Coffee is one of the world’s favourite beverages, loved for centuries for its mood-boosting, energy-enhancing, health-recharging properties. Given coffee’s long history, the process of making a cup has become as varied and intriguing as the drink itself. Let’s take a closer look at how you can make your perfect coffee…
According to legend, Ethiopia was the first place to recognise coffee plants for their energising properties, after goat herders noticed the effect consuming coffee berries had on local wildlife. A local monk is said to have investigated, accidentally brewing the first cup of coffee in history.
The earliest evidence of coffee drinking in a format we would recognise dates to the Sufi monasteries in Yemen. By the 16th century, coffee’s popularity was spreading throughout the Middle East, India and northern Africa, before gaining traction across South East Asia, Europe and America.
Coffee houses sprang up, and the culture around coffee-drinking began to develop. Today, coffee is big business. Over 50 countries are involved in its production, and there are 25m coffee farmers working today – suggesting this is one beverage with serious staying power.
The definition of a truly great cup of coffee varies around the world. With the drink spanning centuries and continents, it’s understandable that our ideas of a ‘good coffee’ have changed over time, and still differ to this day depending on country, custom and personal preference.
However, a few different methods have sprung up as the definitive means of ensuring an excellent coffee fix. Whether you want to make an Americano, an Espresso, Cappuccino or a Macchiato - using ground coffee or freshly roasted coffee beans, it all starts with your equipment.
A French press is also sometimes known as a cafetiere or a coffee press. Designed by Italian designer Attilio Calimani in 1929, the French press has undergone several adaptations over the years but mainly consists of a cylindrical beaker, a metal/plastic lid, and a centralised plunger made from stainless steel or nylon mesh.
This method requires users to add coffee grounds to the beaker and freshly boiled water, which is brewed for around four minutes. The plunger is then pressed down, which forces the coffee grounds to be ‘pressed’ to the bottom of the beaker, leaving the coffee ready to pour.
Risks with use of the French press include a bitter taste if the coffee is left brewing too long, but to some tastes, this could result in a truly delicious cup of coffee. If not, the result can be sweetened using sugar, honey or any number of artificial sweeteners, or left as a strong, flavourful espresso-style treat.
Drip filter coffee might evoke images of classic American diners, but coffee brewed in this way is also central to Japanese café culture, and has great significance all around the coffee-drinking world. Increasingly replacing the percolator since the 1970s, in the US, a pot of drip-filter coffee will frequently be brewed and left on a hotplate for hours - which can result in a less-than-satisfactory strength and taste after a certain period.
However, the basic principles of drip-filter coffee are simple enough and can lead to a tasty mug whether ordered in a coffee shop or prepared at home. A great filter coffee maker will allow you to keep your coffee warm for a selected amount of time – many models even come with timers attached, so you can set everything up the night before and wake to your favourite brew as an instant pick-me-up.
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This decidedly DIY coffee-making method is straightforward and simple, and increasingly trendy in the latest coffee shops and restaurants. The overall taste will be like that of a drip-filter coffee - but this way instead of leaving it all up to a machine, you’re fully engaged in the act of making your cuppa.
This is very appealing to true coffee aficionados and results in a nuanced and flavoursome coffee prepared using a few simple tools. To make a great pour-over coffee, grind 3 teaspoons of your chosen coffee beans. For an aromatic, rich cup, bring around 20 ounces of water to the boil and place a coffee filter over your favourite cup or coffee mug.
Place the coffee in the filter, and slowly pour your water over the beans, starting from the outside of the screen inwards. Allow around 2 minutes for a clean, light-bodied coffee, and 3-4 minutes for a more luxurious taste.
Cold brew coffee is another coffee trend which continues to grow and is particularly well-suited to the warmer months or as a caffeine fix which refreshes as well as revives. Not to be confused with iced coffee, cold brewing is a centuries-old technique currently experiencing something of a renaissance – and offers a new sweetness and flavour profile to coffee connoisseurs.
The finest cold brew coffee uses coarsely ground beans and places them in water (a litre per 180g). The container is then covered with clingfilm and stored either in the fridge or at room temperature for around 15-16 hours. Agitating the container a few times during this brewing time helps ensure the mix is rich and flavourful.
When the time is right, double filter the coffee to ensure you strain all the coffee grounds; and mix with 50% water to avoid too overwhelming a coffee-hit before serving.
The Aeropress is durable and simplistic; invented by engineer Alan Alder, the contraption cuts out a lot of the fuzz from coffee-making – but this could make it less appealing for true coffee fanatics who enjoy the process of making coffee as much as the drink itself.
In contrast to drip coffee makers, an Aeropress uses air pressure instead of gravity to help prepare a superb cup of coffee. You’ll still need a coffee bean grinder and to ensure an excellent Barista coffee experience, it’s always best to opt for organic or gourmet coffee, guaranteeing perfect results every time.
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Seán Farrell – Founder, Chateau Rouge