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Coffee Brewing Methods – Find out what’s the best method for you?

Time and history change most things – even the way you brew coffee at home.

Can you remember years ago when the only equipment you had to make an espresso were the old percolator? I well remember the one Mum had. These were a stove top coffee brewing machine and we would sit transfixed, staring at water being heated until the pressure forced it up a small tube and over a metal basket full of ground beans which came in a glass vacuum sealed jar with the name Bushells inscribed onto the glass.

As youngsters, it was interesting to watch – even if the quality of the cup of coffee at the end was fairly ordinary. Boiling coffee and running the liquid over grounds more than once produces a beverage that is much less than perfect – and this happened with the percolator.

But then the 1970s came and our coffee drinking life changed forever. Enter the drip method - inexpensive, quick and even a marked improvement in flavor. This was brewing simplicity and it began to dominate the home market. It comprised a plastic container which you lined with coffee filter paper and filled with ground beans - this sat on top of a glass container. Pour almost boiling water over the beans and your brew drips through to the glass pot on the bottom. That’s it! I even have a china single cup version of this model and find it very handy – quick and very little mess to clean up.

A bit later on came coffee pods. If you happen to be from Australia you will know these as coffee bags and are used in exactly the same way as tea bags – you know, from the House of Robert Timms variety from Woolworths and Coles. In other countries (like the US) they come in a different shape plus single or two cup sizes of your favorite blend of ground beans. These fit neatly into a coffee making machine with varying sorts of controls to adjust the brew and internal spouts that spread the water evenly over the grounds. Whether cone or flat design, make sure the water temperature is always near 200F (93C). Coffee pods are made of a porous type paper which contains the ground beans and are convenient and clean to use if you need a quick cup of coffee. A similar idea is the k cup coffee method.

During the 1990’s, espresso makers became the rage. Originating from the European coffee culture and with the application of American ingenuity to lower the cost without ruining the flavour, these machines totally changed the coffee making scene. Hot water is forced under pressure through finely ground dark roast and in a few minutes, out pours a delicious, aromatic brew.

By the addition of steamed frothy milk you have a cappuccino or latte, depending on the ratio of milk to coffee. This was a big step forward for coffee lovers and the variety of espresso makers available make for delightful experiments in chemistry.

The French press or plunger is another very simple device that helped the spread of European coffee making methods. A metal rod extends through the center of a glass cylinder and has a small handle on top. Attached to the other end of the rod is a metal filter or strainer which fits firmly inside the glass container.

Just put fresh ground beans in the container and pour on hot water (just off the boil). Unlike the drip method, the grounds steep until the plunger is pressed. The result is a dark, full bodied brew served straight from the plunger.

One of the more obscure brewing methods is the vacuum brewer. It has two glass or metal bowls, one atop the other. Heat causes water to rise into the upper bowl, similar to the percolator principle. You then take the brewer off the heat and as the liquid cools a bit a partial vacuum is created, drawing the hot water through the ground beans and into the lower chamber.

As the machine can be carried to your table this is a great way to round off a dinner party providing your company with a great visual and sensory impact plus, of course, a beautifully fresh cup of coffee.

In the scheme of coffee drinking around the world none of these methods is really new - most go back centuries in one form or another. One of the oldest known is probably the Ibrik from Turkey. Here the water is heated in a brass or copper container with a long handle and a grooved tongue. Finely ground coffee beans are added directly to the hot water and then poured, unfiltered. This makes for a pretty strong brew so beware!

As you can see there are many different brewing methods to make a good quality cup of coffee at home. Any of the above methods will produce a delicious drink and all the machines bring out the distinctive aspects of your favourite beans.

Why not try them all? With the number of gourmet coffees around today you can create your very own coffee history lesson and enjoyable caffeine boosted taste tour all at the same time.


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