We have gathered here today to brew the best coffee possible with limited time and resources. In a perfect world we would all have a personal barista pulling the cherriest of espresso shots right at our desk. Most of us can’t finance that, and that’s oh-kay. In this guide we will go through your options for brewing the best office coffee, manually. That means no electric moka pots, no Keurig cups, no generic office coffee pots. Just some good ole’ hands-on, DIY, pour-some-water-on-some-beans techniques today.
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The manual-brew office coffee guide summary
The intricacies of each process are fascinating and something we will cover in later articles. This guide will only briefly describe what goes into each technique, and propose a few “starter packs” to get you brewing right away. This review should help you to decide which best fits your needs.
French press ($25-$60, no disposable parts)
Simply drop your grounds in the press, add some water and wait. After four minutes, press the plunger to force the grounds to the bottom of the vessel. Pour and enjoy.
I’ve attached a few links to some very reasonable french presses, though pretty much any you find locally will get the job done. I recommend a press with an easy to clean plunger and screen, since getting old coffee stuck in there will compromise your brew.
The major benefit of this devise is that it is one of the easiest processes to get right, and has no disposable filters. The downside is that it’s easy to get
the right water-coffee ratio without using a scale, and this can easily give you over or under-extracted coffee. Another downside is that it’s easy to accidentally leave your coffee steeping too long.
Note: I would recommend against products that combine cup and press, where you brew and drink in one cup. Yes, you press the grounds to the bottom, but your coffee is still in contact, and will slowly over-extract as you drink. No bueno.
Aeropress ($45, disposable paper filter but metal exist)
Like a tiny, thin french press, except when you push the plunger, you press the coffee into your cup, away from the grounds.
While it is easy to experiment with lots of brewing parameters, this method requires nearly constant attention, benefits greatly from the use of a scale, and if you use it as directed, brews only one cup at a time (stay tuned for my Aeropress guide, I have a work-around). On the other hand, the process is done in about 3 minutes.
Note: the price of these devices seems to have gone up quite a bit since I last bought one. For what it’s worth, this is my personal favorite technique and would happily buy a replacement if I had to. That said, I find my pour-over devices a bit simpler, easier to clean, and less expensive.
Pour-over ($0 – $70, the most DIY, as sustainable as you’d like)
This category really ought to be subdivided, since there are an insane number of devices that are similar but distinct. For the purposes of this review, I will describe what I use at home (metal filter + vessel) and what I use at school (V60-style single-cup with paper filter).
In all cases, the grounds are placed in a basket above the vessel where you will collect the finished coffee. The basket has some sort of filter (some are reusable, most are paper), and the water is poured directly over the grounds. The water will work its way thought the grounds, pass through the filter, and drain into your serving vessel.
At home I use a metal filter I found at a local “this just fell off a truck” junk shop in Hamilton ($5) and a vase from the Dollar Store ($1.50). These were lucky finds, but an equivalent system would be something like the Chemex (which I lust after).
I like this for my home system because it allows for larger batches to be brewed than the Aeropress, and you don’t need a timer – it will pour through at its own pace. My metal filter and vase are also very easy to clean and produce no waste besides ground coffee. One thing to keep in mind is the size of the basket+filter where the grounds sit. You need to make sure it is large enough to accommodate the number of servings you hope to brew at a time.
At work, I opt for a smaller, single-cup style like the Hario V60 (featured above). I only brew for myself, and I only drink one cup at a time. This system lets me brew directly into my cup, and if I use a paper filter, the number of things I need to wash is exactly one. The V60 is a beautiful device, but there are also cheaper options. I would stay away from plastic or rubbery versions as those tend to be harder to clean and have the potential for leaching flavors.
As simple as the pour-over is, you still need to add water periodically as the coffee drains. The ideal technique is not to pour all of the water right away, but to add it a several intervals. This means the french press still wins in terms of simplicity.
“Cowboy” Coffee (rad as hell)
Imagine a french press, but you lost the plunger. This is by far the simplest method, and seriously, a totally fine way of going about it. Just put some grounds in a pot and pour some boiling water. Wait a few minutes and slowly pour your coffee into a cup, trying to keep as much of the solid matter in the pot as possible. Or just drink out of the pot. You do you.
Maybe this sounds silly, but it’s actually pretty decent. Yes, you are going to be chewing your coffee, but you can still brew a delicious cup. I unexpectedly ran out of filters at the office recently**, and was pleasantly surprised. I even considered ditching the V60 and filters in favor of the rustic approach. At the very least, I can confidently say I preferred this to the ancient pot in the break room.
**I also didn’t have a pot to brew in, so I dug around in the break room and found an old flower vase. I cleaned out the dirt and have been using it since. So for those keeping score, I exclusively use vases for brewing my pour-over coffee.**
There really is no right or wrong way to brew your coffee. I like manual techniques because they give me an opportunity to really take a break from work and focus on the task at hand. This isn’t what everyone is looking for from their
meditation coffee practice, but it’s something I value. If you are looking for a more hands-off, efficient way to make your coffee, stay tuned for our guide to electric and automatic brew methods.