After decades in the dark, used mostly amid the insular circles of Japanese coffee culture, pour-over coffee is having a moment, widely celebrated as the preferred brew method for drip coffee. Walk into any speciality coffee shop, from Seattle to Miami, and you’re bound to find a menu advertising pour-over brews; in fact, visitors to the MoMA in New York City will find a Chemex Coffee Maker in the museum’s permanent collection. Much of pour over’s appeal, says Oliver Tosky, lead educator at Parlor Coffee in Brooklyn, lies in the inherent simplicity of the technology.
“There’s no cost barrier to entry since pour-over systems are cheap to buy and maintain,” says Tosky. Drippers, the defining element of pour-over systems, range from $15 to $70, even from high-end brands like Hario and Chemex; a quality drip machine, like the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 ($312), will run into the hundreds. “Home users of pour-over systems can focus their attention on buying higher-quality coffee,” says Tosky. “Shops, on the other hand, have adopted it so that they can offer several different coffees at the same time.” For baristas, this versatility with manual brew systems is heightened by the ability to control every element of the brew process, including how much water is introduced to coffee particles, and how fast.
All things considered, pour overs aren’t perfect. “All manual pour-over systems are exposed to air, and continuously lose heat throughout brew cycles,” says Tosky. The ideal alternative, such as a large industrial machine with an insulated boiler, is too expensive and impractical for daily home use — and also less versatile for coffee shops interested in serving different coffees. Conventional home brewers, on the other hand, such as Mr. Coffee machines, are made with very cheap heating elements, explains Tosky. “They just don’t reach the right temperature.”
“I think the choice of one material over another is often decided for aesthetic purposes — how it looks, how it feels — rather than performance.”
When it comes to one pour-over system over another, he and team at Parlor Coffee favor the Kalita Wave series, a longtime industry darling that’s only now catching up to the commercial popularity of the Chemex and Hario V60. “After many blind tastings, we found that the Kalita brews consistently clearer, cleaner cups of coffee than the Chemex and Hario V60,” says Tosky. “For lack of a better word, it’s slightly more forgiving.” The reasons for this buffer zone, he says, lie in the Kalita drippers’ three defining characteristics: a flat bottom (instead of a cone, as seen on both the Chemex and V60), three small openings (instead of one), and a ridged filter (instead of a flat one that hugs the entire perimeter of the dripper after being wet).
“With a V60 or Chemex, all the water filters through a single point at the bottom of a cone,” says Tosky. “With the flat bottom of the Kalita, all the water is going to pass through an even amount of coffee. Meanwhile, having three smaller holes, instead of one big one, provide some flow restriction.” In other words, it’s not reliant on a fastidious pour, or a finer grind — as with the Chemex and V60 — to prevent water from just rushing through the coffee without extracting flavor. “As for the filter,” adds Tosky, “there is less contact between the coffee and the actual brewer when you have ridges. This prevents the brewer from acting as a heatsink, and helps maintain the brew temperature.”
Because of conduction, Tosky also recommends the glass dripper from Kalita, instead of the brand’s stainless steel or ceramic models, which both more effectively destabilize the temperature of the brew process (an unwanted side effect of using these heavyweight materials). “Plastic would essentially be the best,” says Tosky, “though no shop wants to use it. I think the choice of one material over another is often decided for aesthetic purposes — how it looks, how it feels — rather than performance.” Glass is the cozy compromise.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing possible converts to pour-over coffee is the fact that beans must be ground, then brewed to order, requiring several minutes of dedicated attention per yield — in other words, it’s not as simple as just pressing a button in the morning. “It’s a mental shift, for sure,” says Tosky. “But when you think about pour over as just another cooking process, like measuring out ingredients when baking, it all falls together. Any step in this direction, from someone who’s maybe buying pre-ground coffee or using a conventional machine, is going to improve the taste profile of their coffee.”
The Ultimate Setup
A Step-by-Step Guide for Brewing 10 Ounces of Coffee
Bring a full kettle of filtered water to boil. “For roasted coffee that aims to maintain the unique qualities of the green coffee itself, you want your water as hot as possible,” says Tosky. “Beans can reach something like 400 degrees Fahrenheit in the roaster so there’s really no risk of burning coffee with hot water. For coffee that’s very darkly roasted, people often recommend 205 degrees as a good benchmark — that’s because you don’t want to pull those burnt flavors as much. But with coffee that’s roasted well, you want to put in as much effort as possible towards extracting these greater flavors.” Tosky recommends home users also filter their water, if using tap.
Weigh 22 grams of coffee beans. “With all pour-over brewing methods, it’s important to use a ratio of coffee to water,” says Tsoky. “That way you can scale it up or down, all while maintaining a similar taste profile. We use a ratio of 1:16 for brewing drip or pour-over methods; it’s the same for Chemex or V60 too.” For roughly 10 ounces of brewed coffee, that’s 22 grams of coffee for 350 grams of water.
Grind beans. The ideal grind is similar in coarseness to kosher salt, says Tosky. “Too fine, and it will stay in contact with water for too long — there is the possibility of extracting too much flavor from the beans.” But also important, and oft overlooked, is the uniformity of the coffee particles. “You want even particle sizes so that each brews at the same rate.” he says. Though industrial grinders generally do a better job at this than household brands, Tosky recommends the Baratza Virtuoso for home use — his preferred grind setting will fall between 12 and 16, depending on specific coffees.
Wet filter. Because the shape of the Kalita filter is important, Tosky will pour a few grams of water in the center until it falls into place. Then he simply pours around the sides until the filter is completely saturated. The goal here is twofold: “The first thing I’m trying to do is wash out the paper taste. But I’m also preheating the equipment before I start brewing so it has an easier time rising to temperature.” Dump the water before brewing.
Add ground coffee to filter. Shake out coffee so that it falls flat in the filter, says Tosky. This will allow for a more even brew while water is added.
“Bloom” with 60 grams of water. Place the Kalita dripper and carafe on the scale, and set to zero. Start timer and saturate the grounds with 60 grams of hot water within 10 seconds, pausing your pour until the timer hits 30 seconds. “This stage is called blooming,” says Tosky. The coffee should rise and bubble slightly. “It’s degassing, says Tosky. “When there’s carbon dioxide that’s trying to rise out, it acts as an opposing force to water. Essentially, blooming allows for a more even and consistent brew.”
Finish brewing until scale reads 350 grams. In a slow and steady stream, pour remaining 290 grams of water in a circular motion. “The pouring in circles isn’t as important as some people make it out to be,” says Tosky. “The core idea is that you’re always saturating different parts of the coffee bed. I aim to finish pouring by one minute, 30 seconds. Depending on the coffee and the grind, the rest of the brew process should take between two and a half to three minutes before coffee stops dripping from the filter.”