WHEN IT comes to making "American coffee" in a nonelectric pot, there are three basic types of coffee makers: the percolator, the plunger-press and the single-pass-through. One of the 10 commandments for making good-tasting coffee is to extract into the water only the clear-tasting essence of the coffee bean, and to leave the bitter oils within the grounds.
The percolator design repeatedly forces boiling water from the bottom of the pot up through a tube and over a basket holding the ground coffee. Most coffee experts agree the repeated passing of boiling water through coffee beans results in a brew which has absorbed too many impurities. I agree and avoid percolators.
The plunger-press method consists of a glass cylinder in which you place the ground beans. Hot water is then poured directly over the coffee and the cylinder top put on to help keep the coffee warm. The grounds and the water are allowed to steep like a pot of tea. After three or four minutes, a plunger device in the lid is pressed down through the cylinder. The grounds are pressed to the bottom and the liquid brew remains above. The coffee has been "pressed" out of the beans. The maker is attractive and can be used to serve the coffee at your table no matter how formal or informal the setting. Furthermore, this type of coffee maker produces a very good, strong, rich-tasting cup of coffee. It is distributed in the United States under the Meloir and Copco Bisto labels. They are made in various materials and range in price from $18 to $60.
The single-pass-through method is used in the Melitta and Chemex coffee makers. The classic Melitta pot is made of white porcelain and consists of a serving pot base and an oval upper brewing cone. The brewing cone is placed on top of the pot. A paper filter is placed into the cone and filled with the proper amount of ground coffee beans. Water which has been brought to a boil and then allowed to cool for a moment is poured through the grounds and collected in the serving pot below. Water at the boil (212) degrees) will remove more oils and impurities from the beans than water which has cooled for a minute (200 degrees). Melitta coffee pots come in dozens of different sizes and shapes ranging in price from $2.99 to $23.95. Filter paper for the Melitta is widely available at about $3.99 for 100 filters. Melitta filters come in different sizes which must be specified when being refilled. The brewing cone does not work as well without its proper-sized filter.
The Melitta is a good coffee pot, but to my taste the coffee produced by the Chemex is even better. It was invented by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm in the early 1940's because he believed there was no coffee pot available that would brew a scientific and properly controlled cup of coffee. This system is my favorite. A simple heat resistant hourglass utilizes the top half as a support for the brewing filter.One ounce of ground coffee for every cup desired is placed into the filter. Six ounces of boiling water are measured out for every cup and then poured over the ground coffee. The liquid coffee drains into the base, the filter and its grinds are discarded and the entire piece of equipment is brought to the table for serving. There is a heat-proof waist band of wood or plastic (depending on the model) at the center of the hourglass which allows you to get a heat-proof grip on the pot.
The temperature of the finished coffee is not quite as hot as I would like.
However, taste will not suffer if the Chemex is kept on a heat diffusing pad above a low flame. Chemex coffee makers are available in sizes that will brew from 2 cups to 13 cups at a clip, and range in price from $9.95 to $29.95.
A heat diffusion pad is really essential for the press and single-pass-through method. It is a simple tool for keeping the final brew at a sufficiently warm temperature. The best example of this device available in the United States today is the Flame-Tamer (in either gas or electric models). It retails for $6.