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Types of Coffee: the Brewing Showdown

Types of Coffee: the Brewing Showdown

Whether you like an espresso or a cup of Turkish coffee, don't forget that these methods have their own traditions and histories: here is a coffee overview.

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According to the International Coffee Organization, around 1.16 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each day. The majority of the world brews coffee at home, in one of just a handful of ways, all of them less elaborate than the Japanese hour-long siphon method, and certainly more practical for daily use. Yet these methods have their own interesting traditions and histories.

The standard way of brewing coffee, and what you wind up getting at most places and restaurants, is an espresso, which can then be doctored up with milk foam. Espresso is produced when highly-pressurized water is forced through tightly-packed coffee grounds. A machine is required to build up sufficient pressure - and this pressure can also be unleashed in the form of steam, to froth milk and turn espressos into cappuccinos. Espresso machines were invented by Angelo Moriondo, in Turin, with his patent granted in 1884. There have been many innovations since, with variations on how pressure is created and how automated the process is. But the best espresso machines should produce pressure of 8-10 bar, with water at a temperature of 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit (90-96 degrees Celsius). Espresso coffee tastes stronger than other brewing methods but actually has less caffeine in it, around 75 mg per shot (as opposed to around 100-180 mg per 8 oz. cup of filter coffee).

Both the moka pot and Neapolitan-style coffee makers are for use on the stovetop. Both use pressure, like espresso machines, although obviously much less pressure. The moka pot was first produced in 1933 by the still-popular Italian design firm, Bialetti. The basic form includes a container for water at the bottom of the pot, a perforated basket in the middle to contain the coffee grounds, and an empty collecting chamber at the top, into which the boiling water, pressurized through the coffee in the middle, ends up trapped, yet separated from the grounds themselves. For purists who would rather drink espresso, but perhaps don’t have the machine at home, moka pots provide a close approximation.

An alternate design, but one which uses the same basic principle, Neapolitan “flip” coffee pots use gravity, rather than steam, to press water through coffee grounds. Once your water boils, you literally flip over the entire coffee pot, so the boiling water drags through the coffee grounds and into the collection chamber, which is now on the bottom. The resulting coffee is stronger than filter machines produce, but less strong than the pressurized espresso machines or stovetop mokas. It is unclear who invented this method - the French claim to have done so, but the Neapolitans won out with their name associated with the product. There is a long history of dueling claims between the French and the Neapolitans, some less savory than others. Back in the 16th century syphilis was known as the “Italian disease” by the French, and the “French disease” by the Italians - it actually was imported into Italy by French troops in Naples.

Turkish Coffee
The oldest way of drinking coffee is still the most popular method for home-brewing in Turkey and the Balkans. It began, according to an Ottoman historian writing in the 17th century, in the year 1554, when “a fellow called Hakem from Aleppo and a man called Shams from Damascus came to Istanbul and opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to sell coffee.” Rather than try to separate the grounds from the beverage, Turkish-style coffee allows the two to mingle—which means that you have to be careful about when you stop sipping, or you end up with a mouthful of grounds! In principle, this method simply involves adding grounds to boiling water, allowing them to dissolve, and then pouring the mostly-dissolved grounds and coffee mixture into your cup. In practice, however, there is an art form to this. Turkish coffee is incredibly strong (180mg or more caffeine in a small cup), the most-caffeinated way to drink your morning cup. For this reason, it is consumed in small portions, often just thimbles-full.

French Press
We might consider the French press brewing method a cousin of Turkish coffee, but with the grounds kept clear of your cup. Designed by Attilio Calimani in 1929, this cafetière features a metal filter on a piston that both protects your coffee from the grounds and adds a small amount of pressure, pushing the water into the grounds while pinning them to the bottom. This method is the least fiddly—all you need is a portable cafetière with a plunger piston, and boiling water. Add the boiling water, stir, then pop the top on and push down the plunger to slowly trap the grounds at the bottom. The coffee it produces grows stronger as it sits with the grounds at the bottom. Since most such presses are glass, the coffee also gets cold quickly. For these two reasons, coffee aficionados think that the coffee must be consumed within about twenty minutes, or it is no longer worth drinking.

I prefer the taste, and multi-sensory experience, of making espresso coffee at home, though I’m happy to drink any other method (aside from instant). For me, it’s great fun to experiment with these different methods, and see which you like best—and to drink whichever brew is the local specialty. When in Rome, I’ll drink espresso (standing at the bar) as the Romans do, but at home in Slovenia, a cup of Turkish coffee will start my morning with a buzz.

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