With so many ways to brew a cup of coffee, it can be difficult to decide which coffee brewing methods are actually worth giving a shot. Below we have a simple guide to all the basic methods and tools (plus a few you may not have heard of) to help you find the best one for your taste.
We’ve broken things down into a few easy categories for you: espresso, drip, immersion, siphon, and stovetop. As you read, pay attention to the time and effort that each method takes in order to make a decision that will work for you and your lifestyle.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind, that while we don’t mention it for each brewer we strongly recommend investing in an appropriate grinder to accompany your brewer of choice. A fresh grind and grind size can make or break just about any coffee making tool. So skip the ground coffee and go for whole coffee beans; works every time.
First up, let’s talk about the base of just about every coffee-shop specialty drink. From classic cappuccinos to the more niche Caffé Gommosa, espresso is a the heart of the brew. So naturally, the brew methods used to achieve this type of coffee are the place to start this handy guide.
- Espresso Machine
- (Optional) Milk Frothing Mug
- Pressure-based brewing method resulting in a strong coffee concentrate
- The machine is an investment, but will likely pay for itself over time
There is a ton of variety when it comes to espresso machines, but from bare-bones manuals and semi-automatics to decked-out super-automatics they all essentially perform the same function. They all use high pressure to heat and force water through tightly packed, finely-ground coffee.
This brew method is great for those looking for coffee-shop style coffee in the comfort of their own home. It may take some practice to find the right beans, grind, and pull, but in the end, it is certainly worth it. Plus, most espresso machines come with a milk frothing want, which vastly broadens your brewing options.
- Can brew both regular coffee and espresso-style coffee
- Fast, single-servings of coffee
- Affordable alternative to an espresso machine, but may need a separate milk frother
- One of the best coffee making devices for travelers due to its durability
If you aren’t quite ready to dig deep into your pocketbook to splurge on an espresso machine, an Aeropress might just be the perfect coffee brewing tool for the meantime. This is also a pressure-based brewing tool, but because Aeropress coffee brewing is manual, there is some room for experimentation.
You can even use the inverted method for Aeropress coffee to accomplish more thorough extraction by combining immersion and pressure brewing methods.
While an espresso machine or Aeropress are the most likely choices is you are going for an espresso-based brew. Coffee with an espresso-like feel can also be brewed using a Moka Pot. For more on this brewing process, check out our section on stovetop brewing methods below.
If espresso isn’t what you are craving, then perhaps looking towards one of the various drip brewers might give you a brew with a homier feel.
Traditional Coffee Machine
- Drip Coffee Brewer
- Basket-Style Coffee Filter (usually)
- Medium-intensity brews
- Reliable though not a very versatile method of brewing
- There are great options for large batch brewing, which is an uncommon feature
If you’ve ever walked into an American household, chances are you’ve seen one of these perched on the kitchen countertop. They come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, but like with espresso machines, the basics are usually the same.
Water is heated then distributed over medium fine coffee grounds via a showerhead. The water then makes its way through the grounds, saturating them and extracting the coffee via heat and gravity. Coffee drips into a carafe and you have a nice, traditional American cup o’ Joe.
- Light, clean flavor profiles
- Requires more precision
- Has a bit of a learning curve
If you want something with a bit more flair than your run of the mill drip brewer, pour-overs are a great brewing tool to consider. Pour-over coffee is a bit more involved than the other coffee brewing methods; however, it’s well worth the effort to get some seriously superior brews.
For those of you looking to slow down a bit in the morning and take your time with your morning coffee ritual, this is the perfect brew method for you. To brew, simply use a gooseneck kettle to pour hot water over medium fine grounds. The coffee flows through a paper filter and clean, bright coffee drips into the carafe or mug below.
- Crisp, clean profiles that highlight intricate flavor notes
- Designed to brew bigger batches of coffee than other pour-over tools
Liking the sound of a pour-over but prefer things to be a bit more streamlined? Try the Chemex. Brew wise, a Chemex is rather similar to pour-over coffee. However, there is no need for a separate carafe, as the unit is self-contained.
Chemex brewing is done the same way as pour-over coffee brewing methods, except they use slightly thicker filters, slowing down the brewing process. The slower process makes up for the lack of ribbing (such as would be seen on a pour-over tool) and ensures thorough extraction.
- Vietnamese Coffee Press (Phin)
- Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Mug or Cup (go for clear to watch your coffee as it brews)
- (Optional) Ice
- Coffee itself is strong, rich and heavy (with a bit of grit)
- Must be brewed over sweetened condensed milk, making for a uniquely sweet, decadent drink
- Not the most versatile coffee maker
This particular coffee making method is best suited for a rather specific kind of coffee beverage. But if sweet simplicity sounds like a good thing to you, it may be the perfect tool for your coffee at home.
This coffee method uses a medium or dark roast and a medium-coarse grind size. We recommend preheating the Phin with hot water and briefly blooming your grounds for the best results. The brew takes 4-6 minutes and works by dripping through the Phin (or “filter”) and straight into your cup.
Cold Bew (Drip Brewer)
- Cold Brew Dripper
- Ice water
- These contraptions make for great conversation starters
- A bit fiddly to use, but can get results in 3-4 hours rather than 12-24
- Great for bringing out complex, subtle notes of single-origin or specialty coffee beans
While the immersion method is the go-to for cold brew, it is possible to achieve a cold brew via a drip method as well. The Yama model linked above is one of the most popular options due to its striking visual appearance. To use drippers like the Yama for cold brew coffee brewing, you simply fill the top chamber with ice water.
The ice keeps the water cold and melts to continue supplying water, which drips down through coffee grinds and ultimately into a carafe at the bottom of the contraption. You do need to check in from time to time to adjust the drip rate of the water as you’re making coffee.
In addition to the brewing methods listed above, there are a couple of others that utilize drip brewing in some capacity.
The Clever coffee dripper, despite its name, relies primarily on immersion brewing. However, it does have some functionality similar to that of a pour-over tool. So it may be worth considering if you want the “best of both worlds” option.
Additionally, while a percolator is characterized by it’s standing as a stovetop coffee maker, its brewing process mimics that of a standard drip brewer. However, it has a few unique features which we’ll discuss below.
Next up, we have one of the most relaxed, low-effort categories of coffee brewing: immersion. These methods for brewing coffee are characterized by their hands-off, easy-peasy nature. As long as you have some time and a fresh grind, it’s a breeze to make coffee immersion-style.
- French Press
- Rich, full body thanks to the preservation of coffee oils (no paper filter)
- Quick and user-friendly
- Can be used for both hot and cold brewing
- Cheaper models may have issues with gritty coffee
The French Press is a simple, self-contained brewing tool, and is a favorite among beginner and veteran at-home coffee makers alike. French press coffee is perfect for those who prefer a nice, full coffee flavor because the built-in non-paper filter allows for a heavier, fuller cup than you can achieve with many other brewing methods.
To use a French Press, simply add coarse or medium-coarse grounds along with hot water into the press, let steep for a few minutes, then depress the filter to strain out the grounds. French press coffee makers are also a popular alternative for cold brewing (for those who prefer something less messy than the mason jar+cheese cloth method).
All in all, if you are looking to invest in your first manual brewing tool, a French press is a great, affordable, and user-friendly option.
Cold Brew (Mason Jar Method)
- Wide mouth mason jar
- Cheesecloth OR alternative filtration method (eg. French Press, coffee sock, etc.)
- Takes 12-24 hours to brew
- Low acid, coffee with a full-body
- Cost-saving brew method
This is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to get a great cup of coffee. Simply put some coarse grounds and some room temperature water in a mason jar, leave it for 12-24 hours, filter with a cheesecloth or a french press, and voila! You have a nice, refreshing coffee concentrate that can be diluted with water or milk.
Mason Jar cold-brew is perfect for anyone who prefers a no-fuss, hands-off brewing method. Plus, you can brew ahead of time and keep your filtered brew in the fridge to make your workweek coffee worry-free.
Alternatively, if an immersion-style cold-brew sounds like your cup of tea but you want to explore other methods, you can check out the Toddy, OXO, or Filtron Cold Brew Devices.
- The Clever Dripper
- Kettle (Gooseneck or standard)
- # 4 Paper Filter
- Stirring element (Spoon, straw, etc)
- Makes a rich, crisp brew
- Incredibly easy to use but not the most versatile brew method
The clever coffee dripper is pretty unique as far as immersion brewers go because it combines the richness of full immersion brewing with the bright, clean taste granted by the use of a paper filter.
Essentially, the Clever dripper is the perfect mesh of a French Press and a pour-over, though in terms of the brew style it leans towards immersion-style brewing (hence it’s placement in this particular section).
Coffee Bags and Instant Coffee
- Coffee Bag or Instant Coffee
- Kettle or Boiling Water
- Super easy to use
- Convenient for those on-the-go
- Not as fresh or flavorful as other options
While coffee bags and instant coffee aren’t going to get you any appreciative nods from your local hipster. However, both methods will do if you are pinched for time. Coffee bags just need to be steeped like tea and instant coffee granules dissolve when you pour hot water over them. (We know, it’s a rather loose definition of “immersion.”)
Note: Some variations of coffee bags may include coffee capsules and ESE pods. However, these would fall under the “drip” classification, as they are primarily used in single-serve coffee machines, such as Keurigs or Nespresso machines.
There are a few more ways to make coffee at home that involve some immersion for the brew. If you are looking for a one or two cup coffee brewing device, try checking out the AeroPress. Its versatility earned it a spot in the espresso section, but it can also be used immersion-style with extra water to make for more standard-strength coffee.
For something with a little more pizzaz that moves outside the usually simple nature of immersion brewing, check out the vacuum/siphon brew method below.
- Siphon Coffee Maker
- Flame or Stovetop (Depends on Model)
- Exciting to use, but requires caution and attention to use safely and successfully
- May require some extra kit (for non-stovetop models)
- Consistent heat and vacuum technology highlight nuances in coffee aroma and flavor
Interested in having something that screams “home-brewed science experiment” on your kitchen counter? Then a siphon pot is the perfect tool for you. While this could be classified as either a stovetop or an immersion brewer, we figured we would give the siphon its own category due to its rather unique mechanics.
So let’s talk about actually brewing siphon coffee. How to make it, in theory, isn’t too complex. Water boils in the bottom chamber and vapor rises to the top chamber with the grounds (medium-coarse grind size). A vacuum is created and the brewed coffee flows down through a filter and back into the bottom chamber.
Last but not least, we have some brewing methods that are perfect for the down-to-earth types. These means of achieving coffee at home just require a bit of time, a fresh grind, and a stovetop. Many of these have a bit of an old-timey feel to them.
- Stovetop or plug-in
- Distinct, nostalgic strong coffee flavor (love-it or hate-it type of brew)
- Can be a bit inconsistent
- Affordable and built to last
First up we have the good ol’ percolator. This brewer has been around for quite some time, predating the traditional drip brewer. Having been around since 1753, the distinct taste of percolator coffee is often a family favorite. So for something that feels and tastes like something your grandmother would make, check out this brewer.
Percolators work by heating water in the bottom chamber, then having the hot water travel up through the grounds in the top chamber then back down to be heated again. This cycle is repeated several times until you have a very strong, almost harsh flavor. The brew tends to be a bit over-extracted, but if that suits you then so be it.
- Moka Pot
- Strong, full-bodied espresso-like brew
- An affordable alternative for those looking to make espresso-based drinks
- Portable and can be used over a fire, perfect for camping
While at first glance the Moka pot might seem to resemble the percolator, this device actually works off of pressure, rather than a repeated filtration. The process is similar; water heated in a bottom chamber to flow through grounds and into a top chamber.
However, the design utilizes pressure and hourglass shape to achieve a rather espresso-like brew. The body is much fuller in comparison to the thin, clean feel of drip coffee. It also doesn’t take too much time either, just about 5 minutes for a whole pot to brew.
- Small Pot
- Campfire or Stovetop
- Measuring Cup
- A great method for camping trips where you are trying to limit your extra kit
- Has a strong, gritty “frontier” vibe
- Not the best tasting, but can brew for a camping crowd
Cowboy Coffee is perfect if you are looking to cut down how much supplies you are bringing on camping trips. Or if you just revel in the feeling of roughing it, this is how you should be brewing coffee.
To make cowboy coffee just boil water over a fire and add 2 tablespoons of coffee to your pot for every 8 ounces of water. Let sit for two minutes, stir, let sit for two more. After that, the coffee is officially brewed. Just sprinkle some cold water on top to settle the grounds and enjoy!
- Turkish Grinder
- Turkish Coffee Pot (Cezve)
- Sugar & Cardamom
- Thick, bold, rich coffee
- Brewed with sugar (instead of having sugar added after) and cardamom
Last but not least, let’s talk about Turkish coffee. This is essentially the more sophisticated version of cowboy coffee. Hot water, loose coffee grounds, sugar, and cardamom are combined in a special coffee pot, called a Cezve. The mixture is stirred often to create foam and prevent overheating and thus over-extraction.
Unlike cowboy coffee, the grind needs to be ultra-fine, almost powder-like in texture. For this reason, Turkish coffee is meant to be enjoyed slowly and with company. Everyone sits around and sips their coffee every once in a while, allowing the grounds to settle to the bottom between sips
Frequently Asked Questions
Which methods are the fastest?
To start off, obviously instant coffee is the fastest method. For some brands, you need is lukewarm water from the tap and a stirrer. You’re done in less than a minute. However, if you aren’t on that tight of a time crunch and can spare 5 minutes for your coffee, here are the methods to check out:
Overall, automatic machines (like drip brewers and espresso machines) are going to heat up and brew more coffee faster than almost any manual brewer. That said, you get what you pay for in these categories.
Look for SCAA certified drip coffee machines, which can brew 8 cups in 6 minutes, if you are looking for both speed and quality. Sure, a Keurig can pump out a cup in no time at all… but it will be weak and watery. For espresso machines, simply opting for a mid-range semi-automatic or super-automatic espresso machine will be perfect for getting a hot shot in well under 5 minutes.
On the manual side of things, you will always need to account for a few minutes (usually 2-4) for heating up your water on the stove (or in the microwave if you are feeling frisky). However, beyond that, the fastest method is the Aeropress.
Once you have hot water, an Aeropress really only takes about 60 seconds to get you a hot cup of coffee. Assuming you get your coffee grounds ready while that’s happening, you should be out the door, cup in hand, in about 5 minutes.
Which brew tools are the easiest to use?
Automatic drip brewers are essentially dummy-proof. With labeled buttons and everything, all you have to do is grind some beans and throw your coffee grounds into a filter.
However, if you are comfortable with putting in just a little extra effort, we have a few other recommendations:
Both the French press and Cold Brew method simply require a coarse grind, some steeping time, and a little straining. In fact, you can try either brew if you simply invest in a French Press, since that container works just as well as the mason jar.
With both methods, you can play around with the water to grounds ratio and you won’t ruin your coffee by not having things perfectly measured out.
Additionally, the Clever Dripper is specifically designed to make coffee brewing easy. Simply steep your coffee and drip your coffee straight into your mug– completely fuss-free. If you prefer something a little bit different, the Vietnamese Coffee press (Phin), works similarly to the Clever Dripper and is just as easy.
What method should you use for truly “superior” tasting coffee?
Honestly, this one mostly comes down to personal preference. While one person may revel in the crisp, clean taste of a pour-over coffee, another may call it thin and weak. On the other hand, you may enjoy the rich intensity of an unfiltered coffee while the person next to you can’t get past the slight grittiness.
Also, in some categories there are huge variations in quality dependent on the model you choose to buy. For example, investing in a $500+ espresso machine will undoubtedly get you better results than what you will get with one under $100. Similar logic can be applied to automatic drip brewers as well.
In general, as long as you are using a fresh roast and grind (as well as the correct grind size) you will be able to make potable coffee that is bound to genuinely suit someone’s taste. If it isn’t for you, continue experimenting until you find the right profile for you.
What is the healthiest way to brew coffee?
Black coffee, in general, has been purported to boost your immune system and metabolism, among a number of other health benefits. However, there are still some slight variances in what actually makes it into your coffee that are dependent on your brew method.
Recent studies have suggested that filtered coffee (ie. coffee methods that use a paper filter) may boast more health benefits than its unfiltered counterpart. Specifically, regular consumers of filtered coffee seemed to have lower mortality rates, especially in relation to cardiovascular events than non-consumers and unfiltered-consumers.
On another note, some people may have specific health concerns related to coffee, such as high acidity or caffeine levels. If you are concerned about acidity, going for immersion-style methods (like cold brew, french press, etc) is the healthier choice for you. Cold-brew is a good option if you are looking to control your caffeine intake.
So there you have it! Our five main categories of brewing coffee are espresso, drip, immersion, siphon, and stovetop. Here’s an easy run-down of what category to be looking into based on your lifestyle and coffee preferences:
- Espresso: Prefer an extra-strong kick to get you moving in the morning? This brew type specializes in coffee concentrates that are great served alone or under layers of decadent milk and foam.
- Drip: One of the most versatile categories. From totally hands-off automatic drip brewers to precise, demanding pour-over brewing, there’s something in here for everyone.
- Immersion: Best for those looking for zero-learning curve solutions to brewing coffee. It’s all coarse grind and steep time here.
- Siphon/Vacuum: Love to feel like you are performing a science experiment? This unique brew method is a fantastic option if you’re looking for something that will bring the adventure to your cup of coffee.
- Stovetop: This method always comes down to coffee grounds and hot water, with not much nonsense before, after, or in-between.
No matter how you make coffee, make sure to find joy in the coffee making! Hopefully, this handy guide can help you select the perfect method for your morning (or afternoon…or evening) cup of coffee.