In Defense of Simple Coffee Brewing

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe King)

While for a lot of us coffee is an everyday product, that doesn’t mean it’s a simple product. Producing coffee takes a lot of work and a lot of hands, not to mention the work it takes to get it all the way across the world and into your kitchen.

But the beauty of it is that making coffee is an inherently simple act. If you have coffee grounds and hot water, you can make your favorite drink.

Then why do we complicate things?

I’m not talking about the work of master baristas at coffee shops. There’s nothing better than being treated to an expertly pulled shot on a beautiful machine. It’s something few of us do at home, and the act of watching a barista in action, putting love into just one drink, is as much artistry as it is service. Visiting a café is about experiencing something that you wouldn’t at home.

But at home, a place where simple coffee brewing is the easiest, we have definitely managed to overcomplicate things. We turn to fancy machines and coffee gadgets that promise to do things better than we ever could (and in less time, too).

The odd part is that it’s all in a quest for simplicity; an attempt to reduce the time and energy spent on making a cup of coffee. Because wouldn’t it be nice to just push a button and have it ready in a few seconds? That seems like a simple act, doesn’t it?

While the act might be simple, the machinery certainly is not. You may just push a button, but there’s a lot more that goes into making the coffee that goes into the final cup.

As an advocate for manual brewing at home — we’re talking French press, Chemex, Melitta, or anything else that involves pouring water over grounds and not much more (I’ll even go so far as to include the ease of a Bialetti) — I have a strong aversion to the overly simplified versions of brewing, be it instant coffee or coffee pods, or anything else. Some people dislike coffee pods so much, they turned the story of K-Cups into a horror movie.

There are many environmental and economic reasons not to buy coffee pods, and they are reasons alone to opt out of this quick method of brewing. But there’s another one.

Coffee pods and electric coffee brewers, in my opinion, take the beauty out of coffee.

I know that in the morning, people are pressed for time. I know that we have jobs to get to and lives to live. But if we replace all of our daily acts with gadgets, where does it get us? The five to 10 minutes it takes for me to go through my morning routine signal to me that the day has officially begun. Like a morning set of sun salutations.

Manual brewing might mean five or 10 minutes of additional time in your morning routine, but those five or 10 minutes can easily be pulled from other things. Scrolling a news feed, for example.

The act of brewing morning coffee is a ritual — one that deserves our time. It’s that moment where even in the craziness that the morning can bring, we stop to do something manual. We open the bag of beans, we smell. We pour them into the grinder, we listen. We boil the water, and we pour, entranced by the magic of the chemical reaction that turns those ground beans into something drinkable. These are the small steps that pull us back down to earth in the midst of morning madness.

Slow coffee is just like slow food, an attention to where your drink came from and how it’s made. It’s honoring the routine that it takes to make something and make it well. When we engage with an experience, it generally makes that experience more rewarding for us. And on the flip side of that, when something is too easy, we’re quick to not value it as much.

It might seem like a small and simple gesture, but in a world of mechanization, it’s nice to be able to add the human touch whenever possible. (Not to mention that it tastes better, too.)

I’ll defend simple, manual brewing until the very end, not just because I think it tastes better, but because I love the process and the ritual of it all. And to me, that’s as essential as the final drink in my hand.