How to make amazing coffee at home. Part 2: Pour overs

This is part of a series on how to make great coffee at home using affordable, more manual methods. If you missed Part 1 (the basics of making good coffee), go read that one now.

Pour Overs

A pour over is basically doing by hand what an auto-drip coffee maker does within the mysterious box. And it’s been around forever. My cousin, who loves to chide me, reminds me that they called in Melitta when she was in college and they only used it because they were on a budget. Well, yeah, Donna, it’s pretty much that.

So why’s it good?

  • Cheap. Essentially the pour over apparatus is just a cone made of plastic or ceramic. You’d think they’d be $10, but they’re a little steeper. At any rate, $20 for a great way to make coffee isn’t bad.
  • Easy. Heat water and you’re ready to roll, anywhere, anytime. (For those of you who’ve read ahead and see the long instructions below, it takes more time to read them than make a cup, so I still stand by “easy.”)
  • Clean. As mentioned in our first post, the cleanliness of your maker is big. Coffee is delicious because of its oils that are locked within the bean. However, if stuck within a complicated mechanism for weeks, months or years, those oils go rancid and affect the taste of your brew. A simple cone is easy to clean really well and you’ll never get “that taste.”
  • You da’ boss. The other factor mentioned in our last post was water temperature. With you boiling the water, you can be assured the water is around 200 degrees every time (auto-drip makers fluctuate, sometimes wildly).
  • It’s just nice. It can be one of those things that are just nice to do in your day. Pouring water, watching grinds.

Which one to get?

Since the humble Melitta hit stardom and became a “pour over,” there are suddenly lots to choose from.They’re all good. But, one thing to remember is that the more holes the filtercone has, the more you need to slow down your pouring of the water. A kettle with a gooseneck spout is really useful for this. See "nice to haves" in our last post.

  • Clever Coffee Dripper
  • Bee House Dripper
  • Bonmac Dripper
  • Hario V60 Drip Cone

Most of these come in plastic and ceramic versions and in varying sizes (1, 2 and 4-cup). We use the two-cup porcelain Hario V60 in the café as it gives us the most flexibility. Most of the cones have a rim that sits right on your cup or small pitcher and couldn't be easier.

Let’s get going already

  • Boil the water. No instructions needed.
  • Rinse the paper filter. Okay, this sounds fussy, but it rinses out any loose paper fibers that can leave an off-taste in your cup. You choose.
  • Measure out your coffee. If making one cup (5 oz.) use 8 grams; 2 cups 16 grams; and 4 cups 32 grams. If you weigh this using a scale (see "nice to haves" in our first post) once, and then mark your scooper, you can use this scooper for future cups. Again, you may adjust this to your taste, but this is a good place to start.
  • Grind the beans. Medium to fine is good. You will want to play with this until you get what is right with your grinder. If your coffee is too weak, then you want to grind smaller. If the water pools for a long time on the top of the grinds and has trouble filtering through, then you’ll want to grind a little bigger.
  • Infuse the grounds. Pour a small amount of water that is just off the boil (waiting a few seconds is about right) over the grinds to infuse. If the coffee is fresh, you’ll see a nice “bloom” where the coffee expands and rises. I still get a kick out of this. Enjoy this beautiful sight for 15-30 seconds.
  • Pour it over. Pour the rest of the water over the grounds in a circular motion starting from the inside out. A slow, even pour brings the most out of your coffee. This is where the gooseneck kettle ("nice to haves") is really nice. The pouring time should only take about 2 ½ minutes. If it’s a lot longer or shorter, you’ll want to adjust your grind (smaller grind will slow it down; courser grind will speed it up).
  • Drink and enjoy. If you have a garden, acid loving plants love coffee grounds, so just toss them under that azalea and call it a productive day.

What about Chemex?

Chemex is a pourover too, but a few things make it a little different (for more info, see our blog post on Chemex). First, it is both filter and vessel, not just the cone that sits on a cup. Second, and most important, is the bonded filters. It’s the filter that makes coffee brewed in a Chemex taste like a "Chemex." They are thicker than most and result in a “clean” cup with no bitterness and no sediment. This also makes it a little slower than other methods. (On those mornings when you’re dying for a quick cup, it can seem a LOT slower).

When making a Chemex, you can follow the same steps as listed above for pour overs, with the following tweaks:

  • You’ll need to unfold the filter. They are sold flat and you have to open it up into a cone. One side should have three layers and one side will have one layer. Put this in the top of the Chemex with the thick side facing the spout.
  • You’ll also want to grind your coffee a little courser than you would for other pour over methods due to the thickness of the Chemex filter. Medium to course works best.
  • After brewing, simply lift the filter out. At home and in the shop, we use the 8-cup Chemex. Filling water up to the bubble on the side gives four cups and up to the spout gives eight. Again, you’ll want about 8 grams of coffee per cup (or about a tablespoon). Adjust and find what you like.

In the next post, we’ll get into a couple other pour over methods involving socks and the Costa Rican chorreador de café. As always, we’d love to hear your experiences making coffee at home:

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