Pour over coffee - passion one drop at a time

Welcome to Spring 2011 folks - and after a long break in content releases, we jump right in with a feature on the Hario series of grinders and the, soon to be classic, Hario V60 pour over kettle, filter holder and server carafe.

First of all, a big shout goes out to Geir Oglend and the wonderful crew at Drum roaster Coffee - for their decade long support of the Coffeecrew.com website. As well, so much of the material on our website would not be possible without the continued support of Reg James and the team at EspressoTec.com

This article is based on my experiences with the Hario series of burr grinders and the Hario Buono kettle, filter holder and the Hario glass serving carafe.

OK, so it is obvious by now: The pour over appears to be one of the most discussed brewing method that is accessible to everyone.

It has been analyzed every which way - and that is great. I received some good advice from some of the people that I trust locally - and I am sticking with these methods for the time being.

So, although this article may come in a little late, I am hoping to at least expose as many new people to a method of coffee brewing that pushes the boundaries of what we think is the perfect cup of coffee.

For long time readers of the Coffeecrew.com website, you probably think that this site is a little heavy on the espresso side of things - while that might be true, I am now entirely free of espresso equipment in my test kitchen. I would love to say that "I am done" and that I have "done everything that one can do with espresso coffee..." - that would be utter nonsense. Pretty sure I have only scratched the surface. I will probably come back to it - so for now, I am doing the single origin coffees only - and what better way than with Presses, drippers, kettles, filters and carafes!

Picture above and at right: The V60 Buono kettle might be the best cactus watering tin you might buy... but it is definitely the best coffee accessory you will ever own! Below: Brewing pour over? Think about digital scales, 25g of whole bean coffee per 12 fluid ounce servings, 3 minute brew cycles and a steady hand!

Some historic impressions from the seventies: OK. Reality check. I have been doing pour over coffee probably since the mid to late seventies. True. I bought coffee pre-ground from Victoria's own Murchies Coffee and if I wasn't running it through a little aluminum percolator (Yes Simpson, a Percolator!) - I actually had a porcelain Melitta filter holder - no idea where it came from - my Mom, who (not so much introduced me but) allowed me to try some coffee when I was 15 - had a variety of coffee makers for large and small batches. My Dad had a sideline called "Amway" and would often have sales meetings at our house - dozen or so people in the pyramid. Yep, Amway, evil. Enough said about that. Ironic that my first sips of coffee may have been before or during one of these odd cult like meetings!

Anyway - at the time, doing a pour over was not something that anyone thought about - and it was certainly almost 35 years prior to anyone making anything scientific about it. Crude? Yes. Wildly variable results? Guaranteed! Additionally, coffee was to make a rather nasty spike in price in the middle to late seventies. It was then I would be forced to discovery truly inferior coffee - probably another ironic event that would shape coffee drinking in the future.

At the time, seventies pour over would have been some finely ground coffee (likely stale) tossed into a number 4 filter - probably a tablespoon or two of ground coffee per 8 fluid ounces of water (single serving) - scared and appalled? 

You should be. It gets worse. I would pour boiling water over the ground coffee - it was likely that the coffee was a tad on the coarse side and it would brew in under a minute.

Two problems here. Boiling water poured on coffee that is too coarse - a recipe for disaster. Ah well, that was a long time ago - At least I got a great idea about how bad coffee could taste!

In 1979 I had my first cappuccino - albeit a nasty one from a cafe called the Contempo on Yates Street in Victoria - practically across Blanshard from the future home of HABIT Coffee - some 35 plus years in the future.

Picture at right: Drum roaster and EspressoTec provided all the hardware: Actually, I bought the kettle... at HABIT COFFEE AND CULTURE! Here I am wetting the ground coffee bed. Sexier than it sounds...

The Eighties and more basic pour-over coffee: By the time the late eighties rolled along, I had done a partial cross country tour looking for the perfect cappuccino - in 1986, that search lasted about 7 days and took me as far as the Canadian Prairies. Seriously folks, there was no coffee scene in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan! Even Vancouver was a tiny shadow of what it would become. At home, however, I was developing a more skilled hand at basic pour techniques for traditional glass carafes, number four filters, better coffee and water that was not super-charged! In 1988, I learned some of these techniques from a lady friend - the secret: Small quantities of whole bean coffee purchased locally and ground just prior to brewing -- in store in one of those massive coffee grinders. She said that buying a day or two's worth of coffee was the way to go and GET THIS, a blade grinder does NOT do a great job of grinding coffee for any method - 1988, a year of revelations! This coffee drinking friend would use significantly more coffee than I normally would. She would boil water and let it sit a few minutes while it became less than super-charged. She would slowly pour the water in a circular pattern over the number four filter - pausing to let it drain slowly into a pre-heated carafe - when it was around 50% down, she would top it up by 25% - and then again... 25%. Crazy stuff for the late eighties. 20 years before we would become obsessed with the pour, the wrist action, the swirl, the bloom, etc etc etc!

Espresso interrupt: By 1990, I would have bought one or two inexpensive "Steam powered toys" launching an obsession with pseudo espresso - steam powered coffee brewing. Drip coffee would now take a break for a few years.


So, why drip? 

The question always comes up for me: "Colin, why isn't espresso your primary focus? Isn't espresso the pinnacle of coffee brewing?"
Yes, that is two questions - so one at a time...

1.) Espresso coffee has never been a focus for me - at least for turning out learned commentary on the subject - because there are better resources and people on this particular topic. This is 2011 after all. Ten years ago there were a handful of us obsessing about coffee online. Those days are gone. Every move, every machine, every brew style is being blogged to bits - and this is a GREAT thing. There are no individual guru's that you can look to for a collection of everything - All of us have our strengths - mine has always been gear before brew methods - that said, I now have an area that has my undying attention...

2.) Is Espresso coffee the pinnacle of coffee brewing? Not at all - in my opinion, it is a discipline within itself - which means... It is so detailed and complex with so many variables that it is worthy of a niche area completely separate from traditional "pressurized" coffee brewing.

So, as much as I loved playing with espresso machines big and small - I was at a bit of a disadvantage: I do not drink milk (so I cannot critique the ability of a machine to foam milk - as well as I could if I drank milk).
Additionally, by focusing on espresso I was kind of letting my taste buds down for some glorious single origins - and doing my many roasting friends a disservice by not making myself available for roast profiling.

Picture at right: I have never played a round of golf but the divot in brewing pour over is kind of important!

 


Pour over coffee in the twenty-first century - Is this as good as it can be?


So: Seeing that I have been doing a form of drip coffee for over 25 years, how is it that this "new thing" is really important now?
Well, for one thing, there are now hundreds of truly spectacular single origin coffees out there that did not exist in this form so long ago.

Yes,  there were great coffees 25 years ago - no question about that; great Indonesians, African's like Kenya AA, Guatemalan's and even some good Kona coffees - and of course, Jamaica Blue Mountain.
Coffees that are available now - that excel - are coffees, that probably existed way back when, are better today because of better horticultural practices - better soil, better science. We know more now.

So what else has changed? Well, since the advent of the information superhighway, there has been an unceasing attention to every detail of virtually every food and drink discipline -- coffee included of course. There has been more research into the bean available to the rest of us (without having to hit a library or book store) freely and broadly available.

The other key thing that has changed to the benefit of the single origin aficionado is the development of the Aeropress, the Espro brewer, the popularity of the French Press and the Renaissance of the siphon (most often 'in-cafe')

The accessibility and awareness of the superior burr grinder - available in electric and manual form has revolutionized the exploration of the single origin bean via the pour over exercise.

Photo at right: Brewing and tasting... I serve my coffee in heated 4 fluid ounce cups - with coffee poured from a glass or steel thermos. Keeping it hot!

The Hario Line-up

The total pour over experience comes down to a couple of components - The Kettle, the filter holder and the serving carafe.

I have the Hario Buono Kettle - arguably the best $50 I have spent on any piece of coffee kit.
I have the Hario Filter holder - also know as the "dripper" - It may look like a standard filter holder - but it is not.
I have the Hario Carafe server - and folks, I do not use it. I have a 24 fluid ounce short melitta thermal carafe.
I have a sack of Hario Filters #2 (Not smaller than Melitta #4 - the number system is unrelated)
I have a Thermos carafe that, I think, holds around 22-24 fluid ounces of brewed coffee (or tea)
I have a Salter digital scale.

Hario pour over 360g finalOf course none of this is possible with my trusted Baratza Virtuoso grinder from the folks at Baratza.

1.) Measure: Any consistent results are the byproduct or repetition or a scientific approach. I use both; the eyeball method and the digit-scale approach. Results vary using your visual senses - so invest in a 30$ scale. You will be glad you did.

A good rule of thumb: 25 grams of whole bean coffee and 13 to 15 fluid ounces of water off of the boil.
Trust me, with some evaporation and ground coffee absorption, you end up with a 12 fluid ounce mug of Joe or two demitasse servings for you and a friend.

2.) Rinse it - Even authentic Hario filters need a rinse so slap one in the filter holder (after the fold -- more on that later) and place the filter on top of the coffee carafe - I have a Hario glass carafe (which is non-thermal) but I use a Thermos carafe to retain the heat of the brewed coffee -- because I drink my morning coffee slowly!

3.) Grind out your coffee, pour it into the heated and cleansed filter (while on the scale) and ZERO (tare) out the scale to zero.

4.) The divot. You need to have a divot in the coffee. Use your finger. Use my photo series as a guide.

5.) Pour around 50-75G of the water to wet the ground coffee and initiate a bloom. Pause around 20-30s to let the coffee settle.

6.) ADDING THE REMAINING WATER. Here is where the Hario pour technique comes into play. The Hario buono kettle is built for a fine and a precise pour. Start from the center of the grind bed and work your way out - in concentric circles. I will place a link to a suitable video because it is way better than trying to explain it in text.

7.) Avoid pouring to the edge of the filter because it results in over extraction and "bypass" (more on that term later.)

8.) Continue pouring til the rest of the water (around 10 fluid ounces or 320g) is in. The pouring of the water should take you to around the 2.5 minute mark - and you definitely want the brew cycle to end around 3 minutes.

In a perfect World, when the brew cycle is done and the ground bed has "sagged" it should be fairly flat - kind of a sign of a good pour. My results vary some.