While each pour-over coffee maker has a specific brewing process, the brewing principles behind a great coffee flavor stay the same for pretty much every coffee maker, including machine drip coffee. So if you’re a coffee lover looking to make specialty coffee with a manual dripper at home, keep reading to learn everything!
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What Is Pour Over Coffee? Here’s the 101
Put simply, pour over coffee brewing is the hands-on version of making drip coffee with a machine. Filter coffee from a machine is automatic and easy to make—at a good coffee shop it can even taste amazing—but it never comes close to the flavor you get from manually pouring with a dripper. Brewing coffee by hand with a pour over method takes time, but the difference in flavor is well worth it.
And, while it sounds fancy, the main ingredients necessary for brewing on a manual dripper are quite simple, and they’re similar to what you need for an automatic machine. You need a paper filter, a dripper (the coffee maker), hot water, and ground coffee beans. If you follow the same routine you use for your automatic coffee machine but instead manually pour the water, you will easily get a more even and delicious extraction. Unless it’s an expensive drip machine, it cannot pour water as evenly as you can.
Besides the taste improvement, manually pouring into your dripper is also a relaxing and meditative experience, something I love having in my morning routine.
Coffee Pour Over: The Details
Depending on how much of a coffee enthusiast you are, simply switching to manual pouring might be enough. But the world of specialty coffee is all about the details. The goal is to understand the intricacies of the brewing method as precisely as possible to dial in an optimal taste.
So let’s explore some of the more intricate details of pour over coffee.
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Immersion vs. Drip Coffee
To understand the pour over method, you should first understand what distinguishes it from other popular brewing methods. And, leaving aside the complicated world of espresso, the two main brew categories are immersion and percolation.
With immersion coffee brewing, the ground coffee is immersed in the water for the entire brew time. The most well-known and time-tested example of an immersion brewer is the French press, which is known for producing a full-bodied and intense cup of coffee. The AeroPress is another popular brewer that makes use of full immersion.
But drip coffee—whether it be manual or automatic—does not immerse the coffee in water. Water instead falls through the ground beans and falls into a carafe underneath the dripper. Extraction occurs in the short time that water interacts with the coffee, and the flow speed of the water depends on how fine you grind the beans.
Besides the fact that water in drip coffee falls through the ground coffee, the other big difference is that a pour over is filtered coffee. A roasted coffee bean contains oils called diterpenes, and in a full immersion brewer like a French press, those oils and other fine particles make it into the finished drink. You can see this coffee sludge at the bottom of your cup. While immersion brewing creates a heavy-bodied and bold-tasting brew, it often lacks clarity of taste.
But drip coffee uses a filter so that all of those oils and fines are left behind in the coffee bed. Because the coffee filter is made of paper, you can see all of the material that it caught. Dig through the coffee bed next time after brewing and you will see that besides ground coffee, the paper is also stained with oils and fines. Because the filter caught those, the resulting coffee has a cleaner and clearer taste.
To be clear, I have nothing against a French press, and I regularly brew coffee with this recipe. But with the more delicate and light-roasted coffees, brewing on Chemex or Hario V60 is almost always a better experience.
What Is the Difference Between Pour Over and Drip Coffee?
Drip coffee generally refers to coffee from automatic machines, whether that is a home coffee maker or an industrial coffee machine at a restaurant. Automatic machines are convenient and easy to use—usually as easy as pouring in the coffee and hitting a few buttons. The ease and speed at which you can brew lots of coffee is the upside, but drip coffee machines also have many downsides.
These downsides mostly come from that lack of flexibility and control that you have over the brewing process, most notably the evenness of how water and coffee interact. These downsides are reduced with expensive machines like the Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Brewer, but pour over is still usually better than drip.
While a machine has a spray nozzle to distribute hot water over the ground coffee, making a pour over by hand gives you full control over the pouring. Your control over the speed and location of pouring means you can get an even extraction and make micro-adjustments as you brew.
So while both a pour-over and drip coffee use gravity and a filter, the delicate control of making coffee by hand is a far superior brewing method.
How to Make Pour Over Coffee
Making a manual pour over involves subtle skills that you will develop over time. So if you just purchased a new dripper, do not think you should become an expert brewer overnight. The learning curve is all about data points—you will hone your instinct as you brew more cups and make associations between actions and taste.
But the good news is that coffee enthusiasts need only learn a few basic principles to start getting amazing coffee at home. So let’s first go over the basic steps that should be in your routine. These principles will even work on a drip machine.
Coffee Pour Over Instructions: Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Preparation
You don’t want to realize you forgot something in the middle of brewing, so it is worth getting everything ready ahead of time. The first few actions are:
- Fill up a kettle with filtered water and heat until boiling. The proper pour over kettle temperature is just under boiling.
- Measure coffee in grams if you have a scale (dosing information below). Without a scale, use 1 tablespoon of coffee per 4 ounces of water.
- Find something to stir with
- Make sure you have the right coffee filter for your dripper.
- Take a deep breath—a coffee pour over should be a calm and meditative endeavor.
Step 2: Pre-wet and Bloom
The bloom is where you pour just a little bit of water at the beginning of brewing to saturate the grounds and pre-infuse them. It also helps them release excess gas.
Grinding right before brewing will give you the best results. A medium grind has a texture of sand. For Chemex coffee, which has a thick filter, a coarser grind (like kosher salt) works best. I recommend the Baratza Encore grinder for most people. However, check out this guide to the best coffee grinders to see all the top options for every budget.
To bloom you should:
- Pre-wet the filter to get rid of the paper taste (dump out this water!).
- Dump ground coffee evenly into the dripper.
- Bloom with approximately 3X the amount of water as coffee (eg: if 18 grams of coffee, bloom with 54 grams of water).
- Pour quickly and evenly—the goal is to equally saturate all the grounds.
- Stirring during the bloom will help with evenness.
- Wait 30-45 seconds before proceeding to the rest of your pouring.
If you don’t own a scale and you’re brewing by volume, just be sure to pour enough water during the bloom so that all the coffee grounds are saturated.
Step 3: Pour The Remaining Water
After blooming, you should slowly pour the remaining water. Some people prefer to pour in stages while others prefer a slow and constant pour. Using a circular pouring motion will help you evenly contact all of the coffee.
Keep an eye on the timer as well. If the water is flowing through too fast, slow down your pour and vice versa.
Step 4: Finish and Serve
After you finish pouring, a gentle stir will promote evenness as the final water drips through.
Depending on the brewer you’re using, the water should finish dripping through between 3 and 4 minutes, although a Chemex can last up to 5 minutes and still taste great.
Before serving, swirl the coffee in your carafe to aerate it and bring out the best flavors. Enjoy the fruits (coffee fruits that is) of your labor!
Specific Pour Over Coffee Recipes
This section will link to more specific pour over recipes for the most popular drippers on the market. You can read this guide to the best manual drip coffee makers if you need help deciding. Otherwise, here are the recipes I wrote about for now:
Coffee Pour Over: Advanced Tips
The following advanced tips are not strictly necessary, but some of them are so easy that there’s no reason not to incorporate them. But in the beginning, there is no need to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment—it is much better to dial in your technique first. It is also better to focus on getting high-quality coffee.
But some of the more advanced tips that will make your brewing more precise include:
- Use filtered water(or Third Wave Water.)
- Use a gram scale, preferably with a precision of .1 grams.
- Use a gooseneck kettle for smooth pouring.
- Grind coffee right before brewing, preferably on a burr grinder (see this coffee grinding page to learn more.)
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A good coffee grinder can get expensive, which is why hand grinders are a great first step. However, the ability to get a fresh and even grind size is crucial for getting the right extraction. And while blade grinders do allow you to freshly grind your coffee, it is difficult to get an even grind with them.
What Is the Best Technique for Pouring?
Brewing a pour over by hand is all about giving you more control over the subtle details in brewing. And the most important of these would have to be your pouring technique. Cheap drip machines do a poor job of evenly extracting all the coffee grounds, but with the right pouring technique, you can control the speed and extraction.
So generally speaking, the best technique for pouring is to use a gooseneck kettle and to gently and consistently pour in concentric circles. Avoid hitting the sides of the dripper and focus your pour on any darker spots that develop. Pour at a rate so that the slurry maintains an even level, and never allow the water to completely drip through until the end of brewing.
You can see a visual of a great pouring technique in this Kalita Wave brewing video by coffee expert Scott Rao.
What Is the Right Pour Over Kettle Temperature?
While many people recommend a water temperature between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit (90-96 Celsius), I always just boil the water and wait a few seconds—experiments with my Thermapen show that the slurry temperature immediately falls into the ideal range. You can read more about the best pour over coffee water temperature for the full details.
What Is the Ratio of Coffee to Water?
In terms of dosing, a good starting point for pour over coffee ratio is 1:17 (1 part coffee to 17 parts water). There is a lot of flexibility to coffee ratios though, and as you get more advanced you should feel free to experiment. I’ve never gone higher than a 1:18 ratio but gone as low as 1:12 with certain coffees and made delicious brews.
Considering that each cup of coffee is around 18 grams of beans, only in bigger brewers like the Chemex can you brew up to four solid cups of coffee. The relationship between a pour over coffee ratio and extraction can get complicated, so read about the basics of brewing if you want a deeper understanding.
What Equipment Do You Need?
At a bare minimum, the equipment you need to make a pour over coffee is a kettle to hold your hot water, filters, ground coffee, and a timer. Whether brewing on a Chemex coffee maker, a Hario V60, or some other coffee dripper, you will want to follow the same basic brewing principles outlined above.
You can think of the other advanced equipment—a scale, a gooseneck kettle, a burr grinder—as upgrades to the process that allow you to make the best pour-over coffee. In order of priority, I recommend first buying a grinder because of how crucial fresh coffee is. Following the grinder, buying a scale will allow you to be precise about brewing ratios—precision means you can repeat that amazing recipe every morning.
Lastly, the gooseneck kettle is a piece of equipment that allows you to pour the same way every time. Plus, the slow pouring speed you can get with this kettle makes the whole pour over process calming and meditative.
What Is the Best Coffee to Use for Pour Over?
Despite all of the advice about how to brew and what equipment to get, the truth is that you cannot make the perfect pour over coffee without having high-quality beans. If you buy pre-ground coffee, stale coffee, or super oily supermarket coffee, you shouldn’t expect anything beautiful to come out of that. For the best-tasting pour overs, invest that little bit of extra money into buying quality beans roasted by a specialty roaster.
But in terms of answering what coffee is best to use for the pour method, the answer is one of those annoying “it depends”. All I can say is that certain coffees tend to be best highlighted on specific brewers. So, let your taste buds guide you (that’s part of the fun!) But, one example would be that the thick paper of the Chemex works particularly well for delicate coffees that deserve a clean taste with clarity.
Why Do I Use the Pour Over Method?
If you asked ten coffee experts why they use the pour over method, you would probably get ten different answers. Superior taste is a huge factor, and being geeky about science is also fun.
But for us here at Best of Brewing, there is also something special about taking the time out of your routine to slowly pour hot water over a coffee bed—it is calming and meditative. Not only do you help yourself settle down into the present moment for a few minutes, but you also can connect with and appreciate the rich history of coffee.
Plus, when you slow down to focus on brewing, consider this fact: Besides the billions of people around the world drinking coffee today, there are loads more that have enjoyed this beverage over its long history. Taking the time to make a pour-over coffee allows you to slow down and appreciate this fact.
Pour Over Coffee: Frequently Asked Questions
Before you leave us to go experimenting with your new coffee ideas, let’s work through a few of the most common pour-over coffee questions.
What is a pour over coffee?
In essence, pour over coffee brewing means that you pour hot water through ground coffee so that the water can extract flavor as it falls through the coffee bed and into your cup. Paper filters allow the water to flow through and leave the grinds behind.
Why is pour-over coffee better?
Pour over coffee brews better-tasting coffee because you have complete control over how the water flows, including where you pour the water and how long the brew time is.
Can you make a coffee pour over without a gooseneck kettle?
You can make a pour over coffee without a gooseneck kettle, even if it won’t be quite as good as with one. Gooseneck kettles give you the most control, but careful pouring on a normal kettle can produce acceptable results!
What is a good grind for pour over?
At the advanced level, the right grind for pour overs changes from day to day and from coffee to coffee. But generally speaking, a medium grind with a texture similar to sand will work on most brewers, and a coarser grind like kosher salt works best on larger drippers like the Chemex.
How To Make Pour Over Coffee: Final Thoughts
As you can see, there are a lot of details and science behind pour over coffee brewing, and for beginners, it can seem overwhelming. So if you’re a beginner, get started with the basic steps of slowly and evenly pouring water, aiming for a brew time of 3-4 minutes in most cases. Over time, you can incorporate more advanced techniques. And, if you’re already a seasoned coffee connoisseur, hopefully, this article gave you some more ideas to think about.
Either way, remember that pour over coffee brewing is all about slowing down and becoming more mindful of the amazing beverage known as coffee!
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