Manual Brewing: Everything you need to know

Manual brewing methods are becoming an increasingly popular option for home enthusiasts and coffee shops alike.

The abilities to control every variable in the brewing process, create a cup that’s exactly suited to one’s preferences, and highlight the unique character of the coffee has convinced many to make the switch. This new popularity has prompted the birth of several new methods and devices, as well as the resurrection of older methods. In this months blog we’ll feature our favourite manual brewing methods and explain the differences between them.

Manual brewing tips

These suggestions are meant to provide a starting place. Our recommendations are dependent on batch size, pour rate, roast level, processing method, and more, all of which vary. Experiment and adjust to suit your own tastes.

Grind

Use a quality burr grinder or ask us to suggest a grind that is suitable. This will ensure an increasingly consistent grind and even extraction — or, in other words, a tasty cup of coffee!

Dose

Begin with 60 grams of coffee for every litre of water. However you can adjust this as well to create your preferred extraction.

Water

Thoroughly filtered water, heated to 92-98 degrees Centigrade, usually yields the best results.

Accessories

Since brewing at the proper temperature is vital for producing a great cup, we recommend purchasing the Bonavita Variable Kettle, although an off boiled kettle is a good place to start. A good set of scales is a must.

Choose your manual brewing method

Manual Brewing

Clever Dripper

The Clever Dripper is a hybrid brewer of sorts. At first glance, it seems like just another pour over dripper with a paper filter. But the Clever actually uses a unique stopper and release mechanism to keep coffee and water together until they’re ready to be poured into a server or mug. Because of this dwell time we consider the Clever a full-immersion brewer. The Clever is a very affordable option for manual brewing and is made entirely of BPA-free plastic. Both lightweight and durable, it’s excellent for travel.

One thing we appreciate about the Clever is that it is perhaps the most forgiving of all the brewers in our current lineup. Even without a quality burr grinder, you can still enjoy a nice cup of coffee from the Clever. For the best cups, however, we recommend using a coarse grind as its a type of emersion.

We like to use a unbleached filter with the Clever. Place the filter in the cone, give it a thorough rinse with hot water, and then decant to warm and rinse your server or mug. Set the Clever on a flat surface, using the included coaster if you prefer. After grinding the coffee, add it to the Clever. Pour hot water over the bed of coffee evenly until the desired volume is reached. We like finishing our pour by hitting all the walls so that the coffee bed is level when you’re ready for the draw-down. Some people like to stir, and we encourage you to experiment with this. Just remember that the agitation caused by stirring increases the rate of extraction — the more you stir, the shorter your brew time and/or the coarser the grind needed. Place the lid atop the cone to retain heat, and after 3-4 mins place the Clever on top of the receiving vessel. Draw-down should take about 30 seconds, for a total of 4 – 4.5 minutes. Toss the grounds and filter and rinse the Clever with hot water.

The Clever method is super easy. It combines pour-over and immersion brewing to consistently produce a clean and well-extracted cup — and all of this in an accessible and affordable way. If you’re just starting out with manual brewing we recommend the Clever as a fun and easy introduction. This method requires little-to-no experience and you can produce a great cup from the get-go.

Any coffee is well-suited for the Clever but something forgiving like our Formula 442 or 318 is a great place to start.

Manual Brewing

French Press / Cafetiere

The french press or cafetiere is a classic and is probably the most widely recognisable brewing device available. It’s comprised of a glass or metal beaker and a mesh plunger that separates coffee grounds from water.

We generally recommend a coarse grind as you will be brewing for a longer period.

Preheat the press with hot water. Toss the preheat water and add coarsely ground coffee to the press. Heat water and pour about 10% of the total target volume over the ground coffee. Allow the coffee to bloom for a few seconds, give it a stir, and then add the rest of the water. Put the plunger on and press just far enough to fully submerge all the grounds in the water. After 6 + minutes, press slowly and decant into a mug or server.

The press provides a full-bodied cup and, using a metal filter, permits more oils to pass than do other filter mediums. To keep your pressed coffee tasting great, we recommend taking the press and filter apart completely and thoroughly scrubbing all of the components with detergent immediately after brewing. Neglecting to do so can result in the buildup of stale oils that impart an unpleasant flavour to coffee.

Darker roasts typically do better in a french press than in other brewers. Try our single origin coffees such as Brazilian Santos, Honduras SHG or for a really smoky brew our Indian Monsooned Malabar.

Manual Brewing

Aeropress

The Aeropress is a very unconventional device. Designed by a manufacturer of Aerobie flying discs, there was little expectation that the Aeropress would emerge as a legitimate brewing option. But surprisingly the Aeropress makes a great cup of coffee. It’s constructed entirely with BPA-free plastics and is virtually indestructible, making it ideal for travel. When I travel I don’t go anywhere without my Aeropress.

It’s hard to provide a universal grind setting recommendation for the Aeropress, as it’s an incredibly versatile brewing device (one of the reasons that I love it!). We’ve had great results with all different grind settings. If you opt for a medium grind, go for a 2-minute dwell and a 30-second press. If you’re interested in playing around with a finer grind setting, brew for 45-90 seconds. Of course, all of this is dependent upon your precise technique.

We’ll provide you with a couple of different methods, the first being my preferred method; the inverted method. For this recipe, turn the Aeropress upside down and insert the plunger just enough to seal the bottom. Be very careful. This is a tricky manoeuvre to master, and the possibility of spilling near-boiling water is high. Add medium-ground coffee into the chamber and add hot water until the desired volume is reached. Steep for 1:45-2:00, stirring once or twice. Screw the filter on and press just until a blond crema-like head appears on top. Carefully invert the entire apparatus and place onto your mug or server, pressing down slowly for about 30 seconds.

Here’s another method that’s geared toward espresso-lovers. Although espresso is not an accurate description of what happens when brewing with this device. But we’ve found that you can produce a cup with the Aeropress that carries some attributes of espresso and — whatever you want to call it — we think that it makes a delicious cup of coffee. Use the traditional upright position and a fine-medium grind setting. Place the Aeropress atop a server or mug with the filter in place. Add coffee and pour hot water to target volume. Stir thoroughly and, after 30-45 seconds, begin to press in a steady and controlled motion. You should have a cup with a syrupy body and intense flavours.

The Aeropress is compact, easy, versatile, and virtually unbreakable.

You can also use the Aeropress to create great cold brew concentrate by missing one part coffee to two parts water and leave it in the fridge overnight to brew. In the morning brew the coffee slowly as above. You can then dilute the concentrate with water to taste or mix with tonic water for a great spritz.

Try the Aeropress with our coffees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and Peru on a medium grind or any of our espressos on a fine grind.

You can also use the Aeropress to create great cold brew concentrate by missing one part coffee to two parts water and leave it in the fridge overnight to brew. In the morning brew the coffee slowly as above. You can then dilute the concentrate with water to taste or mix with tonic water for a great spritz.

Manual Brewing

Siphon

The siphon (or vacpot) is the most visually captivating of all brew methods. But the design is more than just eye candy; it’s driven by its fascinating function. As a “vacuum brewer”, the two primary components are separate glass chambers. The top chamber includes a siphon tube that is inserted into the lower globe. This allows water in the bottom chamber to rise upward when pushed by water vapour pressure. The siphon brewer also includes a stand (table-top models only) and a cloth filter assembly.

The siphon, like the Aeropress, can be used with a variety of grind settings, depending on your preferred technique. We generally recommend a grind that is finer than that which is used for standard drip.

Boil water and pour into the lower globe. Compared to heating cool water over the siphon’s burner, this will save time and conserve fuel. Apply heat from a butane or alcohol burner (included), fix the filter assembly, and fit the top chamber inside of the opening of the bottom bowl, ensuring a snug fit. When water begins rising into the top chamber, lower the flame (if you’re using a butane burner). Use a stirring utensil to push around the edges of the filter, minimising large bubbles. If you have a thermometer, begin tracking the temperature at this point. Without a thermometer, a good stir on the can help steer the temperature toward proper brewing range. Now add the coffee to the top chamber, starting a timer immediately. Stir the coffee in a zig-zag pattern until all the grounds are submerged. After 30 seconds, stir again. Once the timer has hit 1:00, extinguish the flame and stir one last time. Total brew time should be close to 2 minutes, including draw-down.

The siphon is the ideal brewing method for those that desire complete control of brewing parameters. The water temperature is constant due to the applied heat source, the coffee is fully and evenly saturated, and the user can easily control brew time and agitation. All of these controlled factors have caused many to name the siphon the best manual brewing method available. The siphon uses a cloth filter, which creates a exceptionally clean cup. Besides, it looks great.

The siphon makes pretty much any coffee taste great, but we especially enjoy using it with highly floral coffees, as well as those that are naturally processed. Try our coffees from El Salvador, Colombia, and Ethiopia.

Manual Brewing

V60

The V60 is a cone-shaped dripper with spiral ridges along the inner wall and a single, large opening at the bottom. This design keeps the filter from sticking to the walls of the cone, encouraging extraction at the bottom and sides of the filter. The V60 comes in plastic, glass, or ceramic.

We generally recommend a grind setting between fine and medium.

Our preferred technique starts with thoroughly rinsing a non bleached filter and placing it inside the cone. After adding ground coffee, level the bed and make a small divot in the middle. Targeting this depression, pour just enough water to wet all of the coffee, then rest for 30 seconds. Continue pouring slowly, starting in the middle and moving in and out in concentric circles until the desired volume is reached. Keep the flowing water about ¼” away from the exposed walls of the dripper at all times and try to maintain a constant volume throughout the brewing process.

The unique design of the V60 yields some of the best coffee we’ve ever had. When one pours carefully, the spiral ridges on the V60 facilitate a more even extraction than other cone-shaped brewers, which tend to over-extract at the bottom. And with the glass or plastic V60 you can watch the entire brewing process.

We especially enjoy using the V60 with bright, fruity, and floral coffees. Generally, coffees from Kenya, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala taste their best when brewed with this method.

manual brewing

Chemex / Asobu

The Chemex or Asobu combines a pour over filter cone with a beautiful glass or metal  decanter. The defining feature of the chemex method is an ultra thick paper filter set flush against the walls. The Asobu is a similar system but with a metal mesh filter.

We generally recommend a medium or medium-coarse grind setting.

Begin by thoroughly rinsing the filter. This eliminates papery taste and preheats the server. After dumping this water, add ground coffee and even the bed. Use hot water to evenly wet all of the coffee (using about 10% of the total water volume) and start a timer. After 30-45 seconds pour the rest of the water in a slow and controlled motion. Aim to finish pouring around the 3:00 mark, with the last drop falling somewhere close to 4:00. Toss the filter and grounds, give the Chemex a few swirls, and serve.

Because of the filters design, water flows through the grounds more slowly and the dwell time is longer than other pour over methods. This is helpful, as brewing a tasty cup is less dependent on the skill of the user and more on precise and well-chosen parameters.

Bright, fruity coffees do very well in a Chemex and Asobu. Try a washed coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia, or Peru.

Manual Brewing

Kalita

The Kalita dripper features a wedge-shaped filter cone with ribs on the inner walls. It can sit on top of most mugs. While the Kalita is considered a cone dripper, its bottom is flat and sports two small holes through which brewed coffee flows.

We generally recommend a grind setting that is slightly coarser than that which is used for the V60.

Fold the edges of a non bleached filter and set inside the dripper, rinsing with hot water. This serves to preheat the dripper and eliminate the potential for papery tasting coffee. Add coffee to the filter cone and wet lightly and evenly with about 10% of the total water volume. Allow the coffee to bloom for 30-45 seconds, then continue pouring. We recommend three rounds of pouring, each administering about a third of total water volume (minus the amount used for pre-infusion). Pour in a way that keeps the water level barely above the coffee bed. With a slow, controlled pour, aim for 3:00-3:30 total brew time, depending on batch size and grind setting.

The Kalita offers an easier learning curve than the V60. Its design encourages a slower drain and permits a coarser grind, both of which contribute to the forgiving nature of the brewer. Like most pour over methods, the Kalita produces a clean cup and accents higher notes, but the extended brew time brings out more sweet and subtle flavours.

Try the Kalita with our coffees from Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.

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