Life Cycle of Coffee; Brewing

Coffee Table?

You just got home. Finally purchased that 12oz package of beans that have been meticulously processed, shipped, roasted and packaged. Now what? Some say this is the most important step in achieving great coffee, but I believe otherwise. See, a vintner grows grapes, harvests them, ferments them, ages them, and bottles them. All you have to do at home is uncork and enjoy. Granted, I am avoiding decanting. But you can see how to get coffee in

to your mug, many more people are involved in the process. This means that there are that many more opportunities for everything to go wrong. Or if your optimistic like myself, each of those steps in the cycle are an opportunity for a craftsman to add quality. And here is your chance to bring out the quality in your coffee: brewing.

Brewing is the process of using a solvent, in this case water, and a solute, coffee, to produce a solution. This solution is what makes you wake you up in the morning and say “I’m glad to be alive, I get to experience coffee.”

There are innumerable ways to brew coffee but most fall into one of three categories: Full-immersion, filtered, pressurized.


Full-immersion refers to a process in which the total dose of ground coffee is in contact with the total volume of water used for the brew. In layman’s terms full immersion is steeping. This is probably the earliest form of brewing coffee, and still very common. In Arab nations, fine ground coffee is boiled in an Ibrik with sugar to make Turkish Coffee. It is characteristic of full-immersion coffee to have heavy body in the brew. Body refers to the weight or mouthfeel of the brew in our palate, and is heavy in full immersion partly because of suspended solids and oils.  In another full immersion method, the press pot (more commonly named French Press), the brew is made with coarser ground coffee. The press pot also uses pressure and a metal filter to strain out the coarser grounds. As you can see, the press pot falls into all three categories: filtered, full immersion, and pressurized. There are other methods that fall into more than one category like vacuum pots, siphon pots, the aeropress, the trifecta, and percolators.


As coffee entered Europe, Viennese drinkers started straining their boiled coffee to reduce bitternes. “Drip,” is the word we associate with filter coffee. In most cases filtered coffee is made by adding hot water to coffee in a filter that holds back the grounds. When using paper filters a great amount of diluted solids and oils, generally present in a full-immersion brew, are held back. Coffee brewed through paper filters result in a clear/reddish almost tea-like infusion. Filter coffee is great to showcase origin or the nuances of a bean. Filter coffee accentuates brightness and also sweetness. There is a lot of beautiful single cup equipment to brew filter coffee. From the legendary Chemex, the ever-popular Melitta, and the beautiful Hario many single cup methods are starting to become popular for filter coffee drinkers. A majority of filter coffee is still made through commercial and home drip brewers. One of the downsides to filter coffee is the flavor paper imparts on the final brew. To avoid this, people have sought out to create metal filters, like the K-ONE. Dont forget, a french press or vacuum pot are also filtered coffee!


The backbone of the current specialty coffee industry: espresso. Espresso is somewhat of a novelty. Dating to a little over a century ago, espresso was invented to make coffee quickly for a World Fair, hence the name: express. A shot of espresso is brewed in anywhere between 20 to 30 seconds, compared to 3 or 4 minutes for brewed coffee. You can see why in providing peoples daily dose of caffeine this has become the method of choice for coffee shops. Espresso is a beverage resulting from brewing a tamped puck of coffee (aprox 17-22g), through a metal filter basket, with water at 9 bars of pressure and 205F. If you give it some thought,  it’s also quite unnecessary. Espresso machines are pricy and difficult to maintain. Its like using a Ferrari to go to the corner store. But then again, it is also the base of the tastiest coffee & milk beverages; cappuccinos,  lattés, macchiatos, cortados, mochas, and so on.

Cold-Brewed Coffee

As Iced Coffee became popular so did cold brewing. Hot brewing lends itself for hot coffee in short amount of time. However, simply cooling or icing hot coffee can produce unpleasant results. Because of this, cold brewing requires longer brew times. There are several methods to brew cold coffee, but most involve using  cold or room temperature water, for a brew period of about 8-12 hours.

It seems that the specialty coffee industry’s goal with brewing is to produce an even extraction of all the grounds. It seems that all the methods available for brewing, dont seem to accomplish this consistently. The goal, in my opinion, is to produce a tasty cup of coffee, and this is possible with every method listed above. As you can imagine, brewing coffee can become quite scientific. But don’t get intimidated, you just have to be willing to drink your experiments! In the near future I will post brewing guides and recipes for several methods.

Brewing coffee for friends, family, or yourself can be quite pleasing. It is a part of daily routine for me and many others, and I hope it continues to be that way.


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