Big Brew Board at the Coffee Company

For the past few years at the Zingerman’s Coffee Company, we’ve offered several different ways to have us brew your coffee. Each method, as you’d probably expect, will produce a coffee with a slightly different flavor and texture. While we’ve known all about these methods, we’ve unintentionally kept them a secret from you. But those days are over—the brewing-method bonanza is all out in the open now!


We’ve got the Big Brew Board up and mounted over the counter so you can see the brewing options for yourself. Better still, we’ve spent multiple hours of brewing, testing, and tasting to match up what we think are the best combina- tions of brewing-methods and beans.

This is a very simple, and very tasty way of making coffee. We grind the coffee of your choice to order, pour hot water over it, which then drips down through a standard paper filter into the cup. Pourover brewing generally produces a balanced cup, and the light filtering removes some oils while retaining body. The Pourover is one of our most popular methods.

A relatively recent addition to the 
world’s array of brewing methods, the 
Clever is sort of a combination of a 
French press and a Pourover. Originally
invented in Taiwan for making tea, it 
quickly took the coffee brewing world
by storm. Hot water is poured over, and 
into the ground coffee, which is then sus
pended in the hot liquid during brewing.
Then, like the Pourover, it releases the liquid coffee from the grounds so it doesn’t over-steep. The Clever makes a very well rounded cup of coffee without the density of the French press, and it works well with almost all coffees.

Chemex is comparable to the Pourover, but uses a heavier paper filter to make for a cleaner, more ‘refined’ cup. This is Allen’s favorite way to make drip coffee at home. The name is derived from its development by German chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, PhD, back in 1941, and it’s certainly one of the most visually appealing of the alternatives. The brewing vessel looks a bit like an hourglass, and the top part holds the Chemex paper filter (originally laboratory filter paper). Hot water is poured through it into the top half of the glass, and the brewed coffee fills the bottom. Because the filter is thicker than most, we often use a slightly coarser grind than a regular cone drip. After brewing, the filter is discarded and the brewer is used as a server. The Chemex makes for a very clean cup of coffee.

The French press, or press pot, was invented in France in probably the late 19th century. Freshly ground coffee and hot water are mixed in direct contact in a glass carafe. The glass has a plunger screen mounted on a moveable post. After the coffee has steeped for about 3 minutes, the post is pressed down to hold the grounds to the bottom of the carafe. The filter is a relatively coarse wire mesh with less filtration than paper, leaving more oils and a bit of coffee solids suspended in the brew. French press definitely makes for a bigger-bodied coffee. It reminds me of eating unfiltered olive oil; it leaves a bit more of the “bones” of the coffee in the brew.

Invented in 2005 by Alan Adler, the same guy who came up with the Aerobie disc that took the Frisbee to a new heights. The Aeropress uses a tight fitting plunger to force the brewed coffee very quickly through a filter at high pressure. It produces a small, intense cup of coffee fairly quickly.

Other than the espresso machine, this is
 the most elaborate brewing mechanism we
have. Depending on whom you ask, it was
developed in Germany in the 1830’s, or by Robert Napier in 1840. Either way, it was very much a product of its era. Scientists were messing around with their relatively new understanding of vacuums, and improved coal furnaces made quality glass much more affordable. The siphon pot uses two glass globes connected by a small glass “neck.” The initial process of water rising from the bottom globe to the top globe is driven by steam pressure created as the water approaches boiling. Once the water has been pushed into the top globe and steeps with the coffee, the heating element is removed, and the vacuum created in the bottom globe uses negative pressure to draw water down through the fine mesh filter. It produces a cup that has some of the benefits of a press pot, but with a little more filtration. We’ve found the siphon is particularly successful for coffees that are bright and fruity (it’s the staff favorite for our Ethiopian coffee). The siphon pot brewing does take a bit longer, so this isn’t one to order if you’re in a big hurry, but if you’ve got a few minutes it sure does make for pretty marvelously clean cup.

Probably the best known
of the bunch today,
the espresso process was developed
in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Espresso brewing forces hot water
under pressures through a small bed of coffee in very short, intense burst—about 25 to 30 seconds. The pressures and temperature produce a small amount of thick crema. The crema is an actually an emulsion of aromatic oils that form a mesh of oily bubbles on the surface. This method tends to magnify the oils, sweetness and acidity that are in the roasted coffee. We typically like coffees that are sweet and lower in brightness because of this.