Brewing coffee well is a tricky business. Different beans benefit from different brewing processes. Most of the flavors are derived from the volatile oils in the beans, which is why the best coffee is made from beans that are freshly ground. In all these methods, factors such as temperature, water quality, appropriate grind size, and water-bean proportion affect the final product.
There are numerous contraptions equipped to brew coffee, but there are only seven fundamental methods to do it. But the key to making each of these methods work effectively is good beans, good water, and good technique. In this Eater Guide, learn more about each of these fundamental methods, and the places where customers can sample the results.
Drip coffee, one of the most favored and intuitive methods of brewing coffee, is made by allowing hot water to move slowly through coarse coffee grounds and a filter. Most electric coffee makers utilize the drip method. The fault of the electric drip machine is that it often does not heat the water to a temperature that falls within the range for optimal flavor extraction, and the bottom warming plate will often burn the coffee over time.
The manual drip method is one of the most common in gourmet coffee shops, and is considered one of the simplest ways to appreciate the nuances of the beans. On menus, you'll see it called filter coffee, hand poured coffee, or a pour over. Even though it seems simple -- the pouring of hot water through grounds -- there is a perfect way to do it. The barista should start by pouring a small amount of water through the filter to rinse it and warm the cup. After throwing out the water, grounds are placed in the filter, and enough water is added to dampen them. This facilitates the release of CO2, before more water is poured slowly, in a circular motion, to the top of the grounds. When the grounds have settled after the initial pour, this process is repeated until the necessary amount of water has been added.
Many connoisseurs believe that different materials for the filter (paper or fabric), and filter holder (ceramic, glass, metal, plastic) alter temperature and flavor enough to create a market for numerous different filter options. Some of the better known manual devices include the Chemex, the Clever, the stovetop Neapolitan flip, and the Phin filter (used for Vietnamese coffee). But around D.C. most shops use ceramic funnels with paper filters.
Where to get it: Peregrine Espresso, Chinatown Coffee, Dolcezza, Northside Social, Filter Coffeehouse, Tryst, The Coffee Bar, Pitango Gelato, Qualia, Baltimore's Artifact, Lamill and Spro
The deeply loved espresso method utilizes pressure to force water through fine coffee grounds for an intense, concentrated coffee flavor. Stovetop espresso makers may have their fans, but they don't work with the degree of precision found with larger countertop makers, nor with the same flavorful results.
Countertop espresso makers use a pump or piston to ensure consistent, high pressure, and require that the grounds are tamped or pressed into a puck with no air pockets. A perfectly pulled espresso should have a golden foam on top, called a crema and yield a strong, but slightly sweet coffee.
Where to get it: Bistro Bohem, Peregrine Espresso, Room 11, Dolcezza, Chinatown Coffee, Pitango Gelato, Baltimore's Artifact, Lamill and Spro
The plunger method, most commonly seen in the form of a French press, infuses medium coarse coffee grounds with a portion of water, stirred vigorously to release CO2, after which the remaining water is added. A few minutes later, a plunger with a filter plate is pushed down to strain. This infusion method makes for a stronger, thicker brew than filter coffee, but it requires ensuring the ground is coarse enough to be trapped by the plunger. The Aeropress device utilizes a similar concept, but provides a cleaner, lighter cup of coffee.
Where to get it: Room 11, Tynan Coffee and Tea, Filter Coffeehouse, Chinatown Coffee, Big Bear Cafe, Spro
Cold brewing is one of the most popular methods for creating iced coffee. Ground coffee is soaked in cold water overnight or longer to brew. Heat brings out the bitterness and acidity of the beans, so using cold water ensures a smoother, fruitier flavor. However, it is less strong and full-bodied than other methods.
Where to get it: Tynan Coffee and Tea, Qualia Coffee, Filter Coffeehouse
Percolator coffee is one of the most maligned methods of brewing coffee. This method uses steam pressure to force the water through the coffee grounds. But percolators are often left on for too long, and old coffee is recirculated through the grounds. It leads to very strong, burnt, bitter coffee. The coffee urns used by many catering services utilize this method.
Where to get it: Local large office meeting
Turkish coffee is the closest to the original method of brewing coffee. The beans are pulverized to a near powder, and then placed in a pitcher-like pot called an ibrik or a cezve with water. This mixture is brought to a light boil three times, and removed from the heat when the foam starts to rise. When served, the pouring technique is similar to a cappuccino - the foam is held back and dolloped on the top at the end. There may still be coffee grounds on the bottom since no filters are used, but fans of Turkish coffee appreciate the thick, muddy flavors and texture.
Where to get it: Zenobia Lounge, Ezme
Vacuum or Siphon coffee is a method that is one of the most visually appealing, but it is also one of the most time-consuming. A carafe of water is flame-heated underneath a connected funnel filled with coffee grounds. Steam pressure forces the water through a filter into the upper funnel, where it is stirred with the coffee. After a few minutes the flame is blown out, and a vacuum is formed that sucks the coffee back down into the carafe leaving behind the spent grounds in the top funnel. This method helps to preserve all the volatile oils that give coffee its flavor nuances.
Where to Get It: Head to Baltimore: Lamill and Spro use the method