There are nearly infinite ways to influence the taste of coffee. From growing to drying to roasting to brewing, every step of the process affects the final cup. At home, the step you’re most in control of is brewing, so by finding and nailing your method, you can produce the coffee flavors you want.
First, it’s helpful to understand the science behind why brewing method (drip, espresso, French press, etc.) affects coffee’s taste so much. Each one is just a different way of mixing coffee and water right? True, but that’s where every little variation comes into play, from temperature to amount of coffee to the way the water interacts with the grounds.
At the foundation of every coffee brewing method is a process called “extraction.” Extraction is basically the way water pulls flavor, color, caffeine, and other molecules out of coffee grounds. This process is heavily influenced by water temperature and time — given the same amount of time in contact with the grounds, hotter water is going to give a more significant extraction than colder water, because the heat breaks down the particles faster. By playing with the balance of water temperature, amount of coffee, and time, you can drastically alter the way a coffee tastes, and you can find the perfect taste for you.
There are two big categories of coffee brewing, pourover and immersion. Pourover involves hot water being poured over grounds, like a drip coffee, a V60, or a Chemex. Immersion brewing is any method in which the coffee is being immersed in water for a period of time, such as French press, stovetop brewer, or cold brew.
Immersion and pourover brewing each exhibit wildly different flavor profiles due to the way the water comes in contact with the grounds. In pourover brewing, water moves over the coffee, extracting molecules, then passes through a filter. Pourover methods generally produce a “cleaner”-tasting, brighter coffee. In immersion brewing, like on a French press, the coffee grounds sit in the water, becoming completely immersed and saturated. This results in a fuller extraction, breaking down the grounds more to leave more flavor, color, and body in the final cup.
Okay, so a hot French press and cold brew are both considered immersion brewing, but they taste totally different. That’s where time and water temperature come into play. Because it involves hot water, brew time for a French press is only a couple of minutes. When making cold brew, because the water temperature is lower, the time must then be increased to yield a similar level of flavor and color extraction.
So what’s your favorite home-brewing method? If you’re ready go beyond the drip machine, try immersion brewing. You can make both hot coffee and cold brew in a French press. Versatile, plus easy clean up, it’s a win-win.
Written by Philly Coffee Writer, Kate Kelly