There are a lot of manual brewing devices to choose from. With more popping up each year it can feel a little overwhelming for a new home coffee brewer, or a little expensive for an enthusiast. We can divide most brewers into two main camps: immersion and pour over.
With immersion brewing coffee and water are hanging out together for a certain amount of time, while pour over coffee uses gravity to help water flow through the bed of coffee. While that sounds simple, there are some things to consider, so let’s compare.
The most ubiquitous immersion brewer is the French press, and if I’m not using my Chemex to make a pour over for two or more then I’m usually using a Kalita Wave. These aren’t a stand in for all brewers of their respective styles, and I’ll highlight their uniqueness as we go.
To make either brew method we obviously need the brewer itself, and with the French press that’s about it. Coffee and water of course. A scale is helpful.
With the Kalita we need to make sure we have filters on hand, and that we have some way to control the pour rate of water. Good quality drip coffee brewers are programmed to pulse water intermittently, aiming for a precise brew time. With Pour overs we have to be cognizant of how we’re pouring the water as it controls the contact time with the coffee. Pour too quickly and the water will flow through too quickly to optimize flavor and pouring too slowly can bring out more bitterness than desired. Because of this a gooseneck kettle, while not essential, is a great tool that offers increased precision and control when pouring your water.
It’s common knowledge that we want a coarser grind for French press, something a little finer than coarse sea salt. For our Kalita a medium-fine grind is ideal, like a fine sugar. In the French press the coffee and water are in contact throughout the entire brew time and the slightly larger particles extract well in about 4 minutes. If we used the same grind setting for our pour overs the water would flow through the coffee too quickly leaving our cup too sour and bright.
Grinding finer for pour over methods serves two functions: slowing down the flow rate of water to allow sufficient contact time of coffee and water, and increasing the surface area of coffee exposed to water allowing the coffee to give up its flavor more efficiently. Grinding too fine, however, will slow the coffee down too much, pulling out drying bitterness. Understanding the relationship that grind setting has on brew time and flavor is important in order to optimize the Kalita. By contrast, the French press is more low maintenance and easier to access.
We’ve got our coffee ground and tools organized. For both brewing methods we recommend a 30-45 second bloom of about twice the coffee’s weight in water to make sure that the coffee is properly degassed. Then the methods diverge.
Fill up the French press with water to the prescribed recipe and wait. About 4 minutes should do it. Finally, plunge the French press and pour into your favorite mug. There are conflicting opinions on whether you should decant the French press once the recommended time has elapsed. There is potential for the coffee to over extract if left to hang out with the water, and decanting gently can help mitigate some of the sediment typical of a French press.
The Kalita is more hands on. First, we need to rinse that paper filter before getting started. After the bloom it requires pours every 30-45 seconds of 75-100g until the desired amount of water had been added. For a 350g brew (about 12oz) our brew time should be about 3 minutes. What you paid for in hands on time is rewarded by easy cleanup. Just be sure to compost the spent coffee and filter.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s all about preference. Using the same brewing ratio will yield different cups of coffee in each device. With the French press the only filter medium is the mesh on the plunger and as a result small coffee solids can make it through and there is a heavier mouthfeel. I like brewing medium – dark roasts on my French press because I find the richness of the cup is complimented by the heavier body.
The Kalita uses filters that, while not as thick as Chemex filters, trap those small coffee solids that add body to the Frech press, creating a lighter and more delicate cup. When I’m taking a coffee break and using the Kalita it’s typically with a lighter roasted coffee as I prefer tea-like body with more delicate and brighter coffees.
Have a question or a topic you’d like to see covered? Shoot us an email at [email protected], or tune in to the livestream Wednesdays at 10:30am, Brian will be taking questions in the chat!