Pouring coffee from the jebena pot into porcelain cups in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Issue No. 111: How do you brew? A look at coffee brewing around the globe

If you order “a coffee,” what will you get? It depends where you are in the world.

Here in the states, of course, it’ll be a standard cup of joe. In Italy or France or Portugal, ordering a coffee gets you an espresso. Espresso is so ubiquitous there, you probably couldn’t get your American cup of drip black coffee even if you specially asked for it—even an “Americano” is just a watered down espresso. Likewise in Australia, even at McDonald’s they have espresso machines; your coffee order there will be espresso-based and most likely contain some milk. In Turkey, your standard coffee order will most likely get you what we call a Turkish coffee—strong black coffee, brewed with the grounds in the boiling water and without a filter, served with plenty of grounds in the drink, which must settle to the bottom before you begin to sip. And in Ethiopia, the country where the first coffee was discovered more than a millennium ago, your standard coffee is as elaborate as they come. Their daily coffee ritual produces a brew called bunna (boo-na). To make bunna, the hostess roasts green coffee beans over the fire, then grinds them by hand, then brews the coffee grounds in water in a tall, narrow pot called a jebena before pouring out servings for every guest in small, porcelain cups.

What difference does the brewing make?

If you brew the exact same coffee—same origin, same roasting—with different methods, the flavor of the drink can be dramatically different. Take Zingerman’s Coffee Company’s Espresso Blend No. 1. As you might guess from the name, this blend of beans from the Daterra Estate in Brazil was developed with espresso in mind, and it produces a great shot: rich with flavors of dark chocolate and a sweet nuttiness. But that doesn’t mean you have to prepare it as espresso. If you made it in a French press, the flavor becomes lighter and brighter, with notes of white cake, chestnut, and blood orange. Prepared in an aeropress the flavor changes again, now emphasizing creamy caramel notes with a hint of spice. And brewing the espresso blend in a Clever cup draws out toasty cocoa notes and a rich, full body. Brew the espresso blend in each of these four different ways and taste the four cups side by side, the differences are striking. None of these different brewing methods are “right” or “wrong”—at the end of the day, the only taste that counts is yours, and whichever way you like your coffee is the right way.

There are significant cultural differences in how coffee is drunk, too. In Italy, you typically slam your espresso very quickly while standing at the bar. I once saw a bus driver get off a bus at a stop light, pop into the coffee bar, gulp down an espresso, and hop back on the bus before the light changed. The passengers gave him an ovation. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, sharing coffee isn’t just about caffeination; it’s about offering hospitality and building connections between people. An Ethiopian coffee ceremony can last anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours.

What about the people who harvest coffee—how do they brew what they grow?

Most of the time, they don’t. More than half of the world’s coffee is grown in Central and South America. There, coffee doesn’t have the same history as it does in coffee’s ancestral homeland, Ethiopia, where every family keeps green coffee beans on hand to roast for themselves daily. In the Americas, instead of being a community fixture, coffee is a cash crop. In many cases, even among coffee growers who produce extremely high quality beans—including some we sell here at Zingerman’s—coffee growers don’t drink their own coffee. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to. It’s just that the green coffee beans are often their only source of income, and the crop is far too precious to keep any back for their own use. It’s not uncommon in Central and South America for folks who grow exceptional coffee beans to themselves drink cheap, instant coffee, like Maxwell House.

Six superior home brewing methods.

You could use your regular brewing method to make any Zingerman’s coffee at home. You’d make yourself an excellent cup of coffee. Try a different method, and you’ll create different flavors. Here are my favorite brew and coffee combos. Each brings a coarser- or finer-ground coffee in touch with hot water and pressure in a slightly different way. Try some variations at Zingerman’s Coffee Company’s cafe in Ann Arbor—it’s an amazing experience. Or stay home and check out all the possibilities on our Big Brew Board.

1. Roadhouse Joe Coffee brewed in an automatic drip pot
Our perennial best-selling coffee, the Roadhouse Joe blend is a mix of Papua New Guinean, Costa Rican, Indian and Brazilian Peaberry beans. We’ve served it every day alongside breakfast (and brunch, and lunch, and dinner) at Zingerman’s Roadhouse restaurant for over a decade. Brewed in a standard automatic drip machine (like the kind most of us have on our kitchen counters at home), it’s nutty and balanced.

2. Espresso Blend No. 1 prepared as espresso
Made from a blend of coffee varietals all grown on the Daterra Estate in Brazil, our house espresso blend is especially great as espresso—luxuriously thick crema, with flavors of dark chocolate and sweet nuts—but it’s great brewed just about any other way, too.

3. Ethiopian Harrar Coffee brewed in a press pot
Ethiopian coffees often have intensely fruity flavors, almost like biting into a handful of juicy berries. This coffee, from Ethiopia’s Oromia region, is no exception. Brewed in a press pot (also called a French press), the flavor is so light and bright it’s almost tea like, with acidic notes of lemon and blueberry.

4. Sumatra Mandheling Coffee brewed as a pourover
Sumatran coffees tend to be on the full-bodied, dark, earthy, wild end of the coffee flavor spectrum. When this one from the Jegarang Region of Indonesia is made as a manual pourover—which is basically drip coffee made by hand—those deep, earthy notes find balance with hints of butterscotch, almond, pecan, and banana.

5. Colombia Cosurca Coffee brewed with an aeropress
We source these beans from a cooperative of small farms in Cauca, a mountainous province of Southwestern Colombia. Brewing it with an aeropress—a 21st-century take on a French press that uses pressure to quickly brew a single smooth, clean cup—gives the coffee a smooth body, with a mouthwatering juicy quality balanced with rich, nutty notes.

6. Costa Rica Hacienda Miramonte Coffee brewed with a syphon
At the peak of the season, the most experienced pickers harvest the ripest coffee cherries just for us from a micro-lot on the Hacienda Miramonte estate. When brewed using a syphon—the science-experimenty looking brew equipment seen at some specialty coffee shops and the occasional serious coffee-lover’s home—the flavors are rich and complex with a pleasant toffee note.