The Best Way to Make Coffee at Home, According to Our (Caffeine-Obsessed) Staff
Coffee-brewing methods are just about as polarizing as pineapple on pizza. After all, most of us drink the stuff every day, so there are bound to be strong feelings. There are a ton of different machines to use and ways to make your daily joe, so we asked our most java-obsessed staffers to share their favorite methods, then narrowed down the list to three foolproof, café-quality techniques. Read on to find out the best way to make coffee, in our completely biased (though thoroughly tested!) opinion.
The Top 3 Ways to Make Coffee
Best for fast, portable brewing
It’s tough to find a downside to this compact coffee press. It’s portable, looks cool on your kitchen counter and brews a smooth, rich cup in a flash. The filter attaches to a cap on the bottom, and the plunger portion twists onto the cap. Once you set the AeroPress atop your favorite mug, all you have to do is add a scoop of fine grounds, pour hot water over them and plunge the coffee straight into your cup. The rapid, total-immersion process results in a full-bodied, smooth brew with minimal acidity and bitterness (and an easy cleanup).
Brand partnership director Kathryn Pfau swears by hers. She lets the grounds steep for three minutes before pressing them down, but you technically don’t need to wait that long. Just start pushing after about 10 seconds until you feel resistance and continue until all the liquid is in your cup.
The only downsides are that you can only make two or so cups at a time, but that matters less when each batch only takes a couple minutes to brew. You’ll also need to stock up on AeroPress filters (or hook yourself up with a reusable AeroPress filter). Still, there’s no doubt that its rapid-fire superpowers would come in handy on busy mornings—or even camping trips.
2. French Press
Best for strong coffee drinkers
Did you know that the French press isn’t actually French at all? The Italian machine comprises of a glass or metal beaker, a mesh strainer and a plunger. Because French press coffee is unfiltered, the result is a strong, full-bodied cup (paper filters absorb some of the beans’ flavorful oils). You’ll see some sediment at the bottom of your cup, but if you like bold java, you likely won’t mind one bit.
A good rule of thumb is to start with two tablespoons of whole coffee beans for every cup of water (you’ll have to grind them on the coarse side, so the grounds aren’t over-extracted and the water flow isn’t disrupted when you plunge). Once your grounds are ready to brew, add them to the French press, pour hot water over them and give them a stir to make sure there are no dry spots. In four minutes, it’s time to lower the plunger, which extracts the grounds from the brewed coffee.
It’s a simple process, but there are a few things to consider before tossing out your drip machine. Ideally, you should get a thermometer to ensure that the water is exactly at 200°F before you pour it over the grounds—this prevents both burning and under-extraction. You should also have another carafe or thermos to transfer the coffee into, since most French presses aren’t insulated. (Another reason to transfer it is that the coffee can get overly muddy, oily or bitter if it remains in direct contact with the grounds for too long.)
While the French press requires a bit more effort and patience than other methods, it’s affordable, chic-looking enough to stay out on the counter, waste-free and makes one seriously bold brew.
Best for a café-caliber cup at home
Our staff was overwhelmingly team pour-over for a slew of reasons. “A pour-over makes a really clean, non-sludgy cup of coffee in like, three minutes,” says our food editor Katherine Gillen. “Also, you have a lot more control over the final outcome.”
Fashion editor Dena Silver also has strong feelings about why pour-overs are superior, end of story. “I'm a staunch pour-over fan, because it’s so easy to make a single cup of strong coffee that's never watery or weak—I'm looking at you, basic AF coffee machines and pod machines,” she says.
Luckily, it’s not tough to pull off at all. The most time-consuming part is waiting for the water to boil. You could use pre-ground coffee but grinding it yourself right before brewing will make a world of difference in terms of flavor (as with any brewing method)—plus, the grinding only takes a few seconds. Silver recommends investing in a burr grinder, because it grinds the beans in one shot, as opposed to whirring them around in circles, which helps them maintain their robust flavor.
In terms of equipment, all you need is a brewing cone and filters. (P.S., reusable coffee filters also exist, in case sustainability is your thing.) While you boil the water (ideally in some kind of kettle with a spout for easy pouring), grind the beans to a medium-fine grind. Fetch your mug, put the brewing cone on top with a filter in it and add the grounds. Once the water is hot, wet all the grounds slowly, allowing them to bloom and release all their flavor—don’t drown them. Once the water goes down, continue pouring evenly over the grounds (and stopping whenever the water needs to filter through) until your cup is full. The whole process should only take you about 10 minutes from start to finish.
The main cons are that (1) it takes longer than most methods and (2) you can only make one cup at a time, but boy is it worth the wait.
Moka PotBest for espresso lovers (without requiring an espresso machine)
It doesn’t get more authentic than this stove-top gem invented by an Italian engineer in the 1930s. It’s the most commonplace method for making coffee in Italy today, and it’s also popular in Europe and Latin America. The moka pot consists of two pieces that attach: the base, which holds water, and the top, which holds the grounds. There’s a pressure regulator inside the top that allows pressure to build as the water boils and steams. The grounds and water combine in the valve until the mixture gets so hot and pressurized that it bursts through the valve and overflows into the top. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.
Moka pots brew grounds at a higher temperature and pressure than other appliances, so the coffee it makes is very robust and bitter in taste and creates a visible crema, reminiscent of espresso. Head of product and technology Eric Candino can attest: His Italian grandma makes a mean, strong cup using her moka pot, and it tastes like straight-up nostalgia to him. Additional perks include that it’s sustainable, since it’s filter-free, and some models can make up to a whopping 12 cups in one shot.
Best for hands-off coffee lovers and big-batch brews
Many coffee snobs hate on it, but the fact remains that pressing a button is all we have the energy for some mornings. Take it from associate editor Abby Hepworth: “I prefer pour-over [coffee], but I’m too lazy to do it, so I usually use a good old-fashioned drip machine.”
Also called an automatic coffee machine, a drip coffeemaker heats and mixes water with coffee grinds and pushes the resulting brew out a paper filter into the pot. The filtration makes the coffee lighter in color and taste, as well as minimizes sediment. If you’re not one for seriously bold coffee (or fussing with boiling water at 7 a.m.), this might be the move for you. It’s also a huge plus that some machines can make up to a dozen cups of coffee at once, which is great for caffeinating a crowd. But there are also some downsides.
Because drip machines are automated, they give the drinker less control over the final product. They can also be quite clunky, even more so in comparison to a French press or pour-over cone. But if the pros—like built-in timers that allow you to wake up to freshly-brewed coffee or the hot plate that keeps your joe warm for hours—outweigh those cons, there’s no shame in leaning on this appliance.
After all, just because it’s a drip machine doesn’t mean it can’t make a great cup of coffee. A lot of it has to do with the quality of your beans and the balance of grounds to water. Another staffer swears this ratio makes the perfect drip coffee every single time. “I took a virtual coffee class through Airbnb Experiences, and this lovely gentleman in Mexico City told us that the perfect ratio is three tablespoons coffee to two cups water,” says director of brand partnerships Lisa Fagiano. “Since then, my life has never been the same.”
The Bottom Line
There’s no shortage of ways to make a killer cup of joe—it all comes down to the effort you want to put in and the type of coffee you like to drink. Life can also get in the way and change your coffee needs on any given day (for instance, when a pour-over devotee has a particularly hectic morning). The good news is that most of these methods are fairly affordable, so it couldn’t hurt to have a French press as well as a backup drip machine for when you just can’t even. No matter what method you use, invest in quality beans and a top-notch burr grinder—that’s more than half the battle to getting barista-quality java at home.