The Definitive Guide To Brewing Coffee At Home

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
For such a simple drink (literally water and beans), coffee can sure get complicated. So to demystify the various brewing methods for our favorite morning drink we went to an expert. Eric Grimm is an events manager at Everyman Espresso in NYC, as well as a coffee and culture writer for Sprudge. He was more than happy to answer our burning questions about how to get the best cup out of different kinds of brewing methods.
From grinds to water temperatures to ratios, Grimm broke it down for us — and then some. But he also offered a word of advice, "All ratios are starting points. Only you know how you like your coffee, so play around with it. If it tastes weak, up your coffee dose or use less water and vice versa if it tastes too strong." He also reminds us that fresh-ground coffee is best, and while it's okay to buy pre-ground, try to use it up within a week.
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After that, it's just a matter of knowing your stuff (and being willing to experiment a bit). Pretty soon, you'll be the expert home barista you've always wanted to be.
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Water Temp: While auto drip coffee makers won't let you adjust the temperature, Grimm notes that they are either hot enough or slightly hotter than ideal for brewing coffee.

Coffee Grind: Medium coarse

Basic Ratio: 12:1 coffee to water, or around four tablespoons for 12 ounces of coffee.

How To Brew: "Isn't this the best part of a drip coffee maker? Put your coffee in your filter and press a button and you'll get brewed coffee," says Grimm.

Pros: It's so easy! Grimm says that auto-drip coffee has been unfairly maligned for way too long. In fact, he thinks, paired with the right kind of coffee, you could get the best cup of your life. "Not all drip coffee makers are created equal.. Ideally, you want a machine that pulses out water instead of dumping all of the hot water through the coffee at once," he explains.

Cons: "They can get pretty gross. You need to make sure you're cleaning the whole thing and your carafe on a regular basis," he says. Since they're designed to be automatic, you also won't have as many options for customizing things like water temperature if you really want to "geek out."

Best For People Who Like: "Good coffee to magically appear when you're too asleep to stand there pouring the water yourself."
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Water Temp: Around 195-205F, same as a drip coffee maker

Coffee Grind: Medium to fine

Basic Ratio: Again, just like with drip coffee, the ratio is 12:1 coffee to water, or four tablespoons for 12 oz. In other words, if you are just trying pour over for the first time, you can start by using the same ratio that you might have used with your drip coffee maker.

Instructions: "There is no set way to do a pour over, but I can tell you how I normally brew a Chemex, which is what we use in some of our cafes and what many people have at home," says Grimm. He recommends using an oxygen-bleached filter that you wet first to get rid of the paper taste. Start by scooping the coffee in, then pour in just enough wet the grounds to allow them to "off-gas" for about a minute. This allows the flavor in the coffee to develop.

Now, it's time to really start making the coffee — pour the hot water slowly over the grounds for about a minute and a half, in small circles, occasionally pouring a larger circle around the edges. It should take you around four minutes to brew coffee in a standard (six-cup) Chemex, and Grimm says that, in smaller devices that rule still holds. His last piece of advice? "If you're going to spend this much time making coffee, you should definitely invest in a small kitchen scale and measure everything in grams for the best accuracy."

Pros: You get some "seriously delicious" coffee, and you have control over every step, up to how much water gets added, and how fast.

Cons: "This is a very time-consuming process that can be extremely frustrating if you're not paying attention to all of the variables," says Grimm. He also finds that the idea that pour-over is always superior isn't always true. Drip coffee is more consistent, and pour-over is more likely to be messed up since it requires so many fussy steps.

Best For People Who Like: "Being involved in every step of making their cup of coffee."
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Water Temp: Room temperature

Coffee Grind: Very coarse

Basic Ratio: One pound of coffee to one gallon of water

Instructions: In coffee shops, cold brew is typically brewed in a reusable cloth filter at room temperature over night. Home brewers might not have that option, so its just coffee that's been allowed to sit and then strained if necessary. Grimm notes that brewing times vary but that twenty-four is standard.

Pros: Besides being perfect for summer, Grimm notes that cold brew is smooth and often tastes like chocolate. Plus, it has more caffeine and, since the brewing process rarely varies, you can get away with using cheaper coffee and expect consistent results.

Cons: "I won't lie, I think cold brew is super gross," Grimm says. He doesn't like the chocolate-y flavor, sayings its more like stale chocolate to him. "I personally like an iced coffee that tastes brighter and fresher and cold brew just can't taste that way." Instead when he wants iced coffee, he makes pour over with twice the amount of coffee (so a 1:6 ratio), then pours it directly onto ice. The extra-strength coffee helps it from tasting over-diluted. "But also, I'm not here to judge you. Drink that cold brew if you love it," he says.

Best For People Who Like: "Cold jet fuel." [Editor's note: Yum.]
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Water Temp: Around 200-205F (just off a boil)

Coffee Grind: Very coarse

Basic Ratio: Again, 1:12 coffee to water. A three cup French press (12 oz.) would be about four tablespoons. Standard coffee scoops are usually around two tablespoons, so two scoops for a 12 oz French press is about right.

Instructions: "Using a timer is very important for this method," says Grimm. Unlike pour-over, you can pour all the hot water in at once, just below the spout of the French press. Like with pour over, the coffee starts "off-gassing," also called the bloom. Allow the coffee to bloom for a minute, then break the crust of coffee with a spoon and stir to evenly distribute the coffee. Once the coffee has been brewing for four minutes, you can plunge it. Grimm also recommends immediately pouring out all the brewed coffee, rather than pouring cup by cup. The remaining coffee will continue to brew, changing the taste. Grimm says the over-extracted coffee can taste rough or even sour from the continued contact with water.

Pros: Since you're not using a filter, French press creates a much more full-bodied coffee.

Cons: Because there's no filter, you will always have some coffee silt at the bottom of your cup. This remaining coffee will also continue to brew and the end of a French press is usually over-extracted and perhaps a bit sour because the coffee has been in continued contact with water.

Best For People Who Like: "A handmade coffee that sits heavy on the tongue without too much fussiness in the brewing process."
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Water Temp: 195-205F

Coffee Grind: Medium to fine

Basic Ratio: 1:4 coffee to water

Instructions: "These babies are very hot, so wear oven mitts, y'all!" cautions Grimm. Start by filling the filter basket with coffee, then pouring hot water into the bottom of the brewer. Make sure the coffee is level and filter is locked, then screw on the top of the coffee maker. Put it on a stove over medium heat with the lid open. As the water gets hot, it will be pushed up into the top of the brewer, filtered through the coffee grounds. The liquid will start out a deep brown, then eventually become a dark yellow. Once you see that, pull it off the heat and allow the liquid to stop bubbling out of the top. After that, pour and enjoy. (Just let it cool first!)

Pros: "Stove-top espresso makers are old school fun," says Grimm. It basically makes what he refers to as "espresso-ish coffee" without the need for a home espresso machine.

Cons: Again, it's "espresso-ish." It's not going to be exactly the same as an espresso drink you'd have at a coffee shop. "You'll almost certainly burn yourself at some point making it," Grimm adds.

Best For People Who Like: sipping coffee with "their old Italian grandmother."
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