Pour-over coffee has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, not least because of the specialty coffee scene. But what is behind this method that has been widely touted as the best way to make coffee?
Manual brewers are no longer just used in competitions or by a few nerdy home brewers. They are now commonplace and can be found in cafés, restaurants, and even on your neighbor’s kitchen counter.
Of course, pour-over brewers are no exception. Along with their gain in popularity, a plethora of different brewers and techniques have popped up, and with it, a discussion about which method and tools are best.
What most can agree on is that the pour-over method is known to produce a clean cup of coffee, bringing out flavor, taste notes, and oils that other methods wouldn’t. Because of that, single-origin coffees are a popular choice, accentuating flavors much better than blends.
What Is Pour Over Coffee?
In short, pour-over coffee involves pouring water onto coffee grounds in a filter.
As the water drains through, the coffee ends up dripping into a carafe or mug. For that reason, it’s also known as filter or drip coffee. Unlike other methods, the grounds are continuously replenished with water, allowing for a relatively fast and efficient brew.
Also, one thing that differentiates the pour-over from other methods is the high degree of control. Water temperature, grind size, pouring technique and brewing time are all variables that you have full control over and may affect the outcome significantly. In other words, all variables affecting extraction are in your hands.
As you might have guessed, with more control comes more room for error. For instance, bad pouring technique can result in channeling, where the water finds a route around the coffee grounds. This happens when the grounds are unevenly distributed.
Also, you might find it difficult to get consistent results when you first start brewing.
But worry not, with the following guidelines and some patience you can master the pour over in no time.
What Do You Need?
There is an endless amount of equipment and accessories you can choose from when it comes to pour over coffee. To get started, all you need are four items: Coffee, the brewing device, hot water, and a filter.
In addition to those, there are two things that we would strongly recommend across the board that will dramatically improve the quality of your coffee: A good quality burr grinder and a scale.
First and foremost, of course, you need coffee. Have a look at our favorite coffees for pour over, including why we like them and what to do to get the best out of them. Alternatively, let’s take a quick look at some tips in the next section below.
The pour-over brewing device comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s basically the equipment that holds the filter and the grounds.
When you start out, you’ll want to go for one of the most common pour-over makers out there.
Popular choices include the Hario V60, Clever Dripper, Chemex, and Kalita Wave. Each of them features a specific design that affects flow and extraction.
As all of them are widely popular, it’s easy to find resources with tips and tricks on how to properly use them.
For a rough guide to which one might be best for you, it is important first to consider what you like in coffee generally, or what aspect you want to emphasize in a particular coffee. Generally, the difference between the resulting cups of coffee will lie in the body and clarity achieved in each of them.
To put them on a spectrum, the V60 will give the lightest and brightest results, getting fuller and heavier through the Chemex and Kalita Wave. With the Clever you reach the richest brew (which is not a true pour-over, but rather a hybrid immersion device).
- Related Read: Coffee Brewing Methods
Paper, cloth, bleached, unbleached,… There are a number of filters you can choose from. Whichever you use, make sure it fits your brewer properly to ensure water flows consistently through the coffee grounds.
Essentially, the main difference lies in the amount of oils retained in the finished cup. This influences the body and mouth-feel of your brew. Paper filters will remove most oils from the cup, followed by cloth, and for a fuller-bodied version of a pour-over, you could even try a metal mesh filter.
If you’ve opted for paper filters, you have a further choice to make. Unbleached filters are better for the environment, and you can compost them without leaving chemical traces — great if you are composting your used grounds for use in your garden. On the other hand, bleached filters do have a slightly less papery taste. Although arguably, it is better to rinse this away with a little extra water than chlorine.
With pour-over, and indeed any other coffee, your grinder will have the biggest impact on the quality of your drink out of all of your equipment. Personally, I like to use a manual grinder and feel that it sits really happily alongside the ethos and aesthetic with manual brewing — the brewing process is almost meditative and, for many, is as much a part of the overall experience and enjoyment of specialty coffee as is the drinking.
If you can find the budget for it, something like a Comandante C40 hand grinder will give you great results time and time again for as many years as you care to keep it. For those just starting out, or with less to spend, something like a Porlex Mini will do a fine job at an entry level. If you would rather take some of the effort out and want an electric grinder, you would be better served by skipping the entry-level ones and going straight for an Ode by Fellow. While it won’t grind fine enough for espresso, it will give you a very consistent and good quality grind at this price point for manual brews.
The second thing that you can brew without, but perhaps shouldn’t, is a decent scale. Some sets designed specifically for coffee will also incorporate a timer which is really handy (Timemore do a great set). Weighing and timing your brews makes them replicable, so you know when you got it right, and how you got it right!
While you can technically use any type of kettle, a gooseneck kettle is a good investment for pour-over brewing. The reason lies in the control it gives you while pouring the water onto the coffee grounds.
Slow and consistent pouring is key to achieving uniform extraction to get out maximum flavor. The rate of pour and amount of agitation to the coffee bed are vital for good pour-over coffee. The last thing you want to do is dump all of your water straight out of the kettle and decimate your coffee bed.
You can get pouring jugs that have a long pouring spout, but this technique (while quite widely used) will result in heat loss that will affect your brew temperature.
A far better solution is to get a thermostatically controlled, electric brewing kettle. These are designed specifically for the job, offer good heat retention and absolute precision. Fellow produce an excellent one of these, the Stagg EKG.
Coffee For Pour Over
Because pour-over is a method that highlights subtle aromas and taste notes, you should opt for beans with a light roasted profile.
If you want a coffee that really does its best in a pour-over, you might enjoy trying some East African single-origins. Ethiopian or Kenyan coffees will usually give you the brightest cups. For a lot of people, a good East African single-origin brewed with care in a V60 is what specialty coffee is all about.
With that being said, there is no reason not to experiment to find what you really like. Sometimes the chocolatier tones you might expect from Central American coffees can be accented beautifully by complex citrus acids that really stand out in pour-over brews. Equally, the clarity you get from them allows you to separate flavors a lot easier. You may find suitable candidates among some of the spicier and funkier Indonesians and other Pacific island coffees — you could even try something fermented!
In terms of the grind size, medium-coarse is a good starting point. Pour-over is an infusion method, so the coffee is in contact with water for a shorter period compared to immersion methods.
With that in mind, you don’t want the grounds to be too coarse (think French Press) to avoid under-extraction. At the same time, you don’t want to go as fine as, say, an espresso brew.
The way in which you pour your water over your grounds can impact your end result. There are two broad camps in terms of school of thought here. One suggests what has come to be known as “pulse pouring” while the other recommends pouring the water in just one or two large pours after the bloom.
With pulse pouring, the aim is to keep the water level in the brewer consistent until all the water has been added. You can either do this by adding just a little at a time or even by continuously, and very gradually, pouring your water. The theory behind this method is that it promotes a more even extraction by saturating the grounds evenly and not disturbing the coffee bed so much.
At the end of brewing a good sign that you probably didn’t disturb the coffee grounds too much is a nice flat bed at the bottom of the brewer. Another way to achieve this is by pouring in gentle, concentric circles. A good way to imagine what to do is to frame it rather in terms of what not to do.
If you try rapidly pouring all of your water from a standard kettle into the middle of the coffee bed in one go, you will find the end result is an uneven extraction, evidenced by coffee grounds washed right up the sides of the filter and a poor cup of coffee. You won’t be able to tell if it is under or over-extracted, as it will be both. It will just taste bad.
The other way to distribute your water in a pour-over is in just a couple of larger pours. This gives you much better heat retention, which results in a faster draw down (the time taken for the water to drip through once poured) and better extraction.
If you are opting for the second method, you may want to try pouring up to three-fifths of your total water volume after the bloom. Then, finish your pour once there’s room in your brewer. You can still try pouring in concentric circles to minimize agitation, but perhaps the best way to ensure a good distribution of coffee grounds is to employ what is commonly known as the Rao spin. Simply swirl the water in the bottom of the brewer and you will find it has a leveling effect on the coffee bed.
Brewing Step by Step
Equipped with a little more know-how about the choices you have when brewing in your pour-over device, it’s time to start brewing. There’s plenty of scope to adapt recipes to suit your preference or the coffee you are brewing with. Below is a solid guide that you can either stick with or feel free to use as a starting point to develop your own method.
Step 1: Heat the Water
To get things started, heat the water, preferably in an electric pour-over coffee kettle. You want the water to reach a temperature of around 200-205°F (95°C) or around 30 seconds off boil.
Take into account the coffee to water ratio when measuring the water. We recommend a mass ratio between 1:16 and 1:14 or around 60-70 grams of coffee per liter of water.
Step 2: Grind the Coffee
In the meantime, grind the coffee. Adjust the grinder to a medium-coarse grind, resembling sea salt.
With time, you’ll find the optimal grind size for you. If the coffee tastes sour and watery, opt for a finer grind. If it’s bitter, go coarser.
When weighing the coffee beans, you should fill the dripper to around half to two-thirds with coffee grounds.
Step 3: Prepare and Get Ready to Brew
Now, it’s time to place the filter in the brewer and rinse it with hot water. This not only removes the residue from the paper but also seals the filter and warms up the brewer.
Then, dump the water before proceeding. Add the grounds, level the surface, and put the brewer on a carafe or pot. You’re ready to brew!
Step 4: Start Brewing
In the first step, just add enough water to soak the coffee and let it “bloom.” In this initial swelling, gas escapes from the coffee, making for an improvement in taste. You should aim for no more than three times your coffee weight in water at this point, so for 15g of coffee, no more than 45g of water.
You can swirl or stir the slurry at this point to ensure total saturation to make sure no pockets of dry coffee get missed.
Wait for around 30-45 seconds.
It is important not to skip this step, as escaping gas and dry pockets of coffee grounds will lead to channeling and uneven extraction.
Step 5: Keep Brewing
Continue and add your water in as many pours as you have decided to go for. To keep things even, pour in steady circular motions and try to avoid touching the filter with your water.
Also, to get consistent results, try to keep the distance between your kettle and the coffee bed as low as possible. Once the water reaches the top of the brewer, briefly stop and wait for it to lower before pouring the rest.
Step 6: Wait It Out
Wait until all the water has drained through the coffee. Soon after you stop adding water, your dripper will stop dripping.
You should aim for a total brewing time of around two and a half to four minutes, including draw down (the dripping after you stopped pouring).
Step 7: Serve
Serve and enjoy!
Pour-over brewing is, for many, the pinnacle of specialty coffee. The World Brewers’ Cup pits contestants from all over the globe against one another to determine who is the master of the manual brew. With the endless debate about the best way to make your pour-over, this brew method is nothing short of a phenomenon.
It can be somewhat of a daunting field to enter, and hopefully, this guide has demystified things and left you feeling a bit more confident in your brewing abilities. Fortunately, the experimentation is half of the fun with manual brewing. With a little bit of knowledge and practice, you will soon be pouring your brews with the best.
- See Also: How To Use A French Press