Just a decade ago, the coffee home-brewing industry was all about convenience, aimed at a quick caffeine injection without much thought or industry on the drinker’s part. Keurig, Nespresso and Tassimo were among the prime peddlers of coffee pods designed for the worker on the run.
But the specialty coffee industry has started to beat back this assault on its beloved drink, and these days, you can buy all kinds of machines and devices to brew your morning joe. Some require a serious outlay of cash (upward of $280 for a Moccamaster), a little training (pouring water has become an art form) and a little patience (the slow buildup of a siphon brewer will drive the average pod popper mad).
The devices below were tested in a home kitchen over several weeks, using coffees roasted at Counter Culture in North Carolina, Ceremony in Annapolis and Qualia in Petworth. The only coffee tested on every device was Qualia’s Don Francisco, beans grown high in the mountains of Jinotega, Nicaragua.
Pros : Designed to create a uniform brew. Brews straight into a single cup. Easy cleanup. Works well with East African coffees, balancing sweetness and acidity.
Cons: Brews only one cup at a time. Breakable. Requires specific filters. Large hole in middle, easy for water to pass through without the right grind and pouring techniques. Produces a roasty, rather than sweet, cup of Don Francisco.
Pros : With two small drain holes, Bee House provides easier water control than a Hario V60. Brews straight into a single cup. Easy cleanup. Openings at base allow brewer to see how much coffee has been produced. Makes a beautiful cup of Don Francisco, like biting into a good chocolate bar.
Cons : Brews only one cup at a time. Breakable. User needs to learn water-pouring techniques. Requires specific filters.
Pros : Requires no pouring skills. Allows precise control over steeping time. Easy cleanup. Durable, BPA-free plastic construction. Drains straight into a single cup.
Cons : Can lead to overextraction unless beans are ground coarsely. Not dishwasher-safe, and it stains. Brews only one cup at a time. Makes a smooth, chocolaty cup of Don Francisco, but with a cardboardlike aftertaste.
Pros : The bonded filter, heavier than most, filters out oils and sediment, leading to a bitterness-free cup of coffee. Produces eight cups at a time. Elegant hourglass design; doesn’t corrode or crack.
Cons : Breakable. Requires Chemex brand filters. Needs a long-handled brush for proper clean-up. Produces a smooth, chocolaty cup, but not as complex as those in other devices.
Pros : Brews coffee at the proper temperature. Brews up to 10 cups at a time. No pouring skills needed. Each unit is handmade. Produces a smooth, sweet and nutty cup of Don Francisco, like eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Cons : Expensive. Requires a large amount of counter space. Coffee decanter is breakable. Has more equipment to clean than other devices.
Pros : Requires no pouring skills. Allows precise control over steeping time. Brews up to eight cups at a time. No filters needed. Produces a rich and cocoa-heavy cup of Don Francisco; it’s like drinking a cup of hot chocolate.
Cons : Grounds and coffee sludge seep into cup. Cleanup is messy.
Pros : Device is small and portable. Easy cleanup. Requires no pouring skills. Air-pressure element allows for shorter steeping times. Can produce both coffee and espresso. Espresso can be made without proper tamping of grounds. Produces a balanced, sweet and slightly acidic cup of Don Francisco.
Cons : Makes only one small cup of coffee. Requires some practice to produce a decent espresso. Requires specific filters.
Pros : Aesthetically beautiful; a conversation piece. Requires no pouring skills. Allows better control of steeping times and water temperature. Less grounds seepage than a French press. Produces perhaps the ideal cup of Don Francisco: sweet, chocolaty, nutty, acidic, creamy, full-bodied.
Cons : Fragile and not easy to store. Cleanup is messy. Requires practice to perfect technique. To better control heat, you need a small butane burner, available for $41 at Sweet Maria’s.
Pros : Quick and convenient, producing a single cup in under two minutes. Easy cleanup. The reusable K-Cup filter allows you to use any coffee.
Cons : A single K-Cup reusable filter runs an extra $10 on Amazon. The filter doesn’t always hold enough grounds to give you the proper ratio of water to coffee. The water doesn’t seem to get hot enough for proper extraction. Produces a cup of Don Francisco that is mildly sweet and bright, as if the flavors are muted.