In this post you won’t learn how every possible brewing method available out there works.
Instead, I will guide you through the main principles of the practical brewing process so that you can be ready to approach any kind of manual brewing device and brew coffee without a coffee maker (there are some principles which are also applicable to coffee makers).
Nowadays, when we talk about brewing, we usually refer to those methods, which are non-pressurized brewing systems such as manual drippers (e.g., Chemex), immersion brewers (e.g., French Press, AeroPress) or vacuum pots.
Although, espresso preparation is a kind of brewing method, I won’t go into detail here because of the slightly different preparation process which deserves its own section.
However, some of the following principles apply perfectly to espresso brewing. For that reason, I’ll point out whether it’s only for brewing or for both methods.
When you brew coffee, your goal is to extract the flavor compounds, which are in the small particles. The word extraction will be our friend during the whole process and the subsequent steps aim to “squeeze” the right juices out of the grounds.
The Brewing Process – Hands-On
#1: Prepare your coffee brewing equipment
In gastronomy it’s extremely important to be organized and to plan ahead. That is why you usually have to put everything in the right place in order to focus on the process and on the client, rather than putting stuff together frantically while you should be doing the brew. From the French we adapt the expression mise en place which would be in English “put things (to the right) place”.
Just think about what your required tools are and how you have to organize your brewing station to get started.
Heads-up: this is important for coffee shops or other professional environments, but is equally applicable for home baristas. The following list gives you an overview of what you will need:
- Grinder (automatic or manual)
- A timer, if your scale does not have one
- If you don’t prepare espresso, a kettle and a water heater. Best case: you have both in one
- Your brewing method and filter
- A bowl or some kind of little bin
- Eventually a spoon or something else to stir
The scale should be the center of your working station and should be placed right in front of you. The other things should be positioned around the scale. Leave enough space so that you can work comfortably.
#2 Preheat the water and prepare your device
Start with heating up the water to the perfect brewing temperature. This can be with a kettle on a stove or water heater. The most precise way is to use an electric heater with which you can set the right target brewing temperature. Otherwise, you can use a normal kitchen thermometer.
Meanwhile, prepare your coffee equipment by placing the filter. After the water got to the right temperature, preheat the device and pre-wet the filter (for paper and cloth). The preheating helps not having the device absorb valuable temperature during the actual brewing process.
In espresso preparation the machine is usually warmed up after you switch it on.
#3 Weigh-Grind-Weigh (WGW): (also for espresso)
Now, take your coffee beans and weigh the amount of coffee you want to brew. The amount of beans you’re going to use usually depends on the amount you need to brew in accordance to the number of guests you want to serve or the number of cups you want to prepare.
Obviously, you have to take the capacity of a brewer into account because it could happen that you have to brew several times if you’re attending many people. In addition, the amount of coffee you will grind goes in accordance with the brewing ratio you choose to use.
So, let’s assume you will use 20 grams of coffee. Weigh 20 grams of beans and grind them to the right ground size which fits best to your brewing style and filters. After you ground the coffee, weigh it again. It can happen that some coffee will get stuck in the grinder. We want to be precise ;)
For espresso you do the same by weighing the amount of coffee grounds which you grind directly into your portafilter.
#4 Start with blooming (partly for espresso)
Now it’s time to put your coffee into your device and bloom the coffee.
What is blooming and why you should do it?
Blooming means that you pre-wet the coffee grounds with some amount of hot water. Usually, you put 2-3 times the amount of water than the coffee you’re using. In our example, it would be between 40 to 60 grams (remember we are using 20 grams of coffee).
It’s important to pre-wet all of the coffee grounds. To be absolutely sure, you can swing your device a little bit. As a rule of thumb, the blooming should last around 30-45 seconds. The time depends greatly on how fresh the coffee is (days past from roasting).
Why should you bloom the coffee grounds?
Mainly, you bloom to free up the CO2 trapped in the grounds and to break up clumps in order to create a kind of homogenous coffee bed inside the brewing device. This will help you get a more even extraction which is paramount for a good coffee taste.
If you have asked why we call this part of the brewing blooming, it’s because when you pour the water, usually the coffee grounds start to bloom just like a flower in spring ;)
After you have “bloomed” your coffee grounds, it’s time to continue with the brewing process. Basically, you aim to distribute the water evenly across the grounds while pouring so that they can extract at an even rate. To do so, you have to find a technique which serves this purpose. Being a very human part of the brewing process, there are a lot of factors influencing this process.
In addition, to the even distribution of the water, it’s also important to create some turbulence or agitation during the process. This means that your coffee grounds have to “move” while you’re brewing. You can achieve this by swinging your device or create movement with the water you pour on the grounds.
Another possibility is to take a spoon and stir the grounds. The purpose here is to accelerate the extraction. Scott Rao mentioned once the example of a tea bag. When you lay it in hot water it will extract very slowly. But if you move it, you can observe how the flavor compounds extract at a much faster rate.
To pour the water I recommend circular movements from the center to the edges of the device without touching them. This is especially important for manual drippers. With immersion brewing (e.g., French Press) you can pour the water on the grounds, stir it and let it sit for 3-5 minutes.
Depending on the device and the water pouring process can differ slightly due to the different requirements of the tools.
#6 Serve the coffee or store it in an appropriate server
When you finish your brewing, you should swing the server you poured your coffee in. Just imagine that brewing coffee is like extracting different flavor compounds in different layers. In order to achieve uniformity, it’s important to move the beverage.
Thereafter, you should immediately serve the coffee. If you don’t drink it immediately then try to get a server with a lid to maintain the aromatic compounds inside.
Especially, when using immersion brewers you should serve the coffee or transfer it to another server as fast as possible. Otherwise, the water will keep in contact with the grounds and continue to extract so that you could risk an over-extracted coffee.
#7 Enjoy your coffee and taste it
In the last years, I have learnt to cup coffee (I’m not a pro like some of the guys I’ve cupped with) but I know the process and what to “observe” with my palate when it comes to evaluate the coffee, the brewing and the roasting.
The whole tasting thing can be a real science and maybe a little bit scary. I’ve known people who told me that some special coffees are not for them because they will not achieve to taste and enjoy it appropriately.
I think everyone can start tasting good coffees. In the end I’m here so that we can take this walk together. It comes all down to practice.
In this post I’ve shown you the basic process of brewing mainly with the example of a pour over brewer in mind. There are so many brewing tools out there with each having its own process, secrets and recipes that it would be beyond the scope of this post to explain them all. But the main aspects covered here are applicable for different styles.
I would like to find out more about the brewing tools you use at home and if you’re struggling with some issues. And please tell me if you want me to cover some special brewing tools or method here so I can help you out.
I would appreciate if you leave a comment below or on our facebook page and give us a like.
See you soon and happy brewing ;)
Rao, S. (2010). Everything but Espresso - Professional Coffee Brewing Technique. Canada.
Imagen de título de Jordan Sanchez en Unsplash
Corrected & Revised by Andrea Letzner