How to Brew Great Pour-Over Coffee
Words Erin Meister
There is a beautiful sort of drama to pour-over coffee.
It’s kind of like poaching an egg instead of boiling it, or making your own mayonnaise—seems daunting at first, but once you master the technique, it’s a perfect little luxury to make the day seem special. It’s not impossible, it just takes practice, and even the practice itself can be fun.
Pour-over coffee—which is the term used for any brewing method where water is literally poured over and through the coffee grounds—is a favorite for people who like their coffee a little cleaner in flavor and lighter in body. Gradually adding the water in pulses, rather than letting the water and coffee soak like in a French press, allows the coffee’s more nuanced flavors to shine, and the paper filter the coffee’s brewed through keeps silt and grounds out of your cup.
In a pour-over preparation, the extraction happens in stages. The first flavors that will drip into your cup will be extremely potent and very acidic (sour, like an unripe banana); as more water absorbs different compounds from the coffee grounds, the liquid dripping into the cup will become sweeter and nuttier, with more delicate aromas shining through. The last bit of the brew will contribute the pleasant bitterness that gives coffee some of its complexity, and which will balance out the sweetness and fruity characteristics from the rest of the brewing process.
See? Magic! Brewing coffee with a pour-over can require a bit of experimentation to get right, but once you get it really dialed-in, you’ll probably find that it comes naturally. And you’ll quickly be able to do it perfectly, even before you’ve had your coffee! Here are the three key elements to brewing a great cup of pour-over coffee. (And if you missed it, here’s our guide to brewing great coffee, no matter what brewer you’re using.)
While you can make pour-over coffee as complicated and geeky as you like, the basics of brewing this way are just that—basic! Whether you’re using an automatic drip brewer, an OXO Pour-Over with Water Tank, or a traditional drip-through cone, you’ll want to start with a clean filter (which you can pre-rinse with hot water or not, to your preference—some people find that unrinsed filters taste “papery”) and freshly ground coffee.
First, you’ll want to add enough just-off-boil water to get all the coffee grounds wet, which should make them puff up for about 30 seconds—this is called the bloom, and it’s a sign that your coffee is fresh. After 30 seconds, you’ll add the first pulse of hot water to your grounds to start the brew. I like to add about ¼ the total volume of water, very slowly, pouring in a circular motion to wet all the grounds evenly. After you’ve poured a bit of water, let the brewing bed drop a bit before adding the second pulse of water. Depending on your recipe, you’ll want to be pouring the last bit of water into the grounds by three minutes—this will allow the water to fully saturate the grounds and finish dripping through by about 3:30-4 minutes.
The kettle is important when you’re trying to control the stream of water you’re adding to the grounds. With a traditional pour-over dripper, a goose-neck hot-water kettle will be helpful. With the pour-over with water tank brewer, however, you can use any kind of kettle because the brewer itself controls the flow of water into the coffee.
Grind Size and Brewing Time
For pour-over coffee, the first and most important element you’ll want to consider is finding the right grind size to achieve the perfect extraction because the size of your grinds will determine how long the water and coffee are in contact (unlike with a French press, where the water and coffee are constantly steeping). It should take between 3 to 5 minutes to brew the coffee depending on the size of the batch—some of that will be dictated by the grind size, and some by how quickly or slowly the water is being poured into the coffee.
In order to allow the brewing water to pull out just the right flavor compounds from the coffee as it’s gradually poured through the grounds, we’ll want our coffee to be somewhere between the very coarse French press-style grounds and the very fine espresso coffee we’re used to. (This is much easier to achieve with a Burr grinder, rather than a blade grinder, which is much less consistent and reliable.)
Start with grounds that feel like kosher sea salt and adjust to taste. If your brew is quicker than 3 minutes, or tastes sour and astringent (sure signs of underextraction), make the grind size a little finer, which should make the water pass through slower. If it takes closer to 5 minutes, or tastes bitter and has a long, unpleasant aftertaste, coarsen the grounds up a bit to allow the water more room to flow through faster. You want the brewing water to flow progressively through the grounds, which will yield noticeably sweeter coffee.
With the OXO Pour-Over, this part is made easy since your brewing water travels through little holes which are spaced out across the grounds so extraction happens evenly—but keep close attention! If your pour-over coffee is done before three minutes is up, you’ll probably want to adjust your grind size finer to slow down the flow of water through the grounds bed.
Coffee to Water Ratio
As with any coffee brewing, your recipe is the first thing to get down pat. In addition to making the cup taste stronger, remember that adding more coffee to your recipe will also take longer for the water to drip through your pour-over coffee brewer, which will alter the extraction. A good starting point is 1.5 to 2 grams of coffee per ounce of water—and yes, a scale is always going to be more accurate than a scoop! (If you’re scooping, we recommend following the guidelines that come with your tool, as coffee scoops come in different sizes. One tablespoon of coffee is roughly equivalent to 7 or 8 grams if you’re using a standard measuring spoon.)
No matter how you determine your recipe, remember to be as consistent as possible once you find the right balance!