How Coffee is Made

From seed to sip, a lot goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee. There are many factors such as growing variables, processing methods, and roasting that influence the taste of a brew.

After harvesting, the cherries are either dried in the sun or by using mechanical dryers. This is done to prevent spoilage and develop the desirable flavors.

Instant Coffee: Instantaneous Brewing

All instant coffee starts out as roasted, ground and brewed whole bean coffee. From there, however, it goes through several processing steps to become the convenient powder or granules that consumers mix with water.

A version of this coffee was first produced in cake form for Union soldiers during the Civil War, but a more successful and stable process wasn’t developed until 1901 by Japanese chemist Satori Kato. George Constant Washington then improved upon Kato’s technique, establishing the earliest manufacturing plant.

The most common method of making instant coffee involves spraying liquid coffee extract as a fine mist into hot and dry air. As the droplets fall, the water evaporates, and the coffee dries into a fine, grainy powder that can be dissolved in water. Some manufacturers also add a step of steam or belt agglomeration to shape the powder into coarser, more granular particles that will dissolve more easily in the cup. Then it’s packaged in glass or plastic jars, tins or sachets for easy storage and use. Aromatic gases are lost during the several manufacturing stages, but these can be recovered using heat or solvents.

Espresso Shots: Quick Extraction Process

The moment the hot water hits the grounds of an espresso shot extraction begins. That’s why it’s so important to use a timer or stopwatch. For many baristas, extraction should be a quick 23 to 29 seconds, but it varies by the beans, coffee machine, and tamping pressure.

The first phase of the extraction reveals the acids in the beans, which makes the coffee taste sour and intense. After that, the oils and dissolved solids start to release, producing a rich flavor profile. Then comes the sweetness and body.

A well-extracted espresso should have a thick layer of crema (a little like honey) at the top, and there should be two streams of espresso that dribble from the portafilter, known as mouse tails. The streams will be drippy at first but should even out into a smooth stream within a few seconds. A good barista should know how to judge the quality of their shots by these early results, rather than just giving one-size-fits all instructions on timing. They can always go back and dial in their shot for the perfect flavor.

AeroPress: Rapid Brewing with Pressure

Like wine, beer, and tea, coffee starts with its raw ingredients. But unlike those alcoholic beverages, coffee’s beans are the roasted seeds of those coffee cherries, and how those seeds get pulled from the cherry influences your cup’s final taste.

The washed process begins with pulping machines mechanically removing the seeds from coffee cherries, and then passing them through tanks of water to soak up any remaining mucilage. They’re then laid out on drying beds to dry for several weeks, and then hulled. Washed coffees tend to have clean, crisp flavors and are lighter in body than natural-processed coffees.

The AeroPress, invented by a lifelong engineer and patent holder who used to make sports equipment, combines high-pressure immersion brewing with manual pushing. The chamber and plunger are moulded out of translucent plastic tinted grey (early models were made of polycarbonate, and the company switched to BPA-free copolyester in 2009). The best cup of AeroPress will yield a full-bodied flavor profile with notes like chocolate and vanilla. To use an AeroPress, bring 7 oz of water to a boil and add 15-18 grams of ground coffee.

Pour-Over Cone: Fast Manual Drip Method

Unlike espresso, which relies on high pressure to force water through grounds, the pour-over cone method uses gravity to brew coffee with minimal energy. This manual drip technique is a popular choice for people who like to have control over the results of their brewing. By adjusting variables such as grind size, water temperature and pouring style, a coffee aficionado can achieve a cup of coffee with an array of flavors and boldness levels.

To make pour over, the first step is to prepare your coffee grounds by grinding them into a medium-coarse consistency. This process breaks up the beans into small particles, increasing their surface area and allowing for the faster absorption of water.

Next, you’ll need to add your ground coffee and a filter to a jug or container. Ensure your water is between 195deg-205degF and boil it in a kettle. Pour your boiled water over the coffee grounds to saturate them. Allow the coffee to “bloom” for 30 seconds to a minute. This allows the carbon dioxide to escape and allows osmotic pressure to pull out the pleasant taste component of the coffee into your coffee liquid.

French Press: Speedy Immersion Brewing

The French press (also known as a cafetiere or coffee plunger) is a cylindrical pot with a built-in filter that presses hot water through ground beans, leaving you with richly flavorful coffee. It’s easy to use and makes a few cups of thick-bodied brew in about 4 minutes.

Start with filtered water to ensure it is free of major impurities and odors that can impact taste. Boil a bit more than you’ll need for the brew to preheat your French press.

Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and let it sit for 30 seconds so that the temperature remains consistent during brewing for optimal extraction.

Add 1 cup of hot water to the beaker, then add your measured and weighed ground coffee. Stir and let it steep for 3-4 minutes. Reinsert the plunger (but do not push down) and leave it to rest for another couple of minutes. Then slowly press down on the grounds with steady pressure to separate the liquid brew from the solids.

Moka Pot: Espresso-Like Coffee in Minutes

The moka pot is a beautifully designed, historic brewer, equally beloved and divisive among coffee lovers. It works by using high pressure to force water through the coffee grounds and up into the upper chamber. A special valve in the bottom part of the device prevents the build-up of too much pressure, which could damage or burn the device and/or harm a person.

While it is often referred to as a stovetop espresso maker, it does not make true espresso. This is because espresso requires an incredible 9 bars of pressure during extraction, whereas the moka pot only creates 1.5 bars. This does not mean that the moka pot makes weak or low quality coffee, but that it is different than espresso and has its own distinct flavor profile.

Fill the lower chamber with cold water and add ground coffee, making sure it is evenly spread. Screw the two chambers tightly together and heat on a low flame, watching for gurgling. The gurgling noise will indicate that the coffee is finished extracting and should be removed from the heat immediately.

Single-Serve Pod Machines: Convenient and Swift

With a single press of a button, these machines make an entire cup of coffee in the same amount of time as it would take to boil water and pour it into a mug. These machines are also known for being easy to operate and requiring minimal maintenance.

Pod machines have some drawbacks, however. The coffee they use is pre-ground, so it goes stale quickly, which drastically impacts its taste. Additionally, most pod companies don’t note the date of harvest for their beans, so the coffee in a pod could have been grown a year or more before it was roasted and put into the packaging.

Additionally, the plastic and metal used to create pods for Keurig and Nespresso systems are often not recycled, so they end up in landfill where it takes between 150 and 500 years for them to break down. For these reasons, a bean-to-cup machine that grinds beans before brewing is usually preferred over a pod-based coffee maker. This method offers a more environmentally friendly option, but it can be more expensive.

Cold Brew Concentrate: Pre-made Cold Coffee Ready

Cold brew is sweeter and less acidic than coffee made with hot water, and it’s perfect for those who are sensitive to bitterness. It’s also lower in caffeine, which makes it suitable for kids and adults who want to enjoy a cup of coffee without any of the health risks associated with traditional hot coffee.

To make your own homemade cold brew, you’ll need a jar or pitcher, coarsely ground coffee, and water. Combine them and stir, ensuring all of the grounds get wet. Cover the jar and let it sit for 16 hours, or overnight. When ready, strain and transfer the concentrate to a clean jar or bottle.

Once you have your coffee concentrate, the options are endless! You can drink it on its own as a cold brew, add milk or creamer to make a latte, or even heat up the concentrate with water for warm joe. Whatever you choose, your coffee will have a rich, smooth flavor that’s delicious on its own or mixed with other ingredients.