The Serious Eats Guide to Pourover Coffee
Whether you call it by-the-cup, hand-brewed, or manually brewed coffee, anytime you're creating a fresh, single cup experience by pouring water over coffee into a cone, you're making a "pourover"—a flavorful, clean-tasting way to express the qualities of drip coffee (that can hold myriad subtle and fanciful flavors that can get lost in the concentration of espresso, or the sludge of a French press, or the uneven extraction of most automatic drip machines.) What's more, the act of preparing a pour over coffee encourages an intimacy with your brewing process that even non-experts can tune in with right away. Still don't know why pourover is so darn wonderful? Do you want to know what it takes to make it wonderful at home? Today we offer you our definitive guide to pourover.
The Whys: Why Pourover is Awesome
1. Your cup is fresh
The greatest thing about a coffee brewed by-the-cup is its freshness. You brew it, just enough for you and perhaps a friend, and you drink it. There's not going to be enough to languish on a heating element, cool off on the counter, or even dare to cast an askance glance at your microwave hours later. You grind your beans fresh, pour just as much as you want to drink, and consume it promptly. You know, just like you'd do if you were cooking food to eat.
2. Aromatic experience
As any coffee expert will tell you, aroma is paramount to your coffee experience, and may be even more important than taste. The art of preparing a pourover coffee—from the fresh grinding of the beans to the initial smell of coffee as water hits the grounds—is full of olfactory goodness. It's these initial whiffs that set the stage for what's going to be special about the particular kind of coffee you're brewing and open a doorway into what kinds of things you're going to taste. It awakens your senses, excites you for the experience you're having as well as what's to come. Standing directly over your coffee with its aromas coming right towards you during the entire brewing process allows you this experience much more intimately than other brew methods like French press or automatic machines.
3. It doesn't actually take more time
One thing we hear about manually brewed coffee is that it seems to be a time investment. This is, for the most part, a temporal illusion. Measuring and grinding coffee can be done while heating water, and the pouring portion of your program shouldn't exceed four minutes. Four minutes sound like a lot first thing in the morning? Spend it waiting for some bread to toast, if you're one of those people who still eats bread.
4. You can do it iced!
In summer heat, making a pourover in the Japanese style, concentrated over ice in the pourover carafe, is a wonderful way to preserve the brilliant acidity of your coffee and keep all its inherent flavors—while still giving you a refreshing cup. Pourover adapts with great versatility to this cold-brew method, needing only a modified strength recipe and the right measure of quality ice to dilute your brew. We love pourover for its willingness to change so easily with the seasons.
The Wherefores: What You Need to Succeed
1. A pourover cone
Though they're not created equal, there's a fine world of cone drippers to choose from depending on your proclivities (ceramic? metal? plastic Melitta?) and how much room for error you'd like to leave. Whether it's a Japanese Kalita Wave or Hario V60 or a fancy stand you've rigged up with an American-made KONE, you'll be pouring water onto coffee in no time.
Though they're all based on the same principles, each pourover cone is slightly unique. Want something durable? Try a metal Kalita Wave. Want something ceramic that's got a single small hole to limit your error in extraction? Try a Beehouse. Want something you can serve beautifully at the table? Try a Chemex (this is, after all, a pourover method, too.) Want to practice your perfect pour? Try the V60. Roomate left behind a plastic cone in the cupboard? Use that, too! You're still having a fresh-brewed coffee experience that will be worth it in the end.
2. The accoutrements
We're not going to insist you buy a fancy scale to make each cup of immaculately prepared, brilliant coffee (so long as you find a consistent amount and stick to a measurement that works), but we'll admit that it helps. Brewing on a scale allows you to make sure you're using the right proportions of water to coffee, plus (depending on which kind of dripper you're using) affords you the ability to walk away from what you're doing once enough water is in the cone. (Extra seconds to slap some butter on that toast!) What you'll want for sure, though is a good pouring kettle to ensure you have control over your stream of water, which affects things like agitation, water-to-coffee contact, and even extraction. You need water, coffee, and filters appropriate to your dripper, too...but you knew that.
3. Can I just jerry-rig this?
Possibly! At the end of the day, the best thing about pourover coffee is that it puts you in close touch with your brewing experience, so if you're the sort to experiment (can I use this old shoe as a filter? Will it work if I put a spiral of wire along the walls of my funnel?, etc.) you're sure to be getting intimate with what brewing can be. So long as you're getting results you like, you're going to have some fun. And if you've rigged up a particularly odd pourover method, we'd like to hear about it!
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop.