The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Pour-Over Coffee
If you couldn’t tell, we’re kind of big coffee fans over here: From drip to cold brew to healthy pumpkin spice lattes, we’re always trying to find a new (better) way to get our caffeine fix. Since we like to mix it up, we wanted to learn how to make a tasty cup of pour-over coffee at home (we’ve seen the method popping up at some of our favourite local java shops). Even though it tends to take a bit longer for you to get your coffee than it would if it were machine-brewed, it’s totally worth it. In fact, New York Times writer Oliver Strand has said that pour-over coffee is "so clean, so round and fruity, that you can fully taste all those complex layers of flavour that are supposed to be lurking in the best single-origin and micro-lot beans."
In order to master our pour-over technique, we reached out to our friends at Blue Bottle Coffee—the specialty coffee roasters—who use this brewing method at all of its cafés (40-plus and counting). In case you didn’t know, this manual method requires a kettle and a dripper, although it’s done slightly differently depending on where you go. “One of the first coffee books I ever read had a line in it about how starting your day with a perfect cup of coffee was one of the best gifts you could give yourself,” says Michael Phillips, Blue Bottle Coffee’s director of training (as in he creates the training each barista goes through). “The process of making great coffee is not defined by its complexity but rather the focus, the refinement of technique, and then the exact repetition of that technique by the practitioner," he says. "This all works to settle the mind and is very much indeed like the steps one takes in meditation.” Well, when we heard pour-over coffee being compared to meditation, we really decided we needed to learn the craft. Below, see Phillips’ expert tips for how to make Blue Bottle’s signature pour at-home. Read through to see our step-by-step guide.
Start by bringing 1.5 cups of water to a boil. (Mind you, this makes a 12-ounce cup of coffee and you should use around 23 grams of coffee grounds for single origin coffees and about 30 grams for blends). When it comes to filtering your water, Phillips says it depends on where you live: “I live in L.A. and we have rather poor water quality so filtered works great, and buying spring water is even better."
PLACE YOUR FILTER
Place a dripper on a cup or carafe—whichever you want to brew directly into. Put a filter into the dripper and wet it before you put the coffee grinds in. “Filters can leave some element of a papery taste and pre-wetting can inhibit that,” says Phillips.
ADD THE GROUNDS
Put your favourite coffee grounds into the filter (Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground envelope will have the pre-measured amount you’ll need for brewing in case you want to save some time). Make sure to even out the level of grounds as you would flour in a measuring cup while baking. Pro tip: getting the coffee ground at the right setting will get the optimal amount of flavour out of the beans. "If it tastes bitter you are grinding too fine; if it tastes sour you are grinding too coarse,” Phillips notes.
MAKE THE FIRST POUR
Pour around ¼ of the boiled water over the coffee grounds with a swan neck kettle (the kettle gives you control of the water and helps with even saturation to give the coffee more flavour). Begin your pour at the outer rim and move inward in a spiral toward the center (you want to be sure the grounds are all saturated with this one pour). Although it may seem complicated, stick with it; it may take you a few tries to get your pours right. “The actual pouring technique and the brewing process can be mastered by anyone willing to pay attention to the details and put in a little practice,” says Phillips.
LET IT BLOOM
Once the water has made contact with the coffee, let it rest a bit (for 30 to 45 seconds) so that the gases can be pushed out (they inhibit the extraction process involved in making coffee). What’s happening now is called “the bloom” because of how it reacts visually—the coffee will expand as the water comes into contact. “It forms a domelike shape like the texture of a rising brownie batter cooking in the oven,” says Phillips. At this point, the coffee is in fact brewing.
MAKE THE LAST POURS
Finish the process by pouring the remaining hot water over the coffee in about 2 to 3 equal parts. Make sure to take breaks between each pour so the coffee can drip (look for the waterline to drop about a thumb’s width before you continue to add water). You want to begin in the center, move to the outer edges, and then go back toward the middle of the grounds (this “stirs” the coffee and helps with the coffee’s extraction).