Brewing coffee may be an art, but like any art form, it requires good old-fashioned skill to separate the master from the amateur. Professional baristas often attend training school for a year or more, honing the subtle tools of the coffee trade—mastering the well-pulled shot of espresso, designing latté art, and practicing the highly-coveted pour over. The purity of the pour over process, the way it emphasizes patience and seeks to extract the greatest possible flavor from the bean, literally by hand, with no tricks or shortcuts, is what has won it the admiration and devotion of countless coffee professionals. Like a perfect loaf of sourdough bread, a great pour over is more about mastering the process than buying the best ingredients (although high quality ingredients are helpful).
How To Pour (Over)
Brewing a great pour over mostly takes a lot of practice. The right tools are helpful too, as well as the patience to endure a fair bit of trial and error, but if all these are present in some form, anyone can conquer it!
Your most important tools are a digital scale and a timer or stopwatch (you can probably find the latter on your handheld device). Weight matters: those who cook—particularly those who bake—know measuring by weight yields much more accurate results than measuring by volume; brewing coffee is just the same, but especially a pour over, which requires measuring not just grounds and water but different quantities of water over time. The stopwatch is crucial because the coffee bean is made up of both desirable and undesirable chemical compounds; your challenge is to extract the good ones while leaving the bad behind, and this is very much a matter of timing.
You will also need a pourover dripper or funnel; a vessel to catch the coffee drips; clean, boiling water; and a kettle of some kind (if available, a narrow-spout kettle gives the brewer optimal control). And of course, you will need coffee—start with 60 to 70 grams per liter of water, keeping your dripper size in mind—brewing is most effective when the dripper is between half and two-thirds full of grounds, because you want enough coffee to restrict the flow, but not so much your dripper may overflow.
The Perfect Home Pour Over
Step 1: Grind the beans to about the coarseness of sea salt. Add them to the filter and level the surface of the grounds by tapping it.
Step 2: Boil your water. The ideal temperature is from about 207º (light roasts) down to about 197º (dark roasts), which is approximately 30-60 seconds off boil.
Step 3: After starting your timer, pour water in a steady stream around the grounds, soaking them completely. Enjoy watching this first stage of wetting (called the bloom), when the hot water forces all the carbon dioxide gas to bubble out of the grounds. The process will take about 30 seconds.
Step 4: Continue adding water to brew. This is where trial and error comes in: you are aiming for a target brew time of 2 ½-3 minutes for dark roasts and 3-4 minutes for light roasts (this includes the dripping time after you stop adding water, which is between 20-60 seconds).
Step 5: Taste and adjust! Don’t be discouraged if your first, tenth or fiftieth brew isn’t quite right—this procedure takes much practice. A weak brew may imply a grind that’s too coarse, so adjust your grinder slightly. A strong brew may indicate too much coffee at the beginning, so reduce your amount as needed.
No matter what the outcome, keep in mind that you are honing a craft, and craftsmanship is never easy. Persist, and watch the results pay off!