Posted Wed Jul 8, 2009, 8:00pm Subject: Pourover (e.g. Chemex) vs. Press (French and/or Aero); plus grinding and water
I have some questions and would appreciate any responses anyone here would be willing to provide.
First, Iíd like to solicit some comparisons between / among four methods of making coffeeótwo pourover methods (my own current Melitta method and Chemex) and two press methods (French press and AeroPress).
I used French presses for a couple years, but kept breaking the glass pots and also got tired of the silt in the bottom of my coffee. Before breaking my press pot the most recent time, I had started pouring my French pressed coffee through a Melitta cone filter. Since breaking my press pot, Iíve been letting my ground coffee steep in a glass pitcher for about two and a half minutes, then pouring the water and grounds through the Melitta filter. All together, that leaves the coffee in the water for about four minutes. (I havenít ever tried to follow the Melitta instructions of doing all the brewing in the cone filter; Iíve assumed the coffee-water-contact time would be too brief, so Iíve been letting my coffee brew in the separate pitcher before filtering it.)
So here are my comparison questions:
Would the Chemex system produce coffee that differed substantially from my current method? If so, why? Just because of the different filter paper? I suppose that the coffee-water-contact time would differ between my current method and the Chemex system (if I used it according to standard instructions); but, controlling for coffee-water-contact time, does Chemex produce substantially better coffee than a Melitta filter can?
Next, I want to understand the difference between the pourover methods and press methods. Currently my pourover method keeps the coffee-water-contact time equal to that of the French press I was using previously. I know the paper filter I am using strips out some oil and flavor along with the silt I wanted to keep out of my coffee. But does the pressing action involved with the French press also make a difference? Part of what prompts this question is my consideration of the AeroPress. The AeroPress also uses a paper filter, but one of its selling points is supposed to be its brief brew time. Does the pressing action used with the AeroPress allow better flavor extraction in a thirty second interval? Or if I just reduced the coffee-water-contact time of my current pourover method, would I get similar coffee to what the AeroPress produces? (My current method gives me just as much control of grind, water temperature, opportunity to stir, etc.) What I really want to understand is what contribution to flavor is made by the pressing action involved with the AeroPress. If there is some substantial contribution made by the pressing action, does it differ between the AeroPress and French press?
Finally, Iíd like to ask for a simple taste comparison between French press coffee and AeroPress coffee. I saw a forum thread here comparing AeroPress to vacuum pots, and I realize that there will be a difference (in oil and silt) between the French press with its metal filter and the AeroPress with its paper filter. What I want is an overall taste comparison between French press coffee and AeroPress coffee. Iíve heard people say that French press coffee is the best theyíve ever had. Iíve heard people say Chemex coffee is the best theyíve ever had. Iíve heard people say AeroPress coffee is the best theyíve ever had. Iím hoping that some people who have had coffee made by all of these methods will give their opinions.
A different question: the cheap grinder that I have now (Black & Decker) produces a very uneven, inconsistent grind. How much would this matter for the new brewing methods Iím considering (Chemex or AeroPress)? Would I be better off grinding my beans fresh (but uneven) or having them ground for me at the time of purchase?
Finally, what water do folks here recommend for their brewing? Is Britta / PUR filtered water good enough? Is distilled water a good idea?
Thanks in advance to all who take the time to respond to any of my queries.
kschendel Senior Member Joined: 7 Nov 2008 Posts: 275 Location: Pittsburgh Expertise: I love coffee
Grinder: Maestro Roaster: Freshroast
Posted Thu Jul 9, 2009, 3:52am Subject: Re: Pourover (Chemex) vs. Press (French, AP); plus grinding and water
I can't answer most of your questions, but ...
Filtered vs distilled water: avoid distilled water. The trace minerals in ordinary tap or filtered water definitely add to the flavor. I've had coffee made from distilled water, just to see if it was different, and it was; flat and lifeless.
And, re the B&D grinder, the best brew method for lousy grinders is the Aeropress, because of the very short brew time. You can get the coffee out of the AP before the fines contribute too much bitterness. A half-decent grinder will still definitely improve matters, of course.
I've had both AP and press pot, but never under anything remotely like controlled conditions; different coffees, etc.
From my own experiences so far, Aeropress makes a cup that really highlights the higher notes, fruitiness, and acidity in coffees, whereas FP will show off more of the body and earthiness. Drip, on the other hand, produces a pretty balanced cup in-between the first 2 methods, but all that can change based on your pouring/steeping technique on all 3 methods.
Also, I haven't taken the plunge on a nice (over $100) grinder yet, and for that reason I shy away from FP a bit due to the bitterness I can sometimes get from over-extracted fines. I use AP probably 20 times a week, drip 4 or 5 times, and FP once or twice.
In general, what I like about the AP is the overall cleanliness of the cup. I really don't know how else to describe it. It's not quite tea-like, but it's more fragrant, delicate maybe, IMHO. What I love in my FP is the way it shows off Sumatras and darker roasts. What I love about the drip is its versatility, balance in the cup, and hands-on feel.
I'd also agree that you should avoid completely distilled water for your coffee as electrolytes in water do contribute to better flavor in the resulting cup. If you're stuck with a poor grinder, then the short brew time of the aeropress is to your advantage. Because of its use of a paper filter, the Aeropress restricts the passage of coffee oils to the resulting cup. This will also occur to some degree with drip coffee if you are using a paper filter, but due to increased steep time and the type of paper you may use, more oils can pass through a standard drip than seen with the Aeropress. I find that this oil heavily contributes to the overall body found in a cup of coffee.
A french press, on the other hand, generally has a courser metal filter which allows the oil from the coffee to be seen in the final cup. However, if your grinder is not appropriate and gives you a lot of finely ground coffee that will overextract, you can get a bitter cup with a lot of body and little clarity due to the fines escaping from the filter in a press.
In general, a pourover/drip does have a bit more flexibility due to your option to choose a filter you like. Paper will generally reduce the coffee oils but give you a "cleaner" cup than a FP, whereas a metal filter will let through the passage of oil but also coffee fines which may result in a slightly more bitter and "muddy" cup. To add another option, I'd also recommend looking into the Clever Coffee Dripper that is currently sold by Sweet Maria's (link here). It is essentially the same as the method you are currently incorporating but can be done in a single device instead of needing to brew in a separate container and then transferring it over to the filter cone. I've only recently tried it myself and really like the results, even though I'm using a Swissgold metal filter that the vendor themselves do not recommend.
Personally, I believe the option of purchasing preground coffee or grinding in a blade grinder to be one of personal preference. Try both and see which YOU like the most. But when you have a chance, you definitely will want to upgrade your grinder to something like the Baratza Maestro as it will greatly contribute to better results in the cup.
I use a Chemex a lot, and for pourover it's hard to beat. The thickness of the paper filters slows down the flow of the water, and so allows the coffee to steep the right amount of time. My experience has been that this method really isn't good for bad grinders; too much dust will cause over extraction by slowing down the flow too much. But, a Chemex will produce a cleaner, richer cup of coffee than your Melitta; kind of like press without the mud and oil.
Posted Sun Jul 12, 2009, 3:24pm Subject: Re: Pourover (e.g. Chemex) vs. Press (French and/or Aero); plus grinding
I decided to buy an AeroPress and I am very happy with the results:
Day One: I brewed a 15 oz cup (my normal serving size) of decaf using my normal steep-then-paper-filter pourover method and a 10 - 12 oz cup using my new AeroPress, following its standard instructions as closely as I could. (I chose decaf because it was the middle of the afternoon and I would be drinking a lot of coffee; also I expected to follow the same procedure with regular coffee beans the following morning.)
The decaf beans were high-quality, decaf espresso blend, Swiss Water decaffeinated, roasted (light espresso roast) three days prior.
The cup I brewed using my normal pourover method was fairly good relative to the coffee I usually get from this method, but it also clearly had the flavoróI call it ďwater-loggedĒóof Swiss Water decaf that I tolerate when it is overshadowed by other flavors, but really donít like much itself. That flavor is happily absent from the AeroPress-brewed cup. The latter is also much less bitter, definitely brighter, and more complex than the normally-brewed cupóit tastes much more like the beans smell. The AeroPress-brewed coffee also smells better. I may have added a bit more water after brewing than the instructions called for, but the coffee wasnít weak at all.
I donít at all mind the cooler brew-temp recommended for the AeroPress. Along with the system itself, I also picked up a thermometer. I donít like hot, hot coffee, so I think Iíve been brewing at well under 200F, anyway. Coffee tastes better to me when it is warm (as opposed to truly hot). As the cup of coffee I brewed normally cooled down, its flavor improved somewhat, but the AeroPress-brewed cup was still clearly better.
With the last two swallows of each cup remaining, I did a blind taste (literally, with my eyes closed). I randomly picked the normally-brewed cup first and finished it then immediately drank the remaining AeroPress coffee. I liked the first drink and wasnít sure which cup I had chosen until I drank the second cup and definitely preferred it, recognizing it by contrast as the less-bitter, more-flavorful AeroPress cup (after drinking all the remaining coffee, I opened my eyes and verified this identification).
Day two: I repeated the procedure from the previous day, this time with medium-full roasted beans (roasted four days previous) from Burundi.
The AeroPress really lets through a lot of complex flavor from the beans without any bitterness. Maybe Iíve been steeping my grinds too long using my pourover method, because the contrast with AeroPress coffee makes it clear that my normal coffee has been too bitter. On the other hand, Iíve been steeping my grinds as long as I have because less steep time has tended to produce coffee that is too weak. Maybe there is a ďsweetspotĒ steep-time interval for my pourover method, but if so, I usually miss it. (I wonder whether it would be easier to find such a sweetspot with the Chemex system.) The lack of bitterness in the AeroPress coffee lets other and more flavors stand out. Whether the bitterness of my normal coffee is covering the flavors I get with the AeroPress or whether it just fails to extract those flavors to begin with, the AeroPress coffee is definitely and significantly better. I might be able to optimize my pourover method (and using the AeroPress method would give me a helpful baseline to compare to), but I think Iíll just go with the easy success of the AeroPress for now.
As I said before, I donít like hot, hot coffee. As the AeroPress coffee I brewed today cooled, I noticed distinct changes in the flavor profile as the temperature changed. Craft beer usually works this way, tooóas it warms its flavor characteristics change (and when itís too cold, a lot of flavor gets hidden). Whether such changes in flavor are due to chemical changes or to changes in my own taste-sensitivity, for me they are an important part of enjoying a beverage with complex flavor. The fact that AeroPress coffee gives me this kind of experience is a definite advantage (one that has usually been lost because ofóor reduced byóthe bitterness of my previous method).
It looks like Iíll be using a little bit more ground coffee per cup with the AeroPress than with my previous method. So long as that means more and better flavors, though, Iím willing to accept that. After brewing with the AeroPress, I suspect that the pressing action does change the flavor extraction. I donít think that the additional flavors come only from the additional ground coffee used in brewing each cup; nor do I think the lack of bitterness could be achieved with shorter water-to-coffee contact time without the pressing action. When Iíve upped my ground coffee in my pourover method, Iíve gotten not just more flavor, but, more particularly, more bitterness. And when Iíve reduced my coffee-to-water contact time (even with more ground coffee), Iíve still gotten weak coffee (though I might need to retest this). So I think the pressing action allows for fuller flavor extraction in a shorter brew time and without bitterness. (Iím not sure how the AeroPress reduces the water-logged flavor of the decaf beans I have right now, but it really does seem to do so; and that probably means Iíll be drinking more decaf and thus buying and using even more coffee now that Iím using the AeroPress.)
From reading around here and there, Iím persuaded that the Chemex system is better than my pourover method. Maybe someday Iíll have room in my coffee budget for the Chemex, and then Iíll do a three way comparison with my old pourover method and the AeroPress.
Two final footnotes: part of what spurred my interest in the AeroPress to begin with was my having broken my French press glass. I looked everywhere for a replacement, but never found one (so each time I broke one, I just bought a whole new set). When I went to Sur La Table in Newport Beach, CA to buy my AeroPress, I found that they carry replacement carafes for French presses.
I donít have a good grinder, yet. I had a Black and Decker grinder that ground very unevenly until it broke (after a month or two). Iíve been getting my beans ground at the place of purchase. Along with testing the AeroPress against my pourover method, Iíve been trying out my Vita-Mix (dry blade) blender as a coffee grinder. It does considerably better than the grinder I had before, and the long handle of the AeroPress scoop works well for getting the ground coffee out of the bottom of the tall blender. I havenít tested yet whether itís better for me to grind my own beans in the Vita-Mix or to have them ground for me. Iíll have to switch that up a bit to test it out. The extra time it takes to grind and clean up after grinding will also factor in. Since Iíll be buying coffee a bit more often, too, maybe having the coffee ground for me wonít be so much worse.
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