What is the best way to brew coffee? Well I’m afraid to say I’m sitting on the fence with this one. Each brew method produces a different taste so in my book they’re all good (well most of them). It’s like cooking an egg: fried, poached, scrambled, boiled; they all taste different.
Today, I’m going to focus on filter (sometimes called drip) and cafetiere (French press), as they are the two simplest (and cheapest) ways to brew coffee at home.
The cafetiere produces a rich full bodied cup in comparison to the filter method. With a cafetiere the grounds are steeped in hot water (like brewing tea) and this extracts more compounds from the coffee. Steeping extracts oils, which add a creamy/buttery rich flavour to the cup. With the filter method hardly any oils are present.
So what is body and what difference does it make to the taste? Well body refers to the feeling in your mouth. Filter coffee, with its lighter body, just coats the tongue as it gently slivers down the back of your throat. Whereas, the fuller bodied cafetiere, coats the whole of your mouth making the flavour far more enduring. A good analogy is water (with its light body) in comparison to milk (heavy bodied).
As a cafetiere extracts more compounds from coffee than a filter does, it means that there are much more flavours in the cup. All these flavours can become a little muddled or mixed by our taste receptors – not in a bad way. These flavours work in unison like an orchestra, but it’s harder to pick out individual instruments.
Filter coffee has less flavours so each flavour has more clarity; (carrying on my musical analogy) like a rock band, you can pick out the individual instruments – vocals, drums, guitars etc. So typically, filter coffee produces a cup that is simpler, yet has a more defined flavour.
Filter is also slightly sweeter than cafetiere coffee as it contains less caffeine – caffeine being a bitter substance.
There is no way of avoiding some sediment in your cup using a cafetiere. On a cafetiere, the holes in the mesh filter (on the plunger) are wide enough to allow partially dissolved coffee solids to pass through. Now most of these solids form what chemist call ‘colloids’. They remain suspended in the brew and add flavour and texture. Unfortunately, some solids sink and become sediment in the bottom of your cup.
Filter coffee produces a much cleaner cup as the holes are much much finer. Paper filters produce no sediment whatsoever and metal filters produce little or none at all.
And the Winner…
I told you I’m sitting on the fence (well almost)! They both produce different tastes but if I had to pick only one, then I’d choose the cafetiere. Filter is good first thing in the morning and after a big meal, as it’s less filling. But there’s something deeply satisfying with a cafetiere.