Coffee is many things: a morning eye-opener, an afternoon pick-me-up, an excuse to hang out with friends and a delightful cross-cultural social experience.
And, if you’re the kind of person who likes to really geek out, coffee is the ultimate hobby. Just think of all the hours you could while away online with other bean heads, obsessing over light vs. dark roasts, or the length of time one can store beans before somebody on the internet gets upset. More importantly, think of all the fun toys you’ll get to invest in—there are so many ways to brew coffee, and none of them are wrong: it all comes down to your personality.
So, assuming you’re already familiar with (and ready to move beyond) the ubiquitous auto-drip machine, just what kind of coffee maker are you?
If you’re thrifty and a minimalist…
Try a pour-over cone! This coffee brewing system is so elegant in its simplicity: put a filter and the ground coffee in your cone and pour near-boiling water over it. The hand-pour method gives you some control over the flavor (since you get to control the speed of the pour and, therefore, how long the water comes in contact with the coffee.)
Melitta makes cones of all sizes (from single-servers that sit right on your mug to 10-cup cones that brew into carafes) and this is the least-expensive way to get your brew on. You can also toss the small plastic cone into a drawer or some other out-of-the-way place, so it’s perfect for small kitchens! Read more about it here.
Try a cold brewer! The Toddy cold brewing system can take up to an entire pound of coffee in one go (so you don’t even have to bother with storing extra beans) and yields 6 cups of rich coffee concentrate, which can then be used to make iced coffee (try it with flavored coffee beans!), frappes or a traditional hot cup of joe depending on how you dilute it. It’s tasty and very smooth; cold extraction doesn’t pull out all those oils and acids that some people find too bitter.
This brewer will need to sit in your fridge overnight to work its magic, but after that it’s like having coffee on tap! Read more about it here.
Try a French press! There’s a reason this method has endured through the ages; for one thing (unlike other popular brewing methods) the oils from your coffee beans are retained and the grounds are completely saturated and steeped. Brew time may be a few minutes longer than you’re used to, but the pure, bold taste is worth it—this is the coffee that coffee would drink.
Try an Aeropress! This syringe-like coffee maker quickly produces a rich, clean cup similar to a French press (but unlike a traditional press, the Aeropress filters out those tiny particles that not everyone cares for.)
A creative community has sprung up around the Aeropress and developed various methods for using it (Google “Aeropress hacking” sometime) and there is even an annual Aeropress brewing competition that attracts hipsters from all over the world. Read more about it here.
Try a moka pot! No, not that kind of mocha—a moka pot is an Italian invention that brews coffee using a pressurized boiler and is sometimes referred to as a stove-top espresso maker (although that’s not technically accurate.) The stove heats the water in the bottom section of the pot, creating steam and pressure that forces the water through a tube and into another section of the pot, where the grounds are.
There is some fussiness concerning grind size, tamping and heating (make sure to read the directions) but when done well it makes a very balanced cup of coffee with a nice clean aftertaste. It’s also super cool-looking in an Art Deco way.
If you’re my mom…
Try a percolator! This style of maker isn’t exactly known for brewing quality coffee—it’s easy to boil your coffee, and boiled coffee ain’t great—but it can make a very bold cup that might even taste better than what you’ll get out of a typical auto-drip machine. (And an antique electric percolator will always have a warm place in my nostalgic ol’ heart.)
If you’re barely awake and don’t care how your coffee tastes as long as it’s in you, and fast…
Try a single-serve coffee maker! You know, a Keurig (or one of the similar machines that appeared after Keurig got popular). Single-serve makers—sometimes called coffee pod machines—are attractive in that they seem really convenient: they can make just one cup at a time and their little pods (or k-cups) come full of pre-ground, pre-measured coffee in a variety of flavors.
But you can already get a small, cheap auto-drip machine that doesn’t require you to buy proprietary pods—and pod coffee, despite its many varieties, is notoriously stale. There is the option of using a re-usable filter that you can fill with your own fresh grounds, although Keurig keeps trying to design machines that won’t take these. Most auto-drips don’t exactly make wonderful coffee (they often don’t get hot enough) but neither do pod machines—the descriptive term I hear used the most is “watery” or “weak”. At least with the auto-drip you can control the size of your grind and the amount of coffee used.
Billions of discarded coffee pods are also an environmental concern and, while they certainly are convenient, there’s not much time saved in dropping in a pod vs. dumping in a scoop. Read more about reusable filters here and here.
These are just a few of the popular methods for brewing coffee (if you’re interested in learning more try looking up vacuum pots, Technivorms, Chemex brewers or Turkish coffee recipes) but I hope it successfully illustrates this one point: coffee-making is versatile and can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be, and with so many ways to brew you’re guaranteed to find a way that perfectly suits you and your cup.