The Beginners' Guide To Pour Over Coffee

A collage showing the Chemex, Hario V60 and Kalita Wave

What is Pour Over Coffee?

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!

Pour over coffee (or manual filter coffee) is exactly what it sounds like - you pour hot water over freshly ground coffee beans. 

explaining what is pour over coffee

The 3 Basic Elements of Great Pour Over Filter Coffee:

  • Freshly ground coffee
  • A coffee filter (of some sort)
  • A pour over brewer (duh)

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.

Manual brewing may sound simple, but creating that perfect brew isn't easy. It will require patience, practice and persistence.. As is the case with the finer things in life.

But don’t worry - you’re about to learn the secrets.

Equipment List for Filter Coffee

Don't cut corners if you want to make amazing coffee. Apart from the obvious - a pour over/drip coffee maker, here are the tools you'll need:

essential and non-essential equipment on making coffee

How To Make Pour Over Coffee

Grind beans, add water, drink delicious coffee. Sounds easy, right? 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, aromatic - everything you want it to be and more.

1. Heat water to 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Getting the water temperature right is 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, 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 gooseneck kettle 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).

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 their 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.

3. Rinse/Wet your 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.

4. Grind the 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, acidic 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…

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 grounds slowly.Start at the center and move out in a widening spiral so as to wet all the grounds evenly. Stop when you’ve added water to your chosen ratio.

Some pour over brewers require a simple pouring technique, others, like the Hario V60, require some skill.

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.

The Specialty Coffee Association’s “golden ratio” recommends 55 grams of coffee per liter of water (2). 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 their 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 a richer flavor? Use more coffee. Want a sweeter brew? Use less coffee.

You should have the perfect cup after a few tries.

Tips To Help You NAIL The Perfect Brew

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

pour over coffee steps list

Remember that your grinder is your 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 too.

As with ALL types 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. The grind size is a crucial factor in manually brewing filter coffee.

The folks at Kicking Horse Coffee agree (1).

Grinding exposes all volatile flavours and aromatics locked in the coffee bean. Grind size will greatly affect the coffee you brew. - Kicking Horse Coffee.

A coarse grind will produce larger coffee granules, and that causes the water to percolate through the granules at a faster rate. The opposite is true of a finer grind since the granules are much smaller. They will stop the water from easily percolating through them and extracting the flavor.

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.

That’s why you need a really good coffee grinder to help you achieve consistent grinds and hence, even extraction of your coffee grounds. I can’t stress this enough - you absolutely need grounds that are uniform in size. If you really want to understand grinding (you should) and you need a grind size chart - take a squiz at our coffee grind size chart here.

under and over extracted coffee

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

Don't skip the bloom

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

A by-product of grinding those lovely coffee beans is the buildup of carbon dioxide in the grinds (3). 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 blooming or wetting the coffee.

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

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 to let the carbon dioxide escape.
  3. Watching the grounds expand and swell – it’s blooming!

At this point, the grounds also release a wonderful smell. So go ahead and breathe in the heavenly aroma. You deserve it.

Be consistent (and keep a record)

One of the most important things you can do in this process is to 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. Because as our friends at Perfect Daily Grind would say (4):

Remember that every part of the brewing process is variable so the possibilities are endless. - Perfect Daily Grind

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

  • Use a good quality scale that is accurate.
  • Use a high-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 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!

Don’t ignore the cleaning part

Cleaning your gear is the last sexy part about making coffee, but Sweet Maria's mentions in their framework for brewing the best cup of coffee (5). 

“A good rule of thumb is: if you smell an odor from your equipment, clean it. If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your brewer, clean it.” - Sweet Maria's

Give your brewing equipment the clean it deserves once you’re finished with it to ensure its devoid of coffee oils before you begin next time. Your taste buds will thank you.

There are many resources available to help you how to learn to use your new pour over 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

Now that you know all about how to brew the perfect cup of pour over or drip coffee, it’s time to choose what equipment you want to use. 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.

It’s not as simple as buying the one that you think looks best. 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 can be used with standard paper filters; others 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.

Need a suggestion? Choose a pour over coffee maker from our list, but I'd recommend the Kalita Wave brewer if you're just starting out.

This article gave you an overview of pour over brewing in general. To see what the brewing process of particular pour over dripper is like, check out these brewing guides:

What You’ll Need for Pour Over (or Drip) Coffee

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)
  • A good coffee grinder (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
  • A coffee scale that measures in grams - 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.

Final Thoughts

And that just about wraps it up for this beginners guide to hand filter 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!

FAQs

What is the difference between pour over and drip coffee?

There are some stark differences between pour over and drip coffee, although the method used is quite similar - letting hot water seep through coffee grinds to extract the brew.

As opposed to manually pouring water for pour over, drip coffee uses a machine to automatically drip hot water over the coffee grinds. Needless to say, no standard drip coffee machine will be able to match the manual brewing method’s precise control over water temperature, pouring method, and blooming.

Which pour over coffee maker should you use?

There are a wide variety of pour over brewers you could use brew coffee manually. You could probably pick one up at your local Dollar Tree (although, we don’t recommend it).

Everyone will have their own preference when it comes to the equipment they end up purchasing. However, if you don’t own any manual coffee maker, I’d recommend the Kalita Wave brewer. Or you could check out our pour over coffee maker buyer’s guide for other options.

What is the best coffee to use for pour over?

The best coffee to use for pour over differs from person to person. Some people might be satisfied with store-bought, pre-ground coffee powder (not the greatest option, but probably the cheapest). Others might only buy single-estate Arabica beans and grind them just before brewing (guilty as charged!).

The best way, though, is to visit as many local coffee shops and roasteries as possible and try all the brewed coffee options they offer. Then pick the one you like best and buy the beans from them (they’ll even grind it for you if you let them know what brewing method you use).

How to drink pour over coffee?

You can drink pour over or drip coffee as it is, espresso style. Or you can top it off with hot water to make an Americano. You can even make lattes, cocktails, protein shakes…

Wait, why don’t you take a look at our coffee recipes and figure out which one you like best.


References

  1. M. (2015, June 25). The Importance Of Grind Size In Extraction. Retrieved from https://www.kickinghorsecoffee.com/en/blog/grind-size
  2. SCAA Standard | Golden Cup. (2015, December 23). Retrieved from https://www.scaa.org/PDF/resources/golden-cup-standard.pdf
  3. Grinding Fundamentals. (2015, April 23). Retrieved from https://www.coffeechemistry.com/quality/grinding/grinding-fundamentals
  4. 6 Golden Rules TO Brewing Coffee At Home. (2015, January 20). Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/01/6-golden-rules-to-brewing-coffee-at-home-2/
  5. Brewing Coffee (A Framework). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://legacy.sweetmarias.com/library/grind.brew
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  • Alex
  • August 21, 2019
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.