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Variations on the theme

I say it now, plain and clear: The coffee that we Italians love most along with the one made with the mocha, and perhaps the only one that we really consider, is certainly the espresso. Concentrated, intense, to be drunk in a ceramic cup or in a glass cup. What’s more classic or better than that? However, both in Italy and in the world there are many other ways to “make” coffee, some of which are really special and interesting.

Method you use, coffee you find: each preparation allows you to obtain and enjoy a drink with unique and different characteristics. We all know, to a certain degree, how the preparation of the espresso is done; how many times, at the bar, we stopped and look fascinated at all the gestures that usually the barkeeper makes to prepare our espresso cup? And, of course, we are more than familiar with mocha.

But do we really know other coffee preparation techniques? Today I want to talk to you about some of the most widespread and fascinating methods of brewing coffee.


Before getting into the details, let’s make a brief premise that will help us to better understand the following descriptions of the different processes. It is said that the best coffee is the one that is prepared with one’s own hands, but it remains important to know how to choose the method to use, because there are several: all certainly valid, it is only a matter of taste.

Generally the beverage is obtained by infusion/maceration (from direct and prolonged contact between water and coffee powder) or by percolating (the water passes through a layer of ground coffee extracting from it properties and substances. Then the water enriched by all these precious components will deposit in another container).

If infusion or maceration are usually prepared “by hand”, combining the components and stirring, the percolation instead can take place by a “push”, applying manual or mechanical force that “pushes” the water through a layer of coffee and then a filter, by gravity, in which case no external pressure is applied as it is gravity itself that moves the water from a higher to a lower point, or lastly by using high pressure to push a jet of hot water through a layer of ground coffee.

This last system, typical of the Italian preparation, is the only one that allows a complete extraction of oils, aromas and flavors. Are you ready? Let’s see the 5 main ways to prepare coffee in an alternative way.

Many styles, many varieties

1) Turkish style: “Turkish style” is the term with which are improperly described all the Middle-Eastern coffees. How many and what are the variants, the technique is always the same by infusion, the coffee is prepared in the typical ibrick or cezve, a tin plated copper briquette with a single handle, smaller in diameter at the rim than at the base.

The sugar goes first in the ibrick, then the water, bringing it to boiling over low heat. Removing it from the heat, 2 spoons of medium roasted and very finely grinded coffee are added for each cup desired and then it is placed back on the heat to boil. When the liquid becomes foamy it is removed from the heat and stirred. This process is repeated 2 more times. The last time a spoon of cold water (5ml) is added in order to accelerate the deposit of the coffee powder to the bottom. The coffee must be tasted without being filtered in small and low cups.

 2) Neapolitan style: a technique of gravity typical of the city of Napoli. To prepare it we use the classic Neapolitan coffee maker, made up by two overlapping containers with a filter basket and a layer of coffee in between the two. How does it work? The upper container is filled with dark roasted and finely grinded coffee. The lower container is filled with water and the part with the spout it is screwed on the top side upside down.

At this point it is placed on the stove, when the water begins to boil the gadget is removed from the heat and turned upside down so to allow the hot water to flow through the ground coffee into the lower container which will fill up with delicious coffee, very similar to the classic moka!

3) French Press: a pressure technique, popular in the Alps and in Northern Europe, but is more and more common also in Italy. Fill the container with 7 grams of coffee powder (medium to coarse grind) for each cup it is made and add 220cc of water at 96 degrees.

Close the coffee pot and leave the infusion to rest for 4 to 6 minutes. At this point, very slowly manually push towards the bottom of the cylinder the handle and the filter mash that are the upper part of the device. The coffee powder is forced to the bottom of the container leaving a “long” but quite intense clear coffee.

4) Filter: gravity technique, ancient and relatively simple. To obtain the best results, the equipment needed is: a preheated jug of glass container and a paper filter in which a medium grinded coffee powder is placed, 55gr of coffee for each lt. of water. At this point pour over the coffee hot water (ideally at 93 degrees), wait 4 to 6 minutes for the percolation process to take place.

The water passes through the coffee and then the filter and it collects in the container below. The coffee obtained is long and light we could almost say… “American”. In fact this method is used in North America and some North European countries and France. The volume of the cup is about 150-190 ml.

5) “Vacuum”: also called “Japanese style” because of its great popularity in the Land of the Raising Sun, is certainly one of the most spectacular techniques. It uses a combination of pressure, gravity and ….empty space! This typical coffee maker generally is made of glass and therefore transparent, it consists of a top and a lower bowl.

The bottom bowl must be filled with half a liter of water and then placed on an open flame. At the same time about 30 gr. of fine to medium coffee grind must be placed in the upper bowl. When the water reaches the boiling point the steam pushed by pressure rises through a siphon thus mixing with the coffee powder. At this point the flame should be lowered, keeping the pressure for one to two minutes until almost all the water has been pushed into the upper chamber.

By turning off the flame, the pressure drops drastically and it creates a vacuum in the lower chamber that “draws” the liquid. The coffee sucked through the siphon is filtered and it collects the lower bowl. If the scenic effect is really fascinating, the drink you obtain is generally a low intensity long coffee but still pleasant to the palate

And for the Summer? Try the Cold Brew!

I want to tell you again a method of preparation of coffee, one of the most particular and interesting, especially in the summer. Cold brew: this technique unlike any other, allows you to prepare cold coffee. Yes you understood very well, no need to boil water or light a fire! Most likely you have had the opportunity to drink a cold coffee, even at a bar.

There are those who shake it with ice, who makes espresso coffee and let it sit in the refrigerator, who adds whipped cream or ice cream or flavoring. But in all these cases we start from a hot prepared coffee that is cooled down afterwards. “Cold Brew” is instead a real technique of cold extraction. How does it work?

A special piece of equipment consisting of 3 components must be used: a top jug in which cold water is contained, a central block where the coffee powder is enclosed, grinded to the coarseness of breadcrumbs, and a lower jug that will collect the final liquid ready to be consumed. The mechanism follows and is a very slow percolating process.

The water that passes through the coffee grinds must be at a temperature below 20°C one drop at the time at a frequency of 8 every 10 seconds. The beverage obtained had a certain aromatic complexity. It is sweet, it is naturally rich of caffeine and flavor, it is also a viable alternative to the most common sodas and energy drinks filled with alcohol or sugar that are present in the market today, especially when served with the addition of ginger, vanilla or a slice of orange!

The only disadvantage? The preparation time: it can take even 12 hours! Perhaps it is not the drink to prepare in the morning before going to work but it can be a nice experiment to try during holidays or a weekend.

What do you think?

The world of coffee is ever changing, rich in ideas and creativity. I reiterate: I love especially espresso, soul and pride of the Italian tradition. I am pretty sure you all think that too. But they say in life you have to try a little bit of everything, right? Now you also know a little bit more about these alternative techniques for enjoying coffee… Have you already tried some or are you going to try now?

Write a message on our Facebook page to tell us what you think! We are really curious to know your impressions and to exchange opinions on the subject. In the meantime greeting to All and have a great summer! We will be back in September.  


Ilaria Danesi

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