by Steven Eason
Coffee is a friend to many college students. Whether it’s an expensive fancy drink from a café or a pot brewed at home with love, coffee helps us become more productive and alert.
Millennial’s have been known to take interest in hobbies and methods of earlier generations, and are often called hipsters as a result. Manual brew coffee hasn’t been popular in the past, since the convenience of the drip coffee machine has been paramount to many. The drip coffee machine, first invented in 1954 in Germany, revolutionized the coffee industry. For a time, manual brewing existed mostly as a luxury or a novelty for those with the means, while the majority used the newer, more convenient machines. To most, the difference was negligible as the new machines allowed one to simply turn it on and leave it alone.
Manual brewing has made coffee into a recreational activity, and it’s re-popularization has brought a love of coffee to a new generation of drinkers. People enjoy working with their hands and creating something with their own skills, and manual brewing allows people to get a hands-on experience with coffee. To some, the very act of brewing coffee can be a relaxing ritual. Manual brewing methods are growing in popularity, the most popular being pour-over, which operates by pouring hot water directly over the grounds. By brewing manually one can have more control over the end result. Brewing incorrectly can lead to coffee that is under-extracted, over-extracted, or simply burned.
For me, manual brewing is a positive and productive hobby, more fulfilling than just picking up a cup at Tim Hortons. It can be fun to play around with all the needlessly complicated methods of making coffee. While most people are probably familiar with the French press, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Manual brew methods range from useful, to fun, to downright ludicrous.
While most people may be familiar with the French press, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to manual brewing. My favorite method is the siphon, which looks more like a chemistry set than a coffee maker. The siphon, sometimes called a vacuum coffee maker, is an aesthetically pleasing device that heats up a spherical vessel of water using alcohol, butane, or the expensive halogen heating methods. Differences in pressure force the hot water into a top chamber where the coffee steeps before being forced through a filter, again by differences in pressure. The end result is a small amount of coffee, just enough for one or two people, that takes on an almost tea-like quality if the brew is done correctly.
While the siphon is invariably a faff, I love using it and showing it off. It looks incredibly foreign to almost anyone who looks at it. It’s a great conversation piece, helpful for breaking the ice with a new roommate, and it’s an enjoyable morning ritual. As a millennial, I get worn down by the convenience culture and the instant gratification it makes us crave. Sometimes it helps to slow down and do something inefficiently and turn it into an art form.
I think rituals are powerful and have strong psychological effects. To slow down and take the time to brew, it forces you to relax and focus on a single task, something increasingly absent in the millennial world of multitasking. Doing the same task every morning can center me, allow me to reboot, and make me feel capable of tackling the day. To me, the act of taking the time to drink a hot beverage is therapeutic in itself.
Brewing coffee can be an intricate art if you want it to be. To brew manually, one must keep a watchful eye on a number of things, including the temperature of the water, grade of the grind, how it is stirred, and how long it steeps. All of these variables allow for small imperfections that are worked out with skill. With experience, a coffee drinker will develop a palette and the ability to distinguish different beans, brewing methods, and more.
I have always had an interest in black coffee, but there is so much customization that can go on with the use of cream, sugar, steamed milk, and the like. Espresso is a different beast entirely, and has its own art to it. Baristas and coffee enthusiasts often meet up for a “throw-down,” which is essentially an espresso-making contest. Two baristas will go head-to-head, both making espressos and artfully pouring cream to make a beautiful crema (the flower shaped design on your latte). The coffee is judged blindly based on appearance, and the winner moves on in a tournament-style bracket. These throw-downs create a lot of social media hype for a coffee shop.
I made a visit to Madcap Coffee in downtown Grand Rapids to get a professional take on the state of the world of coffee. “The social media influence is a big part of the coffee industry,” said Colin Russell, 23, a barista at Madcap. According to Russell, many customers choose a coffee shop based on their social media accounts, and pictures on a shop’s Instagram feed can go far to sell an image. Madcap is a performance café, which benefits significantly from the spectacle of coffee brewing. “The spectacle of it all definitely draws attention … people appreciate having a professional make their coffee,” said Kendall Redmon, 23, a barista at Madcap. “Some people come in just to hang out and watch the process, and we work hard to make sure the music is nice and creates a chill atmosphere.”
The resurgence of manual brewing is indicative of millennial’s desire to have some things be hands-on. The satisfaction from brewing a cup with your own two hands is worth more to some than the convenience of a quick pot. In a world of convenience brought on by smartphones, the internet, and the wealth of information now at our fingertips, slowing down and making something ourselves is increasingly valued.