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The Best Way to Make a Cup of Coffee Is...

Hint: It’s probably not the machine you’re already using in your kitchen

best cup of coffeeIra Heuvelman-Dobrolyubova/Flickr/Getty Images
Story Highlights
Typical drip machines don’t make the best coffee since you can’t control water temperature and they get really dirty over time
The French press method is easy but you’ll likely get lots of sediment in your cup
The pour-over method is an inexpensive way to make a flavorful cup of coffee
Our favorite is the Chemex method for lightly bodied coffee, plus the pot is pretty

Most coffee geeks agree: You can’t make the best cup of coffee using an electric drip machine. Sure, it’s efficient, but the machines get very dirty over time, plus there’s no way to control the water temperature -- two factors that drastically affect the taste of your brew.

Here are four barista-approved ways to make your morning cup of Joe. And bonus: The equipment for these methods is cheaper than most electric coffeemakers.
 

Method: French press

French Press

What it is: Also known as a press pot, a French press is a pitcher (usually glass) in which you infuse coffee in hot water before using a plunger -- with a mesh filter and lid attached -- to press the grounds down to the bottom of the pot.
How it works: In the pot’s beaker, pour nearly boiling water over coarsely ground coffee, let it steep, then press down the grounds with the plunger.
Pros: It’s the easiest way to make a richly flavored, full-bodied cup of coffee.
Cons: You can get a lot of sediment in your cup, the pot can be a pain to clean, and you can’t keep the coffee hot.

Method: Chemex

Chemex

What it is: The Chemex is a trademarked hourglass-shaped glass pitcher that can be spotted in Don Draper’s kitchen on Mad Men.
How it works: Line the top of a glass Chemex pot with a thick paper filter, fill with coarsely ground coffee, and slowly pour the water over the grounds; the coffee drips through to the bottom of the pot.
Pros: It’s a beautiful pot for making a super flavorful but lightly bodied coffee, free of sediment. Plus, you can make multiple cups at a time.
Cons: The special Chemex filters are more expensive than regular paper filters, and while you can make multiple cups of coffee, you can’t keep them hot.

Method: Pour-over cone

Pour Over Cone

What it is: At its most basic level, the pour-over cone is like the filter basket in your auto-drop machine set directly over a mug of coffee. Of course, in the coffee connoisseur world, even the simplest things aren't so simple: There are several different shapes and materials used to make the cone -- from ceramic to metal to plastic.
How it works: Set a paper filter in the cone and place over your cup of coffee. Fill it with medium-ground coffee and slowly and evenly pour water over the grounds.
Pros: It’s a low-tech, portable and super inexpensive way to make a flavorful, sediment-free single cup of coffee.
Cons: It’s a time-consuming way to make coffee for a crowd, and the taste of the coffee can vary depending on which cone you use and how fast you pour the water each time.

Method: Aeropress

Aeropress

What it is: The Aeropress is a trademarked cylindrical plastic device that is made by the people behind the Aerobie toy company. Like the French press, it allows coffee to be fully infused in the water, but it uses air pressure to push the water through a paper filter, so there’s no sludge. (shown: AeroPress Espresso Maker, $29.95 at Sur La Table)
How it works: Put finely ground coffee into the chamber of the plastic Aeropress and set over a mug. Pour hot water over the coffee, then use the special plunger to press the water through the grounds into the mug.
Pros: It makes low-acid, very concentrated coffee. Like the cone, it’s inexpensive and portable, but it’s easier to make a consistent-tasting cup.
Cons: It calls for special disk-shaped paper filters, plus using the Aeropress requires a steep learning curve. And compared to the other devices, it’s just not that pretty.

Our Favorite Method

The Chemex gets our vote. While we like the rich taste of French press coffee, cleaning the grinds out of the pot isn’t our cup of, uh, tea, so we’ll save that for special occasions. Plus, in addition to making a delicious cup of coffee, the Chemex is a beautiful piece to show off on your kitchen counter. (It’s even on display at the Museum of Modern Art!)

5 Other Viewpoints

What's this?

Read what other people have said about this topic – we’ve gathered the smartest perspectives from the web in one spot.

Try a vacuum brewer -- if you’re adventurous.

This science lab-like device makes a light and lovely cup, but requires special equipment, like a butane burner and siphon, plus an 11-step process. The payoff: This so-called siphon brewing “allows for both a steeped, continually heated brew time, and a speedy filtered extraction that delivers a clean cup.”

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Don’t have a coffeemaker? It’s easy to improvise.

When preparing a lot of coffee for guests without a coffeemaker, steep it in hot water in a large measuring cup, and then pour it through a paper filter. Use 1-2 tablespoons of coffee per cup of water for this DIY version of French press coffee brewing.

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Cold brew your iced coffee.

If you’re an iced coffee drinker, use Smitten Kitchen creator Deb Perlman’s favorite method -- cold brewing. Cold brewing -- as opposed to letting hot coffee cool down -- results in coffee that’s less bitter. It’s not quick and simple though: You’ll need to steep the grounds in water for 12 hours and strain twice to get a chocolatey, low-acid iced coffee.

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Go with the pour-over method if you want to feel like a barista.

2012 U.S. Barista champion Katie Carguilo says her preferred technique is the pour-over; she specifically loves the flat-bottomed Kalita Wave dripper, which ranges from just $20-$40 but can be hard to find. She also swears by the burr grinder, which she says is key for a spectacular cup.

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Remember: The grind matters.

The best method depends on the type of coffee you like, but no matter what, you should use a burr grinder, which allows for a more consistent grind as opposed to a blade grinder, which can produce uneven grounds.

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November 22, 2013
11Papa

I'll stick with my drip machine. Using filtered water sure helps the taste. The methods presented in this article are too cumbersome or unusual. It seems like attempts to just have a different type coffee appliance for something to talk about.

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