The brewing basics: pros and cons of alternate brewing methods

08 August, 2016 by
Danielle Bowling

If you’re in the crowded caf market, you’d do well to consider adding alternative brewing methods to your menu. But which ones are worth a try, and how significant is the investment? Danielle Bowling finds out.

Australians are amongst the most critical coffee drinkers in the world. Spoilt for choice when it comes to high quality cafes and access to skilled baristas, consumers don’t have to – and more often than not, simply wont – put up with a lacklustre brew.

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Coffee drinkers tend to be loyal; once they find an establishment that they like and which offers a consistent product, they tend to stick with it. But that doesn’t mean caf operators can rest on their laurels once they know their flat white is right. They need to work out ways to continue to engage with their patrons, and differentiate themselves from the countless other cafes offering an almost identical experience. And a growing number of them are turning to alternative brewing methods.

Here, Hayley Palk, barista at Barista & Cook in Sydney’s Waterloo, dissects the most popular brewing methods seen in cafes today, shedding light on the skill and equipment required for each.

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1. Espresso

By far, espresso is the most popular brewing technique in Australia. It’s the bread and butter of hospitality’s coffee sector, generating countless flat whites, lattes, cappuccinos and short and long blacks every day.

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Description: “Espresso is highly pressurised, really finely ground coffee,” Palk said. “It’s generally a darker roast than the filter brews and it produces a syrupy, full bodied drink that’s either served black or with milk.”

_MG_8294.jpgHayley Palk, barista at Barista & Cook

At Barista & Cook, Palk said the flat white is by far the biggest seller, but according to research released by point of sale company, Square, 43 percent of Australians opt for a latte, followed by 20 percent for flat whites, 12 percent for cappuccinos, five percent for long blacks and four percent for espressos.

Benefits: “Espresso based beverages allow for greater variety for customers. It works well black or with milk and with or without sugar,” she said.

Espresso is suitable for decaf, single origin coffees and blends, and can use a wide range of milks including full-fat, skim, soy and almond. As it’s the most widely available brewing method, there are a lot of training opportunities on offer for cafes.

Challenges: Customisation represents a key challenge for baristas and caf operators. “Learning how to do shots and handle the milk might seem simple at first, but the variables – like grind, dose and bean origin – make a big difference. Getting accurate training on how to get the best profile from the beans is quite an intricate process,” Palk said.

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She encourages operators to contact their coffee suppliers in order to ensure staff are up-to-speed on the best ways to handle a range of beans and milks.

Equipment: “Commercial machines range from anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000, and then you have the grinders. For a basic set-up, you’d have one grinder for the blend and one for the decaf, and now introducing single origin coffees is increasingly popular, so having a third grinder is ideal.”

2. Pour over

The pour over technique is suitable for a slightly courser grind than that of espresso. The ideal grind is on the finer side of medium with a light to medium roast.

It involves filtering coffee through paper filters, using water at about 96 degrees Celsius.

The most popular examples of pour over are the V60 and Chemex.

Description: “For pour over, it’s all about the ratio of volume to time. For V60, a general brewing ratio is about 16g of coffee to 250ml of water, with about 50ml initially poured in to give the coffee a chance to de-gas for about 45 seconds. This also allows the beans to be fully saturated for a moment. From there, you continually add the rest of the volume of water in even concentric circles, so you’re agitating and saturating evenly to produce a final extraction that’s not over-extracted,” Palk said.

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Pour overs are served black, and the standard size for a V60 is 250ml, while a Chemex is closer to 350ml. Other key differences are that the V60 filter uses a single paper filter, whereas the Chemex filter has three layers, resulting in a finer product. Additionally, with V60, the barista pours the volume through the filter in circles, whereas with Chemex the extraction is achieved through time, not agitation.

“After the coffee has been saturated and has had a chance to de-gas, you simply pour the remaining volume of water gently through the centre of the cone, so the coffee is no longer being agitated,” Palk said.

The result of both techniques is a drink that’s closer to tea than a standard espresso because the brewing method doesn’t involve any pressure – just gravity and heat.

Benefit: “Pour over is the best way to get an accurate representation of the beans and their flavour profiles. With the V60, the end product is a medium to full bodied cup, and because of the lighter roast you can get the subtleties of the origin.

“With Chemex, the process is similar but there are three layers of filtration in the filter, so it’s finer. The final result is a lot cleaner. If you’ve got a particularly high-grade of coffee, it’s a great way to show it off, because you get those finer notes in the flavour,” she said.

Equipment: The V60 comprises a cone that sits on top of a beaker-like container, as well as the paper filter. Operators will also need scales and a timer, and many choose to purchase a stand as well.

The Chemex vessel is just one piece, which has an hourglass-like shape. As with V60, operators will also need scales and a timer.

“The Chemex is a really beautiful looking piece – people are always asking about it. There’s generally a wooden rim around the centre, so it’s more of an arty looking piece,” Palk said.

Challenges: Pour over is more time consuming than espresso, with a V60 coffee taking about 2.5 to three minutes, and Chemex taking about 3.5 minutes. And with the V60 technique, the barista is pouring the whole time, so it’s quite a labour intensive process, especially if you’re in a bustling caf and you need to keep your eye on staffing costs.

Because the flavour clarity is much higher than with espresso brews, operators keen to offer pour over need to invest in quality coffee; it’s a far less forgiving process than other extraction techniques.

3. Aeropress

The Aeropress, although not served at Barista & Cook, is an increasingly popular brewing method – both in and out of the home – thanks largely to its convenience and ease of use.

Description: “The Aeropress is just one vessel. It’s got two tubes: one connects to the top of the other. In the bottom tube, you use a round paper filter. You put about 17g of ground coffee in with about 250ml of water, and you agitate it once or twice with a plastic stirrer. Then you let it sit for about 2.5 minutes. You attach the top of the other tube, flip it over and plunge it down,” Palk said.

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“So you’ve got the pressure and the heat, giving you a fuller bodied cup than your standard pour overs.”

Benefit: It’s very convenient, can be used in the domestic market and is easy to master. It’s also a more palatable alternative to plunger brews, Palk said.

“Once you plunge the Aeropress down, the beverage leaves the remaining coffee grind. With a plunger, it’s still sitting with the coffee, even though the coffee is separated. That means it’s still extracting and you can get that bitter, acidic taste, whereas with Aeropress, because you’ve already released it, you wont get any over-extraction.”

Equipment: The Aeropress device plus the paper filter.

Challenges: Like any alternative brewing method, learning how to use an Aeropress properly takes time and practice. In Palk’s opinion, Aeropress doesn’t give the consumer the full experience of the coffee, even though it requires grind from higher quality beans than those commonly used for espresso coffee.

4. Cold drip

Description: Cold drip is the brewing technique experiencing the strongest growth at the moment, Palk said. It’s particularly popular amongst health conscious consumers, as it’s easy to digest and has less caffeine than other coffee drinks.

“Cold drip is filtered still water that drips very slowly through really coarsely ground, lightly roasted coffee. As it drips slowly, it extracts from the coffee but because there’s no heat and no pressure other than gravity, you don’t get the oils and the acids from the bean,” she said. “So it generally comes out really syrupy and quite sweet, and has some parallels with cold tea.”

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Cold drip can be served with milk, depending on where the coffee has been sourced from. “For example, Brazilian coffee is more chocolatey so it goes well with milk. But berry notes don’t go well with milk, so we don’t serve it with the Ethiopian or the Kenyan beans,” Palk said.

Benefit: A ready to drink beverage served over ice, cold drip is a great alternative for consumers looking to avoid hot drinks in the warmer months. The device is also quite a visually attractive addition to your front of house and can work well as a conversation starter between the barista and consumers.

It’s also a process that looks after itself once set up. It can be left overnight, unattended.

Equipment: Cold drips are sold with three main components: the water chamber, coffee chamber and a bottle or jug to catch the cold drip. They are sold with a stand to keep everything vertical.

Challenges: “It takes a long time. We do it between 12 and 16 hours, so it’s generally done overnight,” Palk said. “They’re also quite expensive and can be anywhere between $500 and $1,300, but it’s a one time buy.”

The cold drip coffee can’t be served until the brewing process is complete, so once an establishment runs out of the brew, it’ll be at least another 12 or so hours before it can be served again.

“Once you run out, you’re out. We generally drip one overnight then one in the morning that drips throughout the day, so we can get two batches in a 24 hour period,” she said.

And the final product doesn’t keep for more than three or four days, so it can’t be prepared too far in advance.