Some coffee traditions go back centuries which is as old as the tales that sprang out of Europe and the Middle East a long time ago. When it comes to Nel Drip, an unlikely country that broke with tradition embraced a method for making a new form of coffee that we know as Nel Drip. Let’s explore the wonders and the mystique of how the Zen side of coffee was born.
Land of the Rising Sun Awakens a Sleeping Dragon
You might not think that coffee would be a hit in Japan but little did you know that it’s been their best-kept secret since the late 17th century. Uncommon as it sounds, through the efforts of Dutch merchants trading in Dejima, they imported coffee beans for the first time. Who knows what the Japanese were doing with these beans for the next few decades is unclear but what is know is a totally different art form to pour-over coffee as we know it.
By 1888, one of the first-known coffee and tea houses in Tokyo to serve crudely-made pour-over styles of coffee. Once this was an established and tempting drink that was offered to customers, it didn’t take long for the interest to catch on. By the 1920s, coffee was more accepted and rapidly gaining praise. Despite a better form of tracking the Nel Drip history, it became clear in 1925 that a proven method was born.
The Coffee Syphon Company was established and began to offer Japanese citizens the very first siphon brewer. Yet the actual technique of brewing Nel Drip is like everything else in Japan, akin to a careful ritual that takes patience, practice, and time. As you might also know, preparing tea in Japan requires a strict ritual that is graceful and honored by many. Perhaps the same care also went into creating the Nel Drip ritual as its known today.
What Makes Nel Drip so Different?
One of the most curious points that make Nel Drip coffee taste different is due to a lot of elements that go into making it. It must be done correctly and can take decades to perfect. Some Japanese believe that it can take 30 years to master Nel Drip, but you don’t have to wait that long to enjoy a great cup for yourself. The flavor itself is partly due to the method of how it’s prepared. Here are some of the more obvious ones you might know about:
The brewing vessel
The glass Syphon itself is made typically from glass and is fitted to a wooden plug that allows the coffee to collect into a separated glass vessel below. The upper portion is essentially a rounded oil lamp style cover that helps hold the wireframe which holds your cloth sock.
A specific kettle
You’ll be better off finding a gooseneck kettle that is specially tapered. This is so the flow of water is restricted to be as slow as possible and gives you more control of the water coming out. It should also give you enough control so that you can adjust to the pouring cycles that can adjust from IV drip-like moments to steady flowing streams.
The cloth filter
This sock is specially made and created from cotton fiber. It’s unlike the filters we use today and must be washed and boiled to keep it clean. Each time the sock is used, you need to pour boiling water poured through it, to help sterilize it further.
Lower water temperature
As opposed to other methods of brewing, Nel Drip will use 175F degrees instead of the average 195-205F degrees. Because of this, the coffee is not burned and this helps to change the flavor drastically. It helps to create a velvety flavor that is richer and sweeter.
Slow and steady pouring intervals
Three separate pours start the brewing process, and each one of them is timed. These steps are also timed to prevent water from running through the sock and the coffee is allowed to steep and bloom from the heat. If done correctly, the results are impressively stunning and there are multiple layers of flavors in each sip!
The Brewing Method
You must start with a wet sock that’s had boiling water run through it. It needs to be damp but not dripping so this needs to pour into a separate cup and be allowed to stand a little bit. After this, the wireframe and sock can be returned to the glass siphon.
Ready your coffee grounds
The coffee beans need to be ground course similar to French Press grinding levels. Not too fine or you’ll end up with a big mess. You will also need to start with freshly roasted beans and grind up to 45-50 grams. This is usually enough to make 1 to 2 cups of coffee. The grounds are then added to the sock. A chopstick is used along the edges of the sock to prevent any trapped air.
This helps to compact the sides of your sock and the coffee will only be compacted along these edges. Form a finger-sized circle in the middle of the coffee ground like a volcano. Place your siphon onto a digital scale and tare off the amount to be zero. This will help you to track how many grams of water to add at each interval.
The initial pour
Slowly start to pour your water into the center of the indented portion of your coffee grounds. Allow this to pour in 45 grams of water for a total of 45 seconds. Take your time and use a stopwatch if you need to. A digital stopwatch or the second hand on a wall clock is best. After this don’t add any more water for an additional 45 seconds afterward. Tare off the scale so you can keep track of the water added.
The secondary pour
Now you can add 80 grams of water over the next 60 seconds. Stick to the center of your grounds but slightly start to rotate the water within the inner circle of your blooming grounds. It’s at this point that you’ll start to see something happening within your coffee grounds that is releasing hidden and locked-in flavors. After this you let it sit for an additional 20 seconds before starting the final pour. Tare off your digital scale once again.
The final pour
Now add the final 60 grams of water over the next 30 seconds. The water can circle slowly along the outer edges of the coffee grounds but leave at least 1/4″ of space to prevent hitting the edge of the sock. While this is draining for the next 30 seconds, now use the leftover hot water to warm up your coffee cup. This helps bring your cup to the right temperature without losing the heat of your brewed coffee.
Pour out the water before adding the coffee from your siphon vessel pot. Remove the sock (even if it’s still draining after 30 seconds) so you don’t over saturate the coffee flavor. Slowly pour the liquid from your vessel into your coffee cup using the same slow pouring method as you would while pouring from your kettle. This will help keep the layers of flavor from becoming too mixed.