How to Make Filter Coffee

Depending on where you grew up you, might call it filter coffee, drip coffee or even just…coffee. Whilst filter coffee is often one of the cheapest options on the coffee shop menu, in my opinion, it can be one of the best tasting – if you make it right.

Our goal today is to help you make something   that actually tastes really really good and to do it, you’ll need a great filter coffee machine.

What is a filter coffee machine?

A filter coffee machine is simply a machine that uses coffee grounds in a filter with hot water sipping through. It’s great for making multiple cups of coffee all at once and in some cases can even make up to 2 litres’ worth.

The coffee it makes is similar to what you can get from a single cup device like the v60 but whilst these single cup brewers are great if you’re drinking alone, they are not super practical if you’ve got a caffeine deprived family or you need to serve it up quick in a cafe setting.

Of course if you need even bigger quantities there are commercial brewers that can make enough coffee to wake up a whole village but for many people a filter machine that can make 1 – 2 litres is a good place to start.

Espresso vs Filter Coffee

Whilst we’re talking about black coffee a question  that often comes up is “why not drink espresso or it’s watered down sibling the long black aka the classic cafe Americano?” Well, they do really taste quite different. Espresso brewing uses a more coarse  metal filter which means more of the fine particles come through into the cup.

The end result is a thicker, heavier coffee with less clarity than paper filtered coffee.

Now, I’m not here to start any espresso or filter coffee fights – I enjoy both but they’re just different!

What equipment do you need to make a filter coffee?

Clearly, you need a filter coffee machine, but they’re not all created equally. You’ll get the best results if you find one that has a good temperature control, can brew to gold cup standards and has a thermal decanter.

Perhaps the best known brand in this category is the Moccamaster. Whilst it is a quality brewer and has a really cool 70s styling, in our opinion it’s not quite at good as the Sage Precision Brewer.

Fortunately, if you’ve already got a filter coffee machine and it isn’t exactly high end, the process we’ll take you through to make the best filter coffee is essentially the same.

Next you’ll need a grinder. Pre-ground coffee works but you’ll get a more vibrant flavour and aroma if you grind fresh coffee beans. A grinder like the Baratza Forte or the Sage Smart Grinder Pro are two really good options but in reality most electric burr grinders will do the job just fine .

Water quality often gets overlooked in coffee brewing however it does have a very big impact on the finished product. At the very least use water that’s been filtered to remove the obvious flavour tanks like chlorine

Finally, the coffee. The type of coffee you choose will depend on personal preference however most coffees designed for filter brewing tend to be a lighter roast than the average espresso blend.

Finding the right brew ratio

One of the keys to brewing great coffee is understanding your brew ratio – that is the ratio of coffee to the water that we put into the machine. This is something you can experiment with but I suggest starting with the gold cup ratio of 60 grams of coffee per litre of water which is recommended by the specialty coffee association.

This is a very good starting point and gives good results with most coffees. Now you can take this ratio and you can just adjust this up or down as needed. For example if i want half a batch I’ll use 30 grams of coffee and 500 ml of water. If i want more, I can double this up to 120 grams of coffee and use two litres of water.

Grinding your coffee beans

If you’ve already got pre-ground coffee, then obviously this step doesn’t apply to you. Otherwise, we then need to grind the coffee to what’s often called a medium or filter grind. It is coarser than espresso grind and finer than what you would use for a cafetiere or cold brew.

Some people describe the consistency like table salt or sand – in truth I’ve never found these descriptions particularly helpful. The fact is, measuring grind size by appearance is really difficult so instead we’ll focus on dialling in the grind after we have brewed our first batch of coffee (I’ll explain this further on in the article so keep reading).

Choosing the right filter

The Sage Precision Brewer has two filter options: a cone shape filter which is suitable for batches up to 1.2 litres and a flat bottom basket which can brew batches up to 1.8 litres. For other models, keep these shapes in mind.

Brewing 1 litre of coffee

To brew a batch you should add ground coffee to a paper filter, add one litre of filtered water, set the dial to gold cup (for Sage Precision Brewers) and you’re good to go.

Dialling in for the perfect filter coffee

So after you have brewed your first batch, check the taste. Sometimes it’ll taste okay but it might be a little thin with a slightly sour acidity and not the sweetness that you’re looking for.

These are all symptoms of a very under extracted brew. Just like with any brewing method the amount of soluble material that we can extract from the coffee doesn’t only affect the strength of the coffee it also affects the balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness. If we don’t extract enough from the ground coffee it will not only be thin and weak but also overly acidic and sour.

If we extract too much from the ground coffee, the strength will improve but the balance will become overly bitter and dry so we’re literally aiming for that sweet spot – the spot in the middle where we have maximum sweetness with a nice balance of acidity and bitterness.

A number of factors influence extraction but in this case we’re going to focus on the grind size. As we grind finer this allows the water to get in and extract more from the ground coffee so for an under extracted brew I would adjust the grinder a little finer and try brewing a fresh batch.

Keep testing

Having followed the steps above, now it should be fuller with a nice juicy sweetness.  Of course we don’t have to stop there – we can try going finer again. The balance will change each time that we do but at some point that bitterness will start to dominate the flavours and we’ll know that we’ve gone a touch too far.

Cleaning your equipment

There is one mistake that I often see and a mistake that will ruin a batch of even the most expensive coffee: dirty equipment.

If you don’t thoroughly clean out the thermal carafe and the filter basket, the residue of rancid old  coffee is going to taint every batch you brew so get some good coffee cleaner, fill the carafe with hot water and give it a quick scrub.

For the basket, remove it from the filter coffee machine and wash it out.