How to Use a Pour Over Brewer

Eric Faust / Heavy Table
Eric Faust / Heavy Table

Every morning millions of people wake up, walk across their kitchen, and press the little button on the side of their electric drip coffee maker. The sound of suction and steam as the machine brews a fresh pot is an integral part of many mornings. The stains in the bottom of the carafe and and the glow of the “on” button on the side of the machine are part of the morning ritual and comfort that a pot of coffee can bring.

To many the thought of fumbling with an espresso machine or the rich hearty brew of a French press is too much in the morning. The ease of the electric drip brew machine is what makes the morning bearable.

Unfortunately the coffee that most electric drip brewers deliver is less than satisfactory. As more coffee shops have opened, people have opted for a $2 cup of coffee rather than the black swill that they make at home. This is because many electric drip brewers do not have the capabilities to brew coffee properly.

The biggest problem with the average electric drip coffee brewer is that it does not heat the water hot enough for brewing coffee. Many brewers drip water over the grounds at lower temperatures and then rely on the heating pad holding the carafe to heat it to a temperature that is suitable for drinking. Only high-end machines like Bunn and Technivorm heat water hot enough for proper extraction.

Spending over $200 on a coffee maker may be out of the question, but spending $5 is worth a try. The pour over brewer has been overlooked for as long as electric drip brewers have been available. It has been written off as ineffective because it is simple and affordable, but still it is a brewing device that is as capable of brewing a superior cup of coffee.

Like those of the French press, the key variables to consider are coffee quality, grind, water, and time. With the pour over brewer, another variable to consider is the filter. Most pour over brewers use a cone filter rather than a flat-bottom filter used in many electric drip brewers. Bleached, natural, and bamboo are among the varieties of disposable filters, but there are also reusable filters made from a metal screen. The reusable metal filter is the most effective because it allows for the most flavor to pass through and into the cup. Among the disposable filters the bleached white filters are the most neutral. The bamboo and natural filters give off a slight earthy taste that in time will detract from the flavors in the cup.

The water used for the pour over brewer should be the same as the French press, between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Taking a pot of water off of a boil for a few minutes will allow you to easily reach an ideal temperature.

The grind for the pour over brewer is not as coarse as the French press and not as fine as espresso. The cone filter needs a slightly finer grind than a flat-bottom filter. This will slow down the rate of flow and allow more time for extraction. The grind should be similar to the coarseness of sugar and have a uniform look and feel.

Eric Faust / Heavy Table
Eric Faust / Heavy Table

The coffee should be ground after the water is heated, and the amount used will vary depending on your taste. The Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends 14.5 grams of coffee for every 8 oz of water — approximately 2 tbsp of coffee for every 8 oz of water.

When the coffee has been properly ground and the water is at the ideal temperature, the water should be slowly poured over the grounds in a varied manner allowing the grounds to slowly moisten. The coffee should be stirred, and as it drips, the sides of the filter should be scrapped allowing for the water to continue to extract flavor from all of the grounds. The entire brew will take less time than a brew in a French press.

There isn’t a button that lights up or a heating pad to keep your coffee warm. It takes a little extra effort, but in the end it is a simple and affordable way to brew a superior cup of coffee that will put your electric drip brewer to rest.

How to Use a French Press

Jeremy Pieper
Jeremy Pieper / Heavy Table

The French press is one of the most basic yet intimidating methods of brewing coffee. The name alone frightens people into thinking that it is some form of elite French coffee brewing that requires extensive knowledge and an artistic touch. The reality is that the French press is one of the simplest ways to brew a high-quality cup of coffee.

The idea behind it is basic: You immerse the coffee fully in water and then press out the grounds. Before the press was invented, coffee was brewed by fully immersing the coffee beans in water and then using items like an egg, slices of cod, or some other ridiculous additive to create a reaction that would make the grounds sink to the bottom of the container.

The creation of the press allowed mankind to properly brew coffee without making it taste like egg yolks or fish. It opened up the door to nuances and flavors that are part of the natural make up of the bean.

The four key variables to consider are coffee quality, grind, water, and time. You must first select a whole bean coffee. Coffee that is pre-ground is most often ground for drip-style brewing unless it is stated otherwise. Selecting whole bean coffee will allow you to grind it to the desired coarseness for ideal extraction.

The grind for a French press is the coarsest grind of any mainstream brewing device. The grind should not feel powdery in your hand; it should feel crumbly and have a uniform look. A grind that is too fine will result in an over extracted coffee that tastes bitter and astringent. Too coarse a grind will result in an under extracted coffee that tastes weak and thin.

Jeremy Pieper
Jeremy Pieper

Water is one of the most important aspects of properly brewing in a French press. If the water has a poor taste before brewing, it will be present after brewing. Some coffee shops use filtration systems to create an ideal mineral content for brewing coffee. At home, it is important to trust your palate and experiment with your water. If your water has been softened too much, it can result in a weak and flavorless cup. If you have water with a high mineral content it might taste great, or it might detract from the taste of the coffee. A Brita water filter can be a quick and affordable fix that can greatly improve the quality of your coffee.

The water should be heated to 195-205° F. Simply taking a pot of water off of a boil for a few minutes will allow you to reach the ideal temperature for brewing your coffee.

Coffee should be ground after the water has been heated. The Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends that 8 oz of water be used with 14.5 grams of coffee; this translates into about 2 tbsp of coffee for every 8 oz.

After the water has been added to the coffee it should be stirred. The fresher the coffee, the greater the “bloom” will be. The bloom is when the coffee expands rapidly, forming a crust on the top of the press. If the coffee is old there will be little or no bloom. The coffee should be stirred at the beginning of the brewing process to ensure that all of the grounds can come in contact with the water.

The brew should take about 4 minutes. The brew can be shorter or longer depending on the desired taste. When the coffee is pressed, it should be done slowly and steadily such that the screen seals with the side of the press and all of the grounds are pressed to the bottom. The coffee should then be poured into cups. If coffee is left in the press, it will continue to extract flavor from the coffee grounds, resulting in over extraction.

If done properly, the French press will deliver a cup that is bold and beautiful, preserving the integrity of the terroir and diminishing the acidity of the cup so that the nuances of the coffee can be tasted and enjoyed.