Immersion Coffee Brewing Explained
Coffee brewing at its heart is as simple as combining ground coffee with water, and creating a delicious drink. However, there are many different ways to do this, each with their own unique taste, texture and characteristics.
Rather than water flowing over the coffee grounds, or being forced through them with pressure, immersion coffee brewing just lets the grounds sit in water until the soluble material has fully combined with the water.
Immersion coffee brewing involves ground coffee being ‘soaked’ in water, so all of these particles are fully submerged, or ‘immersed’.
Where a typical shot of espresso takes around 30 seconds to make, a typical immersion brew, for example a French press, can take between 10 and 15 minutes.
If you want to find out more about immersion coffee brewing, how it differs from other brewing methods and some tips and tricks to help improve your own coffee brewing at home, then you’ve come to the right place.
Where Did Immersion Coffee Brewing Come From?
It is commonly thought that immersion brewing first came to be in Turkey in the 1700s. Early immersion brewing methods included a metallic pot called an Ibrik, which was plunged into hot sand. This method is still used today and creates a very gritty, unfiltered coffee that is rich, aromatic and delicious.
According to Cannon Coffee Roasters, “The initial boom of coffee trade occurred in the Ottoman Empire, and was brought to Istanbul… Prior to this, coffee was traditionally brewing, seeping coffee grounds in hot water for at least 4 hours” – “What is Immersion Brewing”, February 2022.
Which Coffee Brewing Methods Use Immersion?
Immersion coffee brewing is particularly good for making coffee in large batches. Methods like batch brewing, French press, cold brew and traditional Cowboy coffee combine coarsely ground coffee beans with large quantities of water and allow them to steep for a much longer time than other coffee making processes.
The reason a coarser grind size is typically used for immersion coffee brewing is that it generally takes more time for hot water (or cold in the case of cold brew coffee), to extract all of those flavoursome coffee oils.
This is because there is no additional help from gravity or external agitation (as is the case with pour over/drip brew methods), or pressure as there is with espresso or a Moka pot.
Here are some of the most popular coffee brewing methods that use the immersion process.
The French press is one of the most simple, popular and versatile coffee brewing devices out there. It utilises the immersion brewing process by allowing coarsely ground coffee beans to mingle in hot water and combine to create a delicious, strong, full bodied cup of coffee.
If you want to find out more about how to get the best out of your French press, check out these articles:
- The Good and Bad of James Hoffmann’s French Press Technique…
- The Best Grind Size For French Press Revealed!
- Can You Make Cold Brew in a French Press?
- 9 Tips Maintain and Clean a French Press.
Ibrik (Turkish Coffee)
The Ibrik, or Cezve as it is also known, is a traditional Turkish coffee breaking method that involves placing a small metal pot into very hot sand to brew coffee.
Where most other immersion brewing methods use a medium to coarse grind size, Turkish Ibrik coffee uses an incredibly fine, powder-like coffee grind.
Ibrik coffee uses pulverised beans as there is no filter used to separate the sediment from the coffee that ends up in your cup.
Here is a video by European Coffee Trip showing how to make traditional Ibrik Turkish coffee, with the 2016 Ibrik World Champion Konstantinos Komninakis:
Whilst the Aeropress is quite a new invention, it has taken the coffee world by storm. This simple, but effective coffee brewing device uses a small plunger to force finely ground coffee through a paper filter and into your awaiting cup.
You could argue that the Aeropress uses pressure to extract liquid coffee from the grounds, and in part, you’d be right. But, coffee grounds are fully submerged in water before any pressure is applied, so technically I would argue it also fits in the immersion brewing category.
Aeropress coffee can be altered in a number of different ways depending on brew time, grind size, dose and length of plunge.
The Clever Brewer is a hybrid coffee device that combines pour over drip coffee with immersion. This combines the clean taste of a V60 with the earthiness and strength of a French press.
The Clever Brewer is a modern take on traditional pour over coffee and is definitely worth a try if you’re looking for something new to brighten up your morning.
Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew coffee is one of the exceptions to the rule, in that it uses cold water to extract coffee oils over a very long period of time (12 to 24 hours). This immersion brewing method calls for very coarse coffee grounds, and a lower coffee to water ratio to intensify the cold brew concentrate.
For more information about cold brew coffee, check out these articles:
- Can You Make Cold Brew in a French Press?
- Frappe vs Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew: Which is Best?
- Avoid These Mistakes When Making Cold Brew Coffee
- Iced vs Cold Brew Coffee: The Difference Explained.
The Hario Switch is a unique and innovative coffee brewer from the company that brought us the iconic V60.
The Switch effectively combines a V60 pour over cone with a French press. Water is poured over the top of the coffee and passes through a paper filter, just like a normal V60.
But then, the brewed liquid coffee collects and steeps in a small chamber at the bottom of the Switch, allowing further extraction by immersion.
At the flick of a switch, this double brewed coffee is released into the cup below, and you’ll end up with a stronger coffee with more body than a traditional V60 could offer.
Cowboy coffee is a rustic way to brew coffee on the road. It is made by adding very coarsely ground coffee to a large pot of hot water and then waiting for the sediment to float to the bottom of the pot before serving.
Cowboy coffee employs the immersion brewing method by allowing the coarse coffee grounds to release their essential oils slowly, usually over a fire. This can be kept warm for a number of hours and since the coffee grounds are so large, there is little chance of the coffee becoming over extracted.
Immersion Coffee Brewing Top Tips
Now you understand the ins and outs of immersion coffee brewing and which methods use it, let’s take a closer look at how to improve the process from start to finish.
Coffee to Water Ratio
Generally speaking, you’ll want to use anything between a 1:10 and 1:16 coffee to water ratio when using the immersion brewing method. This is because there is a lot of water coming into direct contact with the coffee grounds, and this tends to create quite an intense, dark, rich flavour.
Unlike pour over methods like V60 or Chemex, immersion brewing extracts a lot of the coffee oils from all of the coffee grounds together with water for an extended period of time. This tends to create more body in the brew, meaning a thicker texture and a more gritty mouthfeel.
Therefore, opting for a lower water to coffee ratio would most likely result in an overly bitter brew, which would ruin the balance of flavours in the cup.
I’d recommend starting off at something like 1 part coffee to 15 parts water and adjust gradually up or down from there until you find something you really like. What’s more, different coffee bean origins, roasts profiles and flavours can all play their part in the overall taste of an immersion brewed cup of coffee. So, be sure to dial in your coffee to water ratio each time you use new coffee beans.
Because you don’t need to grind too finely to use the immersion brewing method (with the exception of Turkish coffee), you can use a fairly inexpensive burr grinder to get the job done.
I would still recommend using a grinder with conical burrs, rather than flat burrs or a blade grinder, as you’ll want to achieve a relatively uniform grind, despite it being quite coarse.
However, an inexpensive hand grinder or electric grinder should do the job. Here are a few options from Amazon to get you started:
The best coffee beans to use for immersion brewing will most likely be different to those that I would recommend for drip brewing or espresso.
This is because immersion brewing is quite a harsh, abrasive method of extracting the coffee oils from the grounds, and the resultant liquid can be quite thick and viscous.
Coffee beans that exhibit dark, earthy, savoury or nutty flavours tend to be better suited to immersion brewing, compared to those that are more fruity, floral or citrus.
More often than not, these more delicate flavours tend to get lost in the bitterness and heaviness of immersion brewing, so are not generally advisable.
If you love French press coffee and want to find out more about which coffee beans you should be using, check out my article on the 15 best coffee beans for French press.
Water temperature can play a major role in how your coffee tastes in all types of coffee brewing, and this is especially true with the immersion method.
There are a number of different schools of thought as to how hot your water should be when it comes into contact with coffee grounds.
Some believe that the hotter the water is, the more coffee oils you’ll extract from the grounds, whereas others believe that letting your water cool down a bit will avoid burning the coffee.
Personally, I like to let my kettle settle for around 20 seconds after it has boiled, so it is approximately 90℃ before pouring onto my French press or Aeropress.
Immersion Brewing Compared to Drip and Pressurised Brewing
Immersion coffee brewing is a very forgiving way to brew a cup of joe, but how does it compare to other popular ways of making coffee?
Drip Brewed Coffee
Drip brewed coffee, otherwise known as pour over, is a method of extracting coffee from grounds using hot water and gravity. Drip brewed coffee typically uses paper filters, and often works best with a medium to fine grind size.
The most popular devices that use drip brewing are the Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave and of course, traditional drip brew machines.
Because drip brewing typically requires a paper filter rather than a metallic mesh or no filter at all (as is the case in immersion brewing), drip brewed coffee tends to have a cleaner, thinner taste than immersion. It tends to be much easier to pick out more delicate flavour notes like citrus, fruit and floral in drip brewed coffee compared to immersion brewed coffee.
Coffee can also be brewed using highly pressurised water, such as espresso. Whilst espresso is so often seen as a ‘gold standard’ of coffee brewing, espresso machines tend to be expensive, difficult to use and can deliver varied results.
Moka pots and Aeropresses also apply pressurised hot water to finely ground coffee, and as a result produce strong, usually quite bitter brews.
Very finely ground coffee is needed for pressurised brewing, as water will be forced through the coffee bed very quickly, and therefore a lot of extraction needs to take place in a very short space of time.
Therefore, the more surface area the coffee grounds have to come into contact with the hot water, the more coffee oils will be extracted.
Pressurised coffee processes like espresso and Moka pots tend to produce a more intense, but much lower quantity of coffee than immersion brewing. Whilst the flavours can often be similar, the level of intensity will differ greatly depending on how a pressure brewed shot of coffee is served.
The thick, syrupy nature of espresso on its own will be much more intense in flavour and bitterness than a typical French press brew. However, when it is diluted down with milk or hot water, the two may be a lot more similar in intensity and flavour.
Overall, immersion coffee brewing is a very traditional, rustic and forgiving way of making a delicious cup of coffee. Whilst it may not be quite as refined as pour over, drip brew or highly pressurised methods of making coffee, immersion brewing has stood the test of time.
The sometimes gritty, full bodied nature of immersion brewed coffee makes it hearty and comforting, whilst the accessibility of the French press and cold brew methods make them popular amongst coffee novices.
Immersion coffee brewing definitely has its place in the coffee world, and I would recommend any coffee lover to experiment tweaking their typical French press technique.
If you want to find out more about different ways to brew coffee with a French press, check out my article on The Good and Bad of James Hoffmann’s French Press Technique…
How Long to Steep Immersion Coffee?
This completely depends on how you are making your coffee. For example, I would recommend a 10-15 minute steep time for a French press, anywhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes for an Aeropress, and no less than 12 hours for cold brew.
What is the Ratio for Immersion Coffee?
Generally speaking, starting with a 1:15 coffee to water ratio will give you a good basis for immersion brewing.