Extracting the Coffee: Percolation vs. Immersion

August 2, 2021
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Most people go to coffee shops for the convenience and perhaps to enjoy a particular brew. When making coffee at home however, one has control over all aspects of the end product. There are a multitude of subtle differences that can have a profound effect on your cup of coffee: bean type, grind coarseness, ground-to-water ratio. Homebrewers enjoy the freedom to tinker with all these elements, and many coffee lovers never look back once they get a taste of that freedom! Let’s face it, if you’re reading this then you’ve been bitten by the bug— either you’ve experimented with your coffee or have considered it in the past. Here at Minas Espresso, we don’t just love cultivating excellent Brazilian coffee beans, we want to cultivate your continued interest in specialty coffee. There’s a lot involved in making specialty coffee, so we’re about to discuss one of the most important parts of brewing: extraction! 
While there are plenty of fancy, expensive machines out there, the principle behind how they pull the coffee flavor out of the grounds and into the water is quite simple. There are two main categories: percolation and immersion. Even though these two methods aren’t all that different from each other, they can result in a night-and-day difference in your brew. Now, it’s important to note that coffee is an experience, and everyone experiences it differently. The guidelines presented in this article don’t define what you should experience with your coffee and shouldn’t be used to guide any exclusive decisions; there purpose are only to help you fine tune your homebrew. 

Percolation, or Drip-Through Coffee Making

Percolation is what most beginners are familiar with. The term evokes an appliance from the 1900’s that has since fallen out of favor, known as a coffee percolator, but the process of percolation is separate from the gadget. In fact, it’s the appliance that people are most familiar with that replaced the percolator: the electric drip coffeemaker. Both use the same method of extraction by passing water through a layer of coffee grounds allowing it to pick up some of the flavors as it passes by. What’s key to understand here is that water is constantly being replaced in a percolating system. This would help your brew avoid picking up too many undesirable notes, but it leaves a lot of the slower-extracting compounds underrepresented.

As previously stated, your electric drip coffeemakers use percolation to extract. There are plenty of manual coffeemakers, also known as pour-over, that allow you to do the same thing but with a bit more control over the temperature and drip rate. 

Immersion, or Steeping

Immersion brewing takes a different approach towards extraction, instead keeping the original quantity of water in constant contact with the coffee grounds. Your average coffee-drinker won’t be very familiar with this method of extraction, but if you’ve ever used a French press, then you’ve made yourself immersion-brewed coffee! You’ve probably also noted that French press coffee has a bit of a stronger “bite” to it. This is due to those slow-extracting compounds mentioned earlier. With the immersion method, the water used for extraction soaks up everything it can from the coffee grounds until it is strained, typically resulting in a stronger cup.

Notably, there is a method of brewing that uses cold water instead of near-boiling water, called cold-brew. Typically, an immersion brew takes a little more than a few minutes to complete, but cold-brew extracts at a minimum of 8 hours and can go all the way to a full 24 hours. This is due to hot water extracting at a much greater rate than cold water. You may ask yourself why you would want to spend almost half of a day making coffee, but the benefits of cold brew can be great (and deserve their own article). Suffice it to say, it’s a lot easier to prevent over-extraction and bitterness with an 8-hour window than it is with a 2-minute window.

So, what does Minas Espresso recommend? You can’t really go wrong with either method, as both can produce an elegant cup of coffee. For stronger roasts, like our Benedito Espresso, the immersion method really brings the bold and hearty flavors to the fore. For lighter roasts, like our Honey Bee Specialty, percolation helps the gentler floral notes be expressed. Of course, any one of our specialty roasts produces an excellent cup of coffee— you can look here to give them a try!

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