Pour-Over Coffee: Coffee Brewed By Hand
The manual pour over was once the most common coffee maker, but it fell out of favor as more convenient brew methods emerged. The pour over is seeing a resurgence among specialty coffee drinkers, however, as aficionados look for a brew method that allows for lots of control over brewing variables. With experienced hands, the brew method makes great-tasting coffee.
In This Guide:
- What is Pour-Over Coffee?
- What Equipment is Needed to Make Pour-Over Coffee?
- How to Make Pour-Over Coffee
- What Are the Best Kinds of Coffee Beans for Pour Overs?
- What is the Best Grind for Pour Overs?
- What is the Best Temperature for Pour Overs?
- What is the Best Coffee-Water Ratio for Pour Overs?
- What Are the Best Pour-Over Coffee Makers?
- Pour Over vs. Drip Coffee
- Pour Over vs. French Press
- The History of Manual Pour Overs
What is Pour-Over Coffee?
Pour-over coffee is a brew method that places special emphasis on how water is poured over coffee grounds. The method involves manually pouring the water in a specific way, and the pouring technique has a direct impact on how the final brew tastes.
In many ways, the pour over can be thought of as a manual alternative to automatic drip coffee makers. The manual pour over was around first, though, and it continues to have a loyal following among some coffee aficionados.
What Equipment is Needed to Make Pour-Over Coffee?
Specific equipment is needed to brew pour-over coffee:
- Pour-Over Coffee Maker: The Chemex, Kalita Wave, Hario V60, Clever and Melitta are some popular pour-over coffee makers, and there are others.
- Pour-Over Coffee Filter: Pour-over coffee makers use filters that are designed for this brewing technique. Paper filters tend to work best because they adhere to the sides and contours of a pour over’s cone, but metal filters are also available. Several of the better pour-over makers come with specially designed paper filters, which have circumferences, slopes and sides that are tailored to the particular maker.
- Gooseneck Kettle: Brewing pour-over coffee requires precise pouring, specifically slow pouring in a concentric pattern. Without the narrow and long spout of a gooseneck kettle, there’s little hope of achieving the right technique. It’s helpful to have a temperature-controlled model, but not absolutely necessary.
A kitchen scale is also useful, especially when trying to precisely control all brewing variables. Because coffee bean size and densities vary, measuring coffee volumetrically isn’t as consistently precise as weighing it. A scale will ensure that you use exactly how much coffee you want to.
How to Make Pour-Over Coffee
Standard Method for Pour Overs
The standard process of brewing pour-over coffee can be learned in a few minutes but takes extended practice to perfect. To brew:
- Prepare: Measure out your water and coffee beans, and grind the beans on a medium-fine to medium-coarse setting. Heat the water, and set up the filter and grounds. You should use a water:coffee ratio of 15:1 or 16:1.
- First Pour: The pouring motion is in concentric circles, beginning in the center of the grounds and working toward the edge. The first pour should use half of your brewing water and take 60 seconds, finishing the outermost circle at the 1- minute mark.
- Second Pour: The second pour should follow the same pattern as the first, and it should pour the remaining water out over 2 minutes. The entire brew should take 3 minutes to pour. (Some prefer to pour in a back-and-forth motion rather than concentric circles, but this can lead to minor channeling and uneven extraction.)
- Drip: Let the water finish dripping through the grounds, a process that should take between 3 and 5 minutes for most models. If the water finishes dripping prematurely or well after 5 minutes, adjust your pouring technique next time.
- Drink: Remove the filter and grounds. Pour the brewed coffee into a mug, and enjoy!
Most of these time frames are for pour-over coffee makers that brew between 1 and 4 cups. Models that brew larger batches may require longer pouring and dripping times.
Additionally, a pre-brewing bloom should be done if brewing freshly roasted coffee. To bloom coffee, dampen it for approximately 30-40 seconds before brewing. Bubbles of carbon dioxide that’s being released will form.
A timer and scale are helpful when practicing your pouring technique. Monitor your pouring rate and time as you learn the technique, You can do away with these accessories once you have a steady hand, but it’s virtually impossible to refine your technique without objective measures.
To learn various techniques and recipes for the Hario V60, check out our guide.
A unique type of pour over method is the nel drip coffee. Check out our guide on how to make nel drip coffee.
What Are the Best Kinds of Coffee Beans for Pour Overs?
Pour-over brewing will make any decent coffee taste good, but it’s especially well-suited for bringing out the finer notes of micro-lot and single-origin coffees (from any region). In particular, light and medium roasts shine with this brewing method.
What is the Best Grind for Pour Overs?
All pour-over coffee makers use a grind size between medium-fine and medium-coarse. The precise grind setting that should be used depends on which pour-over coffee maker you’re using:
- Chemex uses medium-coarse ground coffee
- Kalita Wave uses medium-coarse
- Clever uses medium-coarse
- Hario V60 uses medium-fine
- Melitta uses medium
- Others use medium
Issues with brewing most often arise from improper pouring technique or incorrect coffee-water ratios. If you’re certain these are correct and coffee still isn’t brewing, then the grind might need to be adjusted. Grinding finer will increase the brewing time, and grinding coarser will shorten the time.
What is the Best Temperature for Pour Overs?
The specialty coffee community doesn’t have a full consensus as to what water temperature coffee should be brewed with. Most ascribe to using either boiling water or water that’s between 95 and 105°F (91-96°C).
Boiling water is fine to make pour overs with if you ascribe to that water temperature philosophy. If you prefer non-boiling water, aim for water that’s closer to 105°F (96°C). Because the pour-over coffee maker isn’t insulated and water drips down, the water temperature will cool fairly quickly.
(Allowing water to cool for approximately 10 to 15 seconds after boiling will bring it down to around 105°F.)
What is the Best Coffee-Water Ratio for Pour Overs?
The coffee-water ratio is one variable that seldom changes across different brewing methods. The SCAA recommends a ratio of 1:16 to 1:18, which correlates to about 14 grams per 250 milliliters of water (approximately 1⁄2 ounce per full 8-ounce cup).
What Are the Best Pour-Over Coffee Makers?
Any of the more popular pour-over coffee makers that use paper filters will brew good coffee, and you don’t need to extend your budget for a specific model. Nevertheless, several of the popular models have unique advantages:
Most Affordable – Melitta
Pour-over coffee makers generally don’t cost a lot, but the Melitta is especially affordable. The coffee maker is readily found for less than $15, and its filters are similarly inexpensive. Its aesthetic and brew quality may not quite match those of the others listed, but this is one of the best coffee makers around $20.
- Handcraft a cup of coffee with the time-honored Melitta pour-over method.
- Cone coffee brewer uses #2 size cone filters.
- New cone design enables you to see into the cup without lifting to avoid overfill Plastic brew cone designed to fit many size mugs.
- Micro fine filter enhancing perforations release coffee's full flavor, while filtering out impurities for a richer tasting cup of coffee.
- Combo Set Includes: 1 Pour-Over 1-Cup Brewer in Black and 1 Pack of #2 Filter 100ct.
Most Elegant – Chemex
Process is as important as product when brewing with pour overs, and aesthetics are part of the process. The Chemex is the most elegant pour-over coffee maker, as its leather strip, wood and glass create a clean and classic look. This is the coffee maker when brewing becomes a performance.
- CHEMEX - simple, easy to use with timeless, elegant design
- All CHEMEX Coffeemakers are made of the highest quality, non-porous Borosilicate glass which will not absorb odors or chemical residues
- The patented CHEMEX pour-over design allows coffee to be covered and refrigerated for reheating without losing flavor
- All CHEMEX Coffeemakers are measured using 5 oz. as 1 cup
- Use CHEMEX Half Circle Filters FP-2, Filters not included.
Most Durable – Stainless Kalita Wave, Clever, Melitta
The stainless Kalita Wave, Clever and Melitta pour-over coffee makers are all durable. The latter two are made of plastic that’ll withstand standard kitchen wear and tear. The stainless Kalita Wave won’t break even when it’s bumped, making it perfect for travel, camping and teaching toddlers how to make pour overs (with tepid water).
Best Taste – Chemex, Kalita Wave, Hario V60
The brew quality differences between various pour-over coffee makers are minute, and moot in some cases as many coffee drinkers won’t notice the differences. The Chemex and Kalita Wave still stand out from the rest a little, though.
The Chemex’s patented filters are thicker than the filters used for most other pour-over makers. The heft helps the filter better adhere to the Chemex’s sides, which minimizes how much water runs down the side of the funnel and doesn’t extract properly. The Chemex’s aesthetics also might have a positive impact on flavor, as looks affect taste.
The Kalita Wave is one of the few pour-over makers to have a flat bottom with multiple holes. This theoretically yields more even extraction, although the difference often won’t be noticeable.
The Hario V60 deserves mention among the best pour-over coffee marks if for no other reason than Tetsu Kasuya won the World Brewers Cup with it.
Pour Over vs. Drip Coffee
Manual pour overs use the same extraction principle as automatic drip coffee makers. Both brew by having water drawn through grounds by gravity. They differ in quality and convenience, however.
The greater control that pour overs allow makes it possible to adjust extraction. Only minimal adjustments can be made with automatic brewers — basic ones might have no adjustment other than the coffee-water ratio, and even expensive ones don’t allow for different pouring patterns.
Because of this difference, pour overs can create better brews when in experienced hands. An automatic drip will taste better than a novice’s first pour over, because of the skill that pour over requires.
Automatic drip brewers, especially ones with preset timers, are obviously more convenient.
Pour Over vs. French Press
Pour over and French press brewing methods fundamentally differ in extraction method. Whereas the pour over allows water to filter down through grounds, the press uses immersion.
This difference is why pour overs generally produce brighter and lighter brews, and French presses tend more toward stronger, fuller-bodied brews. French presses also have metal screens, which allow fines to get into the final brew and make the coffee a little stronger.
The French press is more convenient than the pour over, which is largely why the press overtook the pour over before automatic drip coffee makers were available.
Is Pour Over Worth the Effort?
If you’re asking whether pour over is worth the effort, the answer is probably not. When effort and time are primary concerns, a high-quality automatic drip brewer or French press is more convenient and will still brew great coffee.
If you appreciate the brewing process, want control over it and enjoy delicious coffee, then pour over very much is worth the effort. No other brew method offers the same experience. Try making a pour over and practice the technique. As you get the hang of it, you’ll see why pour-over coffee has such a loyal following.
The History of Manual Pour Overs
The German Amalie Melitta Bentz invented the first pour-over coffee maker in 1908. She sought a different taste profile than the bitter, dark profile of the percolators that were common at the time. The pour over was meant to be a better way of brewing good-tasting coffee, and many people agree that it is.
The primary innovation of Melitta Bentz’s pour over was the introduction of a coffee filter. Never before used, the filter changed extraction and caught fines to create a brighter and more flavorful cup of coffee.
Melitta Bentz’s pour over was successful and increased in usage, until the French press (patented in 1924) and then automatic drip brewers (~the 1970s) eclipsed it. Both of these alternatives offer greater convenience than the pour over.
Manual Pour Overs Today
The pour over remained largely on the sidelines as a niche brewer, until the recent growth of specialty coffee. As high-quality micro-lot and single-origin coffees became more available, people went back to the pour over as a means to extract the finer notes of these coffees.
Multiple companies make pour-over coffee makers today, the most well-known of which is the Chemex (patented in 1941). Other pour-over coffee makers include the Kalita Wave, Hario V60, Clever — and even the Melitta.
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.