So, if you’ve been reading our 4 coffee brewing basics series, you now know how to find good coffee beans, you are grinding them right before you brew, you have good filtered water that’s hot enough. At this point, you’re just about perfect. What’s left? Good coffee brewing gear is one of the most critical parts you can consider.
There is a lot of good and bad coffee brewing gear on the market today. From the latest Kickstarter coffee brewer to any of the most modern coffee brewers on sale at your local home store, the options are extensive. How do you decide which coffee brewing method is the best for you?
There’s no way we can go through every piece of coffee brewing gear on the market. And as soon as we do, someone’s going to figure out a new way to filter water through coffee beans and bring yet another brewing method to market. Instead, we’d like to highlight a couple of key questions that you should ask when you’re looking at a new coffee brewing method.
We Love Manual Coffee Brewing
There’s something to be said for taking the time and effort to bring all of the coffee brewing variables that we’ve covered together and end up with a fantastic cup of coffee. So we’re big proponents of manual coffee brewing methods. In addition, anytime you can get control of all of the variables like grind size, how fast or slow the water is poured, and so on, you stand to get a better cup of coffee.
So our discussion is going to lean towards manual coffee brewing gear and just touch on a couple of the more automated systems that are on the market today.
How to Choose the Right Coffee Brewing Gear
Choosing the right equipment comes down to answering a couple of key questions:
- How much coffee do I need to brew at once?
- Where am I brewing this coffee?
- Are there flavor elements that this brewing method brings out that I like or dislike?
- How much learning/effort/expense is involved in this brewing method?
To expand on these questions a little bit more:
How Much Coffee Do I Need To Brew At Once?
Certain coffee brewing methods like an Aerobie Aeropress or espresso only make enough coffee for one cup of coffee at a time. This is fine if you’re making coffee for one or two people. However, in my current situation, I make 3 sixteen ounce mugs of coffee every morning. I’d be Aeropressing for an hour if I decided on that method!
On the other end of the spectrum, brewing methods like a Chemex or some of the larger french presses on the market can brew a larger amount of coffee at one time. I use a Chemex every morning. We also brew several hundred cups of coffee a day at farmers markets in our area using only a 2 Chemex setup.
Where Am I Brewing This Coffee?
You may be in a situation where you want to brew coffee someplace other than your kitchen at home. Some people brew at their office in their cubicle. I brew coffee when I’m backpacking. Maybe you travel a lot and would like good coffee in your hotel room. The coffee brewing gear you can carry with you or store and the access you have to things like good, hot water make a huge difference.
I love to travel with my Aerobie Aeropress. It’s virtually unbreakable in my suitcase. It packs super small and is easy to use. In addition, it’s plastic and very light so when I’m out camping, it’s just about the perfect brewing method.
I also know people who store an Aeropress in their desk drawer at work. It cleans up super easy and is very forgiving when you have water that might not be exactly hot enough.
All coffee brewing gear brings out its own flavor profile in the coffee. Some setups, like a french press, have a very distinctive taste. Some people really dislike the gritty mouthfeel that can get into a french press if you’re not careful. Personally, I find that a lot of deeper, earthy coffees like a Sumatra are a bit overwhelming to me in a french press.
On the other end, most pour-over methods result in a very clean tasting coffee. I have found that a V60 pour over can bring out the brighter, fruity notes of a lighter roast African coffee that sometimes get lost if I brew that coffee in a french press. On the other hand, espresso can make a fruity Ethiopian into an absolute fruit bomb which can taste off in a latte or cappuccino.
Putting in the Effort
Learning something new almost always takes time. With all of the coffee brewing methods out there, there is going to be a learning curve that you’re going to need to overcome. It might just be a simple, easy one like using a Chemex – which is one of the easiest methods to brew. On the opposite extreme, if you’re going to go down the espresso rabbit hole, you’re probably talking about a lot of time and effort to do it right.
There’s also varying degrees of expense involved in each coffee brewing method. You can get into a simple pour-over or Aeropress setup with a hand grinder and an electric kettle for less than $50. A Chemex brewing system might cost a little bit more than that. You can start to spend a lot of money on grinders and such as you get further into your obsession. If you truly want to be brewing good espresso, you might be talking about a $1000 investment in equipment.
Our Favorite Coffee Brewing Gear
OK – here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. Which coffee brewing gear the best and why? Here’s a quick breakdown of some of our favorite coffee brewing methods and what the benefits of each of them are:
Chemex Coffee Maker:
- Simple to use – almost no learning curve
- Inexpensive equipment needs
- Able to make larger amounts at one time
- Clean, crisp flavor to the coffee
- You might not be happy with a blade grinder because of it’s inconsistent grind size
- Travels well – plastic and unbreakable
- Very simple and forgiving with less than ideal brewing conditions
- Good for brewing 1 cup at a time
- Easy to learn.
- Super simple clean up
- Typically bolder, almost espresso-like quality to the coffee. Some people add more water after brewing.
Hario V60 or Melita or Other Pour Over Cones
- Although they come in many sizes, typically they are best for making 1 or 2 cups of coffee at a time
- Simple to use
- Inexpensive to start
- Plastic cones can travel or be stored easily
- You might not be happy with a blade grinder because of it’s inconsistent grind size
French Press (Plunger)
- Super easy to use
- Requires very little user interaction – make your breakfast while brewing coffee.
- Some sediment can tend to get into the coffee
- It’s more difficult to clean up
- Still works well if you have a less consistent grind (ie: a blade grinder).
Espresso is more lifestyle than brewing method. Yes, if you want to you can go down to Target and pick up a $30 machine that calls itself an espresso machine. But it’s not. Don’t be fooled. If you’re into espresso because you want to make lattes and pour latte art and love that foamy, creamy goodness that comes with every shot of espresso, you’re going down a deep rabbit hole.
I’m not talking about the stovetop “espresso” makers. That’s a moka pot and it’s completely different. I’m talking about a full on espresso machine with a steam wand, a portafilter and the works. To do espresso right, you’re starting of with a minimum of $1000 worth of equipment and a good amount of time and effort to learn. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely. Are your friends impressed? You betcha. Be prepared.
What About My Drip Coffee Pot?
If you’re just dying to push a button and be done with it, you can still make a good cup of coffee! Don’t fear! However, you might want to look at our post about water when you decide which pot to buy. Particularly the video from America’s Test Kitchen. Most of the coffee brewers on the market today suffer from underpowered heating elements. They don’t get the water hot enough to extract all of the coffee goodness from the beans. This is why we so often have weak tasting coffee when it’s brewed in those coffee makers.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has started a certification process for coffee brewers. They cover several points but one of the most important is the temperature of the water. There are about a dozen or so machines on the market that have the SCAA seal that guarantee that it meets their guidelines for brewing excellent coffee. Make sure you look for that certification when you buy an automatic drip coffee maker.
Don’t Be Afraid!
Above all, don’t be afraid of manual coffee brewing gear! Yes, it might take a little bit more time for you to settle into a consistent groove. But I can guarantee that once you do, you’ll be consistently enjoying great coffee and you’ll wonder how you ever brewed coffee any other way.
Lastly, if you’re looking for all the information you could ever want on manual coffee brewing, consider reading our friend John’s blog. He’s over at manualcoffeebrewing.com and is well worth your time.