What is Pour Over Brewing?
It's a method of slowly pouring hot water from a kettle over a bed of (freshly) ground coffee that is in a filter and contained in a "coffee dripper" or "filter cone", and allowing the resulting coffee to drain into a cup or carafe.
It's simple, but maybe not as simple as it first sounds. At its best, Pour Over brewing is the culmination of lots of different things done right, and with attention to detail. Properly executed, pour over coffee is very flavorful, nuanced and clean-tasting and faithfully represents the coffee roast from which it was made.
The most important key points are:Use freshly roasted coffee beans
- Let me preface this point with the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"; which is to say, if you enjoy the beans you currently use, they should be fine for the pour over method.
Large production coffee roasters (even high-end ones) really don't disclose the roasting date of their products, so it might be impossible to know how old your mass-produced coffee beans really are. But, again if you like the way they taste in your current brewer, give them a shot. If you'd like to know the age of your beans, you can certainly source fresh roasted beans from a local roaster or a variety of mail-order websites, but even then, there is some contention as to how long after roasting a coffee bean looses the power and nuance from it's flavor and aroma. Different factors such as the degree of roasting, type of bean and individual tastes make a static answer impossible. The most reasonable window we can identify is between 2 and 14 days. Professional baristas would (and do) argue this time frame endlessly, but if you can keep it within a two week period from roasting, you are doing dramatically better than the vast majority of coffee drinkers.Use freshly ground coffee
- Any type of roast is fine, and the optimal grind size can vary, but it is vital that the beans are ground just before brewing.The coffee to water ratio
- a good standard is 8 grams of coffee beans per 5 oz. of water (this is an extension of 1.6 g for every 1 oz. of water) You can adjust this ratio up to 2 g per 1 oz of water, depending on your own tastes and the type of roast you like.Fresh water heated to the correct range
- 195°F to 205°F. Temperatures below this range make for a smooth but weak-tasting cup. Hotter water extracts more flavor, but also more acidity and increases the potential for bitter flavors. Any temperature within the 195°F to 205°F range seems to work just fine."Bloom" the grounds
- this is a critical one. If you are using freshly roasted and freshly ground beans, they are going to naturally expel carbon dioxide, which impedes flavor extraction. The way to deal with this is to pre-wet the bed of coffee grind with just enough water to make it swell up a bit, but not enough to drain through the bottom of the filter. Try to saturate the bed evenly, then wait for 30 seconds to a minute. As hot water soaks into the grounds, the bed expands and CO2 finds its way out and emanates as frothy bubbles on top. With most of the CO2 spent, pour over brewing can begin.Pouring rate
- pour gradually so the filter stays about 1/2 full. It's also best to pour the hot water in a swirling pattern to saturate the bed evenly and create a natural agitation within the filter. Total pour time should not exceed 3-4 minutes.How is Pour Over Brewing different from Auto-Drip?
An Auto-Drip machine is a wonderful convenience and some brew a fantastic cup. But most actually fail on one or more key factors. A surprising number of Auto-Drip coffee makers can't achieve the correct water temperature in the brew basket, either because of insufficient heating elements or by design compromises that allow excessive heat loss en route to the brew basket. Most also don't allow the bed to bloom, and instead, all the water is cycled into the filter basket as the CO2 is escaping. That results in a percentage of the early brew-cycle with little flavor extraction.
A new segment of "Automated Pour-Over Brewers" is emerging, and they claim to address these shortcomings. Here at Kitchen Kapers, we love great coffee and great kitchen appliances so we really look forward to these new machines and hope they are all they promise to be.
But we also love the idea that a practiced hand can use a water kettle, a scale and a $15 filter cone to make coffee just as well, or better than
a $300 coffee machine!What equipment do I need?
At it's most basic, Pour Over Brewing requires a way to heat water, a way to measure coffee and water, a coffee grinder, a vessel to hold a filter, and a cup or carafe. Most home kitchens already have most, if not all of the pieces needed for an experienced barista to do a fair job. But for the rest of us, certain equipment can make a huge difference in the quality and consistency of your pour over brewing, while adding a lot of convenience to the process.Coffee Dripper
- sometimes called filter cones, and they are a necessity unless you choose to go with a Chemex
or similar style brewer. These inexpensive vessels hold disposable or reusable filters and are made to rest on top of a cup or carafe so the brewed coffee can flow right in. They can be sized to hold coffee for one cup or for a whole carafe and are made from plastic, glass and ceramics.Water Kettle
- These can be stove top, electric, or for the ultimate convenience, programmable electric. Models with narrow gooseneck spouts are what the pros use, because they offer the most precise control. Programmable electric models can be set within the ideal temperature range, while stove top and other models can be checked with a thermometer for the ideal brew temperature.Coffee Grinder
- any type will do, but adjustable and preset grind models will increase consistency. Some of the fancier models will even dose the coffee automatically when you enter the number of cups you are brewing. That saves you a step and the cost of a scale!Scale
- A good scale is a must-have for measuring your coffee beans. Think digital, as they easily switch from metric to imperial and usually calculate smaller weights with great precision. Smaller "portion" scales are a smart, affordable choice.Thermometers and Timers
- Instant read thermometers are good to have if you are heating water on the stove top, or by an electric boiling kettle. In either case, bring water to a boil, then cut the heat and use the thermometer to monitor the water temp until it drops into range. A timer is a handy tool to help you get the hang of your pouring rate, but you probably won't need it for long. Both tools are inexpensive and have plenty of other uses in the kitchen.Insulated Carafe
- This is an optional but smart accessory to have if you want to brew multiple cups and enjoy them over an hour or two. Get one with a capacity that is close to the amount you like to brew and preheat it by filling it with hot tap water for a minute or two. After draining you can brew directly into the carafe.