Coffee Talk: The Latest Trends for the Ultimate Brew
Single-serve coffee machines are well and beyond the news. Sleek stainless steel, aluminum or titanium machines top counters across America, a smaller and more nimble alternative to industrial (and spendy) home espresso makers.
The National Coffee Association reports that in 2012, nearly 15 percent of Americans drank coffee made in a single-cup brewer every day.
But the toll of these one-cup wonders on the environment is measuring up. Those little pods, alas, contain very little recyclable materials - just five percent, according to Mother Jones. What that translates into in terms of waste? The 8.3 billion K-Cups made and sold by Green Mountain (Keurig's owner) in 2013 would wrap around the Earth 10.5 times.
Thankfully, there has been resurgence among old-school brewing apparatuses, both at trendy coffee shops and upscale restaurants as well as in the home kitchen.
On a recent trip to London, I stopped off at Climpson & Sons, one of London's top-ranked purveyors. The flagship Climpson & Sons caf and roaster is based in East London, London's answer to Brooklyn's shabby-chic DUMBO neighborhood.
I spent a morning with some Climpson's team members and the biggest revelation was their use of various non-electric methods of making a cup of coffee. For the home brewer, there's an interesting range of options that deliver a terrific cuppa without doing harm to Mother Earth.
Choose Your Brewing Method
At the intersection between what you brew at home versus what you get at your local coffee bar lies the latest, oldest one-cup craze: The pourover. A simple concept, the pourover involves a plastic or ceramic cone that sits atop a cup, with a paper filter. Put the grounds in the filter, pour the water over, and let it drip through to the mug below. Melitta has a line of basic pourover cones starting at $2.99, so it’s hard to argue against giving this a shot.
What makes the pourover very interesting, too, is the individuality to be had. You can vary the grind for finer or coarser grains, which allow water to filter through them at different speeds. This creates different extraction levels, giving you a more complex cup.
You may even start seeing pourover apparatus at coffee shops or on a restaurant table. At a recent Coffeefest trade event in New York, Melitta was peddling pourover bars, enabling baristas to make up to four cups at a time.
Another alternative pourover device is the Chemex coffeemaker, distinctive with its hourglass beaker and Mod Squad-chic wooden holder, was probably in your parents’ or grandparents’ house in the 1960s and 1970s. With its what’s-old-is-new design (and cool new accessories from the Massachusetts-based company like a hand-blown sugar and creamer set ), Chemex is seeing a resurgence among home brewers looking for a less mechanical and more natural cuppa joe.
20 grams of ground coffee
10.8 oz of water (198 degrees F)
Steep time: 2 minutes
Extraction time: 1 minute
A relatively new invention (2005), the AeroPress uses pressure to extract flavor. Coffee is steeped and then forced through a paper or metal filter by pressing the plunger through the tube. Retailing for about $26 at major homegoods retailers like Sur La Table, Crate and Barrel and Bed, Bath and Beyond, the AeroPress delivers a solid cup. Its proponents say it produces coffee with lower acid and less bitterness, (though by my own taste test, the pourover method made the smoothest cup of coffee).
17 grams of ground coffee
7.3 oz of water (198 degrees F)
Steep time: 1 minute, 50 seconds
Extraction time: 30 seconds
The French Press
The old standby, the French Press uses a wire-mesh filter to force the grounds down after a steeping period. By default, the coffee must be ground more coarsely to avoid "floaters," which can make for a harsher brew. That is, in fact, what I experienced in the side-by-side comparison of the three methods described here. After years of drinking French Pressed coffee, there’s now no turning back. On the plus side, the French Press is now fairly ubiquitous and available in many different sizes and colors to suit just about any palate.
22 grams of ground coffee
9.5 oz of water (198 degrees F)
Steep time: 2 minutes, 30 seconds
Extraction time: n/a
With a little experimentation with ground size and extraction time, you can hone your own barista skills to make a fabulous cup of coffee in an environmentally friendly way.