If you’ve only ever used an automatic drip brewer, you might be shocked to learn just how many ways there are to make a cup of coffee. Some are tried and true, while others are relatively recent developments.
Want to learn more? Let’s take a look at the 15 most common brewing methods so you can get a sense of the differences between them.
Grind level: Fine
Brew time: 1-2 minutes
Also called a lever espresso machine, a manual espresso maker forces water through ground coffee at high pressure to quickly extract the flavors. Some heat the water for you, while others require you to put pre-heated water in the reservoir.
Once you have the finely-ground coffee in the filter, pulling down on the lever forces the water from the reservoir through the puck.
Manual espresso makers are tricky to use and very sensitive to changes in the grind, water temperature, and consistency of pressure applied.
On the plus side, they’re one of the most affordable ways to brew espresso at home, and fully-manual models don’t require electricity so you can use them anywhere.
Grind level: Fine
Brew time: 20-30 seconds
Semi-automatic espresso machines have a boiler that generates steam and a pump that sends the water through the grounds under pressure. You can also find fully-automatic and super-automatic models, which time the shot for you or even grind, dose, and tamp the coffee.
Using an automatic espresso machine is easier and faster than using a manual one. However, they’re expensive, bulky, and often use a lot of energy, especially commercial machines that can brew coffee and steam milk at the same time.
Grind level: Medium to medium-fine
Brew time: 4-7 minutes
Also called a stovetop espresso maker, a Moka pot consists of two chambers with a filter between them. Fill the lower chamber with water and put coffee in the filter, then apply heat to the base. This heats and expands the water, forcing it up through the grounds and into the upper chamber.
Moka pots are both easier to use and less expensive than other espresso makers. One big advantage is that the water to coffee ratio is set, so you don’t have to measure (or guess). They do take longer to brew, though, and don’t generate enough pressure for true espresso with crema.
Grind level: Medium-fine to fine
Brew time: 1-3 minutes
The AeroPress uses both pressure and immersion to brew. The resulting brew has the strength of espresso, sometimes even with a little foam that’s similar to crema. Set the AeroPress on top of your mug, put the coffee in the bottom, then add hot water and stir the grounds in. When you’re ready to extract, just insert the plunger and push down.
AeroPresses are easy to use, and more forgiving than other manual espresso makers when it comes to variations in grind size, water ratio, and brewing time. It’s also convenient that they brew straight into your cup. They’re a great gadget for people who like to experiment with their coffee preparation.
Grind level: Coarse
Brew time: 4-5 minutes
French presses are the most common of the immersion-style brewers. The simple design consists of a carafe with a plunger attached to the lid. Put in the coffee and hot water and either stir it or use the plunger to agitate the water. When you’re ready to serve, press the plunger the whole way down. It will trap the grounds at the bottom, preventing them from getting into your cup.
Direct contact between the coffee and the water gives French press coffee a fuller body and flavor than filtered brewing methods. It’s a simple method, too, though you will need to pay attention to how long it’s steeping to avoid over-extraction.
Grind level: medium-fine
Brew time: 6-8 minutes
Also known as a vacuum pot, siphon brewers look more like something a mad scientist would use to make coffee. They’re conceptually similar to a Moka pot. Water goes in the lower chamber, then rises into the upper chamber once heat is applied, where it mingles with the coffee. The biggest difference is at the end of the brew.
Once the heat source is removed, the brewed coffee is sucked back down through a filter into the lower chamber for serving.
The main advantage of siphon brewers is that they look really cool. They’re also very delicate, though, and can be temperamental to use correctly.
Grind level: Medium-coarse
Brew time: 4-5 minutes
The soft brew steeps coffee in a similar method to that used for loose-leaf tea. Start by putting the ground coffee in the filter basket and setting it in the top of the carafe. You then pour hot water over the grounds and into the brewer. The coffee is extracted through the holes in the filter basket, which you can easily remove at the end for a fairly easy clean-up.
Both the taste and the brewing process are similar with a soft brewer as with a French press. You’ll need to control the water temperature and brewing time yourself. One disadvantage is that you’re more likely to get a bit of grit and sludge in your final cup.
Grind level: medium to medium-fine
Brew time: 5-6 minutes
The most pervasive coffee brewing method, an automatic drip machine heats water poured into the reservoir, showering it over ground coffee in the basket. The water drips down through the ground coffee and filter, ultimately ending up in the carafe for serving.
The main advantage of drip brewers is that you don’t have to think about the brewing time. Many come with a warming plate for the carafe and programmable auto-start features, saving you time and effort.
The cup you’ll get isn’t as flavorful as with other methods, though, and there’s often a risk of uneven extraction since you can’t control where the water is dispensed across the basket.
Grind level: Medium-coarse to medium-fine
Brew time: 2-3 minutes
Manual pour-over brewing requires the most knowledge and skill of any method except espresso. You’ll also need a special kind of kettle, called a goose-neck kettle, to properly pour the water. In this method, water is poured over ground coffee in pulses in a circular pattern. The brewed coffee drips from the bottom into your cup.
Most pour-over drippers are cone-shaped and sit directly on top of your mug. Chemex brewers are hourglass-shaped and integrate a brewer into a carafe, coming in a range of sizes that let you brew larger batches at one time.
Grind level: Medium-coarse
Brew time: 3-4 minutes
This is another brewing method that sits right on your cup. The grounds go under a metal filter inside the brewer. Pour a bit of water over it, wait about 20 seconds, then fill the chamber with hot water. It will drip down through the filter and the coffee into your cup. Traditionally, it’s brewed into sweetened condensed milk, often over ice.
Figuring out the correct grind level and amount of coffee can be tricky with a Vietnamese coffee maker. You’re also limited to brewing one cup at a time, so it’s not the best method for entertaining. Once you figure it out, though, it’s a unique and flavorful cup that’s adaptable to a range of beans and roast levels.
Grind level: Coarse
Brew time: 7-10 minutes
The percolator has been around for a while. It’s similar to a Moka pot in that water from a lower reservoir is heated and forced through a central pipe. From that point, it’s more of a drip brewer, as the hot water seeps down through the grounds and into the carafe for serving.
Electric percolators are self-contained and compact. The main disadvantage is the risk of uneven extraction. The coffee may also be singed if the water gets too hot. It’s a low-fuss brewing method, though, and popular among those who enjoy strong brews.
Grind level: Coarse
Brew time: 5-10 minutes
A camping coffee maker is a percolator without the electric heat source. Instead, they’re built to go directly over a fire, though you can also put them on the stovetop for home use. The heat of your fire or burner is the main factor in how long it takes to heat and brew.
Taste-wise, camping coffee makers have the same advantages and disadvantages of percolators. Since they don’t need electricity, though, they’re more versatile and can be used anywhere.
Grind level: Medium
Brew time: 3 minutes
Single-serve pod brewers, like the Keurig, are designed for convenience. While you can get re-usable pods and grind your own coffee, most people use disposable pods. Just fill the reservoir, pop the pod in, and you’ll have a cup of coffee in a matter of minutes.
Unfortunately, the coffee made with a pod brewer isn’t very good. The contact time is fairly short, and the use of pre-ground coffee reduces the aromatics. Plastic disposable pods also generate more landfill-bound waste since they don’t break down like the paper filters in other brewing methods.
Grind level: Fine to medium-fine
Brew time: 30-90 seconds
Similar to pod brewers, a Nespresso machine uses pre-made discs to brew coffee, making them a very convenient and quick method. You can get re-usable capsules, as well, to avoid using the pre-ground (and wasteful) disposable packets. The difference is a Nespresso machine makes espresso, complete with some crema on top.
Compared to other espresso makers, the shots poured from a Nespresso machine are weaker and don’t have the same body. While they taste better than coffee made in a pod brewer, you won’t get the same complexity produced by traditional espresso brewing.
Grind level: Extra fine (Turkish)
Brew time: 3-5 minutes
An Ibrik is a copper pot you use to boil coffee on the stove. Coffee brewed this way has a very different taste, thicker and stronger than most brewing methods. Traditionally, sugar is added to the pot during brewing, and it’s served with the fine grinds still in the cup.
Most people who like the taste of espresso also enjoy Turkish coffee. It is intense, though—too much for some. Figuring out the proper brewing method can also take some trial and error, especially when it comes to controlling the heat, and not every home grinder can get the extra-fine consistency required.
The basic idea of all coffee makers is the same. Heated water is brought into contact with ground coffee, extracting the flavor and resulting in the brewed cup we all enjoy. How that is accomplished differs depending on which kind of coffee maker you have (we’ll get into the details of that next).
Coffee preparation is a science—and a pretty exact one, at least for those who are serious about their java. About 30% of the weight of a coffee bean is soluble, which means it will be extracted by the water during brewing.
Not all of these compounds are extracted at the same rate, however, and you don’t necessarily want to get all of them into your cup. Generally, the acidic compounds and caffeine are released first, followed by the sweet compounds, with the bitter ones entering the brew at the end. If you don’t extract enough, the coffee will taste too sour; extract too many, it will become too bitter.
Brewing a good cup of coffee means using the right combination of temperature, grind size, water contact time, and water to coffee ratio. The temperature is the only variable that’s consistent across brewing methods. It should be just shy of boiling. The commonly accepted best range is between 195°F and 205°F.
The finer the coffee is ground, the more surface area is available for the water to come in contact with. The grind size is closely linked to the contact time. Generally speaking, the longer the contact time, the coarser the grind that you should use.
This is why espresso uses a very fine grind while Moka pots use a medium grind, even though both brewing methods are based on pressure. An espresso shot brews in 20-30 seconds, but in a Moka pot the brew time is 5-7 minutes.
Changing the contact time or the grind size will alter which notes you get in your cup. If you want to change the strength, you should adjust the water to coffee ratio. More water yields a weaker cup, and less water will make it stronger. Each brewing method has a ratio that is considered to yield the best cup, though in most cases it’s around 2-3 tablespoons for each cup of water.
The simplest coffee makers are manual brewers, like the French press or pour-over dripper. These are basically just vessels where the extraction can happen. It’s up to you to grind the coffee, heat the water, and use the right water-to-coffee ratio and brew time.
Electronic coffee makers, like drip brewers, auto pour-over machines, and percolators, include a heating element for the water. For drip brewers, this consists of a metal tube that the water flows through, surrounded by a resistive heating element.
Once the water is heated, it’s poured over the ground coffee through a perforated disc called the showerhead. In a percolator, the heating element is the base of the pot. It heats the water and sends it up through a metal tube into a perforated chamber, which drips it down over the grounds.
You still grind the coffee yourself and measure out the right ratio of water to coffee into the reservoir and filter basket, respectively.
Espresso machines also heat the water for you, though their operation is more complex. The water is pulled from the reservoir or water line by a pump and put into a heating chamber. Modern home models often use a resistive heating element similar to those in drip machines.
Once the water is hot, it’s forced through the ground coffee in the portafilter via steam-generated pressure, generated in a copper boiler. That same steam can instead come out of the steam wand to froth milk.
The most complex machines are those that measure the right amount of water or coffee for you. These included automatic espresso machines, as well as smart drip machines, which often come with a grinder built right in.
All you have to do is tell the machine how much coffee you want, and an electronic system releases the correct amount of ground coffee and water according to the determined pre-sets.
There are a lot of different methods out there for making coffee, and they vary widely in price, taste, ease of use, and brewing time. If you tend to use one brewing method all or most of the time, consider branching out and trying out some different devices. You just might find a new favorite way to brew!
What is A Coffee Percolator and How Does It Work?
How Espresso Machines Work
Brewing Basics: How to Make Better Coffee
Using a Lever Espresso Machine at Home
Coffee Grind Size for Every Brewing Method
How to Brew Coffee – National Coffee Association
Using the Vietnamese Phin Coffee Filter