By James Gallagher for Steampunk Coffee
Different brewing methods produce a different taste in the final cup and learning a new method of brewing coffee can be a lot of fun, there's something special about spending time getting to know a coffee brewing device. Where should you start, though? Let's chat through five methods of brewing coffee at home.
Since last August, I have been brewing coffee at home, although I admit I often feel like I have always consumed specialty coffee. I cannot think of going back to anything else. Making coffee at home is both interesting and, in the end, tasty. Getting started can feel intimidating, however, because the world of speciality coffee is deep and there are many entry points. You could start to make espresso (which is quite pricey to do at home!) or you could start on the Aeropress which for a minor cost gives you a brewer you can use anywhere, including while you are travelling.
I have learned how to brew coffee five ways over the last few months. You may wonder what the point of this is. It turns out that different brewing methods produce a different taste in the final cup. Also, I enjoy learning a new method of brewing coffee. There's something special about spending time getting to know a coffee brewing device. Where should you start, though? Let's chat through five methods of brewing coffee at home.
The Aeropress is a great entry point to the world of coffee. When you buy an Aeropress, you get everything you need to brew good coffee (aside from a grinder and, of course, the coffee itself). The Aeropress comes with two plastic chambers and a plastic filter cap which comprise "the Aeropress." You also get a scoop for measuring beans and a stirrer for stirring your coffee during the brewing process.
There are many ways to use the Aeropress and that's part of the fun, and the reason why there are championship competitions dedicated to the Aeropress. For example, you can use a version of the regular method where you put coffee in the bottom chamber, pour water over the coffee, put the top plunger on, wait a minute or so, press the plunger, and then you are done. Within two minutes, with little technique, you could have a delicious cup of coffee in your hands.
I think the Kalita Wave is the best place to start with so-called "pour-over" brewing. In this method of brewing, you pour water over coffee grounds and wait for that water to drain (unlike the Aeropress, for example, where you have to push the coffee out of the device). The Kalita Wave is a flat-bottom brewer. It looks like a small cup that you set on top of your mug or brewing carafe. You can get the Kalita Wave in ceramic, glass, or metal.
The Kalita Wave requires a bit more technique than the Aeropress. To make the most of this method, you will want a gooseneck kettle so that you can control how much water you pour over the grounds of coffee. A scale is useful so you know how much you have poured. You could get started with a basic pouring kettle, a scale, and a Kalita Wave for under $50 if you do some research before buying any equipment.
I like the Kalita Wave because it produces what some coffee aficionados call a "clean cup" of coffee. This means that your cup of coffee is largely free from sediment (little bits of coffee) and your final cup of coffee should look clear. Out of all of the methods of brewing I have tried, the Kalita Wave is one of my favourites.
The V60 is in the same category as the Kalita Wave -- pour-over brewers -- but requires its own technique. A V60 is a plastic (or ceramic or metal) cone that you put on top of a cup or a carafe. You use the V60 like a Kalita Wave in that you need to put a filter paper in, pour your ground coffee into the filter, and then pour water over the coffee. However, V60 recipes are usually a bit different from the Kalita Wave. Some people advocate more particular pouring techniques whereas others think stirring is a necessity with the V60 (that's me!).
I think the V60 requires a bit more practice to get right. I also recommend having a scale and a gooseneck kettle. I learned pour-over brewing on the Kalita Wave before going to the V60 and found this path was a good learning curve for me. But when I finally learned to use the V60, I was happy with the time I had invested. My coffee tasted delicious: clean, smooth, and flavourful.
The Chemex is an icon of design which looks like an hourglass and also something you might see in a science lab. Invented by Peter Schlumbohm, the Chemex is a carafe and a coffee brewer all in one. You do not need to put the Chemex on top of anything to use it. The Chemex also comes with either a wooden collar or a glass handle that you use to handle the device so that you do not burn yourself. The glass can get quite hot.
The Chemex is famous in the coffee community for both its design and its filter papers. Chemex filter papers are much thicker than most others you will encounter. As a result, the end coffee tastes very clean. This is a good time to note that because the Chemex uses more paper you need to rinse the paper more before you start brewing. Nobody likes a paper taste in their cup of coffee!
I like the Chemex not only because of the taste of the final cup but also the ease of brewing multiple cups. I often brew two cups of coffee at once with my Chemex: one for me and one for a member of my household. I could perhaps brew a third cup if I changed my recipe a bit. You can get bigger models to make more cups of coffee, too. If you like multiple cups at once or want to share your coffee with someone else, the Chemex is a great device to use.
I have only recently started exploring the vast world of home espresso. Believe me, home espresso can get very complicated, very quickly. I am presently experimenting with the Flair, a manual espresso brewer, and it has taken me some time to learn how to use the device. Granted, the Flair is a lever machine, which does require more technique, but in any case brewing espresso at home is difficult.
To brew espresso at home, you will need to spend more than you would for any of the techniques above. You will need an espresso maker (either manual or lever-powered) as well as an espresso grinder. Yes, there are grinders dedicated to espresso. I have been having a lot of trouble with home espresso in large part because my grinder is not built for home espresso.
Learning espresso at home is a hobby and you can do a lot with what you learn. You can brew Americanos, cortados, cappuccinos, and more, without having to go to a cafe. Because espresso is such a deep world, there is so much to learn. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about how to brew espresso and I know I am only just getting started. Brewing espresso at home is a good way to make coffee but you will need to be prepared to spend quite a bit of money and time before you will be able to make a great shot of espresso.
Brewing Coffee at Home
Brewing coffee by one's self is somewhat liberating. My brewing technique determines the taste of the final cup of coffee. I have made some really delicious cups of coffee. Every time I sit down with a good cup of coffee, I usually feel a little bit happier. I often make a coffee for someone in my household who has enjoyed (almost!) every coffee I have made for them. It's nice to hear someone else appreciate my coffee brewing skills.
Coffee brewing can get as complicated as you want it to be. Within a few weeks of buying my Aeropress, I made cups of coffee that I really enjoyed and I was able to do so consistently. Then I wanted to explore another way of brewing coffee. This year I have learned three ways of brewing coffee -- the Chemex, Kalita Wave, and V60 -- and I am just starting to learn about espresso. With each new method, I learn something new about coffee, which I find incredibly exciting.
To get started at home, you only need to choose one method. Get a good grinder (hand ones are cheaper than electric) and, ideally, a pair of scales for measuring. With this equipment in hand, you'll be prepared to start experimenting with brewing your own coffee at home. Happy brewing!
Contributed by James Gallagher, a home brewer and coffee enthusiast. View his excellent blog at jamesg.blog