Coffee Brewing Methods

If you’ve only ever tried coffee from one or two brewing methods, there’s a world of flavor waiting to be discovered.  From the ultra-basic “Cowboy” Coffee to the indulgent Espresso, there are many tastes and styles to choose from.  There are four basic brewing methods.  All of the different coffee machines, pots, and appliances will fall somewhere in these categories.  Brewing is a vital factor in the flavor that ends up in your cup.  Its good to understand the basics.

Four Brewing Methods

Infusion

Filtration

Pressure

Decoction

Description Ground coffee is steeped (soaked) in hot water. Gravity carries hot water down and over ground coffee. Steam pressure forces hot water through the coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are brewed in boiling hot water.
Examples French press
Coffee bags
Vacuum brewers
Drip brewers
Electric percolators
Pourovers
Espresso machines
Moka pots
Single-serve machines
Aeropress
Turkish coffee
“Cowboy” coffee

Infusion

Similar to steeping tea, with the infusion method the coffee grounds are simply soaked in hot water.

French Presses are a great example of infusion brewing.  Hot water is poured into the press, followed by the coffee grounds, and they are let to sit until the desired strength is reached.  The grounds are then filtered away using the screen attached to a plunger, and the coffee is ready to pour.

Coffee Bags are not as popular as tea bags but work in the same way.  Individual portions of coffee are enclosed in fine mesh bags to allow the coffee to steep while keeping the grinds contained.

Vacuum Brewers work by allowing you to control the water temperature in the bottom of the pot.  The resulting pressure pushes water into the top of the pot where the grounds are.  By regulating the pressure in the bottom, the grounds stay covered by the water while it brews. When finished, the brewed coffee is released down through the filter into the bottom of the pot.

Filtration

With the filtration method, not-quite-boiling water is poured or sprayed over the coffee grounds, which are held in a filter.  Gravity carries the water down over the grounds, through the filter and into a holding area.  This method is also known as “gravitational feed”.

Drip Coffee Makers are the most common coffee makers on the market.  They are easy to use and can brew a good cup.  A filter is inserted, ground coffee is measured into the filter, and then water is poured into the water tank.  Once turned on, the machine heats the water to the desired temperature, sprays it over the coffee, and the resulting brew drains through the filter into a coffee pot or carafe.

Electric Percolators start the brewing cycle with water in the bottom of the machine and coffee grounds in a filter basket toward the top of the machine.  The water is heated until the steam pressure forces it up through a tube to the top of the pot.  From there, gravity takes over and the water washes down through the grounds back into the bottom of the pot where it started.  This cycle continues, with the coffee becoming stronger each time.

Pour Over Coffee is the simplest method of making filtered coffee.  An over-the-cup dripper sits directly on top of your coffee cup, while a freestanding dripper collects the coffee and serves as a carafe for pouring. A filter (either metal or paper) holds the grounds.  Water is brought to near-boiling and then poured by hand over the grounds.

Pressure

Water is heated and then forced at high pressure through finely ground coffee.

Espresso is defined by this method of brewing, and requires a specialized machine to create the needed level of pressure.  The water must reach a temperature of 195–205 °F and be forced through the grounds at a pressure of at least 9 bars.  This produces a very concentrated form of coffee with a rich, creamy layer on top, called crema.

Moka Pots create similarly strong coffee as espresso, but with no creamy layer.  It is not technically espresso because the required pressure is not reached.  Usually sitting directly on a heat source, water in the bottom of the pot is heated until the steam pressure is about 1 bar. This pushes the water up through the grounds and a filter (which are both positioned in the middle of the pot), and into a holding area in the top of the pot.

Single-Serve Coffee machines, such as Keurig and Nespresso, work on the pressure model as well.  Prepackaged capsules of coffee are inserted, and the machine heats the water and forces it through the contents of the capsule.

Aeropress machines allow you to manually force hot water through the coffee.

Decoction

In decoction, coffee maintains contact with very hot water and results in an strong extraction.

Turkish Coffee combines finely ground coffee and water in a pot, which is brought to boiling and then removed from the heat.  This cycle may be repeated.

“Cowboy” Coffee is made by heating ground coffee and water in a pot, then letting the pot sit until the grounds sink to the bottom.