The Beginners Guide To Pour Over Coffee

You’ve probably noticed the increasing popularity of pour over coffee in coffee shops lately and the New York Times says caffeine fiends everywhere have the Japanese to thank for this method of coffee making magic.

Also known as 'manual filter coffee'; you'll either love or hate this brew style (and since you're here i'm guessing you love it).

This is the brew method you’ve been dreaming of. It’s time you learned how to brew great coffee like a true coffee hipster.

The Beginners Guide to Pour Over Coffee

What is Pour Over Coffee?

Master works of art aren’t created in just a few minutes.

Leonardo da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa in a mere moment, Vincent Van Gogh didn’t throw together The Starry Night in a day (or night), Edvard Munch didn’t create The Scream in a few simple seconds, Picasso didn’t... well you get the point.

The finer things in life take time, and while manual brewing may sound simple it will require your patience, your time and a willingness to learn.

What makes this style of coffee so damn special? It's all in the process, and the result.

It’s preferred among coffee enthusiasts because it allows you to control factors such as taste and strength better than other brewing methods. After you try it for yourself you’ll definitely be wondering where this method has been all of your coffee drinking life!

The 3 Basic Elements of Great Filter Coffee:

  • Freshly ground coffee
  • A coffee filter (of some sort)
  • A pour over coffee maker (duh)
What is pour over coffee

In simple terms: you create a very clean tasting brew by drizzling water over a coffee bed, slowly, to extract the coffee from the beans, and it’s all collected by your cup or carafe.

It sounds simple but creating that perfect brew isn't as easy as it sounds (but you're about to learn the secrets)

Your Grinder: The Secret Ingredient

The reason we, as coffee geeks, go through all of this is for one thing: Taste.

You take the time to pick the right beans and research the process, so you need to take the time to choose the right kind of grinder, but that is even more important when it comes to hand filter coffee.

As with ALL type of coffee brewing, your grind is going to be very important because it impacts the timing. Remember, this is a process and any part of with a hiccup will impact the end product. You have to be able to control the grind in order to control the timing.

A coarse grind will produce larger coffee granules, and that causes the water to flow over the granules at a faster rate.

The opposite is true of a finer grind, since the granules are much smaller and will stop the water from easily flowing over them and extracting the flavor. The coffee bed won't let much water through (it will take a long time).

For great filter coffee you need to adopt the Goldilocks approach to grinding: not too coarse, not too fine, but just right.

Being off just a little will either over-extract the coffee or under-extract it.

under and over extracted coffee

You need the best coffee grinder to help you achieve consistent grinds and hence, even extraction of your coffee grounds. The reason this is important is because you absolutely need grounds that are uniform in size - and remember what I just said about controlling the grind?

If you really want to step your game up and beef up those biceps at the same time (or, take your grinder with you wherever you go) you can try one of my favorite hand grinders as well. These are great to travel with, are a bit more affordable and show your commitment to one damn fine brew.

If you really want to understand grinding (you should) and you want a handy grind size chart - take a squiz at our coffee grind size chart here.

Now that you know how important your coffee grounds are in brewing amazing coffee, lets make some darn coffee shall we?

How To Make Pour Over Coffee

Brewing coffee in this way sounds easy, right? Grind beans, add water, drink delicious coffee.

The truth is: this brew style rewards practice and patience.

But follow this step by step guide and you can brew the coffee of your dreams. Rich, smooth, fragrant - all this can be yours.

Here’s a general guide to brewing amazing filter coffee:

Step 1: Heat Water to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit

The right water temperature: simple but critical: 195 - 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t have a thermometer, use this simple trick: wait for the water to boil, then remove from heat and wait 30 seconds before brewing.

If you want to bring a little technology into the process, you can easily try a smart kettle. These kettles will bring the water to a certain temperature and keep it there until you’re ready to use it.

I recommend the Breville Variable-Temperature 1.8 Liter Kettle. It will keep your water at temperature for up to 20 minutes.

breville kettle
NOTE: I recommend using a temperature control kettle for just that....the temperature. For pouring, using a kettle like one of these will help you control water flow, and hence, the brew. For bonus points, use the right water to brew your coffee (it makes a difference).

Step 2: Weigh Your Coffee

How much coffee do you need? The biggest flavor factor is the ratio of water to coffee. A popular recommendation uses 18 grams of water for every gram of coffee. 

This works out to between 9 and 11 grams of coffee for every 6-ounce (171 grams) cup you brew.

But ask a dozen baristas, and their answers may vary between 16:1 and 19:1. Why? Because they like the way the coffee tastes.

As a VERY general rule, more coffee = more flavor.

How will you know what tastes best for you? Try different ratios (you ARE using a scale, right?), and make notes.

Step 3: Rinse/Wet Filter

This is an important step to remember lest you end up with coffee that has a hint of paper in the final product.

Get rid of the paper taste by rinsing the filter.

To do rinse correctly, you simply need to place the brewer in the dripper and then pour water around it in a circle (making sure to get up the sides) for about five seconds to rinse the filter, then discard the water in the cup or carafe that ran through it.

Need convincing? Do this once and take a whiff of the wet-cardboard stink coming off the filter paper. You’ll never skip this step again.

Don’t forget to pour the stink-water out of the carafe. Nobody wants to drink that.

Step 4: Grind Coffee

Grinding your coffee just before brewing gives you fine control (see what we did there?) over flavor. A finer grind gives more flavor, but can introduce bitterness. A coarser grind makes a sweeter cup, but can be under-extracted and weak. 

Your assignment: find the happy medium (the perfect particle size)

Most pour over experts recommend a medium-fine grind, like sea salt or sand. 

Feeling scientific? Select the middle of your grinder’s range and test your brew (note down the result for next time)

Want it milder? Grind it coarser. Want it richer? Grind it finer.

Now add your ground coffee to the rinsed filter, and...

Step 5: Pour Water 

Pouring the water has two parts: bloom, and brew time.

Bloom: Pour a little water (30 grams or so) over the grounds and let them soak it up.

You’ll see the grounds swell, rise, and bubble. Allow 30 seconds for the bloom to finish.

Brew time: Pour the rest of the water over the center of the grounds slowly, in a widening spiral, to wet all the grounds. Stop when you’ve added water to your chosen ratio.

For more brew guides see our brewing lab here.

3 Tips To Help You NAIL The Perfect Brew

These tips may seem simple, but its the little things, all working together, that really make the difference with this style of brewing:

Don't Forget To Bloom

Here's an important concept: wetting, or blooming. Buckle up everyone, because it’s science time!

A by-product of grinding those lovely coffee beans is the buildup in the grinds of carbon dioxide.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the carbon dioxide won’t allow the water to penetrate the grinds fully unless it is released first. You release the carbon dioxide by wetting the coffee.

As part of any good coffee making process you will pour enough water into your grounds to wet them, then you’ll watch them bloom – this is when they release carbon dioxide. Do this by:

  1. Adding just the right amount of water to get all the grounds wet.
  2. Stopping for about 30 seconds so you can let the carbon dioxide escape.
  3. Watch the grounds expand and swell with the water – it’s blooming!

At this point, the grounds also happen to release a really wonderful smell, so go ahead and take advantage of this in the wetting/blooming stage of brewing your coffee. You deserve it.

Don’t just take my word for it - check it out here for yourself:

Be Consistent (and keep a record)

One of the most important things you can do in this process is practice consistency.

Not only will it help you to correct any mistakes you make along the way because hey – you’re only human; it will also allow you to experiment when you get the basics down.

So, for the love of all that is coffee, practice good consistency with these tips:

  • Use a good quality scale that is concise.
  • Use a quality burr grinder.
  • Follow a brewing guide very closely (so you get even extraction)
  • If you really want to nail it - record everything in the beginning (use a brew journal - so you know where to start for next time)

For example - let's say you create a really really good brew. Record how you did it: Maybe you used 'X' amount of coffee, your water was 'X' degrees in temperature, and you spent 'X' minutes pouring; Write it down in a notebook, and slightly change variables to get different results!

Use This Pour Over Coffee Ratio

The water ratio is where you have the most control over your coffee’s flavor. Strong or weak? Rich or mild? Blah or bitter? Here’s how to nail the perfect brew for you.

The Specialty Coffee Association’s “golden ratio” recommends 55 grams of coffee per liter of water. That’s just under two ounces of beans per quart, or 9-11 grams for every 6-ounce cup. A few taps on the calculator and this works out to an 18:1 water-to-coffee ratio.

But some baristas brew at 16:1 or 19:1. Why? Because they like the way the coffee tastes.

So if these ratios are just a guideline, how do you know what’s right for you? Experiment. Jot down the weight of your coffee and the weight of water and brew a cup.

Now sip your coffee. Does it taste rich? Is it a little weak? Is it stronger or more bitter than you like?

If you’ve written down the ratio, here’s how to get closer to your ideal taste: Want richer flavor? Use more coffee. Want a sweeter brew? Use less coffee. You should have the perfect cup after a few tries.

Some Extra Tips

Before we get into looking at different brew methods it is important to talk about some general guidelines that all manual pour over methods adhere to.

Sweet Marias, a green coffee buyer and seller has a great framework on brewing the best cup of coffee you can. Keep in Mind:

  • Cleanliness: Make sure all of your equipment is clean and removed coffee oils
  • Grind size: For most manual pour over makers a medium fine grind is ideal
  • Water just off boiling is ideal for brewing (boil, and wait 30 seconds before brewing)
  • Be consistent in how you make your coffee to produce repeatable results (get yourself a coffee diary and record your experiments)
  • Try preparing your coffee in different ways, you will be surprised at what flavors you can find in your coffee!

There are many different resources available to help you how to learn to use your new pour over coffee brewing equipment. Two of the best resources on the market are Blue Bottles Craft of Coffee Book and Scott Rao’s Everything but espresso

Scott rao coffee book
blue bottle coffee book

Choosing A Pour Over Brewer

RECOMMENDED: If you don't know which pour over brewer you want to start with yet: read our roundup review of the best pour over coffee makers on the market, here. (including the camping friendly 'Melitta Ready Set Joe')

Choosing a brewer is like choosing a spouse; you have to make sure it’s the right one so you can navigate the trials and tribulations of the journey together.

Its not as simple as choosing one you like the look of and then purchasing. Each brewer has its own personality, its own 'needs' and ultimately results in a different experience. Some you will love, some you will not.

Here's what I mean. Some pour over brewers be used with standard paper filters; other with special filters only available online. Some brewers will require a meticulous setup and brewing process; others just require a bed of grounds and water.

Already have a brewer in mind but need to know more? 

Don't skip the extra tools

Don't cut corners if you want to make amazing coffee. Here are some extra tools you'll need:

  • A coffee filter (the type reliant on the brewer you choose)
  • The best coffee grinder you can find (I stressed this earlier but its so important that its worth repeating!)
  • A special kettle. Hot water isn't enough. You need hot water at the optimal flow rate. You achieve this by using a special pour over kettle: here are the best gooseneck kettles
  • The best coffee scale - because it's all about being precise.
  • A thermometer of some way of controlling the water temperature.
  • A serving vessel (optional) 
  • To take your pour over to the next level, get granular with your grinds using something like the Kruve sifter.

And that just about wraps it up for this beginners guide to pour over coffee. Once you master the basics as outlined above you’ll be able to start experimenting with new brewers and controlling your brew based on your mood!

Any tips we left out that you’d like to add? We’d love to hear about them - leave a comment below!

Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.