How to make coffee every which way — from classic drip to pour over

Whether you’re in a rush or appreciate the meditative process of pour over, here are the best ways to make coffee

By Kelly Vaughan

Published January 24, 2022 6:30AM (EST)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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I started drafting this guide to making coffee while lying in bed early one morning. I hadn't had any coffee yet, and I looked across the room wistfully at my coffee machine. (I live in a studio apartment, so yes, my coffee maker and bed are technically in the same room.) I wondered how I could get it to brew itself so that I didn't have to get up. This article, unfortunately, will not tell you how to do that. But it will tell you how to brew every type of coffee, from dependable drip to fancy French presses and everything in between.

I'm not by any means a coffee snob. I wish I could get myself to slowly pour hot water from a gooseneck kettle over coffee grounds, slowly extracting their flavor, letting the subtle notes of orange and marzipan energize me. I wish I could detect dulce le leche and green apple and tobacco in my specialty beans. I wish I could become a coffee sommelier, able to tell the difference between Italian and Ecuadoran beans. But I'm not that person.

I was raised on the biggest tub of coffee grounds that my dad could find at the best price, brewed in a Mr. Coffee 12-Cup drip machine. My sister and I would encourage him to branch out and try something new (our gentle way of saying better beans). "I don't drink it for the taste," he would tell us, and we'd concur. We, too, drank it first and foremost as a way to simply wake up. We would give him single-origin beans from local roasters for Father's Day and Christmas and he'd appreciate them, and then, as soon as the bag was empty, he would pick up a tub of Folgers or Maxwell House. "Look at this: 30 ounces for seven bucks," he said. We'd roll our eyes and laugh but then happily drink it the following morning because we were half-asleep and he was right — we weren't reallydrinking it for the taste.

Aside from teaching me the basic steps of brewing coffee at home, my dad did share a valuable lesson on how to efficiently make drip coffee: Always prep it the night before. This means grinding the coffee beans (if they're not already ground in a red plastic bucket), measuring out the desired amount, and adding them to the filter basket. Add the water, too, so that all you need to do before the sun rises is "just press play." Would a fancy coffee person do this? No. But for me this is the only way to successfully brew coffee without having had any coffee.

Grinding the beans

Let's get one thing straight: The best-tasting coffee is not just about the quality of the beans, but also how recently they were ground. If you want to really appreciate the depth of flavor in your beans, grind them just before brewing. I realize that this negates my previous suggestion about grinding your beans the night before, but this is me trying to teach you the best way, not the most efficient way.

You'll find that there are two different types of coffee grinders on the market: blade grinders (which are your typical $10 grocery store grinders) and burr grinders. Burr grinders are often seen as the premium, fancier, all-around better grinder — but why? "Burr grinders crush the roasted coffee beans more evenly and ensure a uniform grind overall. On the other hand, conventional blade grinders essentially chop up the coffee beans, which results in an inconsistent grind, ultimately diminishing the taste and finish of your coffee," says Cary Wong, coffee educator for Partners Coffee. Burr grinders are significantly more expensive and much larger (you'll be hard pressed to find one that's under $60 and under 15 inches), but the payoff is worth it if you really care about good-tasting coffee.

As for grind sizes, we'll get into the ideal coarseness for each method ahead. But as a rule of thumb: "The shorter the contact time with water, the finer the grounds should be. For longer contact time with water, you'll want coarser grounds," explains Wong. Think of espresso: A single or double shot of espresso brews in less than 15 seconds, so you want very fine grounds. Grounds for drip or French press coffee come in contact with the hot water for about 5 minutes, so medium-coarse grounds are best; the most time-consuming methods like cold-brew coffee require very coarse grounds because they spend the most amount of time swimming in the water.

A note about brew methods

These directions will guide you through how to make different types of coffee. With each brewing method, I will share expert-provided recommendations for the grind size, water temperature, and ratio of water to grounds. The real way to become a coffee expert is to find what you prefer after months of diligent testing. You'll spend hundreds of dollars on coffee beans from all over the globe and will swear off human connection in the name of true love, which will come in the form of an Escali kitchen scale (kidding).

But the truth is, these are just recommendations. If you find that you prefer to use 190℉ water instead of 175℉ to make AeroPress coffee, bravo! If you decide that cold brew coffee is too expensive and there's nothing wrong with an old batch of refrigerated drip coffee, kudos! I know that good coffee is about the best beans and the best equipment. But I also know that I need it to help me put my socks on and find the remote control and not forget I have a 9 a.m. dentist appointment, so therefore, it doesn't really matter what machine I use. Find what method works for you and tweak it from there.

AeroPress

What is it?

An AeroPress is a small handheld device that produces espresso-like coffee. While it doesn't technically make espresso, it does produce a small amount of very strong coffee, which most people would think of as espresso. And I say that as a nonthreatening warning: Don't expect your AeroPress to make just a regular cup of good coffee. It is stronger than usual. You'll need to dilute it for a cup of drip coffee substitute. Despite the fact that AeroPress produces espresso-like coffee, you can use any type of coffee beans you like.

How to make it

AeroPress, which is the name of the coffee maker, recommends using fine-ground or espresso-ground beans. Place one rounded scoop of fine-ground coffee (equivalent to about 3 tablespoons or 14 grams) in the chamber. Give the AeroPress a little shimmy-shake to make sure that the grounds are level. Slowly pour hot water over the coffee grounds; the brand recommends using 175℉ hot water for dark-roast coffee and 185℉ water for medium-roast coffee. Stir the water and grounds together for 10 seconds. Next, insert the plunger and gently press down to extract the coffee. Once you feel some resistance, that's a sign that you've extracted as much coffee as you can. Drink it espresso-style or add more water to create an Americano.

Why Aeropress?

If you're picky about your coffee, the AeroPress is a convenient brew method that delivers exceptional tasting-coffee on the go. "It's great for camping and is easy to clean," says Wong.

Chemex

What is it?

Chemex looks like a flower vase with a wood and leather corset wrapped around its waist. So stylish! Chemex doesn't refer to a style of coffee, but rather a popular style of glass coffee maker used to make pour over coffee.

How to make it

As a general rule, use a brew ratio of one part ground coffee to 17 parts water. So if we're talking about brewing 2 cups of coffee, you should measure out 30 grams of coffee and 510 grams of hot water. To make coffee in a Chemex, insert the specialty filter in the vessel. Slowly pour a little bit of hot water over the filter to get rid of the papery flavor. Dump the water and then repeat the process, this time with the grounds. Add the grounds to the wet filter and slowly pour the hot water in a clockwise motion over the grounds, allowing them to "bloom." Stop after the grounds are just barely covered with water. After 1 minute, pour the rest of the water over the grounds. Once you've used all of the water, let it brew.

Why Chemex?

If you want to make pour over coffee for a crowd, a Chemex is one of the best vessels to do so. "Chemex or pour over coffee creates more complex flavors than other methods," says Wong. It comes in a few different sizes (as small as 3 cups and as big as 10 cups). We also love it because it doesn't take up much space (no more than a flower vase) and costs less than $50.

Cold Brew

What is it?

Cold brew coffee is a style of iced coffee that requires patience and a lot of coffee grounds. Grounds are slowly steeped in cold water for at least 12 — and upwards of 24 — hours to create a concentrate (meaning super-strong iced coffee), which is then diluted with more water or milk.

How to make it

Whether you are using regular coffee grounds or specialty cold brew pouches, the latter of which are pre-measured for your convenience, making cold brew follows the same process. Here's how we like to make it with grounds: Coarsely grind (and we mean very coarsely grind) 3/4 cup beans for every 4 cups of cold water. Combine the two in a large mason jar or another large, sealable vessel and stir vigorously to ensure that the grounds are moistened. Seal the container with a lid and let it stand at room temperature overnight.

Once it's fully steeped, line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth and set it over a large pitcher or bowl. Pour the coffee through the sieve, pressing the grounds to extract all of the coffee. Discard or compost the spent grounds. Pour the coffee into a glass, add water and milk to taste, and store the remaining cold brew in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Why cold brew?

It's a better version of iced coffee that removes all of the usual bitterness and acidity that you'd get just from brewing hot drip coffee and then cooling it down. The downside to cold brew coffee is that it can be expensive, since it uses a lot of grounds and yields only a few cups of iced coffee.

Drip Coffee

What is it?

When you typed "how to make coffee" in Google, this is probably what you came here for — good old-fashioned drip coffee using a $15 machine and whatever beans you have on hand, right? And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I love that. In my caffeinated research journey, I struggled to find tips for how to make a really good cup of drip coffee. There are how-tos and FAQs for every fancy pour over machine on the market. But drip coffee? Nada. So we're in this together.

The reason that "coffee people" dislike drip coffee so much is because they believe that the water doesn't ever get hot enough, thus depriving you of the opportunity to taste the full spectrum of caramelized, woody, floral notes in your beans. And that may be true. It probably is true. But it's also the most popular and least expensive method for brewing 12 cups of hot coffee in under 10 minutes, which is quite valuable.

How to make it

The educators at Counter Culture Coffee don't like drip coffee machines. But they also understand that it's the preferred method for many coffee drinkers. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, here's how they recommend making drinkable drip coffee: Start with medium-coarse grounds; on a scale of 1 to 10, your grounds for drip coffee should be around a 6.

As for the ratio of beans to water, they recommend 20 grams of coffee beans per cup of coffee (measure this out before grinding) and 320 grams of cold-filtered water per cup of coffee. If you're making 4 cups of coffee, you'd need 80 grams of coffee beans and 1,280 grams of cold filtered water. But I'm just going to call it water because if you're the type of person who is making drip coffee, you probably don't care to use filtered water (I sure don't).

From here, you know the drill: Add the beans to the coffee filter, pour the water into the reservoir in the back, plug it in, turn the machine on, and start to tackle your daily to-do list while it's brewing.

Why drip coffee?

It's cheap, convenient, crowd-friendly, and allows you to brush your teeth and wash the dishes and vacuum the rug all while it's brewing. Need I go on?

French Press

What is it?

The French press is considered "a full-immersion brewing method" in which coarse coffee grounds and hot water hang out together in the vessel. This process creates a full-bodied cup of coffee. "People who like their coffee with a little bit more body and coffee oil will enjoy French press," explains Wong. It's also ideal for busy folks who don't have the time to slowly pour hot water over their coffee grounds for 5 minutes; it's the ultimate "set it and forget it" style of coffee.

How to make it

A French press was the first fancy coffee maker I ever received. I received a copper one as a high school graduation gift from my aunt and uncle, and I felt so cool. But I never really figured out how to make it taste delicious, so here's me attempting to, for real this time. According to the wide-awake folks at Partners Coffee, the ideal ratio of coffee to water is 1:15. But what does that actually mean? Their French press coffee recipe calls for 34 grams of coarse grounds to 500 grams of 200℉ water, which will make 1 to 2 cups of coffee. Add the coarse-ground coffee to the French press and set a time for 4 minutes. Slowly pour 100 grams of hot water over the coffee and let it begin to bloom for about 45 seconds. Pour the remaining 400 grams of hot water in the press and stir to combine. After 4 minutes, press the coffee.

Why French press?

I like to think of French press coffee as a stepping stone from drip coffee into the world of all these fancier, fussier machines. This is because it requires a little more hands-on time than a traditional drip machine, but not by much. Oh, and most French presses can make up to 4 cups of coffee, depending on the size of your beaker.

Hario V60

What is it?

If you're someone who is willing to take at least 5 minutes to make a cup of coffee, may I interest you in pour over? This method will create a flavorful, lighter-tasting cup of coffee that has more clarity. If you're not using a Chemex, then you're probably using a Hario V60 to make pour over coffee. This simple piece of equipment looks like a cup and saucer that you put on top of your mug and saucer. It's what you use when you — a person who enjoys the slow, meditative process of making coffee in the wee hours of the morning — want to make a single cup of coffee. It produces a slightly more acidic cup of coffee than other pour over methods like the Chemex or Moccamaster.

How to make it

To make coffee using a Hario V60, start by heating water in a gooseneck-style kettle to between 200℉ and 210℉ (essentially, you want it to be just below boiling). For 1 cup of coffee, you'll need about 3 tablespoons (or about 20 grams) of ground coffee. Tuck the filter in the pour over and slowly drizzle the hot water over the filter to wet in, which will get rid of any weird papery, dusty flavor. Dump out this batch of water and then recenter the machine. Add your grounds to the wet filter and slowly pour some hot water in a circular motion over the grounds, which will allow them to "bloom." After 1 minute, pour the rest of the water over the grounds, slowly. Let the water slowly make its way through the grounds, and after about 3 minutes, you should have the perfect pour over coffee.

Why pour over?

You have options! From the single-serve Hario V60 to crowd-friendly makers like the Chemex and Moccamaster, you're able to achieve a delicious, light-tasting cup of coffee for up to 10 people.

Moccamaster

What is it?

Like the Chemex, the Moccamaster is a specific machine that allows you to make pour over coffee for a crowd. However, unlike most pour over machines, the Moccamaster is entirely hands-off in the same way that a drip coffee maker is — it replicates the style of pour over coffee with just the press of a button. Unlike drip coffee machines, which have one heating element for both the water and the carafe, the Moccamaster has two separate copper heating elements to ensure that the water gets hot enough for brewing without causing the brewed coffee to get so hot that it tastes burnt and bitter.

How to make it

Making coffee in a Moccamaster is most similar to drip coffee; just measure how much water you want, pour it in the reservoir, add your grounds to a coffee-filter-lined basket, and turn on the switch. For 5 cups of water, start with 73 grams of coffee grounds. Brew a batch, see if it tastes strong enough (or maybe it's too strong!) and adjust the next time around. Within about 5 minutes, your coffee will be brewed and ready to drink (and hey, maybe you even washed some dishes in that time).

Why Moccamaster?

If you can't do away with the ease (aka laziness) of a drip coffee machine but actually like to appreciate the flavors in a cup of coffee, the Moccamaster offers both. The downside is that their signature 10-cup machine will run you about $350, about the same as a good espresso machine.

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Kelly Vaughan

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