We call it “making coffee” for a reason. When you have a bag of coffee beans, all you really have are the raw ingredients. It’s up to you to finish what Mother Nature and farmers have started, and the method you use to do that will fundamentally change the way your coffee turns out. The problem? There are different ways of making coffee, and each one produces different results. Do you know which brewing method is best for lighter, fruitier flavors and which method makes the least flavorful coffee? What’s the best water temperature for optimal coffee? What’s the best grind for the aeropress? In this first installment of Coffee Science, we’ll go into the pros and cons of five popular brewing methods, and by the end, you’ll know exactly how to craft the coffee you prefer. Let’s get started! FRENCH PRESS SUMMARY The French Press is among the most simple and effective brewing methods. It’s a quick process that doesn’t skimp on flavor and makes for a rich, dark brew. This method is used all over the world under various names (plunger coffee, anyone?), and its universal appeal is well deserved: it makes great coffee. TIME TO BREW 4 minutes OPTIMAL ROAST TYPE Medium – Dark Roast COFFEE GRIND LEVEL Coarse EASE OF BREWING Easy EASE OF CLEANING Easy ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT None PROS The French press is the perfect choice for everyday delicious coffee. It only takes four minutes, so even people who need coffee on the go can find time to make a great cup. Also, the french press doesn’t use filters or create waste (and if you want to get creative, find a green way to reuse your coffee grounds, such as compost). CONS You can only make so much coffee in a French press. You also have to boil the water separately, but that’s part of the fun. WHEN TO USE While a French press can be used on any roast type, it works well for medium to dark roasts. Since the grounds stay in contact with the water longer, there’s a much richer brew. And while you might think you can eyeball the measurements, the coffee to water brewing ratio is the difference between mediocre and great coffee. Measure your ingredients; you’ll be glad you did! Click here for our French Press brew guide AEROPRESS SUMMARY The Aeropress is a great option for any one who need to make a single cup of coffee, travelers, campers, and people who don’t have room for a lot of brew gear. TIME TO BREW 4 minutes OPTIMAL ROAST TYPE All Roast Types COFFEE GRIND LEVEL Fine EASE OF BREWING Easy EASE OF CLEANING Easy ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT None PROS The Aeropress is like a French press except it’s more portable. It’s easy to throw in your backpack when you head out for a camping weekend (or keep it your desk drawer if you can’t stand office coffee). The Aeropress method has the same environmental friendliness (as it only uses very small filter) and produces a great brew. The Aeropress also can make espresso! CONS Again, you’ll end up with only a small amount of coffee. You’ll also need to heat the water; a camp stove makes that easy. If you’ve only got a wood fire to work with, it might take a while to get some water boiling. But if you’re the kind of person who’s out camping, you probably won’t mind sitting around the fire in the mornings. WHEN TO USE Use an Aeropress when you want a hot brew and you don’t have all your gear or are traveling (read a complete guide to the aeropress and camping). No matter where you are in the world, you always need great coffee, and an Aeropress can make that happen. POUROVER SUMMARY A pourover is the best choice for a coffee chemist. Not only does the pourover setup look like more of an alchemist’s project, but this method reveals all the subtleties in the beans, drawing out more of the aromatics and flavors. You’ll want to pull out your coffee flavor wheel when you start using the pourover. TIME TO BREW 4 minutes OPTIMAL ROAST TYPE Light Coffee / Complex Flavors COFFEE GRIND LEVEL Fine – Medium EASE OF BREWING Easy EASE OF CLEANING Easy ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Minor PROS While it produces a finer cup of coffee, a pourover still doesn’t take much time. And if you have quality coffee beans, this is the best way to enjoy them. You won’t get a more complex or satisfying brew. CONS Unlike our first two methods, this one does require a filter. If you buy unbleached, biodegradable filters, the environmental impact will with negligible and the filter won’t affect the coffee’s flavor. WHEN TO USE Use a pourover when you have a lighter roast or coffee with fruitier notes and complex flavors. This method will leave the bitterness behind and just let you enjoy the results of your coffee experimentation. Click here for our Pourover brew guide DRIP COFFEE SUMMARY Drip coffee is the dive-bar of brewing methods: it’s obviously worse than many of the alternatives, but that and its convenience is part of the charm. You can make a perfectly acceptable cup of drip coffee, of course – and if you don’t have access to a stove or boiler, it might be your best option. TIME TO BREW 4 minutes OPTIMAL ROAST TYPE All types COFFEE GRIND LEVEL Fine – Medium EASE OF BREWING Easy EASE OF CLEANING Easy ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Minor PROS Drip coffee is convenient, and you can quickly make a lot of it. The machine heats the water for you and keeps the pot warm afterwards. If you’re just looking for some caffeine, this is the method for you. CONS If you’ve invested in quality coffee beans, you probably don’t want to put them through a drip coffee maker. You can’t control the heat of the water, and the parts of the machine are usually made of plastic, which you will definitely taste. Depending on your machine, you may also need to use filters. Also, the coffee might be sitting around for a while before you get to drink it. You’ll taste that, too. WHEN TO USE When you’re just looking for some energy, use the drip coffee method. It doesn’t treat the beans well, since it usually burns the flavor out of light roasts and only keeps the strongest characteristics of dark roasts. It’s absolutely the most convenient method, but we’d argue that the extra minute or two needed for other methods is well worth it. But we understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, too. COLD BREW SUMMARY The cold brew method is something people usually forget about, but it’s a great option for the summer months or when you want to use coffee in recipes. It requires more forethought, but you can’t get a better chilled coffee than cold brew. TIME TO BREW 12 hours OPTIMAL ROAST TYPE All types COFFEE GRIND LEVEL Fine – Medium EASE OF BREWING Easy EASE OF CLEANING Easy ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT None PROS The cold brew it pretty simple, and it beats iced coffee – your coffee won’t get watered down as the ice melts. It’s a refreshing way to get your caffeine when it’s hot outside. No environmental impacts here, either! CONS Cold brew takes a while – usually overnight, or sometimes longer, depending on your brew method (check out these cold brewing options). You’ll also need to strain the coffee when you’re ready to use it. WHEN TO USE You can use the cold brew whenever you want, but you can probably save it until after May or until you want to make some delicious coffee ice cream or other decadent drinks. Click here for a cold brewing guide Which brew method is your favorite? We’ve covered the five most popular brewing methods here, but which one is your favorite? Do you have any tried-and-true brewing tricks? Let us know in the comments! For more tips, read one of our favorite coffee brewing guides. Then go make some great coffee!