Coffee-to-English Dictionary, Part V: Types of Brewing


Pressurized extraction. [Photographs: Meister]

Do you ever feel like you could use a little translation at your local coffee shop, or while perusing the bags of beans at your favorite market?

Presenting the fifth in a multipart Coffee-to-English glossary, which will hopefully help you navigate the sometimes-complicated coffee lexicon. (Now all you have to do is work on perfecting your fake coffee-snob accent.) Today, we'll talk brewing.

Decoction: One of the most traditional forms of coffee brewing, this method simply consists of ground coffee being added to cold water and brought to a boil for a certain amount of time. (Or, as in Ethiopia, times—the coffee ceremony there typically calls for the coffee grounds to be brewed three times through boiling. Each of the three brews has a different name and significance during the service.) Cowboy coffee is one example of this style, as is Turkish coffee.

Drip brewing: Also known as "filter" or "filtered" coffee, the catch-all term of "drip" implies any type of extraction where water is poured into and through a bed of coffee grounds. The brewing process happens only once, while the coffee and water are in contact, and the grounds are kept separate from the finished cup usually by use of a filter. Melitta-style cone filters, Chemex brewers and your regular ol' electric Mr. Coffee makers are obvious examples.

Percolation: Found in many a church basement, percolators brew coffee through a combination of drip and sort-of-pressurized extraction. They typically are comprised of two chambers—a bottom vat where cold water is heated up either over a flame or with an electric-powered heating element, and an uppermost metal canister with a perforated bottom that serves as the coffee filter—which are connected by a hollow tube down the center of the pot. As the water is heated, it creates steam pressure; once enough heat and steam is created, the chambers pressurize and the hot water begins to be forced through the hollow tube and sprayed over the bed of coffee. The extracted coffee then drips down through the grounds and is reintroduced to the brewing water; the process is repeated as long as heat is applied to the water.

Pressurized extraction: Though there is some pressure involved in brew methods like percolation and those using vacuum force, the term "pressurized extraction" in most cases refers specifically to coffee made in the style of espresso: High-pressure hot water forced through very finely ground coffee for a short period of of time, in order to create a thick, potent concentrate.


A siphon brewer in action.

Steeping: As in a French press, this brew type describes the process of extracting coffee by allowing the grounds to commingle with water for the duration of the brew. These types of extractions often utilize little if any agitation, and the grounds can be submerged in the water either with or without the use of some type of filter. Cold-brewed iced coffee is another example of a steeped extraction.

Vacuum: Similar to percolation but with a twist, vacuum or siphon brewing calls upon the same basic formula (water heated on the bottom and coffee grounds kept up top, with the two chambers linked by a glass tube). The difference is that instead of the brewed coffee continuously cycling through the coffee grounds and reintroducing with the water below, vacuum pots use the built-up steam pressure to suck up and keep the entire volume of water commingled with the grounds in the top pot during the extraction process—thereby extracting all at once and singularly, rather than repeatedly and unevenly, as in percolation. Once the pot is removed from its heat source, the brewed coffee passes through a cloth filter and drips back down into the bottom chamber, leaving the grounds behind.

Is there any other part of the coffee vocabulary you'd like to have translated?

Go back to Part IV: Decoding the Coffee Bag »
Part III: Milky Coffee Drinks »
Part II: Espresso Terms You Should Know »
Part I: The Coffee Plant »