by high brewing pressure.
But why so many brew methods?
In simple terms: different coffees taste better when brewed in certain ways. Also something to keep in mind is the preference of brewing style.
Quick tips on methods:
Pour-over – brewed coffee is generally “cleaner” and lighter bodied than the other methods. Using a gooseneck kettle is recommended when doing a pour over method.
Immersion – For the most part, this form of brewing is not as clean as pour-over coffee. This is a result from the “coffee soaking” process. More coffee particles (known as brew colloids) find their way in the cup. The result is a “juicier” mouth feel. The rule is as follows: the more flavor, the less mouth feel, and vice versa. Some coffees actually taste better this way! A juicy mouth feel definitely adds to the tasting process!
Espresso – the resulting brew of the espresso method (known as an espresso shot or simply, espresso) should not be “bitter” or “bold.” Most espresso is typically brewed with the same coffee used in the other methods; not a “dark espresso roast.” The result should be a complex and flavorful drink. Espresso can be light and fruity or savory and nutty, not “strong and bitter.”
A few more things…
The proper brew method is not the only thing needed to consistently prepare delicious coffee. A few other things should be considered before you are on your way.
Scale – this may sound excessive, but it is extremely helpful to use a measuring scale. The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) set the proposed ideal water to coffee ratio at 16:1, 17:1, and 18:1. This means that for every 16, 17, or 18 grams of water, one gram of coffee is used. This can be measured on a scale and replicated easily.[Example for 17:1 ratio: 400 g of water / 17 = 23.5 g of coffee needed for ideal brewing]
Using a scale to measure beans before brewing will ensure that you are on the right track when dialing in your preferred brewing technique.
Grinder – a good burr grinder is essential for consistent brewing. Grinding coffee is one of the easiest ways to dial in a brew. If the coffee tastes over-extracted (burnt), it can be remedied by loosening the grind. If the coffee tastes watery, then the grind can be tightened (or fined) to further extract your coffee elixir. While a trustworthy burr grinder is essential for all brew methods, it is even more so for espresso. Most specialty coffee shops spend upwards of $3,000 on an espresso grinder. This is because miniscule changes drastically impact the flavor of an espresso shot. For pressurized espresso brewing, a fine grind is needed to effectively extract flavor from the coffee. Espresso grinders specialize in fine grinding, and the difference in consistency of the grind can be only microns (difference from one coffee particle to another).
A wobbly grinder won’t grind coffee consistently, and thus, it is unreliable for your needs.
Kettle: a gooseneck kettle is a great tool to have in your coffee gear. The precise stream of water is used in pour over methods. Sometimes “coffee walls” (leaving coffee on the inside of the filter) are required in certain recipes. A gooseneck kettle will help you put the water where needed.
Brewing at the correct temperature is also a great way to ensure that your coffee is neither burnt nor watery (overextracted or underextracted). We recommend brewing at 185-205 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the brewing method).
Immersion brew method
The aeropress is one of the more convenient ways to brew coffee. Many travel junkies favor the aeropress for its ergonomic and durable design. When on the trail or touring on the road, the aeropress shines in its ability to provide a simple and efficient way of concocting your brew. It’s made up of three detachable pieces: the plunger, the body, and the filter basket, so clean up is a breeze. The aeropress is prized in the specialty coffee community for its variable nature. Due to its design, the aeropress can be used “inverted” (aeropress is flipped and plunged to drained extracted coffee) as well as “normal” (the plunger is simply inserted and used to drain coffee). When using an aeropress, stirs can be incorporated to increase extraction, ice could be added within the brewing process to aid in a Japanese iced method, and the size of grind doesn’t play a part in extraction time. Because a plunger is used to push coffee out of the aeropress, any size grind is a possible for brewing! [In some other methods, too small of grind size will create a “clog” the drain process. Coffee can become over extracted this way.]
Pour-over brew method
There is no question that the Chemex is a reliable and consistent brew method, but the draw of this brew method is the aesthetic and space. Some coffee makers can be bulky and unseemly on a clean kitchen counter, but the elegant glassware of the Chemex lets it blend into any minimalist environment. As for the coffee, this method yields a very clean cup free of sediment (less brew colloids). The Chemex filters are a thick paper that prevents fines from sifting into the brew. We suggest using a gooseneck kettle in tandem with this brew method. Like most pour-over methods, the Chemex lets the user be precise. Stirs, excess agitation, and speed of extraction can all be controlled.
Pour-over brew method
Like the Chemex, the V60 is a pour-over method that is best used in tandem with a precise gooseneck kettle. Unlike the Chemex, the V60 requires thinner paper filters that allow for more sediment and brew colloids in the finished brew. A cup of V60 coffee isn’t exactly “dirty,” but is has a thicker mouthfeel than many other pour-overs. A V60 is about half the size of the top half of a Chemex, and it is completely independent from any decanter you decide to use (for instance, a v60 could be placed on top of a coffee cup or even a carafe of sorts when brewing). While it is not considered a travel brew method, many coffee aficionados take this brew method with them everywhere they go. It is small enough to fit safely in a backpack, and it is elegant enough to leave on the kitchen counter for all to admire.
The Rancilio Silvia is an industry favorite for machines under $1000. The simple design and plug-and-go capabilities of this machine rival all other machines in its class. For those new to quality espresso, industry standard machines can be intimidating with all the copious valves and switches. The Silvia only has four switches on its interface: an off/on switch, hot water switch, steam temperature switch, and the coffee brew switch. The powerful single boiler in this machine adjusts temperature according to which mode is activated. If one wishes to steam milk, press the steam switch and wait for the LED indicator to show green. Simply deactivate the steam switch and wait for the LED indicator to show green to begin pulling espresso shots. No plumbing or electricity preparations need to be made in order to use the Silvia. The hassle free espresso experience provided by the Silvia is a plus for the entry level and experienced barista.
For a small machine, the Gaggia Classic packs a punch. Most of Gaggia’s products are in the workhorse category, and the Classic semi-auto is no different. It has two integrated heating mechanisms that provide quick heat up times for espresso, and the brushed stainless steel housing will keep away the detriment of rust and wear. The simple interface is similar to the Silvia’s: a power switch and LED heat indicator, a steam activation switch, and a brew switch. Compared to other machines in this price category, the Classic is trustworthy and durable. Gaggia takes extra precaution making sure that the integrated heating elements don’t actually touch the water. This precaution will ensure that repair is an anomaly. This is a good buy for those hoping to delve into the world of espresso.
Pour-over brew method
Automatic coffee brewers have become a part of the American home. Coffee makers seem to be hiding in every kitchen. In specialty coffee circles, automatic coffee brewers – save for a few – are known to be sporadic and unreliable. The Moccamaster is one of the few that really nails it when it comes to consistency. This automatic brewer meets all of the SCAA, SCAE, and ECBC qualifications for specialty coffee brewing. This means that with a click of a button, the Moccamaster will pre-infuse (pre-wetting coffee to establish balanced extraction), distribute water evenly to extract all grounds, and brew at a consistent 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. This machine is made up of quite a few detachable parts, making it easy to clean. If you have the money to spend, this brewing device will serve for a lifetime.
Interested in buying a Moccamaster?
Bialetti moka express
Immersion / Espresso Method
The moka pot is a classic stove-top brewing device used to brew creamy and smooth coffee that resembles espresso. Bialetti has been doing this for a while – their moka pots have had over 80 years to develop into what they are today. For those unfamiliar with the moka pot brew method, it involves steam and pressure. When on the stove, water in the bottom chamber steams through the middle basket where the coffee is held. The pressure pushes the coffee infused steam through into the final chamber. The result is a creamy espresso-like concoction that will heal hearts and bring tears.
Breville BES870XL / Sage Barista Express Espresso Machine
Price: $600 / £500
The Breville BES870xl (or Sage in Europe) is like the Swiss army knife of prosumer espresso machines. The integration game is off the charts. A conical burr grinder is built into the machine with a hands free grind delivery system. Also integrated is a tamp, tool kit, and easy access detachable trays for clean up. These small details make this machine extremely low maintenance. Pre-infusion is also an option. With pre-infusion, the extraction intensity can be softened, pulling out more complex flavors in the coffee. The Barista Express suits the uneducated to the expert.
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola
Price: $775 – 1000
The La Pavoni offers a beautiful and powerful way to make espresso. It is different from the other machines listed, as it is more akin to a commercial machine one would find in a specialty shop. There aren’t any automated functions, and there isn’t any need to wait on the boiler to heat up in-between brewing and steaming. For the experienced barista, this machine is a fantastic tool. For someone entering the world of coffee, there is a learning curve to take into account. Manual machines are very reliable and involved. The machines mentioned earlier in this article will also make great espresso, but they are more automated. Typically experienced baristas like working with “hands on” manual brewers. Basically this machine allows for the barista to make more choices than the other machines mentioned. Brewing with a La Pavoni gives you the feeling of driving a classic car. It is stylish and timeless.
Immersion brew method
This is an industry favorite. The Clever is one of the simplest ways to brew a cup of coffee. The steps are to pour, wait, and then drain. Its plastic design is durable, and the Clever has a “clever” draining mechanism that is triggered upon pressure (e.g. setting the clever down on a cup or decanter will trigger the drain process). Stirs can be incorporated if need be, and the Melitta #4 filters used are easy to come by. The simplicity of this method makes for a relaxing and enjoyable coffee brewing experience.
What is your favorite brewing device?
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