Brew Methods | Pick one and do it right

There are many strange things people do in coffee shops that I disagree with. In most cases I can understand why they do it that way, there may be some warped logic to it after all. One thing I’ve never understood though is why some coffee shops offer the same coffee brewed with multiple filtering methods. What’s the thinking here?

To me it’s strange, as a customer, when you order a filter to then be asked whether you’d prefer it brewed via V60 or Aeropress. Personally I’ll worry that the coffee isn’t going to be dialled-in properly. For the average customer this will get them curious, inevitably leading to discussions about the differences in brew-method, rather than talking about coffee itself.

Let’s be honest there isn’t much difference if they’re both brewed well. Brew-methods are a means to an end. A tool. When I go to my barber I don’t expect to choose which scissors he uses. If end result is the same for the customer don’t waste their time with an unnecessary choice.

Of-course all brew-methods are not the same and there are differences in the resulting coffee. There’s varying levels of extraction efficiency, required technique and consistency for each. i.e. V60 vs Kalita, you’ll almost always get a slightly higher extraction on a Kalita if you keep everything else the same.

I’m not saying it’s silly to have two brew options in every case, a few places offer it well when there’s good reason to explore the extremes of brewing with customers.

A French Press vs Chemex would be a good example of this, to showcase body against clarity.

Siphons also have benefits on bar, not as the main brew-method given how laborious and difficult they can be, but as a showstopper. They’re a great gimmick to trigger people’s initial interest in filter coffee. Just have a back-up brew-method when you get too many orders.

When I say don’t have two brew-methods I mean the stuff that’s interchangeable in the middle of the brewing spectrum: V60s; Kalita waves; Woodnecks; Aeropresses; Clever and all the derivatives of these. Despite the difference in brew style I think most people would be hard pressed to tell one coffee brewed across each of these apart, if they’re all similar extraction.

So why do so many cafes offer a choice between them? This is extra effort put into something that results in no added benefits for staff or guests. I think it’s safe to assume a customer who drinks filter every day would be much happier with a choice of two coffees rather than just one across two methods.

Wouldn’t it be much more efficient to pick a method then dial each coffee in properly with that? You also wouldn’t need the extra storage for the brewers and papers. Further there would be less inconsistency since baristas can master one technique easier and focus on recipe building.

When I first started in speciality coffee I worked in a cafe that used 6 different brew methods, two options for every coffee on the filter menu. This was madness. In the case of this cafe whenever we’d get a new coffee it would be brewed across every method and the two best were picked. In hindsight we weren’t really tasting the differences between brew-methods but were unknowingly  tasting the coffee at a wide range of extractions and picking the two closest to the coffee’s sweet spot. What inevitably happened is that we just had “a recipe” for each brew method regardless of the coffee used. Occasionally you’d get lucky and it would taste good. Most of the time you’d miss the coffees real sweet spot and waste good beans with a mediocre brew.

Sadly this is an all too common practice. There shouldn’t be “a recipe”. You should be changing things to get the best out of each coffee, they all require a little tweaking.

Whenever someone asks me for advice on filter brewing I always say the same sort of things things. For shops the main advice I give is: pick one brew-method that suits you best and master it.

How do you know which one suits you best?
Want speed? Aeropress

Want ease and consistency? Clever

Want to have a fun and showy brew bar? A Kalita or, if you’re brave, a Siphon

Once you’ve picked your preferred method build you whole filter setup around this. After a while you’ll become much faster and efficient at dialling-in filter because you really know how the method works. Gather data and keep the results. Use this data and soon you’ll be able to intuitively know where to start with a new coffee.

Gone are the days when I’d make seven or eight brews with one coffee to get it right, now I’m down to two or three.

Jumping around between different approaches and techniques rarely works in mastering anything. It remains true in brewing coffee. Focus and do one thing well.

After all what’s more interesting to show your customers, the minoot difference between a V60 vs Aeropress brew or the huge difference between a well brewed natural vs washed coffee from the same farm?

Focus on the coffee, not the paper and plastic you use to make it.

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2 thoughts on “Brew Methods | Pick one and do it right

  1. michael troup says:

    “In hindsight we weren’t really tasting the differences between brew-methods but were unknowingly tasting the coffee at a wide range of extractions ….. ” – I think there is a great deal of truth and what should be common sense in this statement. As to it being about the coffee rather than the paper and plastic used to make it – hear hear – but ideally there would be no paper nor plastic as both adversely affect the taste. The taste of wet paper in particular does not appeal to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonny says:

    Totally agree after chatting about this with you before. Our filter coffee is now way better! Just kalita and cafetiere which really we find is really a great intro into great filter coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

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