Brewing the perfect pour-over
A pour-over makes the perfect cup of coffee, because it's just for you.
When you're brewing by-the-cup, each cup is a special and unique experience. It's the most intimate coffee preparation technique, and I relish the ritual every morning.
But the perfect cup is elusive. It isn't a precise formula, because people are all different and like different things about their coffee. Mastering the pour-over is a great way to learn how you like your coffee.
I'd never tasted my best cup of coffee until I started brewing by-the-cup. And now it's hard for me to enjoy drip coffee or precision preparations, because they aren't actually brewed for me.
Step 1: The ratio
Our baristas brew coffees for our customers at an industry standard ratio particular to our coffee in terms of bean density and darkness of roast. That ratio is roughly 17:1. 17 parts water to 1 part ground coffee. Start with this as a baseline. Taste this and then adjust your ratio to dial in your personal preferences on future brews.
Using the 17:1 ratio to make a 12 oz (340.19 g) cup of coffee, divide 340.19 grams by 17 to arrive at 20.01 grams of coffee grounds for your 12 oz coffee.
TIP: If you don’t have a scale in the kitchen, a tablespoon holds 6.5 grams of ground coffee, so make sure you grind enough beans to end up with a little less than 2 tablespoons of ground coffee.
Step 2: The grind
If at all possible, get your hands on a conical grinder. Conical burr grinders are made to ensure that each ground coffee bean is approximately the same size, which reduces "boulders" (big chunks that under-extract) and “fines” (coffee ground too fine, which over-extracts) all of which contributes to an unbalanced cup. Uneven grounds make uneven flavors.
To make matters worse, conical grinders don't have a uniform measurement for grind size. Every grinder seems to have a different scale, so it’s always a bit of an experiment.
If you simply can't get your hands on a conical grinder, you can use anything from a mortar and pestle to a motorized blade grinder, it's just going to take more work to get nice even grounds. You'll have to grind in batches, pluck out boulders, and sift out fines. The important thing is to get the size of the grounds right.
Size of the grounds for pour-over is roughly that of coarse ground salt. It's a little coarser than sand, but smaller than mustard seeds. Think of ground sizes on a scale of 1-10. 1 is the finest (espresso) and 10 is the coarsest (24-hour cold brew). Espresso has a grain size closest to powder, 24-hour cold brew has a grain size closest to peppercorns. Pour-overs are just about in the middle; a little larger than store-bought ground coffee.
TIP: The basic rule of thumb is that the longer your coffee grounds are saturating in the water, the coarser they should be ground. Espresso is the fastest brewing coffee and uses the finest grounds, whereas cold brew coffee is the slowest brewing method and uses the coarsest grounds. For a pour-over, use the finger test. Put some of the grounds on a surface and push your finger down on them. When the grounds are the right size for a pour-over, they should be as big as you can make them where they still stick to your finger.
Step 3: The brew
Set your filter in your pour-over brewer. If it helps nestle it down in the brewer, you can fold the bottom seam of the filter. Put your grounds inside and give the brewer a little shake to get the grounds nestled down inside with a flat and even surface.
Don't worry about burning your coffee. Unless you're using a moka pot, it's very hard to do. All you need is boiling water. A gooseneck kettle helps control a good pouring technique, but if you're very patient, you can make a tea kettle work just fine. For the best extraction, you want the water right at the beginning of the boiling point, about 208 degrees.
The brew happens in three pours:
The bloom. Slowly pour in a widening circle, a very small amount of water, approximately only as much water as there are grounds in the brewer (20 grams for our 12 oz cup), directly onto the grounds and then stop and let them soak in. If the coffee is fresh roasted, you'll see it swell like it's baking. Let this sit for about 30 seconds, until you hear the first drops fall into the cup.
- Pour about half of the remaining water in slow spirals starting in the center and expanding out to the edges and back. Fresh coffee should release gasses while this is happening and give it a slight caramel-colored foam. The more even this foam, the better your pour.
- As the second pour moves through the coffee and grounds emerge again from the water along the sides of the filter, slowly and steadily pour the rest of the water straight down the center of the brewer. This flushes the grounds to get the last bits of the sweet stuff into the cup.
That's it. Let it all drip out, then pull the brewer off your cup. Throw your coffee grounds in the compost and enjoy your coffee.
TIP: Coffee purists will insist that you wet the filter with hot water to reduce cooling on impact and get rid of the taste of the filter (something I've never experienced and not convinced is real). Some even go as far as rinsing the cup and brewer in boiling water to retain temperature, but if you live in Florida, probably not a concern.
Step 4: The cupping
Let the smell fill the room. Take one sip before you add anything so you know how your brew came out. If it’s too weak, add 10g of coffee for the next brew. If it’s too strong, take 10g away next time. If too strong is your issue, just add a little more hot water and it should be delicious.
Add whatever you love in your coffee and enjoy. It's just for you, after all.