Getting started on your Alternative Brewing Adventure

Getting started on your Alternative Brewing Adventure

So, you want to be a brewer...

If you’re anything like me, you might have been daunted looking at the multitude of coffee brewing apparatus available the first time you walked into a coffee roastery. These days coffee making equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, high and low cost options, and for a variety of different processes. Australian coffee shops are becoming more commonly acquainted with pour over, syphon or batch brewer coffee making, and cold drip towers are a mainstay in cafes if only often for their aesthetics. It seems that everywhere you go, coffee establishments are spruiking the next ‘big thing’ - nitro cold brew, bulletproof coffee, Flair, Aeropress and so forth.

Though they might seem unapproachable at first, the essence of what every alternative coffee apparatus does is the same - infusing water with the soluble compounds in ground coffee beans. Some of them use pressure, most of them use temperature, all of them use time under temperature or kinetic means to extract the soluble compounds, but the objective is identical: get the good stuff out of the coffee beans and into some water. 

“Ground coffee and water - a match made in Heaven”

No matter how you choose to start brewing, you’ll be using two ingredients: Ground coffee and water. Generally speaking it is these two ingredients that make the biggest difference to the experience you get. Both of them are worth considering independently of the apparatus you are going to use, but we’ll discuss water first, as the desired mineral content of water is fairly similar across all alternative brewing methods. 


Finding the right water is relatively easy, though it’s usually not the place where most people start. This seems to be a lost opportunity - the flavour you enjoy in your coffee comes from dissolved compounds in the extraction, i.e.  the soluble solids from the coffee beans, and this accounts for only a small proportion of the total liquid. An espresso is around 90% water with the rest made up of dissolved coffee compounds, while a typical filter coffee may be as much as 99% water. 

“Alternatively brewed coffee is 98-99% water. It behoves you to get the water right”

Getting the water’s mineral content right when making any sort of coffee is essential, but when making alternatively brewed coffee in which the objective is to highlight the naturally occurring flavour and aroma characteristics of a bean, it’s downright criminal not to at least try to get it somewhere in the ballpark. Good water will exhibit a well-balanced concentration of calcium, magnesium, and salt, a combination that assists in extracting the soluble solids from coffee without producing any undesirable flavours.

While you may not be fortunate enough to have a professional chemist on staff, you can still make your own water with a mineral composition tailored exactly to your specific desires. It's a relatively simple process to mix up your own brewing water with some easily purchased ingredients: Demineralised water, Epsom salts and Baking Soda, as per this blog from Barista Hustle.

If you’d like a less hands on method, we can suggest Third Wave Water or Aquacode, which we have tested at Bancroft Roasters with good success, or any similar product. Dissolved into distilled or demineralised water, these powders or liquids provide a tried and tested balance of calcium, magnesium and salt, and often offer options tailored specifically for either espresso or alternative brewing. A single pack of Third Wave Water will make over 200 litres of water appropriate for coffee (or tea).

Using filtered water or natural water bought from the supermarket is certainly an acceptable alternative, but it will benefit you to do your research. Water that is too ‘soft’, or low in calcium carbonates and other minerals, actually inhibits the brewing process. This is often why coffee made from purely distilled or demineralised water may taste hollow and unpleasant. If you have a filtration system at home, it may be possible to calibrate it to specifications ideal for alternative brewing, but you also may need to install a remineralisation cartridge. Your filtration supplier may be able to assist with this.  


Choosing the right coffee beans is a little more complicated than getting the water right, but it’s still easily managed once you understand one essential factor about alternative brewing methods - they are designed to highlight the delicate, naturally occurring flavours in black coffee, typically the ones caused by the acidic compounds.  

“Alternative brewing is excellent for highlighting the delicate flavour notes in black coffee” 

It is for this purpose that many coffee roasters now offer coffees denoted “Filter Roast”, a description of the “Roast Degree” of the coffee. Much of the coffee roasted in this way will also be single origin, featuring the flavour characteristics particular to a farm or region. Filter Roast coffee is lighter in colour and more dense than coffee roasted for espresso (dark). It is roasted to a lower temperature, such that it retains more of the organic compounds that make up its unique flavour and aroma characteristics.

Alternative brewing methods are designed to highlight these unique characteristics in a way that espresso extractions often will not. Most alternative brewing methods are relatively low-pressure and see the brew water being in contact with the ground coffee for a much longer time than with espresso. All of these factors - roast degree, pressure (or lack of it), brew time and temperature - together mean that a vastly different subset of compounds can be extracted from the same coffee beans.

It is the hunt for these specific characteristics that most alternative brewing aficionados enjoy. While you can certainly use very dark roast coffee in an alternative brewing apparatus, and there is no issue with putting milk in your coffee, the darker you roast or the more milk you use, the less distinctive your coffee will taste. This is true for any method of extraction, but the difference is more pronounced in low-pressure brewing. 

“Don’t be concerned that black coffee will be bitter. A properly extracted alternative brew will be light and refreshing”

If you are used to black filter coffee tasting bitter, burnt or just generally unpleasant, please let me assure you that a well-made alternative brew made using lightly roasted beans will be nothing like this. In fact what you should get is a light, refreshing beverage with subtle fruity, floral, or even cocoa flavours and aromas. Many of my customers over the years have been blown away when trying a V60 pour over for the first time when they experience notes of citrus, stone fruit, or berries. 

These flavour compounds in coffee beans are affected by soil quality, altitude, rainfall, varietal of plant and even the point at which the coffee cherries are picked during the growing cycle. Processing of the coffee cherries after picking also affects the distinctive qualities of a coffee bean crop. Thanks to these elements, particular countries and regions thereof are known for producing certain characteristics in their coffee beans. There are currently over 100 distinctive flavours supported by the Sensory Lexicon, so if you’re looking for a certain one in your coffee, it may very well exist. Any roaster worth their salt will provide tasting notes for the beans they sell.

To summarise: If you’re looking to start alternative brewing, get your local roaster to suggest a lightly roasted coffee with flavour notes that appeal to you. 

Brewing Apparatus

Finally we get to the brewing apparatus. If you already have the one you’re going to use, this section will be less relevant. Otherwise, picking the alternative brewer for you often comes down to the desired use.

"Alternative brewers of all shapes and sizes! Which is the one for you?"

Will you primarily be making coffee as quickly as you can for a pick-me-up at work, or do you intend to enjoy the somewhat zen experience of pouring a leisurely V60 on a lazy Saturday morning? Do you want to produce a large quantity at once and have coffee on demand with little effort, or are you happy to put a few minutes into your brew every time you want a coffee? Do you have a permanent place for your equipment, or does it need to be compact and mobile? Perhaps the aim is to have a kit that travels well? Or is it to impress your friends at dinner parties with an interactive experience?

Rest assured that there is a solution for every one of these possibilities.

Once you have a good feel for what you want your alternative brewer for, you’ll have another set of questions to ask yourself - what sort of coffee do you want to drink? Would you prefer a brewer that heightens the natural acidities present in your coffee, or would you like something that cuts out the acidity? Do you like a thick mouthfeel or rather enjoy a lighter brew with greater flavour clarity?

Again, any of these options are possible to achieve. Below we have compiled a selection of alternative brewing methods distinguished by the characteristics listed above. Once you decide what you like, you can find more information in our Brew Guides

V60 Pour over

The Hario V60 has been a staple of the alternative brewing scene for the last decade and a half, though it has a pedigree far older. Hario as a brand has existed since 1964 when it was producing Syphon coffee makers, and before that was part of the Hiromu Shibata glass works and made laboratory glassware. 

A V60 pour over produces a light and refreshing filter coffee with little to no oils and a high flavour clarity. Natural acidities are highlighted over a roughly 4 minute brewing cycle. The V60 utilises single-use paper filters.  

Advantages - Compact, available in a variety of sizes, materials and colours. Many accessories available. Great for collectors. Great for light, refreshing cold coffee too by flash-freezing over ice.

Requirements - Composed of multiple separate pieces of equipment. Method of heating water necessary. For best results scales are also necessary. Requires your constant attention for at least 4 - 5 minutes.

Disadvantages - Depending on material can be fragile and may not be the most suitable for travelling without specialised storage. Smaller versions are only able to produce one cup of coffee every few minutes.


The Aeropress enjoys a mysterious little place in the coffee brewing scene. A terrific travel companion, the Aeropress has even had World Championships held in its honour for over a decade now. Brewers are continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with this compact apparatus, trying inverted brewing, a variety of different brewing temperatures and all sorts of ratios.

Quite versatile, brewing in an Aeropress can provide you with a light, refreshing, well-filtered coffee, or alternatively, one very similar to espresso with an adapted technique.

Recipes from winners of the World Championships

Advantages - Compact and very portable. Some sets even come with a grinder that will fit into the apparatus for ease of travel. With the proper technique, an espresso extraction can be fairly well emulated. An Aeropress will make one cup of coffee at a time, great for solos. 

Requirements - A method of heating water is necessary. If you’re out and about just for a day, a vacuum flask such as a thermos will keep water hot enough to use when you need it. 

Disadvantages - Brewing on an Aeropress, depending on your technique, will require your constant attention for at least 3 - 4 minutes. The brewing section is made of plastic, which may not be to your preference. An Aeropress will only make one cup of of coffee at a time - not great for parties. 

Moka Pot / Caffetiera

The Moka Pot, Caffetiera, or simply “Stove-top” coffee maker has been a staple of the Italian coffee industry for nearly 100 years. Now popular all over the world due to its portability and ease of use, stove-tops come in a range of sizes as well as more modern designs that allow for frothing milk.

A Moka pot is designed to make an extraction in a similar way to an espresso machine - by forcing pressurised water through relatively fine coffee quite quickly. However rather than using a pump to provide the pressure, a Moka pot utilises the pressure caused by expansion of heated air and water vapour.

A well-produced stovetop coffee will exhibit a golden crema and have a viscous body like an espresso.

Advantages - Very easily portable in a fully-contained unit. No additional apparatus required. Moka pots make highly concentrated coffee, great for espresso aficionados. There are some very stylish examples of these available if you’re looking for a set piece.

Requirements - Something to heat the Moka pot with, i.e. a stove.

Disadvantages - Some types of induction stove do not heat Moka pots. A stove of some kind is necessary, a kettle will not be enough to make coffee with one of these. Each Moka pot is designed to make only a particular amount of coffee with each use. To make a greater amount of coffee requires multiple uses of the same pot.


The Toddy cold brewer has been around since 1963. It is an incredibly simple apparatus akin to a bucket, but with the addition of a felt filter and stopper that allows for ease of use and little waste or mess when brewing. 

With a Toddy you will make full immersion cold brew - coffee that extracts using cold water over about a 24 hour period. Coffee made this way is typically very low in acidity and oil, and is light and refreshing, though it doesn’t highlight the distinctive flavours and aromas of coffee quite as significantly as a V60 or a Cold Drip for example. 

Of course, you don't really need an special apparatus to make cold-brewed coffee. Provided you have something to filter out the coffee grounds afterwards, basically any container will do. 

Advantages - Can make a great deal of coffee at once, either concentrated for dilution or ready to drink. The brewed coffee can be effectively stored cold for several weeks. A few minutes’ work will get you enough coffee for a week or two.

Requirements - Water and coffee, plus a fridge if you want to keep it cold, but extracting at room temperature works too, and faster.

Disadvantages - Bulky and not particularly sexy. The brewing section is made of plastic which may not be to your preference. Coffee made by immersion cold brewing is not quite as distinctive as coffee made with a hot extraction process. Brewing takes 12 to 24 hours, so you have to pre-emptively brew your coffee rather than make it on demand. 

Cold Drip

Cold drip coffee such as that made by a Yama or Tiamo tower is a light, refreshing coffee made with iced water over a long period. The technique, as far as we know, originated with the Dutch, who brought it to Japan in the late 17th century. 

Cold drip towers are common in third wave coffee shops due to their pleasing aesthetics, magnetic presence, and the ability to make coffee ahead of time. The slow process is intended to be soothing, and coffee made cold keeps for many days, developing new and interesting flavours as it oxidises. The technique also retains more acidity and oils than full immersion brewing.

Advantages - Can make a great deal of ready to drink coffee at once. The brewed coffee can be effectively stored cold for several weeks. A few minutes’ work will get you enough coffee for a week or two. Look great on the bench, as they are usually made with aesthetics in mind and come in a variety of materials, colours and shapes. 

Requirements - Water, ice, and coffee. Most brands use a disposable paper filter to disperse water, and some use one to filter the coffee.  

Disadvantages - Brewing takes at least 3 to 4 hours, so you have to preemptively brew your coffee rather than make it on demand. If you’re only looking to make a small amount of coffee at once, these will not be your jam. 

French Press / Plunger

I hopefully don’t need to say much about a French Press - they’ve been around for a century, and I don’t know if I’ve ever visited an Australian household that doesn’t have one.

Fairly straightforward to use, a French Press demonstrates hot full immersion coffee brewing. Put your coffee in, add the hot water, and leave for a few minutes. Press down the plunger to keep the ground coffee out of the liquid, and pour. 

Typically recipes for French Press coffee making recommend the coffee being quite coarsely ground, but this is only an issue until you decide to scoop off the grounds before plunging. A bit of experimentation with Filter Roast coffee and a medium grind will leave you with a light and refreshing brew that exhibits a thick mouthfeel and good acidity. The coffee can optionally be filtered through paper if you prefer. 

Advantages - Very easy to use. Somewhat portable. Can be used for texturing hot milk to add to your coffee. 

Requirements - Something to heat water with. 

Disadvantages - Low pressure extraction, not even gravity is assisting. Significant loss of temperature to air and through the apparatus material inhibits brewing. Extractions can be somewhat uneven. 


Syphon coffee looks like it would be impressive - and if you’re going for presentation and style, it is. Generally speaking, Syphon brewers make coffee in a similar way to an Aeropress - hot, full immersion brewing - but with a bit more flair. Some people will assert that they make a more consistent extraction thanks to the relative consistency of the water temperature when brewing, the time the water spends in the coffee grounds, and the thorough mixing caused by the vacuum effect, but I’m yet to be fully convinced.

Most Syphons come with a pretty good means of filtering the grounds out, so brews are generally quite light. If you’re interested in some of the varieties available, check out this blog.

Advantages - Fun to watch and often elegantly designed. A Belgian Balance Syphon makes a fantastic centrepiece for interactive coffee-making catch-ups. Brewing temperature is quite consistent, and the brewing time is also fairly consistent without needing to measure. 

Requirements - Some versions may require something to heat the apparatus with (i.e. a stove) but many come with their own burner. Fuel for this will periodically need to be replaced. 

Disadvantages - Can be a bit more fiddly to clean, and the pieces are fragile. Breaking one can be a pain as obtaining individual parts can be a hassle. Each Syphon is designed to make only a particular amount of coffee with each use. To make a greater amount of coffee requires multiple uses of the same apparatus. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.