Lifeblood. Rocket fuel. Go juice. Whatever you call your beloved cuppa, we're walking you through our tried-and-true process of how to brew coffee. Let's jump in!
Americans' love of coffee runs deep. Over 64% percent of us consume the "dirt water" daily (Reuters, NCA), 52% percent of us would skip a morning shower over skipping our morning Joe (Huffpost), and 49% percent of us would give up our cell phones for a month before going without coffee (Huffpost).
Blame it on those Bostonian revelers who literally spilled the tea (into Griffin's Wharf) back in 1773!
OK, we're clear on American coffee history? Let's discuss how to brew a delicious cup of coffee. Keep this in mind: There's a science behind making a great Cup of Joe.
We'll begin with the basics: roast + grinds + brew method + coffee-to-water ratio + water temperature = good coffee. You ready? We'll start with the beans.
Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit
First, throw out everything you've ever known about coffee beans being 'beans' because they aren't beans at all, they're the pits of coffee cherries!
Coffee cherries grow on coffee trees along The Coffee Belt, a 3000-mile wide stretch of farmland that runs alongside the equator. Flavor profile and quality is based on the location beans are grown and harvested.
Beans grown in Latin America, Hawaii, and the Caribbean tend be described as light and sweet. Those grown in Africa and the Middle East are more full-bodied, complex, and are often described as floral or winey. Beans grown in Indonesia and the Pacific Islands are hearty, earthy, and are generally best enjoyed after being darkly roasted.
Knowing how to brew coffee means you should also know there are two main types of beans we consume in the Americas: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are grown in high altitudes and produce flavors that are mild, aromatic, and naturally sweet.
Robusta beans aren't as costly as Arabica beans to grow and harvest, and they are less acidic. You'll typically find Robusta beans blended with Arabica beans in coffee blends, used in instant coffee, and espresso.
Know Your Roast
When coffee beans are first harvested, they're green. Roasters then cook the beans to perfection using dry heat.
You've probably noted more than one difference between Light Roast, Medium Roast and Dark Roast coffee, yes? Aside from growing conditions, roasting is one of the most influential factors when it comes to the taste of your coffee.
Lightly roasted coffee beans, like our Rise Up Carolina Breakfast Blend, spend less time in the roaster than their Medium and Dark counterparts. They are light in color and lack the oils present on beans that are allowed to roast longer.
To make a Light Roast coffee, beans are roasted until a "single crack" is heard, which generally happens when beans are heated to 350 F – 400 F.
Pop quiz: Which roast contains the most caffeine? If you answered "Dark Roast" you're not alone. There is a common misconception that the darker the bean, the more caffeine, but actually, Light Roast coffees take the cake when it comes to amount of caffeine.
Because the lightly roasted beans cook for a shorter time at a lower temperature, they hold on to more of the caffeine from the original green (coffee) bean. In addition, lighter roasts tend to be more acidic. High-quality beans make great candidates for lightly roasted coffee because the natural flavors will remain vibrant.
Medium Roast coffee beans are allowed to cook until right before the "second crack," which usually happens at about 410 F – 430 F. Medium roasts are chocolatey in color, less acidic than lighter roasts, and usually taste kinda sweet. Give our medium dark roast Heart & Soul Signature Blend a try to taste the coffee we serve most at the caffe.
With the higher temperatures present in the roasting process, Medium coffee beans lose the potency of the natural flavors prevalent in Light Roast coffee. Despite the flavor being slightly affected by the roasting process, Medium coffee is touted as having a good balance of flavor and is quite popular among coffee-drinkers.
Dark Roast coffees go the extra mile. Just ask our Say It Loud, Dark & Proud lovers! They are roasted until the end of the "second crack," to about 465 F. Beans are dark brown (sometimes nearly black) and appear dewy or oily in appearance due to the natural oils rising to the surface during the long roasting process.
Dark Roast coffees take on a smoky flavor profile as the beans' natural flavors succumb to the roasting process. While dark coffees are the least acidic, they do tend to produce a more bitter cup of coffee.
Here's another secret to add to the formula for how to brew coffee: Invest in a good coffee grinder. Pre-ground beans are totally convenient, but you can't beat the flavor of freshly ground beans!
There are two types of coffee grinders to choose from, burr grinders (think peppercorn grinder but for coffee) and blade grinders (a nod to your blender).
Many coffee-lovers profess that burr grinders are the best when it comes to producing a consistently even grind. Burr grinders crush coffee beans between two revolving burrs and produce a grind that leads to fuller, more balanced-tasting coffee.
A bit more costly than blade grinders, burr grinders give the user precise control over grind size (depending on settings) and can be conical or flat. Conical burr grinders are more energy-efficient and heat-resistant than flat burr grinders, so they make an excellent choice for home baristas like yourself!
Blade grinders act like propellers and use spinning blunted edges to chop up coffee beans. Blade grinders are generally smaller and more compact than burr grinders and another plus, they're pretty affordable.
The main difference between burr grinders and blade grinders is the uniformity of the grind they produce. With practice, you can learn to create a consistent grind with your blade grinder, but bottom line? Get the grinder that agrees with your bank account balance.
Continuing on our quest to coffee brewing perfection, let's go over grind size. Size definitely matters when learning how to brew coffee.
Depending on your brewing method, you may need grounds that are coarse like sea salt, chunky like peppercorns, or that are fine and powdery.
The amount of time the water and beans remain in contact determines how coarse or fine the grind should be.
So for an immersion brew method like French Press, for example, beans should be ground to a kosher salt-like consistency. A course grind.
A medium grind (what you normally see with pre-ground coffee) is perfect for drip coffee and pour overs. Espresso lover? A fine, powdery grind is what you'll need.
Final grindin' takeaways: Don't over do it. Start slow to work your way into a smooth grinding groove.
Respect the Coffee-to-Water Ratio
We told you there's a science to brewing coffee, right?
It's all about the ratios, baby. To brew a great cup of coffee, you can start by following the "Golden Ratio" –one to two tablespoons of coffee for every six ounces of water (or one gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water).
Of course, the more coffee you drink, the more you'll tweak, so we're sure you'll have your own Golden Ratio in no time!
Now, you can do what you want to, but we highly recommend using filtered water when brewing coffee. PH levels and minerals in water can have major effects on flavor, and calcium buildup and coffee machines don't mesh well either. If you've been looking for an excuse to buy a Brita filter or the like, this is it!
It's Brew Time!
The Most Popular Brewing Methods
Truth be told, there are several ways to brew coffee, but given that our goal is to inform without overwhelm, we'll give you the lowdown on the most popular methods for now and visit the really unique ones another time.
Drip coffee = Good old faithful. If you're reading this, you've surely experienced the wonders of an über convenient electric drip coffee machine!
Drip coffee refers to coffee brewed by allowing hot water to pass through medium-sized grounds contained in a paper filter (we recommend using unbleached filters to avoid the possibility of chemicals or dyes ending up in your coffee) and into a carafe or cup.
The drip brewing method is quick, allows for easy clean up, and it leaves no residual coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup. But because the paper filters absorb most of the coffee's natural oils, the flavor of drip coffee is often considered of lesser taste that coffee brewed using other methods.
Espresso comes from the Italian word esprimere which is to 'express' or 'press out'. It makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it, considering the compact texture of the grounds used to make espresso! Finely ground coffee beans and whole lot of pressure is what you need to brew espresso coffee.
This method produces a strong, thick brew with a consistency like warm honey. The whole brewing process is completed within about one minute and the flavor of espresso coffee is distinct and often described as creamy.
Espresso can be served in single, double, or triple shots or mixed with a variety of other ingredients to create a plethora of coffee drinks.
We're all about myth-busting when it comes to making good coffee, and one myth we need to bust right now is that espresso is best made with dark roast beans. When making espresso, go for medium or lightly roasted beans. The oils and sugars preserved in the lighter roasts will make for an extremely delicious tasting espresso.
Pour over coffee is touted as flavorful, vibrant, and full-bodied, and this has much to do with the level of control one has over the brewing process.
Baristas (and yes, by barista, we mean you) control the saturation of the grounds, water flow, and the overall length of the brewing process as opposed to an electric machine doing the work for you.
The pour over method is all about having the time to extract as much natural flavor from the grounds as possible.
To make pour over coffee, you'll need a few things (and you've got options!):
- A pour over glass coffee maker (such as Chemex or another brand) or a carafe and coffee dripper
- A metal or paper coffee filter
- Pro Tip: if using a Chemex coffee maker, use Chemex filters. They are stronger than other paper filters and will produce a cleaner tasting brew.
How To Make Pour Over Coffee:
The magic of pour over coffee is in the control of the water flow. This method relies on timed pouring intervals to balance the flavor as it's being extracted from the grounds.
Use filtered water (as always) and if you are grinding your own beans, you'll want to grind to a fine consistency for pour over coffee. The coarser the grind, the longer the brew time, and in general, pour over coffee should be ready to sip in three minutes.
- To begin, boil the filtered water and allow it to settle. The temperature should be just under boiling, between 200 F - 205 F.
- Place a coffee filter in your Chemex (or the chamber you've chosen), and add a bed of ground coffee to the filter.
- Pour in a circular motion. On the first pour, saturate the grounds fully and wait for 'the bloom' AKA the moment the hot water hits the grounds and they swell in size from the release of natural flavors and carbon dioxide.
- Continue pouring slowly in a circular motion, being sure to move the grounds around a bit to guarantee a speedy brew time.
- Maintain the same water level throughout the process, and you'll be good to sip in about three minutes.
Like the pour over method, the French Press coffee is for control freaks (in a good way, we mean).
You can take full control of the flavor and strength of your coffee using a French Press with some simple adjustments to your water temp, overall brew time, and the size of your grind.
Learning how to brew with a French Press can feel daunting, but trust - it's easy. There is never a need to buy paper coffee filters, because French Press coffee makers come with their own mesh filters. The filter works like a plunger, pressing coffee grounds to the bottom of the chamber.
Mesh filters don't absorb oil and natural flavors the way paper filters so, so you'll be in for a more full-bodied, syrupy brew using a French Press. The other side of that is with a mesh filter, you're bound to have some fines (leftover settlement) at the bottom of your cup. If that's OK with you, this brewing method is for you!
How To Make French Press Coffee:
- Heat filtered water to just under boiling (between 200 F – 205 F).
- Preheat the press by adding hot water to the main chamber in preparation for brewing. Preheat for no less than 30 seconds and no more than a few minutes.
- While the press preheats, you should be grindin'! Grind beans to a coarse consistency, similar to kosher salt.
- Pour out the preheating water and with the Golden Ratio in mind (one-to-two tablespoons of coffee for every six ounces of water), add your desired amount of coffee grounds to the chamber.
- In a circular motion, pour a small amount of hot water into the press - just enough to cover all of the grounds. As soon as the water hits those beans, carbon dioxide gas will be released and you'll notice the blooming effect take place.
- Wait 30 seconds, then fill the chamber with the remaining hot water, continuing to pour in a circular motion.
- Using a wooden spoon (or a utensil that won't damage the glass), give the coffee a quick stir and put the lid on the press.
- Set a timer for four minutes.
- When the timer beeps, slowly press down on the plunger until it reaches the bottom of the chamber. The slower the better to keep the floating coffee particles below the filter.
- Once you've plunged, immediately pour up your cuppa and enjoy. If you made more than one cup, pour the remaining coffee into a warming container to preserve the flavor. The longer it steeps in the press, the more bitter it will become.
If the pour over and French Press methods had a baby, its name would be AeroPress.
The AeroPress is excellent for people on the go. It's plastic, easily portable, and honestly gives us modern cowboy coffee vibes (camping, anyone?).
AeroPress coffee makers are made up of three parts, the plunger, the brew chamber, and the basket that holds AeroPress filters. It can brew up a Cup of Joe in about two minutes.
How to Make Aeropress Coffee:
Any roast is a good roast for the Aeropress brew method, so go for what you know.
- If you are grinding your own beans, grind until you reach a consistency equivalent to table salt.
- Heat filtered water to just under boiling (between 200 F - 205 F).
- Add the AeroPress filter to the basket.
- Like the French Press brewing method, preheating is your homeboy, so go ahead and preheat the Aeropress chamber with the hot water.
- We suggest rinsing the AeroPress filter to remove the flavor of paper. And since you're already on a roll with preheating and rinsing, go ahead and preheat your coffee mug too.
- Toss the rinse water from your mug and attach the filter/basket to the bottom of the brew chamber then place it on top of your mug.
- Set your timer for two minutes.
- Add coffee grounds to the brew chamber (to make this process easier, the AeroPress comes with a funnel just in case you need it).
- Saturate the grounds within 10 seconds and give the chamber a little twirl to ensure that all grounds are covered.
- Continue filling the chamber with hot water until you reach your desired amount, and then, using a stirring utensil, give the coffee slurry a quick stir.
- Place the plunger on the brew chamber and pull up on just a bit to create a pressure seal, but don't plunge yet.
- At one minute and 15 seconds, remove the seal and give the slurry one more stir. Put the plunger back on and with steady pressure, press down until you hear a hissing sound - your cue that it's time to drink brew.
Now, before we get too deep into this, let's clear up one thing – cold brew coffee and iced coffee are not the same! Yes, both are chilly and refreshing on a hot summer day, but the difference lies in the brew methods.
Cold brew is made without heat and by immersing coarsely ground beans in cold or room temperature water between 12 and 24 hours.
Iced coffee is double-strength coffee that is brewed hot, and then cooled. The difference in brewing methods results in completely different flavors too – cold brew is soft, subtle, and naturally sweet.
Iced coffee has a lighter body, is more acidic, and slightly bitter. Cold brew contains more caffeine due to the longer steeping process.
So how do you make cold brew coffee? It's ridiculously easy – you are literally just soaking ground coffee beans in cold water for a few hours! Look, we'll show you...
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee:
Since Light roasts are pretty acidic, we suggest using a Medium or Dark roast for this method of coffee-making. The chilled-out brewing process will gently coax out the nutty and chocolatey flavors these roasts are known for.
Remember, chunky grounds are best for immersion methods, so cold brew coffee beans should be ground coarsely.
Choose a container (a mason jar works just fine), add coffee grounds, and saturate them with cold filtered water. Make sure to stir the mixture to ensure all grounds are covered.
To make a cold brew concentrate steep one cup of ground beans in four cups of cold water. If you want to make brew that's ready to sip out of the jar, add four more cups of water to the mixture (so the ratio would be 1:8).
Cover the container to keep dust and other random things out of your coffee, and let the mixture steep overnight. The container can stay out on the counter top, or you can place it in the fridge.
The following day when it's time to strain, grab a filter of your choice (paper, mesh, cloth, etc) and pour the mixture through the filter and into a new container, and you've officially made yourself some cold brew coffee!
Cold brew can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week.
Before you set off to brew your way through the world, keep these tips in mind:
- When possible, try to preheat coffee chambers before brewing.
- Make sure grounds are and coarse and chunky when using an immersion method to brew coffee.
- Water temperature should be just below boiling, between 200 - 205 F, unless you're making cold brew.
- "Bad coffee" means you've either over-extracted flavor from the beans or under-extracted it. Keep on experimenting until you perfect the flavor to your liking.
Now go forth and brew some good coffee!