How to Make Drip Coffee – Coffee Brewing Techniques

Drip Coffee MachineI learned how to make drip coffee even before I started drinking it. I always loved the gatherings around a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I was still a kid, and weren’t allowed to drink it, but I was around when my mom brewed it. Years later, when coffee became a habit, I perfected my technique, and got very serious about it. The truth is that many people love coffee, and what used to be a luxury in the past, is now a necessity.

It’s not only the coffee break at work, when you get to chat with your coworkers or the visit at the local coffee shop for an espresso with your friends. Coffee is society’s fuel, and drive creativity and productivity. We need it.

Just because it’s a necessity doesn’t mean it has to be bad, not even average. Don’t settle with average coffee, and if the neighborhood coffee shop gives you average coffee, start making your own at home. I personally never understood people who wake up in the morning, drive to Starbucks, or Dunkin Donuts to buy a cup of coffee and they get back home. Sure, I understand if you are in a hurry, and you buy a cup on your way to work. It makes sense. But to get out of the house to buy it, I don’t understand it. You can make that coffee in no time at home, and more importantly you can make a better coffee than the coffee shop. And you will save money. Actually I do understand the reason. I talked once to a coworker of my wife. And her reasoning was that she didn’t feel confident in her coffee making skills. She said she never makes a good coffee. I offered to help, and next day, I sent her through my wife a brief written introduction into how to make great coffee. From that day her coffee confidence was 100%. She still goes with her friends to the coffee shop to enjoy a latte, but she can brew a pot of coffee confidently now.

What Is Drip Coffee

Drip coffee machine
Wigomat – the first drip coffee machine in the world Image by www.acosta.eu via Wikimedia Commons

Drip coffee brewing is a coffee making method that requires passing hot water through ground roasted coffee beans. The grounds are enclosed into a filter, so that the seeping water dissolves soluble solids, coffee oils, and other compounds. The liquid is dripping in a pot, or a cup.

Based on this description, we can see at least two very popular drip brewing techniques: pour-over, (with a cone), and drip coffee machine brewing. The original drip coffee was the manual brewing, what we now know as the pour-over method, (manual drip, or hand drip). However, the hand drip was never as popular, as it is now. Before 1954 boiling coffee was the most used brewing method, but it wasn’t too efficient, and coffee wasn’t that great anyway. This is why the year 1954 is very important in the history of drip coffee. That year was created the first electric drip coffee maker, the Wigomat. Wigomat is the creation of the German inventor Gottlob Widmann and it was everything that coffee lover of that time needed, convenience, great coffee, and reliability.

Manual Drip vs. Automatic Drip

Drip Coffee Maker
Photo by Austin Calhoon via Wikimedia

When choosing between manual and automatic drip we need to take in consideration all the advantages and disadvantages of both methods. As a general rule, automatic drip coffee makers are chosen for their convenience, and for being able to brew fast for many people. On the other hand, manual drip is great for controlling the brewing process, and refining it to the finest details to suit your taste. Generally, coffee machines have fewer options to tweak various brewing parameters. Using a hand dripper gives you the control over all brewing steps, from water temperature, to grind size, and steeping time.

Automatic Drip Machines

  • Very convenient; you put water and coffee grounds, and press a button
  • You can make coffee for 6 people and more.
  • There is no need to sit beside the machine, once you started it
  • You can’t brew just one cup
  • Really good drip coffee machines are expensive;
  • Bonavita, Technivorm and Behmor Brazen are some of the best machines.

Pour over brewerManual Drip (Pour Over)

  • You can control the brewing to the last details, and get the best cup of coffee.
  • Fresh coffee when you needed, truly single serve
  • You can brew more than one cup with some devices
  • On the other hand it does require a bit of leg work to brew a cup
  • Not really the best choice in busy offices
  • The price for a manual dripper is decent, and you get results even with cheap plastic devices

How to Make Drip Coffee – The Complete Guide

According to SCAA, (The Specialty Coffee Association of America), the important things when brewing coffee with an automatic dripper are these:

  • Coffee to water ratio 55 grams to 1 Liter of water.
  • Water brewing temperature between 197.6 °F and 204.8 °F
  • Brewing time 4 to 8 minutes
  • Consistency of the brew
  • A good carafe and temperature control after brewing

I prepared a list with important brewing factors when you make drip coffee. The list might look a little overwhelming at first, and it might discourage the beginner. However, it’s not that hard after the first two pots. Even if the list looks scary, some of the items are common sense, and some of the instructions are just very easy to follow, you just need the knowledge.

Coffee taste is not all that simple to rate and judge. There are objective factors, when we think we like a cup of joe, but there are also subjective ones. The objective factors are things like water, coffee quality, the state of the equipment. The subjective factors are grind size, roast type, coffee/water ratio, and brewing temperature. We will stick with the most common brewing standards in North America, but remember, just because is served in every coffee shop in America, doesn’t mean it’s the best coffee. We’ll come back towards the end of the section with ways to brew it to perfection.

How to Make Drip Coffee – Instructional Video

Water

Bottled WaterWith drip coffee, and with any other type of brewing,  the water is essential. It makes up 99% of your caffeinated beverage, at the end of the day. You should make sure that you’re using good tasting water. Bad tasting water will result in bad tasting coffee.

For areas where tap water is not good, (too much chlorine, or too much minerals), a great option is to use bottled spring water. Filtered water is another great option, but make sure you use a good filter that doesn’t strip all the minerals, but removes chlorine and all other bad compounds in tap water. Distilled water sounds tempting, there are no minerals in distilled water so no bad compounds to be transferred in your  coffee. However, distilled water is not that great for coffee. Minerals in water, im the right amount, make your coffee taste great. Coffee brewed with distilled water will be flat.

Grind Size

Although not as crucial as with other brewing methods, drip coffee still calls for the right grind size. If you brew with a mesh filter, the grind size and uniformity are more important than when using a paper filter. A paper filter is more forgiving with coffee dust, but a mesh filter will let all that dust pass through.

Any average burr grinder will be clearly marked for grind sizes and you can adjust it accordingly. Medium grind is usually the appropriate size for drip coffee. That is in between coarse, (French press), and fine, (espresso).

With a finer grind the steeping process will be longer, whereas with a coarser grind, the water will seep faster through the grounds. A grind too fine could cause your coffee to be over-extracted, (bitter notes, and too strong). On the other hand, coarse grounds will cause your drink to be under-extracted, (read weak). In other words, the grind size will affect the brewing time. If you see coffee passing through the grounds too fast, grind it finer.

The grind size affects the extraction in another way tough. A fine grind will be easier to dissolute, hence more soluble solids will pass through the filter. With coarser grinds, the soluble flavors are harder to dissolve. This geeky coffee study proved what coffee aficionados knew all along.

Coffee Grinder

Coffee GrinderI never liked the big cans of pre-ground coffee at the office, and many of my coworkers found the coffee from the commercial Bunn dripper decent. The reality is that the dripper was great, but the pre-ground coffee was only decent in the first day after opening the can. The second day coffee was stale, and by the third day I couldn’t drink it  anymore. At home though, pre-ground coffee will sit in the pantry for weeks, because there are only a few people drinking it.

The only way to get great coffee at home is to buy beans and grind them at home. Or to buy coffee every day and grind it in the store. Not really convenient though.

Ground coffee loses its aromatic oils within minutes. Whole beans can be stored in the pantry for weeks, depending on the roast. This is the reason why you should have a decent burr grinder at home and grind right before brewing.

A good grinder will ensure an uniform size of the grounds, avoiding the dust and boulders grind. Burr grinders are a great solution. A decent one runs around 70-80$. Blade grinders are greatly priced, but unfortunately they provide a very uneven grind. This in turn will get you some sludge in the final cup. Very cheap burr grinders are just that, cheap. I tested a couple of brands, and they were worse than blade mills.

Brewing Temperature

thermometerAs like with any other type of brewing method, the brewing temperature is essential for good drip coffee. No matter the brewing technique you choose, the optimal brewing temperature is around 195°-205° Fahrenheit.

If you’re brewing with a coffee machine, you can’t really control the water temperature and you’re left just hoping that machine will get the temperature right. Some do, but the majority don’t. How do you know which coffee machine delivers the perfectly heated water, for the perfect brew? SCAA has a program for testing and certifying coffee machines. There are few great options on the SCAA list of certified brewers, such as Bonavita or Technivorm Moccamaster, or Bunn Phase Brew. An SCAA certified coffee machine will be a little more expensive than your regular, run off the mill brewer. However, if you want great coffee with an electric drip brewer, an SCAA coffee machine is the right choice. The average coffee machine is made cheaply, with cheap components, and no temperature control functionality.

Cuisinart Kettle The controls 1If you make coffee using a pour-over device, you have complete control over the brewing temperature. The best way to control the water temperature is to use a variable temperature electric kettle. When using the electric kettle, you should adjust the water temperature at 205° Fahrenheit. This way, when you pour it, the temperature will be one or two degrees lower, which is exactly what you want. If an electric kettle is out of your budget, a thermometer with a regular kettle should do the trick. Bring the water to boil and let it cool down until the desired temperature. Take temperature measurements from time to time to ensure water doesn’t  cool off too much. Use a timer to see how long it takes for the water to reach the desired temperature. Next time approximate using your initial measurements. Note that the approximation works for similar room temperature, and it’s not very precise anyway.

The coffee machine is probably one of the most important factors when brewing auto drip. We buy cheap coffeemakers thinking that we are saving money. Yes, I agree that expensive equipment doesn’t guarantee quality. However, cheap equipment is made with poor materials, and with the intent on saving money. The brewing parameters are not the major concern. What is interesting though, is that some coffee makers perform great for the first few months, and then the quality drops dramatically. The heating element cannot ensure the right brewing temperature, and coffee is under extracted. Two of the best coffee makers on the North American market are the Moccamaster from Technivorm, and Bonavita. Here is an article comparing the two machines.

Coffee to Water Ratio for Drip (Brewing Ratio)

Coffee to water ratio
Chart created by Black Bear Coffee

The SCAA coffee to water golden ratio is 55 grams of coffee to 1 liter of water. This means around 10 tablespoons of ground coffee to 1 quart of water. To make it even easier, it’s about 8 tablespoons of coffee to each three cups of water, or two tablespoons to 6 fluid ounces. I always say, try this ratio first, as a starting point, and then, depending on your own preferences, add or cut half a tablespoon. This chart on Black Bear Coffee’s website goes in depth on coffee brewing ratios. This other brewing ratio chart shows you in a geeky way what most Americans prefer in terms of coffee, and how much coffee and water to use. The chart was compiled in the 1950s by Coffee Brewing Institute, based on the research of Prof E. E. Lockhart at MIT.

Very important:
With drip coffee machines, the larger quantity of coffee you’re brewing in a single batch, the less coffee you need. Explanation in the next section.

Very Important:
If you grind coarser, you will need a bit more coffee per brew, and if you grind finer, you will need less coffee. Obviously, grinding too fine will ruin you coffee. Find the right grind by trial and error.

Brewing Time

Brewing time is also important when making coffee. According to SCAA, the brewing time should be between 4 and 8 minutes. When timing the dripping, whether you use a manual dripper or an electric coffee maker, is to find the right combination between water flow, grind size, filter flow rate, and valve flow rate. If coffee is ground too coarsely, water will pass through too fast, and coffee will be under-extracted. A very fine grind might cause over-extraction, if the water temperature is too high. There are automatic coffee machines that allow you to stop the flow during brewing. This way you can compensate for coarser grinds. Some manual drippers also have drip stoppers. The problem with most automatic machines is that there is no easy way to partially restrict the flow. This means the only way to control the brewing time is by using more compact filters, or grinding finer. Both of the options are just compromises, not the best solution. Another problem with restricting the flow, is that you have to sit by the coffee maker, to ensure coffee doesn’t overflow. In busy environments, where automatic coffee machine are typically used, people can’t baby sit the coffee maker.

Typically, for a stronger coffee you will need to brew longer, whereas a milder coffee you will adjust the brewing time around 4 to 5 minutes.

Funny Video on How to Make Coffee