Everything You Need to Know About the Pour Over
By Lisa Frania — / Coffee Talk
How to Perfect Your Pour Over Coffee
For the exhausted, sluggish and unmotivated humans who can’t seem to get their asses out of bed in the morning, most just reach for a cup of coffee—made quick and easy—to achieve immediate, caffeinated bliss. If we’re being honest, most of us would shoot the caffeine directly into our veins if we could.
Seven out of ten Americans drink coffee. And of those caffeinds, almost 80 percent brew their coffee at home as a way to save money and time. Whether you flip the switch on the drip machine, or brew using a French press or Chemex, you definitely don’t want to sacrifice any flavor. That’s why there’s one brewing method that most prefer over the rest, and that’s the pour over.
Even though pour over can pose some challenges (human goofs and a bad pour technique), there’s a reason coffee experts prefer the pour over method. When it's made properly, taking into account proper grind size, water temp and saturation, it creates the most balanced cup of coffee compared to any brewing method out there. And it can be made right in your own home!
Here’s everything you need to know about the pour over:
What is Pour Over?
Pour over coffee is really the same as “drip coffee.” That’s because water comes in contact with the ground coffee by being poured from above (that's what extracts the flavors), and it gradually works its way through some form of filter (most of the time paper) and into a mug or carafe below. So all you really need is freshly ground coffee, a filter, and a filter holder (or pour over dripper).
Pour over terms that will make you sound like a pro:
Each phase is connected to the others, and they affect what comes next in the process.
- Wetting: adding water to the dry coffee grounds (also called blooming) that prepares them for extraction.
- Dissolution: dissolving the solubles (solutes) in the beans’ cells to extract the flavors after the coffee grounds are fully wetted by the hot water.
- Diffusion: taking what’s dissolved and moving it out of the coffee grounds through osmosis to the watery, surrounding environment.
Why is Pour Over Different?
The clear difference between pour over and other methods is due to literally hand-pouring the water over the coffee. Doing so “continuously replenishes the liquid surrounding the coffee grounds with new, fresher water,” which extracts more flavors from the top layer of the grounds. That makes for a faster, more efficient brew. Since pour over makes coffee faster, you do have to be careful not to overdo it. Temperature and water affect the pour, so remember hotter, cleaner water generally means faster.
Before you get started, here’s the gear you’ll need:
- A brewing device: This is the important vessel that holds the coffee filter and grounds. There are a number of device options, they are easy to use and have filters that are made specifically for their design. The device sits on top of the cup or carafe, and the unique designs will affect the water flow and extraction of flavors. A Chemex, for one, has its own unique design that creates a great pour over.
- A filter: Specific filters are designed for specific brewing devices and affect the extraction of flavors. You’ll have to choose between paper or cloth, bleached or unbleached filters. It’s personal preference, but make sure the filter fits your device just right so your extraction stays consistent.
- A kettle: To ensure the cup you make extracts flavors consistently every time, you need a kettle that keeps the water at a perfect temperature and controls the pour, too. Kettles come in different styles (electric, stove-top, batch water heater), but a thermometer is crucial to keep an eye on the temperature—so do your research. As for controlling the pour, a kettle with a shorter spout won't stop water from gushing out; whereas, the gooseneck kettle, with the long, thin neck, will help you control the flow of water every time.
Why Use the Pour Over Method?
- A manual pour over process can offer so much more control than automatic drip machines to achieve the best mug of coffee possible.
- Also, if you enjoy medium-dark and lighter coffee blends, then pour over is the way to go.
- Intricate flavors and aromas stand out with the pour over method compared to other methods due to the constant supply of fresh water.
- A pour over allows you to take the time for a mental break. The art of pour over eventually becomes a ritual for many and can be as enjoyable as the cup you drink.
- Pour over creates a cleaner, clearer and consistent cup because it is filtered.
Here are step-by-step instructions for a perfect pour over:
Step 1: Get your (quality) water hot
The first key to making the perfect pour over is heating your water to the proper temperature. Using water just off the boil is great because a lot of heat gets lost during pouring and brewing. Keeping that water at a temperature between 195 F and 208 F is ideal (higher for medium-to-light roasts, and about 10 degrees lower for dark roasts). Using a gooseneck kettle is an easy way to achieve this. If you don’t have a kettle, then just wait about 30 seconds after it boils to get the right temperature.
Don’t use tap water, which contains too many minerals. Use clean, filtered water—but not distilled—if possible.
Step 2: Use freshly ground coffee every time
Grind the beans—using a burr grinder is best—right before you brew. Most pour over drippers work best when they’re between 1/2 to 2/3 full of grounds. And make sure you’re using a big enough vessel. Experts suggest using a ratio of 1 ounce of beans for every 16 ounces of water, ground to the consistency of coarse (raw) sugar.
If you don’t get the taste just right, then trying changing the grind vs. the amount of coffee you are using. Grinding too fine creates a bitter brew. Grinding too course makes a sour brew.
Step 3: Add the grounds AFTER you wet the filter
Your water is hot and your coffee is ground, so now you need to add a filter to your pour over. It’s best to wet the paper filter by pouring some water through it—before you add the grounds. Some might suggest this step may be unnecessary, but we ARE trying to achieve the perfect cup, after all.
When the filter is ready, get rid of any excess water in the maker, and then place it on the scale for accurate measurements. Once you add the right amount of grounds, shake the device to get the grounds nice and even.
Step 4: Wet those grounds
Before heading into this step, grab a timer. You want to know exactly when to start and stop your pours. Because although wetting grounds is doing just what it sounds like, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Before you fully brew, you must bloom. The blooming phase is when the coffee lets off gas trapped when it is roasted. If you don’t let these gasses escape, that cup will be too acidic and just won’t taste right. If you bloom properly, you should see bubbles coming up from your coffee.
Although HOW you add the water has been debated by coffee connoisseurs, most suggest adding a small amount of water to begin (around 50 grams) and then let it sit for around 30 to 45 seconds. It’s best to pour in about three times the weight of your grounds in water. That will make sure the grounds are completely wet.
Step 5: Pour slowly and with patience
Now that your coffee has bloomed for 30 to 45 seconds, it’s time to pour. Adding water continuously extracts more surface layers from the grounds. The result? Coffee tastes cleaner, fresher and richer. However, this step requires the most technique, so it will likely take a few times to master it. Be patient with yourself.
It’s a balancing act here when you extract the flavors. If you extract too much, you’ll get a bitter flavor that takes over. If you extract too little, then your flavor is thin, weak and sometimes sour. Timing is really everything that will make or break your brew.
Because the coffee grounds aren’t exactly the same size and shape, the finer grounds (called “fines”) will get to a stronger, unwanted flavor faster than the larger-sized grounds. (That’s why you want a really good grinder.) And how quickly the water drips through your coffee bed depends on how much the coffee bed slows down the flow. That’s both the positive and the negative of the pour over method: the flow of the liquid is directly linked with both the grind size and bed depth.
The right kettle will help with the perfect pour as well. That's why a gooseneck kettle with a narrow spout makes it easier to control the pour. A kettle ensures a slow and steady pour and allows you to pour in a circular motion, which gets the grounds evenly saturated. You can also observe the entire process too and make sure you direct the water right where you want it to go.
There are several methods for pours overs, so choose one you like the best.
After you bloom:
Pour enough water to fill your pour over halfway. Wait a little bit, then let it drain and repeat. Follow the same process until your scale reads the target weight (16:1 water-to-grounds ratio).
Add the remaining amount of water over a series of pours. Add some water, let it drain down, add some more and repeat. According to this method, add 50 grams, then up to 150, then up to 250, then up to 350.
This option requires fewer pours, but occasionally swirl the brewer to mix the grounds with the water. Hold the kettle at a constant height and pour gently with a vertical water stream. Try to spread the pour evenly around the slurry, the mixture of grounds and water.
On the first pour after the bloom, “spin” or “swirl” the maker for a few seconds, then wait. After 45 seconds, pour until the total water weight reaches 200 grams. Swirl the brewer again for just one second. Pour the remaining water, using the same technique when the water level is less than half an inch above the grounds. Swirl again for one second. The coffee is ready when it’s drained through the grounds.
This option requires a balance between weight and timing. Get all 400 grams of water in at around two minutes. To start, pour quickly up to around 200 grams, inhale slowly, and then pour in 50-gram increments every 50 seconds. Don’t let the grounds get dry, but if it looks like the water isn’t running through, pour a little bit faster (maybe grind a little coarser next time too).
Grim Reaper’s Pro Tip: Aim for your brew time to last about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes for dark roasts, and 3 to 4 minutes for medium-to-light roasts. Then be willing to make adjustments. If it’s weak, you’re grinding too coarse. If it’s too strong, next time use a little less coffee or add a little bit more hot water to the finished brew to taste.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Once your coffee has finished dripping, don’t just toss your grounds and filter. Remember you can dump (or compost) them. Then enjoy the cup. The process might seem a little bit extra, but it’s worth it. And with a little practice, it will become second nature. The real key to making a good cup of pour over is to taste the cup afterward and figure out what you can change to make your next cup even better.
You don’t have to work at a coffee shop or be a trained barista to make adjustments and create the perfect cup. Just have fun. Don't overthink it. Find what works for you. With a little bit of patience and trial and error, you’ll create the perfect cup every time. The results are unbelievable.
RELATED: How to Brew Coffee in a Chemex
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