Making a great cup of coffee requires a lot of skill and attention to detail.
Quality coffee brewing is a combination of art and science that relies on a deep understanding of the six elements of proper coffee extraction:
- Proper Coffee-to-Water Ratio
- Grind Setting
- Brewing Method/Device
- Pouring Technique
- Water Quality
- Filtration Medium
When using a manual pour over device, it’s just as easy to brew a terrible cup of coffee as it is to brew a great one. The difference is determined by how carefully you control these six essential elements of brewing.
Why Pour Over Coffee is Different from Everyday Drip Coffee
Short answer? It isn’t.
Pour over brewing is a manual version of the same process that happens in any coffee brewer.
There’s nothing new or innovative about pour over methods in general. Most of the manual brewing devices that have become popular in the last ten years have been around since before the invention of automatic home coffee makers.
What makes pour over brewing special is the level of control that it allows for the brewer.
Where automatic drip coffee makers offer a high level of consistency in the way they brew, they don’t typically offer the ability to adjust brewing parameters to suit different coffees.
With the rise of the third wave, coffee enthusiasts have begun paying more attention to the nuanced flavor differences between different origins, varieties, and processing methods of coffee. This has led to an increased demand for coffee making devices that allow a tightly controlled brewing process.
Manual pour over brewing devices offer that level of control.
Types of Pour Over Brewing Devices
Selecting a device that works well with your favorite coffee and brewing style is one of the essential elements of brewing.
There are two basic methods of manual brewing. These methods are distinguished by the process they use to extract coffee solids during the brewing cycle, and there are many devices available for each method.
Gravity or drip brewing devices are those where water is added on top of a bed of ground coffee and is pulled by gravity down through the grounds and out the bottom of the filter basket.
Gravity brewing methods include:
- Bodum Pour Over
- Standard home coffeemakers (e.g., Mr. Coffee)
- The classic Melitta dripper
- Hario V60
- And tons of other variations
The cone-shaped brew basket and paper filters used in most gravity brewers make them well-suited for coffees that are light-bodied, bright, and crisp.
The most common immersion brewing device is the French press.
In an immersion brewer, all of the coffee grounds are in contact with all of the water for the entire brewing cycle. Some people believe this produces a sweeter, fuller-bodied coffee than in a drip brewer. However, it’s mostly the lack of a paper filter in most immersion brewers that causes this effect.
Whatever the science behind it, immersion brewers are better suited for coffees that are sweet, full-bodied, and feature chocolate, nut, and caramel-like flavors.
Steps to Brewing a Pour Over Coffee
Once you’ve selected the right device to suit your coffee, you’ll need to choose your brewing parameters and dial in the other elements of proper brewing.
1. Filter Your Water
It’s been known for a long time that water quality is vital for coffee brewing. In the last few years, though, the conversation about water in coffee brewing has turned to composition more than quality.
Water is the most important element of coffee. A brewed cup of coffee is more than 98% water, so using high-quality water is extremely important.
The mineral content of your water can have a dramatic effect on your brewing parameters and can drastically change the flavor of brewed coffee.
The SCA publishes a water quality standard that will help you get started dialing in a water profile that matches your flavor preferences and coffee choices.
2. Select a Filtration Medium
Whether you’re using a dripper or an immersion device, the filter that you use will have a huge impact on the body (mouthfeel) of your pour over coffee. Metal filters (like the mesh screen in a French press or some re-usable cone filters) will result in heavy-bodied coffee with more sediment in the cup.
Paper filters strain out more of the sediment and oils in the coffee resulting in a clear, clean coffee with a flavor profile closer to the acidic end of the spectrum.
3. Dial in the Grind
The correct grind setting for your pour over coffee depends on the specific brewing method and device you’re using.
Coffee grinding science is a deep and complex topic that goes way beyond coarseness, but the most critical part of choosing the right grind is setting the coarseness.
The more coarse the grind, the slower your coffee will brew.
The longer contact-time in an immersion brewing device works best with a slower extraction. For this reason, a coarse grind is usually the right choice when brewing in a French press.
Pour over drip brewers usually work best with a finer grind, but the specifics are incredibly dependent on the specific device you use, the coffee, and the roasting style.
4. Control Your Water-to-Coffee Ratio
The strength of the coffee is determined by the ratio of ground coffee to water you use. More coffee and you’ll get a strong brew, less coffee and it’ll be weaker.
The Specialty Coffee Association recommends using 55g of ground coffee per liter of water, but this is a very general suggestion. The ratio of water to coffee is heavily dependent on the coffee, the device, and your specific taste preference.
5. Pour Carefully
In an immersion brewer, the technique is simple: pour water on the coffee and wait.
When making a pour over drip coffee, though, you must control the flow-rate, the positioning, and the amount of agitation caused while pouring.
The more you move the coffee around in the basket while pouring, the faster your coffee will brew. If you don’t carefully control the way you pour while making a pour over, all of your other brewing parameters will be rendered meaningless.