The world of coffee brewing can get pretty complicated. If you’re trying to branch out from your trusty Mr. Coffee maker, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options.
But don’t worry—we’re here to help! In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the most popular brewing methods out there today so you can get an idea of how they work and what they’re best used for.
By the end, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a verified coffee expert.
How it works: Medium-ground coffee is put into the filter basket and water added to the reservoir. Once turned on, the water from the reservoir is passed through an electronic heating element, then showered down over the ground coffee. Flavor is extracted from the grounds as it drips down through them, ultimately dripping into the carafe. Most also include a warming plate to keep the coffee hot until you’re ready to drink it.
What it’s best for: Drip machines are the best choice if you want to make a large amount of coffee quickly and with little effort. They’re ideal for medium- and dark-roasted beans, providing a well-balanced cup, though they may not bring out the flavor notes of craft and single-origin beans as well as other brewing methods.
How it works: The pour-over dripper is placed on top of your mug with a filter inside. Grind the coffee to your desired coarseness and put it into the filter, then manually heat the water in a gooseneck kettle. The water is poured over the grounds in a circular motion, working from the outside in. Pour for about 15 seconds, then allow the water to drip down through the grounds for 15 seconds, and repeat for a total of 2-3 minutes.
What it’s best for: Pour-over is one of the favorite brewing methods of coffee connoisseurs because it lets you control the flow of water and grind level. You can also monitor the extraction while brewing to ensure consistency. It’s the best brewing method for bringing out the subtle flavor notes from high-quality beans.
How it works: The method is similar to drip, but on a cup-by-cup scale. The coffee in each capsule is pre-ground and measured for a single cup. When you start the brew, water from the reservoir is measured, heated, and dispensed through the pod into the mug sitting underneath the dripper.
What it’s best for: These brewers are popular in offices and other settings where a quick, no-hassle cup of coffee is important. They’re a very consistent brewing method, giving the same taste from one cup to the next. Unfortunately, the fast brew time doesn’t allow for full flavor extraction and the quality of the final cup suffers for it.
How it works: Coarse ground coffee is put into the bottom of the French press. Heated water is added and the coffee steeps for 3-5 minutes (depending on your desired strength). When finished, press down on the plunger to trap the grounds, then pour into a cup to serve.
What it’s best for: In a French press, the grounds are in full contact with the water throughout the brew. This means you get all of the coffee’s flavor compounds, including the lipids that are often trapped by paper filters used in other brewing methods. It’s ideal for brewing coffee you want to enjoy right away, especially if you like coffee with a lot of body and a richer mouthfeel.
How it works: There are a few methods for AeroPress brewing that require different grind levels and steeping times. The general principle, however, is to put the brewer on top of your cup, then add the coffee and water. Once it’s steeped, press down on the plunger to force the brew through the filter and into your mug.
What it’s best for: An AeroPress lets you brew espresso-strength coffee anywhere. Full contact between the grounds and water ensures an even extraction, and you get complete control over the strength and length of the brew.
How it works: Put coarse-ground coffee into a filter. Pour in cold water and massage the filter to remove any clumps, then put the container in the fridge and let it steep for 18-24 hours. The resulting brew is a concentrate, similar in strength to espresso. To serve as drip strength, add concentrate to your cup then dilute it with water.
What it’s best for: Cold brewing is the best way to make flavorful iced coffee. It’s also great for those with sensitive stomachs since fewer of the acidic compounds are extracted from the beans.
How it works: Steam pressure is generated by a boiler. To pull a shot, put 18-21 grams of finely-ground coffee into the portafilter, pack it down with a tamper, and insert it into the machine. The water is heated and showered over the grounds at high pressure, flowing out of the portafilter spout and into the cup.
What it’s best for: You need an espresso machine to get true espresso with crema, period. They’re the best option for cafes that have the budget and training to operate them properly, or home users who want a strong, flavorful espresso shot.
How it works: Pour water in the lower reservoir and fill the filter with medium-ground coffee, then apply heat to the base. The water expands as it heats and is forced through the grounds and up a central pipe, where the brewed coffee collects in the upper reservoir.
What it’s best for: A stovetop machine gives you espresso-strength coffee without an espresso machine or any specialized skills. Larger models are great for entertaining, producing up to 6 espresso shots in a single brew.
How it works: You’ll see these models available for both espresso and drip brewing. The basic brewing method is the same as other coffee makers of that style, but an incorporated grinder allows for full automation of the process. The use of advanced electronics allows you to program the dose, grind level, and other parameters for full customization.
What it’s best for: A grind and brew model allows you to pre-program brews while still enjoying the taste benefits of freshly-ground coffee. They’re great if you want the best taste but lack the time or knowledge to get it manually.
How it works: Water is put in the lower chamber and ground coffee in the upper, with a filter in between. When heat is applied under the siphon maker, the water passes up through the filter and mingles with the grounds. At the end of brewing, the heat is removed and the brewed coffee flows back down into the lower chamber.
What it’s best for: The siphon brewer has similar taste advantages to pour-over, providing full extraction of the flavor compounds with a lower risk of burning. It’s also great for entertaining because it’s fun to watch and has a neat mad scientist vibe.
The most important factor in getting a great cup of coffee is ensuring you have even extraction of the grounds. This is true across brewing methods
Wondering which brewing methods taste the best? If you want to taste the subtle, complex flavor notes of craft coffee, you should use a gentler method like pour-over or siphon brewing. For a fuller-flavored cup with a richer mouthfeel, the ideal options are French press, AeroPress, and espresso.
Don’t forget about the quality of your water, either. Depending on the brew method, the final cup is between 95% and 99% water, so if the water tastes bad, so will the coffee. Using filtered water is the best way to get good-tasting coffee, and will also limit the scale build-up in espresso and drip machines.
Each brewing method has its specific clean-up requirements, but the basic premise of all of them is the same. After each brew, throw away the grounds and disposable filters. If the filter is permanent or re-usable, rinse it thoroughly, ensuring that all coffee grounds are removed, then use soapy water or coffee machine cleaner to remove the coffee oils left behind.
Do the same for your carafe, reservoir, or other components of the coffee maker. Old coffee left in your pot will make future brews taste bad since the oils can go rancid or burn. For caked-on grit or stains, you can use a simple mix of baking soda and water to remove them.
If you’re using an espresso maker or drip machine, the water line can develop scale over time (the deposits left by hard water). Descaling your machine periodically keeps these lines clear of build-up, maintaining the proper water flow and temperature.
You don’t need to rely on your local café for a great cup of coffee. While more complicated brewers like espresso machines can get expensive, most manual brewing methods are reasonably priced and aren’t as difficult to use as you might think.
If your financial resources are limited, you’ll honestly be better off spending most of it on a decent burr grinder. A French press or AeroPress costs about the same as a basic drip machine and aren’t much more complicated.
Use the tips in this guide to find your new favorite brewing method—and best of luck as you expand your coffee horizons!
Brewing Methods Compared: How Should You Make Coffee at Home?
7 tips that will change the way you brew coffee at home
Coffee Basics: Brewing Methods – Which way is best for you?
How to Clean Your Coffee Maker