How to Make Pour-Over Coffee at Home - The Ultimate Guide
Like all superior brewing methods, pour-over coffee takes a few extra gadgets and minutes to prepare, but it yields results that are incomparable. It requires precision, as well as a certain amount of trial and error, as all good things do.
In this guide, we're going to walk you through how to make pour-over coffee at home. So, let’s gather the tools, develop that keen sense of intuition, and make a delightful mug of joe in the comfort of your own kitchen.
What is Pour Over Coffee?
It's a brew method that goes by many names, but they all have the same goal: a heavenly cup of caffeine. The person to thank for pour over coffee is Melitta Bentz, a German woman with some serious problem-solving skills. In 1908, Melitta invented the coffee filter.
She noticed that percolators tend to over brew coffee, resulting in that burnt taste that can, quite literally, ruin an entire day. A little bit of thinking, swiping some school supplies (blotting paper) from her son Willi, and a brass pot resulted in the creation of a filter that would influence the coffee industry forever.
This resulted in a morning mug that wasn’t as bitter, didn’t come away with grounds swimming around, and was easy enough to do. Unsurprisingly, all of these things made people pretty happy.
Fun fact: Melitta was also a pretty commendable employer for her entire life. She more than doubled vacation days to 15, reduced the 7 day work week to 5, and maintained a social aid fund for company employees. You can read the full story here, and also be impressed by the fact that the family-owned company is still thriving in Minden, Germany.
Why Bother Manually Making Your Coffee?
There are automatic machines out there that do the brewing for you. I get it. And we’ve advanced way ahead of the early 1900s.
But coffee needs more individuality than a single-serve coffee maker can offer.
Think of it this way. It’s like a one-size-fits-all piece of clothing that’s meant to be worn overlarge. It sort of fits everyone, right? Sure, it might 'work', but it isn't optimal. Not all people are made with the same sizes or proportions, and that’s why quality items of clothing are sold with multiple options for sizing. The same theory should be applied to coffee brewing.
Pour Over vs. French Press
I like French presses. Don’t get me wrong. They’re easy to use and produce a good cup, and you’re more than welcome to hop on over and check out our guide on how to use a French press instead.
Or you can stop being a quitter and finish what you’ve started, brewer! How are you ever going to figure out what makes your taste buds truly tingle if you don’t give it a shot?
There are differences between what a French press produces and what a pour-over coffee maker produces, largely because of the constant replenishing of water on a manual drip. Adding new heated liquid every few seconds tends to extract more from the grounds than a French press, and it keeps the water at the right (hot) temperature for longer.
Where Were We?
Oh, right! Individuality!
Coffee is not unlike a human being in its uniqueness. Automatic coffee machines, single-serves, anything that requires the simple push of one button to work, treats all of your grounds exactly the same — no matter whether they’re artisan or special or a total snowflake of a bean.
While this is probably fine if you’re just scooping out some pre-ground stuff from a Folgers container, it just won’t really highlight the notes and nuances of fancier roasts. Methods like French press and pour over allow for much more individualization, and they’re much better at bringing out the subtler flavors of your morning brew.
If you’re sighing and asking, “Why do I need to treat my coffee grounds like an individual?”
That’s a fantastic question, friend! It’s about under- and over-extraction, and how your current automatic drip machine is probably causing one or the other. To put it in simple terms, under-extraction can lead to a salty taste to your coffee, while over-extraction can lead to a bitterness that’ll lay heavy on your tongue.
Let’s make all of that unpleasantness disappear. First, you’ll need a few things…
Gadgets & Tools
It’s a bit of a list, but it’s the kind of list that’s worth it, ya know?
Pour-Over Coffee Device
You can take an in-depth look at our picks for the best pour over coffee makers on the market, but for the sake of brevity, let's chat about this for a quick second.
You can opt for a total classic if you want to hit the road with your single, perfect cup of joe. The Melitta Coffee Maker can easily take along 16 oz. of the good stuff thanks to its crew on lid. On the other hand, if you want up to 6 cups, you can opt for the HIC Coffee Filter Cone.
Chemex coffee makers are quite popular, but they require you to buy special filters. We put together a Chemex coffee brewing guide if this is something that sparks your interest. On the other end of the spectrum, you could opt for a paperless version, like this Gator. It’s all about finding the right coffee maker for your lifestyle.
Carafe (or Mug)
You need to something to catch all of the coffee in (duh). If you’re just brewing for yourself, a large mug will do the job. If you’re pouring over for company, there are some pretty neat carafes that will make you look like the total pro you are. There are stainless steel options, carafes with built-in drippers, and farmhouse-like glass numbers.
Remember: some devices need specific filters. It can be really annoying, but make sure you check and see what filters are compatible with your device. Or, like I said, totally forget about all of this paper nonsense and go for the mesh basket deals.
Freshly-Roasted Coffee Beans and a Grinder
These aren’t negotiable items. Select a coffee grinder, pick some fresh coffee, and just accept that the pre-ground stuff is never going to do the trick if you’re looking to get the most out of your beans.
Coffee, like any other perishable good, can go bad. Old coffee becomes stale and the acid levels can get all screwy, resulting in a cup of coffee that’s far from what’s desired. Pre-ground coffee doesn’t allow for any customization, and we’ve already given you the one-size-fits-all analogy, so just copy and paste that little speech to here if you will.
Now, grinders. I’m always going to harp on this — you want to get a conical burr grinder. Not a blade grinder. Blade grinders can create a whole bunch of heat, and guess where that heat goes? Into the beans being ground — right! It essentially cooks the beans while they’re being chopped up.
Conical burr grinders are different — they break up the beans slower, more evenly, and without pre-cooking them to a crisp. You can easily get a manual coffee grinder for a super affordable price, or drop some extra dough and let an automatic grinder do all of the work for you.
While we always encourage some experimentation, a consistent medium grind should give you the perfect results for your pour-over cup no matter what whole bean bag you choose.
Scooper or Scale
The scale is the preferable option, but you can also use some simple correlations and use a scooper. It’s typically one tablespoon of coffee per cup produced. If you’re using a scale, about 2 grams per fluid ounce of water is a good way to calculate.
To make it even simpler: how many ounces of coffee do you want? If the answer is 10 oz, you need 20 grams of coffee. Basically, times any 'ounce' by 2 and you’ll know exactly how much coffee you need.
Use a proper pour-over kettle is one of those things that’ll bring your pour-over coffee skills to a entirely new level. It’ll make the whole thing easier, too. Control should really be the #1 requirement on this list. There are several steps that call for precise command over water dispensation, and these pour-over kettles make it much easier.
Step By Step Guide
Line up your stuff on the counter. Steady your hands. Let’s do this.
Put your kettle on to boil. If you have a thermometer or a pour over kettle that measures the temperature for you, make sure the water is between 195 degrees and 215 degrees Fahrenheit when the time comes.
We’re going to operate as if your device needs a filter. If you’ve opted to be environmentally friendly, I dig your style and you can skip this step. Place the appropriate filter in the device. Drizzle some water through the filter and then discard this water. It’s just a little something you can do to get rid of any residual taste from the paper.
Grab your fresh bag of coffee and your grinder and acquire the appropriate amount for your morning brew. A 10 oz. cup needs roughly 20 grams of coffee. Put these grounds in the filter inside the device and gently shake it to even out the grounds.
Has your water hit the correct temperature? Then we’re ready! Okay, the first thing that we’re going to do is something called wetting. It’s pretty obviously named. Just a few splashes of the water to pre-soak your grounds and help them oxidize.
This simple little thing pulls double duty — it also does a bit of pre-heating to everything so that your coffee doesn’t cool too quickly. It’s also often referred to as blooming. You can set your timer for roughly 3 minutes right before wetting your grounds.
After letting your coffee “bloom” for 45 seconds, pour slowly and evenly across the surface of the grounds. Keep your pour as low as possible to retain water heat and a uniform distribution pattern.
Once your kettle is empty, it’s pretty much out of your hands. Wait another 1-3 minutes (depending on the roast) and enjoy, because that’s that!
If you’re a visual learner, here’s a great video to watch.
A Leaf Out of Melitta’s Book
Melitta saw a problem and set out to solve it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do as well. You have to work your senses, and muscle memory, to perfect the pour-over method but, once you get there, you’ll probably never return to your single-serve machine on any sort of regular basis.
That being said, tell me your problems. Let’s figure this out.
You: It’s just...it’s bad.
Me: Like...battery acid bad? Like… sour? Help me out here.
You: Like, I’m drinking stained brown water.
Me: Ah, yes. Chances are it’s either the grind or the temperature. The temperature also plays a big role in this — make sure you know the heat of your water. If it’s not around 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit, your coffee isn’t extracting enough.
You: It’s the most bitter cup of coffee I have ever had. It’s so bitter that I don’t think I’m going to be able to taste anything for two weeks. In fact, it’s probably —
Me: Okie dokie. Dramatics. This is, again, an extraction problem, just in the opposite direction. It’s been over-extracted. It’s either the water or the grinds. Make sure the temperature of the water isn’t too hot — if that doesn’t sort out the problem, consider using a larger grind. Up your grind size a level from medium and see if that sorts out the issue.
If you don’t have a thermometer: bring your water to a boil and then shut the water off. Pause for about 30-35 seconds and then pour it over your grounds. That’s a rough estimate, so, if you’re looking for precision, the thermometer is what’s going to get you there.
If the temperature of your water is solid, you should fiddle with the grind type. If you used a medium grind, you’ll want to lean a tad bit finer for more extraction.
*Please note that if you do not use fresh whole bean coffee and a grinder, that is the problem. I don’t want to hear about it until you come back and send me a picture of an unsealed bag of fresh coffee and a conical burr grinder and then, only then, can we talk further about problems.
You: It just… it tastes kind of funky.
Me: Hm. Okay. There are a couple of reasons it could be, as you say, “funky.” The paper filter could be manipulating the taste, so don’t skip that step. It could be that your water isn’t filtered — it’s typically a good idea to use filtered water so as not to alter the taste of the coffee. Other than that, your coffee may be stale, or you could’ve left soap in your carafe, or maybe you just don’t like the beans.
Pour-over coffee can change the way you view mornings — and I’m not trying to mimic the dramatics of Scenario #2 up there. There’s not much that compares to a perfect cup of joe in the morning, and that’s what this brewing method can get you.
Go buy your favorite beans and gather your supplies. Know that it will take a few tries to hit absolute perfection but, once you find the right way, it’ll make waking up for work a little bit less painful.
Experiment! Problem solve! Best wishes!