Want great coffee for less? Take matters into your own hands
May 24th, 2012
03:45 PM ET
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A revolution has been brewing in the workplace among coffee drinkers unwilling to settle for the break room sludge.

For some of them, pod machines and single-serve cups provide the illusion of a superior product. Others swear by the French press method, which has traditionally reigned supreme as the alternative to automatic coffee makers.

Now, more hand-brewed coffees from devices like pour-overs and the Aeropress are popping up in home kitchens and cubicles alike. Even in the CNN.com break room, the buzz of a coffee grinder has become a regular morning fixture. But why the fuss?

"The first thing that drives people to these alternatives is improved taste. While pod machines and ready-to-brew cups are simple and fast, they can't begin to touch the quality of a freshly roasted, ground and brewed cup of truly quality coffee," says David LaMont, who works with Counter Culture Coffee in Atlanta, which sources coffee from around the world and roasts it in the United States. He also teaches classes on coffee education and preparation.

Up your coffee vocabulary

"People are always looking for ways of reintroducing handcrafted arts into their lives as a counter to the convenient but often over-produced items that we so heavily rely upon," LaMont says. "Someone may not want to give up their kitchen stove in exchange for an open fire in the backyard, but they can trade up to a simple drip cone and freshly ground coffee without a lot of added headache or trouble."

It's a skill set that casual coffee drinkers are seeking out with increasing enthusiasm. On a recent rainy Sunday at the 2012 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, LaMont and three Atlanta baristas demonstrated the use of a pour-over, or a cone-shaped dripper in which coffee and water are slowly combined and drained through a filter.

They talked up the benefits of buying locally roasted beans and grinding them yourself in order to yield a crisper cup of coffee. As they passed out wet filters for the ceramic drip cones, the quartet waxed poetic on the virtues of treating coffee like the fruit it is. As participants waited in between pours for their coffee to "bloom," LaMont politely urged them to ditch coffee pods, if not for the sake of quality then for the environmental and financial benefits.

The politics of the office coffee pot

"I find that once a person is willing to give a pour-over a try with all the right equipment, [he or she] always end up getting hooked," says Empire State South Coffee Program Manager Emily Letia, who coached participants as they slowly poured water from a kettle in a circular motion into the cone.

"The key is having everything you need before you make a judgement on the pour-over. That's a good grinder, a pour-over device... the correct filters, and a kettle. I haven't met someone interested and willing that has gone back to their coffee maker after diving in to manual brewing."

Pour-overs seem to be the most popular manual brewing method, second only to French press, which involves combining hot water and grounds in a special carafe, then pressing down a plunger to halt the process. But Letia finds interest in all kinds of forms is growing with the proliferation of venues dedicated to the science of brewing.

LaMont has also noticed the upswing. "A few years back, the vast majority of the people we taught at the Counter Culture Training Center in Atlanta came to us to learn about espresso-making and barista skills. Now we get just as many if not more attendees interested in learning about the basic science of non-espresso brewing."

Factors such as price, convenience and control tend to dictate which method people favor, LaMont says, and offers some words of wisdom:

French press: The carafe and plunger combination is easily the most popular among the general public because it's easy to use and widely available. But, it tends to produce a silty cup of coffee with a muddy bottom that is often under-brewed, which is why many professionals and home enthusiasts look for alternatives.

Pour-over: Many of today's hand drip cones are based on a simple 110 year-old design that originated with Melitta Bentz in Germany. Most cone-shaped drippers produce (arguably) equally great coffee, regardless of whether it's a $2 plastic Melitta cone or an $80 hand-made ceramic. From there, it's a matter of perfecting the technique using coffee of a coarse grind, a pre-wetted filter and a pour with the right kind of kettle.

Aeropress: The Aeropress has morphed from its original design as a pseudo espresso maker into the most portable, unbreakable brewer around. It doesn't rely on a nice pouring kettle, making it one of the more approachable brewers.

Chemex: Among American designs, few brewers hold the pedigree of Peter Schlumbohm's Chemex. Part of MoMA's permanent collection, it is one of the older and still most elegantly designed. It consists of an hourglass-shaped glass flask with a conical neck that uses a thicker filter than you'd find on a standard drip coffee filter.

The coffee is made by placing the filter and grounds in the neck of the flask, heating water in a separate vessel and "blooming" the grounds with a small amount of water to moisten them before pouring the rest of the water over the grounds.

Vacuum pots: There are a few die-hard users of "vac pots" or siphons. Most of the time, they are beautiful, two-piece brewers made of blown glass that require an extra degree of skill and knowledge to perfect. Used properly, they can quickly brew a clean, refined cup of coffee and impress dinner guests. Sadly, they are expensive, easily breakable, and a pain to clean.

If someone is interested in testing the waters of home brewing, LaMont says to consider the following as an order of importance when it comes to purchases and investments:

1. Buy good, fresh coffee .
2. Invest in a good burr grinder (Baratza, KitchenAid) and spend about $120 or more.
3. Purchase a sturdy, nice-looking drip cone or Chemex.
4. A pouring kettle designed for coffee-making isn't an absolute necessity, but almost (Bonavita, Takahiro, Kalita, Tiamo).

Once you've got the tools, start brewing and drinking, LaMont advises. If the coffee tastes great, then sit back and enjoy. If it doesn't taste as good as the coffee shop in your area that brews on the same equipment, then drop in and ask them for pointers. Most shops, especially those that are preparing hand-brewed coffee, are going to be willing to share a lot of their tips and techniques and probably even diagnose what's going wrong with your brew.

Got a favorite method or something that's stumping you? Pour out your heart in the comments and we'll do our best to help.

Previously - Study says coffee makes you live longer and Pod people: tweaking office coffee

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Filed under: Coffee • Help Desk • How To • Sip • Techniques & Tips


soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. CliftonCoffeeChris

    Great article, I'm a big fan of the clever dripper at home, the infusion of a french press and the clarity of a filter. We've got some cool brew guides for the above methods if you want to take a look at our website .

    January 3, 2014 at 4:30 am |
    • CliftonCoffeeChris

      http://www.cliftoncoffee.co.uk/

      January 3, 2014 at 4:31 am |
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    April 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  3. George

    I use Chemex since I started drinking coffee.

    November 27, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  4. geo

    Chemex for a looooong time

    November 27, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  5. Lauren

    I use my Toddy Maker- It is the best tasting iced coffee around!

    May 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  6. Joel

    Other. I tend to use my Clever Drip of late, the lazy man's pour over. But a pour over when I'm not multi-tasking work and six kids.

    May 30, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  7. BigRod

    I have used a Toddy for the past 18 months, I use filtered water, decent coffee (not top end), and let it brew 12 to 24 hrs for a weeks supply. I drink it hot and iced using skim milk to dilute at 1 part coffee to 2 – 2 1/2 parts coffee. Less bitter, less acidic, and much cheaper than a coffee shop for very good cup.

    May 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  8. rjack

    My dad and mother have been using the Chemex for decades. I always figured it was because dad was a chemist that they used this dinosaur. But for taste?

    May 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  9. Tori ATX

    I went through a period of coffee pedantism that included home roasting, every extraction method imaginable, etc. I even bought a refractometer. 90% of the time though I just go one of two ways– Clever dripper, or shots from my PID-hacked superautomatic because it turns out most of the time I just want really good coffee versus the trouble of chasing "perfect" coffee.

    May 27, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  10. PBO in OR

    Been using Chemex filters for over 20 years. Higher end and brand name coffee taste better with these filters. A regular part of my mornings including a thermos at work. I don't think we have had a drip coffee maker in use at our house since.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • vidal808

      i always add a half teaspoon of chocolate powder to my cup of coffee – instant, perculated or brewed any way you like. it softens the bitternes and smoothens the flavor. Even at Starbucks, I use the chocolate powder and no sugar.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  11. ag

    Ya know, I prefer homegrown tomatoes, fresh herbs, food cooked from scratch – but I really have trouble telling THAT much of a difference between coffee brewed one way or the other. Fresh ground is slightly better than pre-ground, but other than that, it's a cuppa coffee, fer pete's sake.

    I'm glad I'm not that fussy about it because I don't want to have to do something complicated in the morning!

    May 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Ed LaBonte

      If you brew with pre-ground coffee, you're jeopardizing your immortal soul. DON'T DO IT!!

      March 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  12. Anna

    I steep the grounds in a small french press carafe, but then pour it through a Finum brewing basket into my coffee cup. Works for me better than the pour over/drip style because I prefer my coffee nice and hot. After going through a drip cone or Aeropress, I find the coffee cools off more than I'd like.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  13. AP

    Aeropress and Clever Coffee Dripper are my favs for brewing.
    I found Sweet Maria's home page and started roasting my own coffee. Well worth the very small investment and time.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  14. John Hillman

    "...I haven't met someone interested and willing that has gone back to their coffee maker after diving in to manual brewing."

    He hangs out with snobs or liars (sometimes both). Most likely both. They do not want to admit they took his class and "back slid" from his "religion".

    May 26, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  15. John Hillman

    The author is a good shill for more expensive coffee making. Unfortunately, s/he ignored the most important ingredient. What ingredient constitutes the majority of a cup of coffee??? WATER – if you do not have good coffee, you are sunk. Once I got a water distiller my coffee was better than any coffee shop no matter WHAT method was used to make it.

    The "environment" argument does not have to fit pod makers. You can repack the pods and/or get reusable pods for the machines. One does NOT need $30 a pound coffee or $120 grinders. Those are "look at me and how much I spend" items for those that need validation by the THINGS they own.

    May 26, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  16. coffeehound

    I would love to indulge my love of a good lb of Starbucks – Gold Coast preferably – but, alas, since I no longer work for them as a barista/shift super. and don't get a lb markout each week anymore, I have found inexpensive caribbean espresso a suitable alternative. El Caribe brand from Shoprite at $1.99 per brick, which lasts us almost a week, run through a regular auto drip is more than suitable. Occasionally my husband indulges my Starbucks habit, but el Caribe is a good alternative for those pinching pennies!

    May 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • John Hillman

      Exactly!!! One does not NEED to pay the outrageous prices to make good coffee. One thing to note. DO NOT USE BOILING WATER. Boiling water destroys tea AND coffee.

      May 26, 2012 at 1:12 am |
      • Solo

        The best cup of tea that I've ever had was made by a Brit friend of mine – water was very hot (not boiling) and steeped for just the right amount of time – a little milk and sugar... heavenly. Nice change to coffee.

        May 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  17. Solo

    Too funny! Coffee has become so overblown as a consumer product! To watch people spend $300 a month at Starbucks is ridiculous! And we wonder why consumer debt is at an all-time high?

    May 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • John Hillman

      Buy a "Starbucks" reusable cup and fill it with McD's. How are the others to know?

      May 26, 2012 at 1:13 am |
      • Fed Up

        I could care less about overpriced designer coffee labels. Silly.

        May 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  18. Derek

    I started off with a french press but dislike the grounds in the bottom of the cup. I got an areo press a couple of years ago and loved it. However, I recently got a cone/pour over drip and wow, it is amazing and easy. I also recently started grinding beans using a burr grinder with beans from coffee that had only recently been roasted. The difference is amazing.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  19. McBuck's

    McD's during the week; Starbucks instant from the grocery store on the weekends. Anything else is more work than it's worth. Find someone who makes coffee the way you like it at a price you can afford and you're good to go. For $1 a day, I get what I need and life is goooood.

    May 25, 2012 at 7:23 am |
  20. Sandy

    We have a French press and have used various fancy drip coffee makers in the past, but we've been surprisingly happy with the Bunn coffee maker we purchased a few years ago. It keeps the water at the correct temperature, and even pre-ground cheap coffee tastes much better than it does in other machines. (We have a nice grinder, btw, but parenthood has a way of making pre-ground coffee attractive, at least during the week, when we use quality pre-ground coffee stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.)

    May 25, 2012 at 2:25 am |
  21. Arlene

    Most of the comments here prove that Americans don't know coffee. What most people drink here would be unthinkable in other parts of the world. Maxwell House? Dunkin Donuts? Percolators?? You don't have to be a snob to enjoy a good cup of coffee. Learn how to drink coffee, people, and while you're at it, learn about cooking food properly as well.

    May 25, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Rene

      So glad you come to add such a positive and enlightening perspective to the discussion.

      May 25, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • larlarme

      gross generalizations add about as much to a statement as 1 would believe you to be capable of adding

      May 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Good to the last drop

      Your stuffed-shirt comment proves that you don't know Americans. But that's okay because we don't want to know YOU!

      btw – How's that Euro workin' for ya?

      May 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Chris

      Since you find this country and its people so backward and unbearable, allow me to share with you one thing that I am sure you will appreciate, although not so much as we will if you take advantage of it: You are free to leave and stay gone at any time. Given your boorish behavior, I am sure all of your acquaintances will gladly pitch in for a one way ticket.

      August 24, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  22. corpsman

    I'm probably 20 yrs. older than this guy. I used a chemex pour-through maker for years, but I'm happy with my Krups drip coffee maker these days: same great taste and less effort (especially if you want to make 10-12 cups). There's no need to make things more difficult than they need to be.

    "I haven't met someone interested and willing that has gone back to their coffee maker after diving in to manual brewing.""

    May 25, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  23. buyvideophones

    Do you think this a pour over would work on Crio Bru brewed cocoa?

    May 25, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  24. PK

    I chose "other".

    I commit two cardinal sins: I neither roast nor grind my own.

    I call mine "Cowboy Coffee".

    I put a measure of grounds in a Pyrex cup, add boiling water, stir, and wait about 4 min before pouring the sludge through a strainer into a coffee mug.

    That's it. Suits me fine.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Mike

      Try pouring in the water when it's just shy of boiling. It could help avoid some bitter flavor that sometimes happens with certain types of coffee.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  25. algorithmsc

    For daily cofee, I have a Capresso with burr grinder that brews perfectly into a vacuum pot, storing at optimun temperature. When I have time, my pride and joy is my mint condition, all-glass, 1940s Cory vacuum pot that brews absolute perfection!

    May 24, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  26. Coffeeclue

    Properly roasted and fresh beans make all the difference. I have a commercial espresso machine at home. I buy my coffee from Dunn Bros, a coffe shop that roasts its own coffee about twice a week. It makes a huge difference in the crema if the beans were roasted a day ago vs 4 days ago. Anything that comes in a bag already roasted from a grocery store doesn't compare, since this stuff is weeks old.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  27. Really???

    My kids introduced me to this catchy little ditty from a children's group called, Trout Fishing In America....
    All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot. I may be off my dot, but I want a proper coffee in a proper copper pot.
    Iron coffee pots & tin coffee pots they are no use to me...If I can't have a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot, then I'll have a cup of tea!
    They drove me crazy with this tongue twister song. The last verse goes faster & faster.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  28. AZLiberalGuy

    I really like cold brewing coffee. Takes a while (12-24h), but the results are great. Pretty interested in getting a pour-over type though for fast hot brewed coffee. I use a french press now almost exclusively for hot brewed coffee.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  29. Paul

    I just eat the coffee grinds, water and coffee makers are for wussies.

    May 24, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Dude

      If you grind it dine enough you can snort it and spare your stomach the wear and tear.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • coffeeeeeeee

      Hahaha. Like.

      May 25, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Fertile to the end

      Better watch it. That kind of stuff will make flowers grow out of your behind.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  30. B Freedman

    Techni Vorm Mochomaster. Manual yes, but way east to clean! Much too good to be called a lowly drip coffee maker.

    May 24, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • LilCoffinHunter

      yup, I agree. I've had one for 5 years and it brews perfectly every time. I hoem roast, too, so that's even fresher than getting coffee in the coffee shop, plus I roast it how I like it, not how some snob says I should like it.

      May 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  31. Chef Sun

    Chemex. I've been using the same device since college days. Simple, effective, efficient, and tastes great.

    May 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  32. forgetphil

    You really can't beat automatic espresso machines such as Saeco. Best cup of espresso or Americano coffee you are going to get in an office environment by far – and it doesn't take a huge chunk of your work day to prepare.

    May 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • ray lopez

      Something I learned when I was a young pvt in the USMC about coffee " Coffee is like a woman always hot, fresh, and strong , sometimes sweet, sometimes blond and never bitter "... we have been using the pour over method for over 30 years and guests come over just for coffee. 2 or 3 pots every day before noon.

      May 24, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  33. picklehead jones

    Simple hobo coffee is best. 2 cups of water, 4 tablespoons of colombian coffee in a pot. Bring it to a boil while stirring the grounds directly in the water. When it boils up, take it off the stove top and flick a bit of cold water in to settle the grounds to the bottom. Pour it directly in your cup.

    Doesn't it make far more sense to keep the water in direct contact with the grounds for a longer period of time.

    Try it–you'll be blown away.

    May 24, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
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