Nel Drip Coffee: Coffee Brewed Like Tea
Nel drip coffee is a historic pour-over coffee technique that’s unlike any other brew method, and embracing the drip coffee requires forgetting virtually everything known about modern brewing.
Because of its unique technique, the method produces a distinctive profile that’s garnered a local following even today.
In This Guide:
- What is Nel Drip Coffee?
- What Does Nel Drip Taste Like?
- How Do You Brew Nel Drip Coffee?
- Where Does Nel Drip Coffee Come From?
What is Nel Drip Coffee?
Nel drip coffee is a specific pour-over method that results in vast under-extraction. The brew method uses a different water temperature, filter, grind size, coffee-to-water ratio and even pouring technique than modern pour-overs.
What Does Nel Drip Taste Like?
The nel drip flavor profile is similar to both cold brew and mulled wine.
The similarity to cold brew stems largely from the grind size and water temperature, which are similar to cold brew’s although not identical. These factors create a mellow and smooth flavor like cold brew has, although the two traits aren’t quite as extreme as they are in cold brew. The body isn’t as heavy as cold brew’s.
The similarity to mulled wine comes from how the nel drip filter is treated. The filter is never properly washed, but instead rinsed and stored wet. This creates complexity as more coffee is brewed through the filter, and it introduces complex notes that aren’t found in a single batch of beans itself.
How Do You Brew Nel Drip Coffee?
Brewing nel drip coffee requires specific equipment and specific technique.
Equipment Needed for Nel Drip
The equipment needed for nel drip coffee includes:
Nel Pour-Over Carafe: The nel pour-over carafe looks much like today’s modern pour-over apparatuses, except it comes in two pieces. The bottom piece has a wooden top that the top piece rests. Both the bottom and top pieces are made of glass (akin to a Chemex). The bottom glass piece has the same shape as an upside-down lantern, which was likely first used as this bottom piece.
Nel Pour-Over Filter: The filter for a nel drip coffee pot is a sock-like holder made of finely woven cotton. The sock is larger than the filters used for comparably sized modern pour-overs, and it has a wireframe that holds the sock in place.
Gooseneck Kettle: A gooseneck kettle is needed for slow and consistent pouring. Any gooseneck kettle used for modern pour-overs will work, although an especially tall and tapered spout will work best. If purchasing a new kettle, look for one that’s more akin to a swan neck kettle than a goose one.
Bamboo Paddle/Butter Knife: A bamboo paddle is traditionally used for shaping the grounds before pouring. If you don’t have a bamboo paddle, a butter knife works just as well. (Don’t use a sharp knife, as it could tear the filter.)
Caring for the Nel Drip Filter
There are two secrets to creating excellent nel drip coffee. The first is how the cotton filter is cared for.
The first time you use a nel drip filter, soak the filter in hot water for 5 minutes to remove any undesirable chemicals or impurities.
After you’re done brewing, the nel drip filter should be rinsed and stored wet. Keeping it in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge works well, or you can place it in the freezer if you’ll use the filter only occasionally. Never wash the filter with soap.
Before using the filter again, it should be rinsed for 1 minute with boiling water. This not only warms the filter before brewing, but also helps sterilize the filter since it’s never actually washed.
Brewing Method for Nel Drip Coffee
The steps involved with brewing nel drip coffee resemble those of a modern pour-over, but there are significant and important differences. To brew nel drip:
- Prepare Filter and Carafe: Heat the filter and nel drip pot for 1 minute. This warms the apparatus and sterilizes the filter (see above).
- Grind Coffee: Grind coffee on a coarse setting, like that of a French press. Preground coffee that’s coarse will work just as well — grinding fresh isn’t actually necessary.
- Cool Water: Allow the boiled water to cool until it’s 175°F. This is about 31⁄2 minutes off of a boil if you don’t have a temperature reading.
- Dry Filter and Carafe: Dry the filter by wringing it out, and dump the warming water out of the carafe. The filter will still be damp, and you don’t need to actually wipe out the carafe.
- Add Grounds: With the carafe and filter set up, add the grounds in a loose pile. Don’t pat or press down the grounds. Use approximately a 2:1 coffee-to-water ratio, although it doesn’t have to be exact like other brewing methods require. It’s not unusual to use 45-50 grams for a single brew.
- Prepare Grounds: Use the coffee paddle (or butter knife) to create a volcano-like formation in the grounds. Begin at the bottom of the filter, and use a sawing motion to even the mound and bring grounds to the edge of the filter. A sawing motion prevents pressing the grounds down. When the mound is formed, create a dent at the top that’s approximately the size of a nickel and the depth of a thumbtack.
- First Pour: The first pour is excruciatingly slow, pouring 45 grams over 45 seconds. Slowly circle the ridge of the mound. Don’t worry about saturating all of the grounds, as capillary action will do that. Wait 20 seconds.
- Second Pour: The second pour is directly in the middle of the grounds and slightly faster than the first. Aim for 80 grams over 60 seconds, and wait 20 seconds.
- Third Pour: The third pour is also in the center and a little faster. Pour 60 grams over 30 seconds.
- Enjoy: Once the coffee is done dripping, pour into mugs and enjoy!
Tips for Brewing Nel Drip Coffee
Nel drip coffee is an intriguing way to make coffee, and some people find it preferable to modern brew methods. To perfect your nel drip:
The first pour should be a consistent drip, while the latter two should be slow streams.
Remember to breathe when pouring. Many people forget to and this makes consistent pouring difficult.
This is also a great way to use old coffee that wouldn’t be great brewed another way. Even stale grounds will taste good when brewed this way, as the mellow flavor and added complexity will create a good-tasting cup.
If you have some unused coffee lying around, get a nel drip coffee maker and see how you like this brew method. You may find it’s a great way to use up older coffees.
Where Does Nel Drip Coffee Come From?
Nel drip coffee originated in Japan, which has had a strong coffee culture since Dutch merchants first important coffee beans during the 17th Century.
Although Japan’s coffee culture is sometimes overlooked as people focus on the more famous Italian espresso and French press, the country is responsible for developing some of the most artistic brewing techniques. Japanese iced coffee is the most well-known method, but nel drip coffee likewise produces a unique flavor profile thanks to its particular (and unusual) technique.
The origins of nel drip coffee aren’t known, other than it was around in 1888 and popular by the 1920s.
The brew method originated in Japanese tea houses, however, and the similarities between brewing tea and making nel drip are obvious. Both methods are highly ritualistic, and demand focus and practice. Brewing green tea also uses water that’s the same temperature as the nel drip method uses — 175°F (80°C).
Given the prevalence of tea throughout Japan’s history, and especially of green tea, the link between the two seems highly probable.
What is nel drip coffee?
Nel drip coffee is a type of pour over coffee, but it uniquely uses a flannel filter instead of paper or metal, and also can utilize old coffee.
How do you make nel drip coffee?
Unlike most other pour over methods, you can use old coffee for nel drip. You’ll use 3 distinct pours in this method, which requires some patience.
What does nel drip coffee taste like?
The nel drip flavor profile is similar to both cold brew and mulled wine.
Scott M. Brodie has over 20 years of professional experience working in coffee shops and writing about coffee (including selling superautomatic machines). When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work.