In a world revering hyper-speed transmissions, bullet trains, and instant gratification of every kind, the back-to-basics ideologies of "slow coffee" have been a little bit of a tough sell.
Remember those gigantic coffee urns that just seemed to never run out of fresh-ish hot coffee, ready for you to grab and go? Coffee brewing experts and retail influence-peddlers began slowly removing these staleifying vats a few years ago in favor of on-demand French press brewing, automated by-the-cup methods like the Clover machine, and most recently, the pourover bar.
You've likely seen the highly manual array of brewers migrate—pretty much all from Japan—to the front bars of the best cafes: a small army of ceramic cones perched on a rack above what's soon to be your own custom cup of coffee. But as the choices multiply—and don't these things look just like the plastic Melitta cone in the back of your cupboard anyway?—which one is the best for your brew?
We examined five choices on the market today—there are other ceramic drippers, of course (including a new, large Starbucks model manufactured by Melitta) to determine the differences between them.
We aimed for a similar ratio (1:16 coffee to water) and brew time—22 to 24 grams of coffee grounds brewed to produce 360 mL of coffee (about a mug and a half) brewed over about 4 minutes (a general ideal of dripper extraction time). If the extraction was too slow, we made the grind coarser. If it was too fast, we made it finer. Pouring was done slowly and carefully with a kettle specifically designed for pourover—the Takahiro kettle or the Hario Buono are among the best for this, but are not strictly necessary for all methods.
Let's see the results.
Perfect cone shape with vortex-like ridges on the inside, gigantic center hole.
How it Works:
The V60's become wildly popular among cafes and it's no secret that Hario's line of coffee products is sexy and versatile. But unless you're the attentive type, the V60 may be biting off a little more than you can chew to brew a perfectly consistent cup. The ridges along the walls of the V60—like all ridges on ceramic drippers—are intended to keep water distributed evenly among the bed of coffee grounds. This is meant to deter "channeling," wherein water all seeks the same small path and overextracts part of the coffee, leaving the rest of the coffee underextracted and resulting in an unbalanced cup. But the Hario's large hole can lead to a fast brew, and thus requires steady determination to make a swell cup. You can do it—but you'll have to pay attention.
Brewing onto a scale, or a carafe with measurement lines, is best. After rinsing your filter (this also helps preheat the cool ceramic) and dumping out that water, pour a small amount of just-boiled water onto the grounds—40 to 60 mL or so—and wait for it to become saturated and "bloom", about 40 seconds. Continue pouring the rest of your water in very....very....very slowly, with a good, precise-tipped kettle, in a small circular motion or even mostly into the center, avoiding the temptation to wash down the sides. (You'll find much theory on V60 pouring online, but the big takeaway is to pour slow, central and steady.)
Wedge-shape with vertical ridges in the bottom portion, small center hole, viewing window at base.
How it Works:
The Bonmac is for many a perfect dripper. It essentially sets the brewer up to win: the size of the cone combined with the size of the hole at the bottom force the brew to take exactly the right amount of time to come out right—you can't get the water out of the hole any faster than it can go, and if your grind is right, by the time you've poured you've had the right amount of coffee-to-water contact. It just works.
The construction of the cone ridges help meter the flow of water through the coffee bed well enough that you don't even need a fancy kettle to be able to get a good cup of coffee with a fair amount of consistency. And at a price point under $15, this is an ideal cone for beginners, gift-givers, the office, lazy spouses that you'd like to have make your coffee, etc.
After you're done rinsing out your filter and dumping the water, put your measured grounds into your Bonmac and give them a little bloom with just a small amount of water. After about 40 seconds, begin pouring in the rest of your water in stages, by slowly filling the cone to the top (don't overflow!) and waiting for more room to pour, pouring more, waiting, pouring, until your measured amount of 360 mL has been achieved.
Bonmac "Pro Cone" by Counter Culture Coffee
Wedge shape with vertical ridges all around full height of cone, two small center holes.
How it Works:
Unlike the standard Bonmac on which this is based, the Pro Cone, built in conjunction with North Carolina roasters Counter Culture Coffee, is designed for savvy and speed. Increased ridge height actually speeds up flow of coffee through the bed, as do the two drain holes at the bottom of the cone. It's designed for the pourover brewer who's a little more in tune with their grind and dose, and can extract a cup of coffee at a much more coffee-shop friendly rate—2 to 3 minutes instead of 3 to 4—which means it needs a lot more care in pouring.
"The coffee bar has different requirements than the home," offered Counter Culture Coffee's Director of Coffee Peter Giuliano. "That's why we did the Pro Cone. Because you have people that have more experience and are able to make the adjustments in grind and pouring technique necessary to operate on the fast end of brew time," says Giuliano. "I don't think the pro cone should be used without a good pouring kettle. It offers less flow resistance [two holes] because it's not giving you that kind of "safety" thing that the regular Bonmac does...but it's also more flexible." So if you want to begin tinkering and are ready to throw off the single-hole training wheels, the Pro Cone may be for you. Still nervous? Don't worry, Counter Culture even offers classes nationwide!
Similar to the standard Bonmac, you'll rinse your filter and give your cup an initial bloom, around 30 to 40 seconds. The pro cone should take about 1.5 to 2 minutes to add the rest of your water, so go slowly and carefully with your pour and definitely use a pouring kettle.
Wedge shape with vertical ridges along bottom portion, viewing windows at base.
How it Works:
The Beehouse was one of the first drippers to be embraced by specialty coffeehouses on our shores. Though the imported cone, with its telltale finger-hook and windows into the cup (easier not to overflow!), is harder to come by nowadays, that isn't for lack of quality. It was a Bee House dripper used to win the 2011 Brewer's Cup championship in Houston, TX.
Champion Andy Sprenger of Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis, MD explained, "I've brewed many cups on the V60s and Kalita Wave Brewers and think they are fine, but I still get my most flavorful, pure and evenly extracted brews out of a Beehouse." Sprenger advises home brewers to stick to the smallest size dripper they can, since the distance water travels through the coffee bed will be shorter, and enable a "more gentle, even, and consistent pour."
Definitely use a scale, Sprenger advises, and pour out 16 mL of water for each gram of coffee used to brew. In a Beehouse, the brew time should be about 3 minutes for a 22 gram of coffee/360mL brew.
What's Unique: Cone shape with flat bottom, horizontal ridges around entire cone, three center holes in flat bed.
How it Works:
Like the Bonmac, the Kalita Wave is an accessible way to prepare pourover coffee that helps the brewer control speed easily through the brewer design itself. Its ridged walls and special filters—ruffly, like a Harlequin collar— work together with the flat, even bed and small holes to allow ideal water-to-coffee contact.
Wrecking Ball Coffee's Nick Cho, who's currently the sole U.S. importerof the super-simple brewer, says that the size and shape make it easy to control the flow of water. "What you can really do is, rather than thinking about pouring water into a bed of coffee, you actually don't want to do that, because wherever you're pouring water into is creating a lot of turbulence, it's like laser beam into a coffee bed." Instead, with the Wave (and also the standard Bonmac), you're allowing the dripper to control water itself by filling it to the top and creating a "column" of water that then extracts down, and continuing to top it up. You're pouring water into the water instead of disrupting the bed of coffee as it's extracting, and your control and therefore results will be better.
Cho adds that of the materials used to make coffee drippers—including the Kalita Wave, which comes in plastic and metal as well—ceramic is actually his least favorite due to its predisposition to drawing heat away from the brew. But he acknowledges its utility in the kitchen. "It's durable, machine, washable, pretty...it's like a toilet bowl for your coffee."
Pre-rinse your frilly Kalita filter and dump out the water. Add coffee and bloom—about 40 seconds—then proceed to fill brewer to the top. Whatever brew method you choose, "when you pour water, the more gentle you are the better," advises Cho, so you may wish to grab a fancy kettle and a slow hand. A great instructional video from Olympia Coffee Roasting Company is here.
Now that you've got the rundown, the only work left is to identify yourself as a tinkerer or someone who prefers to take the easy road, whether you like black, red, or white, or how much you want to throw down on a Japanese kettle.
Choose wisely, and save a cup for us!
Coffee Drippers were graciously loaned and provided for this piece.