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How to Pick the Right Coffee Brewer

[Photograph: -luz- on Flickr]

In the universe of coffee-brewing equipment, there are obviously myriad pros and cons for each brewing method and tool available. When trying to sort through the morass, however, there are probably two things that are at the top of everybody's list when selecting a morning coffee maker: How fast and how complicated is this thing going to be?

Sometimes fast and easy is exactly what the day calls for; but sometimes slow and complicated is so much more fun. (And it might yield cups that you enjoy more.) If you're considering a bit of coffee gear, let us help match you with the one best suited to your needs.

Fast and Easy

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Brewing with a Clever can be clever. [Photograph: Nicholas Lundgaard on Flickr]

There are actually a few brewers that are on the fast-and-easy side of things, including but not limited to the Hario V60 pour-over cone (and, to a certain extent, several other types of pour-over devices) and the Clever coffee dripper, which we've chatted about a bit before.

What makes the Japanese company Hario's V60 brewer different from other, slower pour-over brewers is the large drip-through hole at the bottom of the filter: Where most other types of pour-over cones, such as those by the Melitta or Bonmac companies, have one or two small holes for the coffee brew to drip through, the V60 has a larger opening, which can create a much quicker drain into your cup or server. (Techniques for making good-tasting coffee on these brewers vary widely: Some recommend compensating for the very fast draw through by making the coffee grounds much finer; others embrace the quicker brew. Experimentation is your best friend when it comes to this little beauty.)

The Clever coffee dripper is a strange sort of hybrid tool: By combining and immersion brewing with pour-over extraction styles, the cone-shaped valve-controlled filter can shave about a minute off of a typical batch. (Immersion brewing typically tops out at 4–5 minutes, while a pour-over typically finishes between 3–4—the best Clevers I've ever made had just over a 2-minute steep with a 1-minute draw through, resulting in sweet, clean, lighter-bodied cups.)

Fast and Complicated

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Under AeroPress-ure. [Photograph: INeedCoffee.com on Flickr]

Conceived as a way to hand-make espresso on the go, the AeroPress is perhaps more complicated than originally intended simply due to the sheer number of coffee-geek hacks that have become popular over the years.

The basic instructions these portable plastic brewers come with emphasize the quick creation of a concentrated coffee that can substitute for an espresso-strength brew or be diluted to something more reminiscent of American-style coffee with the addition of hot water. Crafty coffee people, however, have dreamed up any number of elaborate variations, even inverting the thing and using it to make a sped-up immersion brew that's cleaner than a French press but not as concentrated as espresso.

Slow and Easy

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Don't stress it: French press it. [Photograph: Meister]

It doesn't get any more set-it-and-forget-it than the old French press. The method's easy: coffee and water go in, a timer goes on, and four minutes later you're one plunge away from a fresh-brewed pot of hot-and-heavy morning salvation. Unlike other methods like pour-over or AeroPress, which require more hands-on attention during the brewing itself, French presses can be pushed aside and let to steep while other things (like egg scrambling) go on nearby.

While the somewhat muddy flavor and thick body of a French press can be a less-than-ideal presentation for more delicate coffees, darker roasts and brews intended to be mixed with milk are practically made for these things.

If you like the method in general but are looking to limit the sludge factor, the fancy double-filtering system of the Espro Press may be for you.

Slow and Complicated

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Siphon being heated by halogen lamp. [Photograph: CoffeeGeek on Flickr]

You like gear? You like geeking out over your daily coffee routine? You like fire? Then a siphon is the brewer for you. Not only are they elegant and elaborate, but they're also capable of making a really clean, crisp brew when done properly. (Halogen lamps are easier to control, and perhaps a skosh less intimidating than bunsen-burner types; both, however, will tickle your inner firestarter.)

While the temperature-surfing required to keep the brewer functioning throughout the coffee extraction can take a little getting used to, there's absolutely no matching the "wow" factor of these things. If you have the space and the time to noodle around with something spectacular and fun, I say go for it. (But maybe keep the French press close at hand for those, you know, rough mornings.)

How do these brewers—and others—stack up on your personal speed-to-convenience coffee-making matrix?

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista, and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook.

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