You’ve probably noticed the increasing popularity of pour over coffee in coffee shops everywhere, 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.
What is Pour Over Coffee?
You have to think of hand drip coffee in this way: 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 filter brewing may sound simple it will require your patience and time.
At this point, you may be wondering 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 filter
- A pour over coffee maker (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.
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.
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.
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.
These are great to travel with, are a bit more affordable and show your commitment to one damn fine brew:
Now that you know how important your coffee grounds are in brewing amazing coffee, let’s talk brewing tips.
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.
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.
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: 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.
Now enjoy your coffee!
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:
#1 – 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:
- Adding just the right amount of water to get all the grounds wet.
- Stopping for about 30 seconds so you can let the carbon dioxide escape.
- 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:
#2 – 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!
#3 – Find The Perfect 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.
Choosing The Right Pour Over Brewer
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.
Here are the 5 best pour over coffee makers but first, consider the following:
#1 – Portability
Do you want a coffee dripper that is able to travel with you? Or is this primarily something you’re going to use in your home?
Portability is usually on the radar of any coffee fanatic, because if you can fine tune this process to make just the right cup of coffee to fit your tastes then you’re going to want to take it with you wherever you go.
I’ve created a rating system for portability in each brewer summary below. It’s on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being if your house was on fire and you had to save one thing, this could easily be taken with you. 1 indicates you should leave it behind..
#2 – Serving Size
How many cups of coffee do you want to brew each time?
If you’re OK brewing it a cup at a time (allow 4 minutes) – then you can go for a few of the models I like, such as the Hario V60.
If you want to brew a lot of coffee at once you’re going to want to buy something with a larger carafe, such as the Chemex.
#3 – Technique/Skill Required
Each coffee drippers process is going to be just a wee bit different.
The basic idea is the same but the timing, required grind, required accessories and the brewing process varies.
Some brewers are easy; just throw in your grinds and water, and wait. And some are more involved; requiring accessories, timing and special steps.
Each brewer below has a note on how much skill/technique is required.
A high level of skill required does NOT mean you have to be a professional barista – it simply means you’ll have more control over the end brew (therefore, you can customize your brew much easier – but its more involved)
#4 – Accessories Required
Accessories are something else important to think about ahead of time. I’m not talking a nice pair of cufflinks or a posh hat; I’m talking about your pour over setup:
- Some brewing systems will require a carafe, others a cup.
- Some require paper filters, other cloth.
- Some require special paper filters, not just the standard filter.
- You may also need a special kettle to brew the water and pour it out at just the ideal flow rate – here are our favorite pour over kettles.
All of these accessories are a part of your investment, so keep in mind that different brewers will need different accessories and decide how much you are willing to accessories Bling, bling!
The Pour Over Brewers
Everything you need to know about each brewer you’ll find below:
The Hario V60
The V60 is a handy little Japanese brewer which is the gold standard of hand drip brewers.
It’s available in a range of materials and gives you plenty of control over your brew. Put your specialized filter in then follow the fairly meticulous brewing guide to get yourself a very clean and clear tasting cup of joe.
The v60’s unique design comes from its conical shape and its spiral walls which funnel your coffee towards a large center hole where the magic (aka the drip) takes place.
This whole process ensures the water is equally distributed over your grounds as you pour and hope for the best.
Take note – you’ll need special Hario filters: compared to other coffee filters they are thin, but more textured.
The V60’s design combined with the unique filters impact the rate at which water drips through the filter and ultimately the final product – which is a darn great cup of filter coffee.
Read our review of the Hario V60 here, or our V60 brewing guide here.
The V60 Summary:
- Available in: Ceramic, Glass, Plastic, Copper.
- Sizes available: 2,4,7 cups
- Portability: 10
- You’ll also need: Special paper Hario filters, Gooseneck Kettle
- Skill required: Advanced
The Kalita Wave
Another popular Japanese import, the Kalita Wave, differs from the Hario is in its design; It’s flat-bottomed (rather than conical) with three long holes, which makes for a much more even extraction process.
These design elements work together to give maximum coffee/water contact, and the specially designed paper filters fit the brewer like a glove; making for a fuller flavored coffee.
Where the Wave really differs from other drippers is in the process: you fill it up to the top and let the dripper control the flow of water itself. You then continue to top it off so that you’re not pouring water on the grounds, but pouring water on water, and that won’t disrupt the bed of coffee as it’s extracting.
It makes for an easier pour with more control and therefore you’ll consistently get a great brew.
If you like slow coffee, but don’t have like the meticulous nature of the V60, go for the Wave.
Read our review of the Kalita Wave here, or our brewing guide here.
The Kalita Wave Summary:
- Available in: Ceramic, glass, stainless steel
- Sizes available: 2,4 cups
- Portability: 10
- You’ll also need: Kalita filter, Gooseneck kettle
- Skill required: Average
The Bee House
The Bee House is yet another ceramic Japanese import with a lot to offer. It comes in two sizes, large and small, so If you don’t have a lot of room to spare in your kitchen the smaller size can be very handy.
A huge plus of this brewer (which the V60 and the Kalita Wave can’t offer) is the ability to use any old standard cone coffee filter with it. This is important because if (or rather: when) you run out of filters you can easily find them in a grocery.
Design: It’s wedged-shaped with vertical ridges along the bottom half of the dripper only and two drip holes at the bottom. The wedge-shaped nature of the Bee House means better heat retention more consistent contact between the grounds and the water. This results in an evenly extracted brew with very minimal effort.
The main selling point, however, is ease of use.
Forget fancy kettles, forget strict brew time rules – this coffee maker delivers a gorgeous brew without the hard work.
Read our review of the Bee House Dripper here.
The Bee House Summary:
- Available in: Ceramic only
- Sizes available: 2,4 cups
- Portability: 10
- You’ll also need: Gooseneck kettle
- Skill required: Low
The Chemex Coffee Maker
A classic all-in-one glass brewer that requires your time, a willingness to learn and some medium coarse grounds.
It’s not exactly portable because of its size, but that’s also one of the highlights of this product since you can brew larger quantities of coffee in one go.
The Chemex filter is like no other filter you’ve seen before, and it all adds to the magic.
It’s the thickest filter you’ll come across, and for two reasons:
- It will keep the bitter oils out of the coffee for a much smoother cup.
- It prevents the water from flowing through the grounds too quickly – meaning you get the opportunity to taste the hidden flavors of the coffee (without the bitterness)
Fun fact about this brewer: It’s part of the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art. So, having it on your kitchen counter is not only functional but a statement too!
All in all you’ll get a very clean cup of coffee that is balanced and full of body. Perfect for large households, offices, or art snobs.
Read our review of the Chemex here.
The Chemex Summary:
- Available in: Glass only
- Sizes available: 3,5,8,10 cups
- Portability: 3
- You’ll also need: Gooseneck kettle, Chemex filters
- Skill required: High
The Clever Dripper Coffee Maker
The Clever Dripper is the best choice if you’re only getting started in the world of pour over coffee. It’s easy to use, even easier to clean and delivers time and time again, regardless of your skill.
The main difference between the Clever Dripper and other brewers on this list: a stopping mechanism that stops the coffee flowing until it has been placed on your cup. This allows you to customize your brew based on steeping time, rather than pouring skill.
Think of a French press: but without the silt or sediment. For the price: you really can’t go wrong.
Read our review of the Clever Dripper here or our brewing guide here.
The Clever Dripper Summary:
- Available in: Plastic only
- Sizes available: 1, 4 cup
- Portability: 9
- You’ll also need: Standard filters
- Skill required: Easy
The Melitta Ready Set Joe
Looking for a quick, easy and cheap way to make fancy coffee? Look no further than the Melitta Ready Set Joe: the most newbie-friendly brewer, and is the most inexpensive option on this list.
The simple nature of the Read Set Joe is its strong point – but it’s a double edged sword; there aren’t any special features to get excited about. You simply put in a filter, put in your grounds and pour the water all in one go.
Easy? Yes. But can you control the final brew? No.
In summary; this un-pretentious dripper is (very) cheap, easy to use and highly portable – meaning it’s a great fit for anyone who likes to camp or travel without baggage.
The Melitta Ready Set Joe Summary:
- Available in: Plastic, glass, ceramic
- Sizes available: 1 cup
- Portability: 10
- You’ll also need: Standard filters
- Skill required: Easy
Kone Filter Brewing System
The Kone is a sexy looking re-usable filter that you use with your Chemex or V60; meaning its really an accessory for those who prefer to be environmentally friendly coffee enthusiasts (because you don’t use disposable filters).
It’s a great way to balance your love of coffee with your love for the environment and, you know, breathing clean air and stuff.
Apart from saving the planet n’ shit, why would you use it? By allowing the natural oils from the coffee to seep into the cup, you add a dimension to your coffee that you’ve likely never experienced before. That benefit alone is worth giving it a shot!
As far as the Kone brewing system goes (which came after the filter) – It can serve as a brewer as well as a coffee server through a design that allows you to remove the brewer and use the pot as a server.
The Kone Filter Summary:
- Available in: Stainless steel
- Sizes available: 6,8,10 cup
- Portability: 10
- You’ll also need: A brewer
- Skill required: Medium
The Walkure Pour Over Coffee Maker
The Walkure Brewer; it’s the Cadillac of pour over brewers.
It was designed by a german artist so it combines style with an easy way to brew.
Sure, it costs a bit more than your average dripper, but you’ll find the added price is worth it because it’s easy to use, delivers a very high quality brew and requires no accessories (not even filters).
I love the Walkure because it’s a true all-in-one system. Just add your coarse grounds and hot water; no carafe or filter needed.
The even saturation I mentioned earlier comes from the “dispersion plate” that allows the water to spread out and wet the grounds evenly – ingenious – those Germans really know what they’re doing. First gummy bears, now the Walkure Pour Over Brewer. Danke.
The Walkure Brewer Summary:
- Available in: Porcelain
- Sizes available: 1 cup
- Portability: 2
- You’ll also need: Nothing
- Skill required: Easy
The Hario Woodneck Drip Pot
The Woodneck is a glass pot system from Japan that creates small quantities of effing high quality coffee. Apart from its very Japanese inspired design, what separates the woodneck from the pack is the fact that you use a cloth filter for it. This produces heavy coffee with a lot of depth of flavor – all from a medium-fine grind.
It looks and sounds expensive and difficult to use. But its not.
The Woodneck represents great value for money, and is surprisingly easy to use. It comes as a complete system with the mentioned cloth filter, the holder and the serving vessel – all in one.
When it comes time to brew, just add hot water and follow simple instructions.
Read our review of the Woodneck here.
The Hario Woodneck Summary:
- Available in: Glass
- Sizes available: 2 cups
- Portability: 5
- You’ll also need: Cloth filter, gooseneck kettle
- Skill required: Advanced
Pour Over Accessories
If you’re really ready to try your hand at pure hand drip (and why shouldn’t you be?) then you’ll need a few extras to make the journey more enjoyable.
The ratio of coffee and water (the pour over coffee ratio) when combined with precise timing allows you to control the taste of the coffee, depending on how you’re feeling.
So, what should you look for in a scale?
- It’s size – If you travel a lot and plan on taking your brewing system with you, you’ll want a more compact scale. If the scale doesn’t fit into your life then it’ll just collect dust in the corner.
- It’s special features – Some scales have timers, some have funky backlit screens, and some have special touch-feel buttons. In the end, all you need is something accurate, so don’t get caught up in the hype of special yet useless features.
- Auto-off feature – Don’t overlook this one! NOT having an auto-off feature is a good thing – for filter coffee because the process will take 4-8 minutes, depending on your brewer. You don’t want to be in the middle of a crucial step and have the timer shut off – trust me on this.
If you’re in the market for a scale now, check out our reviews of the best coffee scales here.
A Gooseneck Kettle
These are called “gooseneck” or “drip” kettles, and they help you to control the flow of the water being poured onto the grinds.
The flow rate is CRITICAL to master this brew style so if you’re serious about filter coffee you need one of these. I’m serious – get one. You won’t be able to do what you need to do to control water flow without one.
Read our guide to the best kettles for pour over coffee here.
A Serving Vessel
Most of the brewers we’re talking about will require a carafe of some kind or a cup for the smaller brewers. Gold standard is a ceramic or glass carafe; they’ll retain heat for much longer.
Remember the Boy Scout motto when it comes life – be prepared.
When you have all the things you need ready and waiting, the process will become automatic and you’ll get more comfortable doing it as time goes on.
The world is your oyster. Or coffee bean. You know what I mean.
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!