We talk about immersion coffee brewers as if the concept is a new one, but chances are good that "immersion brewing" was the only way to brew coffee for its first several hundred years. The concept behind immersion brewing is about as simple as it gets: soak coffee grounds in how water until you have coffee, then remove the grounds somehow. When you compare that to the intricate principles of physics behind the siphon brewer or the delicate technique of the perfect pour for drip brewing, making coffee via immersion seems like a foolproof, can't-miss method. Not so much. There are a few things to know about brewing coffee this way, including how to choose am immersion coffee brewer that will deliver the results you want.
Immersion Coffee Brewers: Factors Affecting Flavor
Just because immersion brewers have fewer moving parts doesn't mean that engineers can pay any less attention to those parts. In fact, precision and design is even more important in a coffee brewer that has so few pieces. These are the factors that designers have to consider when creating a coffee pot for brewing this way.
1. Heat Retention
The best coffee extraction happens when the water is kept between 192 F. and 205 F. throughout the entire brewing process. With many methods of brewing, you can keep the temp up with the slow addition of water from the kettle. With immersion brewing, all the water is dumped in at once, so the carafe needs to retain the heat of the water throughout the brewing time. In addition, larger coffee brewers should also be able to keep the brewed coffee at drinkable temperature for enough time to enjoy a second cup. Temperature control is generally done through a combination of heat retaining materials and insulation.
2. Grounds Control
If you're going to brew coffee by immersing coffee grounds completely in water, you need a way to remove those grounds from the coffee before you drink it. There are a number of different ways to accomplish that, all of them involving some sort of filter. In addition to making sure your cup of coffee isn't full of soggy coffee grounds, designers also need to consider whether the grounds are simply pushed to the bottom or otherwise kept from pouring into your cup, or whether to remove them completely from the brewer. This can be important in brewers that make more than 1-2 cups of coffee at a time, as grounds hanging around in the bottom of the pot can get over-extracted and make for a bitter brew.
Immersion Brewers: Basic Design Usability
In addition to the factors that affect the quality of the coffee, it's also important to consider the basic usability of the brewer. Those factors include things like ergonomics - how comfortable is it to hold and pour from the carafe, for example - and things that only become obvious on use - does the lid stay on when you pour? What do you do with the filter once you remove it from the carafe? How difficult is it to clean? When it comes to these factors, the brewers that stand apart are those where it is obvious the designers put a little extra thought into function. The Eva Solo, for example, is shaped to fit the hand comfortably, and the neoprene jacket that helps keep the coffee warm also makes it possible to pour from the carafe without burning your hand. The lid of the Sowden SoftBrew is designed to serve as a saucer for the filter so that it doesn't drip all over your table when you remove it from the brewed coffee.
Coffee Kind Immersion Brewer Picks
We currently list four immersion brewers for coffee -- three of them in the immersion category and a French press. They're each distinctly different from each other.
The SoftBrew is a pure immersion brewer - you simply put ground coffee into the filter, put the filter into the pot and add hot water. After a few minutes of steeping, you remove the filter, standing it on the handy lid-saucer to avoid drips, and pour the coffee. It features a funky, blocky modern design aesthetic that looks great on your table, and makes smooth, mellow, flavor-rich coffee. The secret is in the laser-etched metal filter with tiny holes that are designed to let coffee oils through but keep even the finest sediment out of your cup. The Sowden brewer is affordably priced, and while it probably won't survive a fall from your counter onto a hard tile floor, it will stand up to everyday use - and it's easy enough to use everyday. The SoftBrew makes up to 8 cups of coffee, so it's great when you're making coffee for a crowd.
The French press is the classic immersion brewer. To brew in it, you simply add grounds to boiling water, stir, steep and press the grounds to the bottom. For many of us who came to appreciate specialty coffee before the 1990s, the French press was our first experience with real coffee, and it remains a favorite brewing method. You can find French presses from many companies, often starting as low as $20. We chose to list the Espro French press for a number of reasons. The insulated stainless steel retains heat far better than any of the presses made of the more traditional glass -- and obviously, doesn't break as easily as the notoriously fragile glass presses. The micromesh filter is precision fitted to the carafe, and is among the best filters we've seen on any press style coffee maker. It costs a little more than the typical French press, but quality, durability and style -- not to mention the coffee it makes -- make it more than worth the extra cost.
The Aeropress really deserves a whole category of its own. It's really a hybrid immersion-press-pressure-filter coffee brewer that offers all the benefits of each method of making coffee. It's not terribly impressive style-wise - a pair of plastic tubes that fit together, essentially -- but the coffee that comes out of it is nothing short of amazing. To use it, you combine hot water and coffee grounds in the top chamber, stir them to agitate, let them steep, and then press the plunger to force the coffee through a filter and into your cup. Unlike a French press, where you're simply pushing the grounds to the bottom of the chamber, with the Aeropress, you're actually forcing the coffee through the grounds as you would with espresso, and then through a paper filter. The resulting cup is smooth, mellow and rich, as you'd expect from press coffee, but far cleaner. The Aeropress is also your best choice if your tummy doesn't do well with acidic coffee. Not only does it extract at lower temperatures, which results in less chlorogenic acid in your cup, it uses a paper filter that further reduces the acid content. The Aeropress also gets extra points for the fun factor -- it may be the only coffee brewer that has its own dedicated world championship. And to top it off, you can't beat the price.
The Eva Solo Cafe is part of the European Eva Solo line of functional, stylish houseware products. The sleek, stylish brewer looks more like a wine carafe than a hard-working coffee maker, but looks can be deceiving. Like the Sowden, the Eva Solo brewer is a pure immersion brewer - put ground coffee in the filter, put the filter in the pot, add hot water and steep until done. As noted before, the Solo is ergonomically designed for comfortable pouring, and the neoprene jacket -- a rather distinctive style note -- also serves the purpose of insulating the glass carafe to keep your coffee hot during brewing and for up to an hour after. It makes up to 8 cups of coffee, making it the ideal immersion brewer for lazy Sunday mornings and after dinner coffee when you're serving guests.