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Selecting a Coffee Brewing Method
In order to make the best possible cup of coffee, you must have three important elements:
- a suitable coffee maker
- good quality water
- the freshest, best quality beans
Before choosing your coffee maker, it is important to know the demands of your lifestyle and your individual needs and have a thorough understanding of the performance of the currently available coffee-making machines. Ultimately it will undoubtedly be a decision also made on personal preference.
There are several different methods of brewing. Selecting the right method for you is a matter of knowing what you expect from your cup of coffee and what you are willing to tolerate as far as brewing procedures. Let's take a closer look at brewing devices and determine what's right for you.
Filter Drip: The most widely used method to brew coffee, probably due to its ease of operation and consistency. Water is heated in a chamber to almost-boiling and slowly poured over the ground coffee beans. This can be done via an electronic drip machine where the water is sprayed over the grounds, or manually poured over grounds in a cone-shaped filter. Some electronic models allow you to preset the coffee brewing mechanism so you can have you first wake-up cup as soon as you stumble out of bed. Although convenience and ease is certainly desirable, remember those coffee beans will have been ground for 7-8 hours exposed to air and so expect some flavor loss with this pre-set drip method. An additional note is the use of paper filters will absorb some of the flavor- producing oils from your coffee. For this reason, some people choose to invest in gold plated filters which can be expected to last several years. I prefer to brew my coffee by hand and find the flavors to be perfect for my tastes. Filter drip is also the method of choice by restaurants. The only suggestion I have is to use an air pot to keep your coffee hot once made. Sitting on the electronic burner or stove top with a diffuser will rapidly deteriorate the coffee.
French Drip: Another form of drip coffee making but without the paper filter. A porcelain coffee serving pot has a separate top which acts as the strainer for the coffee grounds after hot water is poured onto them. The coffee liquid then trickles through this top section into the lower receptacle.
Percolator: This was certainly the preferred method of coffee making in the 1950's in the United States. It has fallen out of favor, possibly because coffee drinkers began to realize there was more to a cup of coffee than the thin, watery, often times bitter brew that came from percolator pots. The only pleasant memory I have of percolator coffee is waking up to the sound of the perking pot and pleasing aroma of brewed coffee. But it stops there.
Neapolitan Flip: Originally a French development adopted by the Italians, the device is made of two sections, usually constructed of aluminum, with an area in between for holding the coffee grounds. I have seen beautiful copper and some stainless versions and I highly recommend these over the undesirable aluminum. The lower chamber is filled with water and put directly on the stove top to heat. As it boils, steam will travel through a tiny hole located below the grounds. Immediately the pot is removed from the stove top and flipped over to allow the hot water to drip through the grounds into the serving chamber, hence the name Neapolitan flip. I clearly remember this brewing method while I was an undergraduate student studying in Italy. The device brewing on the stove top was a comforting part of each morning. The method was fairly quick since the pot didn't hold more than 3-4 small cups of coffee but be prepared to experiment with the grind of your beans until you can determine the perfect grind to allow for the water to drip into the compartment at the proper speed. Now that I am more familiar with the correct brewing procedures, I believe the boiling water was not the best temperature for making coffee. To control this, you'll need to experiment and time the water to just before it boils and follow this guide for a good cup of coffee.
Espresso: There are two different types of espresso makers: the stove top model and the household electric counter top model. The later resembles the large espresso makers seen in all the European bars and American coffee houses. They force hot water through grounds directly into your waiting demitasse cup. The nice added feature of most of these counter top machines is that you can make steamed milk for cappuccino and latte. Stovetop models have two chambers like the Neapolitan flip method but the chamber on the bottom forces hot water through a filter that holds your coffee grounds into the upper serving chamber. No flipping of the device is done.
French Press: This is one of four methods that will be discussed that utilizes coffee infusions. In this first style, ground coffee is placed in the glass beaker, hot water is added and allowed to steep. The attached tightly fitting plunging device is then pushed to the bottom of the beaker, where the grounds are trapped and above this sits your coffee. The occasional drawback I noticed in this method is stray, unexpected coffee grounds can enter the coffee. This popular European method allows for more oils and coffee solids (small, desirable suspended particles called colloids) that provide a cup of coffee with more aroma and dense body. Many people who prefer their coffee to exhibit strong character and substance consider this a perfect cup of coffee.
Vacuum: An infusion coffee making procedure that is quite ceremonious and somewhat more involved than the more popular current coffee making methods. Possibly because of their appreciation of these ritualistic steps, it is used by the Japanese far more than any other culture. The device is made of two lightweight glass chambers. The lower globe contains water that gets forced up into the glass globe above as it almost reaches the boiling point. The hot water then steeps with the coffee grounds sitting in this upper chamber and the heat is shut off. The temperature of the lower chamber cools and causes the coffee infusion to be pulled back into this lower chamber by a vacuum, separating the grounds from the coffee by a filter during this process. For those who are intrigued by this process, you may find it a challenge to locate one of these devices. Here in San Francisco, where coffee drinking has almost become elevated to the connoiseurship and social importance of restaurant dining, I have located two dependable mail order sources for vacuum coffee makers. One source offers a stovetop model, the other offers both stovetop and tabletop versions. Both sources are discussed at the end of this writing.
Middle Eastern: This is the most popular method for drinking coffee all over the Middle East, Greece and Turkey and is often misnamed by Americans as Turkish Coffee. Another form of coffee infusion, this method uses a long handled narrow necked device called an ibrit where very fine, powdery coffee grounds are placed with sugar and water. Put on the heat to boil, the liquid inside begins to rise and a dark foam will come though the small opening of the ibrit. Your coffee is done and should be poured into demitasse cups immediately along with the very desirable foam. My first experience with this coffee method was in Greece in a little taverna looking out onto the beautiful harbor of Mykonos. I was delighted to find the very intense, dark coffee sweet and syrupy. Although I cannot imagine consuming this coffee to the degree of excess that I do with American coffee, I must admit I often miss savoring those thickly sweet, rich cups of coffee while I languidly watched the daily life of sunny, romantic Mykonos pass by.
Cold Water Method: This very simple method creates a coffee liquid by soaking the coffee grinds in cold water for 10-20 hours, depending on the strength you prefer.The coffee and grounds are strained and the concentrated liquid is then stored in your refrigerator for several weeks, a concept I found rather startling when considering the importance placed upon freshly made coffee. So I tried this method. You can purchase a device for this at your favorite coffee retailer but I decided to create my own `brewer' by using a large glass bowl to hold my pound of fine ground coffee. Any bean variety will do. Add two quarts of cold water to your coffee grounds, pushing them down until all have become wet. I covered my bowl with plastic wrap and set it on the counter for 20 hours. I chose the longer time because I enjoy an intensely flavored cup of coffee. I strained the infusion through a paper lined cone filter into a glass bottle with a screw top and refrigerated it. When I made that first cup of coffee, I boiled water and added it to my cup where I had placed 2 ounces of coffee concentrate. Stir together and voila! I had a mild, delicate cup of coffee with a lot less acidity than hot brewed coffees. I would recommend this method of coffee making if you prefer a very mild, almost weak cup of coffee, if you tend to find coffee making a daily chore, particularly if you make it just for yourself or if you found regular coffee making methods would produce a cup of coffee that was just too harsh on your stomach. This may be the direction for you to take. Conversely, if you prefer your coffee strong like me or are an impatient coffee maker, then I would definitely not recommend this method.
So, there you have it. With this information you should be able to make an intelligent, informed decision before you rush out to impulsively buy that sleek coffee maker that will probably end up collecting dust on a distant shelf in your kitchen. I hope this brings you closer to that ultimate state of nirvana when you prepare and savor your next cup of your favorite bean.
Mail Order Sources For Coffee Makers
The following companies are listed because they sell the difficult to find vacuum coffee maker. This is not an all inclusive list by any means but certainly represents two coffee retailers that take their business seriously enough to provide even the less used coffee making devices for their customers. I advise you to contact your favorite local coffee retailer to determine if these devices are carried before spending the money for shipping one of these models to your home.
Freed, Teller & Freed
Two San Francisco locations:
1326 Polk Street (415) 673-0922
275 Battery Street; Embarcadero Center West Tower
San Francisco, CA 94164-0189
1-800-370-7371 (outside of San Francisco calling area)
Fax: (415) 673-3436
This is a wonderful store in which to browse if you are either a newcomer to coffee drinking or a connoisseur. The stores are small and packed with the most beautiful displays of coffee related products along with coffee beans and teas. They offer several models of the vacuum method of the beautiful West German made Kona from the reasonably priced to the more extravagant for the serious fan. Models range from 2-3 cup size to 6-8 cup size. Willing to ship all over the world. Will take check, money order, Visa/MC.
Peet's Coffee (Corporate Offices)
P.O. Box 12509
Berkeley, CA 94712
1-800-999-2132 (for calls within US)
Fax: (510) 704-0311
Three busiest store locations:
3419 California St.
San Francisco, CA
1825 Solano Ave.
899 Santa Cruz Ave.
Menlo Park, CA
This is a good quality coffee retailer with several locations throughout the San Francisco bay area. Mail orders are taken at the above number in their Berkeley, California location or over the internet at peets.com. Will ship anywhere in the continental U.S. Will take Visa/MC/AmEx/Discovery cards, money orders, checks.