I love coffee. I make three cups a day (at least) and consider it a beverage, art, and ritual. As much as I love the beverage itself, I love setting my hand grinder and figuring out what the impact of various methods and factors will be on the coffee I make.
When you think like I do, you’re on a never ending quest for the perfect cup. Because of this, understanding the various methods of brewing and the effect you can have on them is essential.
Here’s my theory of brewing, and a few methods that will get you the best cup of coffee imaginable.
The Best Tasting Coffee Makers:
- Best For Iced Coffee: Hario Mizudashi
- Best For Strong Coffee: Bodum French Press
- Most Versatile Coffee Maker: The Aeropress
- Best For Single Origin Coffee: Hario Pour Over
- Best Budget Espresso Maker: Mr. Coffee Dual Shot Espresso/Cappuccino Maker
What Makes Great Coffee
You’ll never find the best method if you can’t understand how brewing coffee works. Here’s a quick look at the three factors that go into brewing a good cup of coffee.
The first is heat. The temperature of the water used in your cup of coffee, and the resulting combination of coffee and water before filtration or extraction, has an effect on the strength and combination of our coffee. Simply put, a hot mixture combines a lot quicker than a cold one, and this is how you’re able to have coffee combine relatively quickly.
The second is pressure. Like heat, pressure allows your coffee to be extracted relatively quickly and flavorfully. By using a high pressure method, you are able to make sure that hot water finds its way through all of the coffee grounds in your mixture. This allows you to avoid wasting coffee in your method by only having the water scratch the surface, and is what allows the resulting cup of joe to come out of the machine and into your cup.
The third is time. While a lot of coffee brewing methods emphasize heat and pressure for the sake of convenience, others use time to make it easy to effectively make a cup of coffee. The most notable is the cold brew method, which completely forgoes heat and pressure to engage in something much more similar to the process of making iced tea.
To a lesser extent, the French press and inverted Aeropress method both take advantage of time as a defining factor. But regardless of which you choose, it is important to note that good coffee takes time.
In addition to these factors, you also need to consider things like water quality and the coarseness of your grind. It’s best to use filtered water and follow the grind instructions of your coffee maker. And you should be grinding your coffee fresh, so that it doesn’t lose potency.
The Downside of Drip
Because of these factors, you should not use drip coffee makers or automatic coffee machines. In these cases, you have almost no control over the temperature and brewing time of the coffee. What little control you do have is over coffee grind, ratios, and water quality.
And while this is important, it leaves little room for experimentation. Overall, this means you will end up with an “OK” cup of coffee every time. And if that’s what you’re looking for, fine. But if you want something great, this can’t be your method.
The amount of time, heat, and pressure can even vary for the type of coffee you use. So this just doesn’t make much sense.
Keurigs are arguably worse. Particularly if you’re using the store-bought pods, there’s no way to even control the freshness of your coffee or even the amount of it. This combined with the fact that the Keurig has been environmentally catastrophic (and overpriced for its coffee quality,) shows that you should save this machine for the office break room.
Best For Iced Coffee: Hario Mizudashi
Cold brew coffee is the only way to make iced coffee. It can be done with anything from a french press to a mason jar and a filter, but if you want a simple and affordable method to make a large quantity of iced coffee, you can’t beat the Hario Mizudashi.
First, an explanation of cold brew. Cold brew coffee uses time as its extraction method. The lack of heat and pressure means a longer brew (usually eight-to-twelve hours,) but a unique flavor. You can expect cold brew to emphasize the florals and sweetness of your coffee without any acidity or heat.
Some cold brew makers can cost you up to several hundred dollars. But the truth is, this isn’t necessary for this method of brewing. All that you need is an infuser and a place to store water in large quantities.
Cold brew coffee is great, but you also need to use the right coffee blends for it. There’s very little bitterness in a cup of cold brew, and instead you’ll find yourself enjoying the floral and herbal notes in a quality blend. This makes lighter roasts work best.
Cold brew should be brewed at a one-to-six ratio of coffee to water. If you want a stronger cup, try one-to-five or even one-to-four. Cold brew tends to taste a lot stronger, so it’s important to experiment and work your way.
There’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of cold brew and a splash of milk on a summer day. But if you want to put a unique spin on your cup of cold brew, mix the coffee with a little bit of soda water and a lemon twist.
Best For Strong Coffee: Bodum French Press
The French Press is one of the classic methods of making a cup of coffee. Giving you full control over steep time and creating something uniquely thick and delicious, this is so popular for a reason.
The French press is unique because it makes your coffee steep in hot water. Instead of pouring hot water over the coffee and allowing it to separate, the mixture comes together and is divided by the pressing motion after four-to-five minutes of operation.
This means a stronger and thicker cup. It also works with tea, if you play both sides of the mug!
If you want to make strong coffee, you can’t go wrong with a Bodum french press. But on top of being able to make something strong and thick, it has the additional advantage of being able to create a large quantity of hot coffee without sacrificing control or flavor.
This is because French presses come in a variety of sizes. But because the brewing method remains the same, you can be sure that the first and last cup you make with it will taste just as good.
Most Versatile Coffee Maker: The Aeropress
We’ve talked a lot about the Aeropress on this site. But it makes sense. If there is such a thing as a desert island coffee maker, this is it.
Simply put, you can do more with the Aeropress than with any other coffee maker on the market. On top of creating a normal cup of coffee (with a less oily texture,) you can also make espresso, cappuccinos, and thick-french press style java.
There are a lot of great coffee makers on this list. But if you were only able to get one, we would highly suggest the versatile and affordable Aeropress.
Best For Single Origin Coffee: Hario Pour Over
Brewing a good cup of coffee is all about control. And no method gives you more control than the Hario V60 pour over cone. As with their iced coffee maker, Hario emphasizes simplicity and elegance to create a remarkably practical (and affordable) method of brewing coffee.
Because of the level of control and perfection that this allows you, it’s perfect for brewing single origin light roasts. This is because you can control the degree of fruitiness that comes out of the grounds.
Doing this is also good news for those of us who want to create our own blends. By being able to create a detailed flavor profile of our favorite coffees, we can learn more about what combination of flavors would create the perfect breakfast or after-dinner blend for home.
Read our full review of the Hario V60
Best Budget Espresso Maker: Mr. Coffee Dual Shot Espresso/Cappuccino Maker
Espresso machines are notoriously expensive. But it is possible to get one for an affordable price. Surprisingly, one of the best comes from Mr. Coffee.
Mr. Coffee has had a lot of ups-and-downs as a coffee making company. When its drip coffee maker was first introduced, it was seen as somewhat innovative. But as people have become aware of better brewing methods, this has been seen as a dated and even poor method of brewing.
This is bad news for the company. Because, when the brand was on top of the world, “Mr. Coffee” became shorthand for a type of drip coffee maker. Little do most people know that the brand offers a variety of products.
Their espresso machine is relatively simple. But it still offers home baristas the opportunity to create unique and delicious beverages without breaking the bank.
Related: Be Your Own Barista! The Best Espresso Machines Under $1,000
Take a look at how these “experts” hilariously compare brewing methods: