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On choosing a manual coffee brewer

September 09, 2013

In this age of convenience and automation, with coffee machines increasing in sophistication, we’ve seen a real resurgence of interest in a countervailing approach, namely manual brewing. Handcrafted coffee satisfies on many levels and can be as simple or elaborately choreographed as you’d like it to be. Whether brewing by the cup or for two or more, there’s no shortage of methods available to today’s home barista. We invite you to read along with us as we step through our curated list of manual brewing options, highlighting their pros and cons.





A quick note about accessories is in order before moving on, though. First, while it’s true that brewed coffee is somewhat less particular than espresso with respect to grind, you should absolutely use the best grinder you can afford. In fact, non-espresso grind quality—as indicated by the amount of fine coffee particles produced along with those of the desired size—will be especially apparent if you use a metal filter. Second, please keep in mind that making a small batch of coffee is different from making a large batch. Small batches are more sensitive to variability of the amount of coffee and water used, as well as brew time. While not required by any means, a kitchen scale and timer may prove invaluable to you as consistency-improving tools on your manual brewing journey.





We make use of three broad categories in discussing brewers here:



  1. Immersion: methods centered around a simple steep (including French press, Aeropress, and the Clever Coffee Dripper)
  2. Pour-over
  3. Siphon.


The chart and discussion below address a number of factors that might influence your purchasing decisions: budget, ease of use, speed, cup quality, and filter options.





Immersion



When dividing manual brew methods into categories, you have to look at how the coffee grounds interact with the hot water. Are the grounds in full contact with water for an extended period of time or is the water constantly flowing into and out of the grounds? In the immersion method, grounds are in full contact for a certain amount of time. There is usually minimal movement of water, except for the initial pour and the ending drain. Immersion methods are often favored for their taste profile: round bodies, a little grittiness, and chocolate tones. The longer you steep the grounds for, the more the flavor profile will become apparent. If you steep for too long, however, the coffee can end up being burnt-tasting and all the lighter tones (like floral citrus) will have disappeared.





The French press method is one of the most commonly recognized specialty brew devices on the market. Its classical shape hasn’t changed much through history. There are two parts: the carafe, usually made of glass, and the plunger, usually ending with a metal filter. For the French press, you use a coarser grind, add hot water, wait a few minutes, and then push the plunger down. The resulting cup is full of flavor, body, and oils, because the metal filter allows those particles through.





A newer addition to the market is the Clever coffee dripper. The Clever is a nice in-between step from the French press to a pourover. It essentially uses the same concept as the French press, but incorporates a filter for easy clean up. Because the grounds are still in full contact with water during the entire brew time, you still obtain the full body that many French press lovers enjoy. However, the use of the filter will remove the grittiness that some have a distaste for. Once the brew time is done, you set the Clever on top of a mug or carafe and the locking mechanism releases the coffee to drain from the bottom. Clean up is as quick as removing the filter and doing a rinse through the brewer.





The Aeropress is a single-cup device that has been lauded for its travel uses. It’s compact, makes coffee quickly, and has even spurned the creation of world championships in its name. Durable plastic materials make the brewer difficult to break and the simplicity of the parts make it easy to customize to your taste preferences. The Aeropress comes with a paper filter, but metal filters are also sold if you prefer a deeper taste to your coffee.







Pour over



The concept behind the pour over consists of hot water being poured over a bed of coffee grounds. The water is constantly flowing through the coffee grounds for continual extraction. There are many types of pour overs on the market today and new ones are often being invented. Cloth or paper filters can be used depending on your taste profile preference.





Among the pour overs we sell on Coffee Kind are: V60, Beehouse, sock pot, and the Chemex. Both the V60 and Beehouse operate with the same concept; the key differences between the two are shape and dripper hole size. The V60 is conical in shape with a large bottom hole while the Beehouse dripper has two flat sides and two smaller bottom holes. These are both fast brew methods with a cleaner taste that can highlight fruiter coffees.





The sock pot and Chemex skew toward the immersion side of the manual scale, because the amount of time water is in contact with coffee is more prolonged. The sock pot employs a cloth filter that allows for a slower drip time. The Chemex is often a favored brew method for the distinctive clarity in the cup. Thick paper filters or a metal KONE can adjust the cleanliness of the coffee.







Siphon



Finally, we have the siphon, in its own category. The siphon can be manipulated in many ways. At its best, the use of a cloth or paper filter can pull out the lighter notes of a delicate coffee. If not used correctly, the coffee can become muddled and burnt. As with other manual brew methods, there are many variables you can control in the siphon, including steep time and temperature.





















































Manual type



Ease of use



Price



Pros



Cons



French press



Easy



$15+



Easy to use



Grittiness can be a deterrent in drinking coffee



Clever



Easy



$20



Easy to use, produces a clean cup, can be used as a pour over



Can still produce a fuller body than preferred



Aeropress



Average



$25.95



Travel-friendly, many ways to customize





V60



Average



$20+



Universally accepted brew device





Bee house



Average



$17



Alternative to V60, easy control





Sock pot



Average



$24.05



Uses cloth filter





Chemex



Average



$36.95



Distinctive clean coffee



Filters out heavier notes of coffee



Siphon



Challenging



$45.65+



Produces a clean, complex cup



Easy to mess up the process






Lastly, note that we offer a series of photographic, method-specific manual brewing guides for your convenience. Here’s to good coffee made with care!






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