Somewhat off topic for our Nespresso Guide but there’s so much confusion and lack of knowledge about the various machines and devices that can brew coffee these days that we thought of writing a quick breakdown of them all, and for what they are best used for.
A glass brewing machine that looks like an hourglass carafe, usually with a wooden or cork collar and leather handle in the middle. Constructed in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm of chemically inert, high temperature resistant glass, it does not absorb odours, using the chemical principles of proper brewing.
Its principle is percolation: pouring hot water over coffee through a filter, usually of paper but not only. The resulting brew goes in the lower part of the Chemex, ready to be poured in your cup. Filters for brewing coffee in Chemex are unbleached and slightly thicker than those used in overflow machines – an average of 20-30 percent. As a result, the coffee is brewed more slowly and has a more pronounced aroma. Coffee fats stop in the filter, resulting in a clear, aromatic and delicate coffee
One of its advantages is the beauty: it appeared in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as one of the 100 best designed objects of contemporary applied art. The other is the price: 30-40€ are more than enough to bring a basic model home.
It is definitely a brewing method for those who prefer light roasts, more nuanced, less bitter and oily, as those components either are blocked by the paper filter or haven’t the time to go in the water and end up in the final cup. It does not produce foam and thus is not an espresso maker in any way.
The method of brewing coffee in a dripper is similar to that used with Chemex, although a completely different taste is obtained. Dripper comes in the form of porcelain, glass, plastic or metal two piece, one above where there’s the filter and the water and coffee mix, and the lower one that collects the coffee. It can be purchased in a version with a reusable filter or with paper filters. The most popular model is the drio Hario V60, the Japanese brand Hario Glass Corporation, existing on the market since 1921.
Whereas the Chemex is usually big, 400-500ml in coffee content or above, the dripper is smaller, rarely reaching above 700ml, more often just 2-300ml. It is thought for 1-2 cups of coffee. If you often drink more or brew for the whole family at once, a Chemex is more handy.
Due to the metal filter usage, the coffee from a dripper is slightly stronger than with a Chemex. If a similar taste is desired instead, a paper filter is better. In general both methods are meant not to be bitter and to make shine all the flavours of the coffee beans. A more tea-like experience, wholly different than the one to be had with a Nespresso machine.
In appearance resembling a plastic syringe, it consists of an acrylic tube in which the coffee is placed, from the piston which is squeezed out of it, and filter strainers and agitators. The history of aeropress dates back to just 2005, so it is the youngest of the devices in this list.
Again, a paper filter is needed for the aeropress too. Coffee brewed in an aeropress allows you to extract from it a whole range of flavors – that’s what it’s all about. Still the final cup will result in a slightly stronger drink than a Chemex or Dripper, all other factors being equal. Some managed to push through the Aeropress with strength enough to create a resemblance of a foam but far from espresso-like levels.
One of the most arcane looking devices to brew at home, the Siphon uses the laws of physics to brew coffee. When preparing the coffee in the siphon, start by heating the water in the lower tank, from where – thanks to the pressure created – it gets into the dish placed on the top. That’s where we put a measured amount of coffee and, without stirring, but only allowing coffee to sink, we measure the brewing time. Depending on the siphon and preferences, this time ranges from one to two minutes. After this time, the burner switches off, thanks to which the brewed coffee starts to flow into the lower container. All that remains is to savour the aromatic aroma and taste of freshly prepared coffee.
The Siphon may produce 2 to 5 cups of coffee, depending on the shape of it. Another method for light roasted beans, it will highlight the mellower notes of those coffees. It is steeper in price, as one will easily set you back 100€ at least, and up to three times that for the most sophisticated models.
One of the cheapest methods ever to brew coffee, it may cost as little as 10€, the French Press is similar in functioning to the Aeropress but it is the materials that are different. Whereas the Aeropress is often of plastic and uses paper filters, the French Press is commonly of glass and with a metal filter, to be washed after use. The principle is similar though, coffee stays in the hot water for a given amount of time depending on how strong it is desired and then the filter is pushed down to separate the liquid from the solid coffee.
The result is usually more on the bitter, strong, full-bodied side than the other methods. For lovers of dark roasts, of strong espressos and used to prefer a heavier body in their cups, the French Press may be preferable to all the previous methods. Being it also so cheap it is worth buying to have a go and see if it can be worth using it instead of opting for much more expensive devices.
Similar in the end result with the French Press, the functioning principle is wholly different. It uses the power of steam to bring hot water from the lower part of the pot through the filter where the coffee is, to end up in the upper part. Then it can be easily poured in the cup.
The Moka is extremely popular in Italy, where it was invented, and in many Mediterranean countries, where versions of it like the “neapolitan pot” or the “turkish pot” are found. They have all their small differences and idiosyncrasies but they are unite by the result, a strong, dark, suited for 2-6 persons, cup of coffee. It is the closest method to get an espresso above them all, albeit it may be easier to obtain a foam with a French Press by the use of its metal filter. With the Moka Pot it is usually no foam or just a bit.