Updated 5/03/2023 by: Christian Hall
The world of coffee can be intimidating for newcomers. With a range of different brewing methods, coffee brands, and bean roasts, brewing coffee at home can, at times, feel unapproachable.
Considering the recent surge of specialty coffee brands on the market, navigating the terminology (and often high price tag) of coffee beans and brewers to find the right fit for you is more difficult than ever.
The title of this article is “Why Manually Brew Coffee,” because where some opt for an electric, auto-drip coffee machine, others choose to brew their coffee by hand. There are pros and cons to both, and oftentimes it just comes down to preference and practicality, but we want to explore why manually brewing coffee, by hand, can be a great option for those looking to dive into the coffee world.
While the science of brewing coffee can be an incredibly complex and time-consuming process, for the purposes of your average coffee drinker, we will break down the key components of the coffee bean and brewing process that will help you brew the perfect cup of coffee for you!
Photo by Rizky Subagja on Unsplash
Coffee beans are the heart and soul of your coffee, and choosing the right beans can unlock a world of delicious and exciting flavors. Let’s break down some of the language you’ll likely see when looking at a bag of coffee beans.
We begin with the coffee species. There are two main species of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are generally considered to be higher quality and have a more complex and nuanced flavor profile, while Robusta beans are typically less expensive and have a stronger, more bitter taste.
Now to the region the coffee is grown. From the high-altitude regions of Central and South America to the lush forests of Africa and Asia, coffee beans are grown in a wide range of environments that impart unique characteristics and flavors. Most popular among these is Central America, including countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica. According to an article by Halo Coffee, “Central [American] coffee beans as a whole are exceptionally well-balanced, medium-bodied, and mild. They have a medium acidity and a clean, bright taste” as well.
South American producers, like Brazil and Colombia, produce nearly 50% of the coffee beans enjoyed in the U.S. Countries in South Asia, like Vietnam, India, and Indonesia, and Central Africa, like Ethiopia and Uganda, also produce excellent beans known for their nutty and fruity flavor profiles (respectively). By trying beans sourced from different regions and countries, you can discover an array of coffee beans that you may not have known existed!
Next we have the processing method. When coffee beans are farmed, they are picked off of a coffee tree as bright red or yellow coffee cherries. These cherries are then processed in one of three ways: natural, semi-washed, or washed. Once the beans are processed they are dried, milled, and sent to be roasted at a roastery. When a coffee bean is washed, the most common processing method for coffee beans, the coffee cherry is removed from the bean completely then the bean is soaked in water for 24 to 36 hours, ensuring the fruit residue is “washed” from the bean entirely. When a bean is semi-washed (also known as “honey”), the cherry is removed from the bean, but (unliked washed coffee) is then dried in the sun, leaving a fruity residue on the bean and giving semi-washed coffee a subtle floral quality to it. If a bean is natural, it means the coffee is dried with the fruit still on the bean, giving the coffee a strong, sweet flavor.
Finally we have the roast. There are three main coffee roasts: light, medium, and dark. The roast of a coffee bean simply indicates how long a bean was roasted and the temperature it was roasted at. Light roast beans, for example, are roasted for less time and at a lower heat than medium and dark roast beans. This makes light roast beans more caffeinated and herbal than their darker counterparts, as they maintain more of the beans natural, fruity qualities. The darker the roast, the richer the coffee. Hence why light roasts tend to have notes of flower, cherry, and citrus, and dark roasts normally have notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts.
By taking the time to explore the wide spectrum of coffee beans, you’re sure to find a bean, roast, or region that’s right for you!
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Brewing coffee is a relatively straightforward process. On a basic level, you’re simply steeping ground coffee beans in hot water to extract their flavors and aromas. However, the nuances of the brewing process can greatly affect the taste and quality of the final product.
The process of brewing coffee involves adding ground coffee to a filter or brewing device, adding hot water, and allowing the coffee to steep for a certain amount of time - the specific amounts of time, water, and coffee vary depending on the brewing method you’re using. The hot water interacts with the coffee grounds to extract soluble compounds like caffeine - everyone’s favorite motivator.
Within these steps, there are several factors that can affect the brewing process and the resulting cup of coffee. For example, the grind size of the coffee beans can greatly affect the rate at which water flows through the grounds, which in turn affects the strength and flavor of the coffee. The water temperature and brew time can also significantly impact the taste of your coffee.
By experimenting with different brewing techniques and adjusting each of these factors, you can find a brewing method to suit your taste preferences and schedule.
When it comes to selecting your coffee beans, there are countless brands and roasters to choose from. Some of the most popular brands include well-known names like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, while others are smaller, independent roasters that specialize in high-quality, artisanal coffee.
Commonwealth Joe, for example, is an award-winning, independent coffee roaster based in the DC Metro area. With a passion for specialty coffee and a wide range of roasts and flavor notes to choose from, CWJ is a great option for someone looking to try specialty coffee for themselves.
And while Commonwealth Joe ships their coffee nationwide, the options for local specialty coffee roasters have never been larger, so explore some roasters near you and browse their coffee selection!
Commonwealth Joe's monthly coffee subscription is a great way to sample beans and roasts from all over the world! Try it for yourself here.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Finally, we arrive at the brewing method. When it comes to brewing coffee, there are a variety of devices and methods available to choose from. Whether you prefer the convenience of an automatic drip coffee maker or the precision of a manual pour-over device, there is a brewer out there that’s sure to fit your needs.
One of the most popular brewing methods is the automatic drip coffee maker. These machines use a heating element to heat water, which is then dripped over ground coffee beans in a filter basket. Drip coffee machines are easy to use, fast, and perfect for making larger quantities of coffee. However, these devices offer less control over the brewing process and can produce a less nuanced cup of coffee compared to more manual methods.
If you prefer a more hands-on approach to brewing coffee, a manual pour-over device such as the Chemex or Hario V60 might be the perfect choice for you. These devices allow you to control every aspect of the brewing process, from the water temperature to the grind size and water-to-coffee ratio. The result is a more nuanced and complex cup of coffee that highlights the unique characteristics of your coffee beans.
Another popular manual brewing method is the French press, which involves immersing ground coffee beans in hot water and using a plunger to separate the grounds from the liquid. This method produces a rich and full-bodied cup of coffee that is perfect for those who prefer a stronger and bolder flavor.
For those who want to take their coffee brewing to the next level, there are a variety of other brewing methods to choose from. The AeroPress, for example, is a unique device that uses air pressure to extract the flavors from your coffee beans, producing a smooth and well-balanced cup of coffee.
Another popular brewing method is the Moka pot, which uses steam pressure to extract the flavors from your coffee beans. This method produces a strong and flavorful cup of coffee that is perfect for those who prefer a bolder and more robust taste.
So, while auto-drip coffee machines are often more practical, and quicker than manual brewing methods, if you’re looking to enjoy the subtleties of the coffee beans you select, manual brewing methods, like pour-over, french-press, and aeropress are all great options. For those looking to make a cup of coffee that highlights the tasting notes promised on your coffee bean packaging, manual brewing may be the brew for you.
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Brew How You Brew
At Commonwealth Joe, we believe that the key to a great cup of coffee is the quality of your beans and the care that you put into the brew. Starting with specialty coffee you believe in and a brewing process that works for you is a great way to learn more about the coffee you’re drinking, and the coffee world as whole.
So, whether you’re a fan of natural light-roast coffee brewed in your Chemex, or washed dark-roast beans made in your drip coffee pot, brew what works for you!
Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters is a DMV based coffee roaster, specializing in specialty hot coffee and award-winning cold brew. Interested in trying our wide selection of coffee beans? Check out our coffee catalog, here. Interested in trying our coffee or cold brew in your office? Chat with our team today to learn more.