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Mar 3, 2011 10:54 AM

Why is pour-over coffee better? [Split from Boston board]

Warning, the following is slightly tongue in cheek, and I had some fun writing it...

Don't mean to be (my usual) snarky (self), but I read this article in the NY Times this weekend, and did not understand what the big deal was. This is, after all, DRIP coffee.

When I was a kid, making drip manually, with a Melita drip set up was what you did if you did not have the $ for an automatic drip coffee maker.

Now you can get a Mr. Coffee at Target for $20.

Please explain to me how coffee made in WAY pricey, retro gear, but in the end DRIP coffee, is any different from what my pal Mr. Coffee makes.

Nevermind why should you stand there and pour hot water over the grinds manually, when kindly $20 Mr. Coffee will do it for you automatically?

Love the fact that the marketing dorks decided to call this "Artisan" coffee making, like you are actually MAKING something. Just plain hysterical. Ooh gosh mom, I'm pouring boiling water, does that mean they'll give me a show on the food network?

Wanna make something artisanal, go brew some beer, make some sauerkraut, heck bake some bread for gosh sake. But last I checked, there is no artisan's guild for water boilers...


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  1. Okay, I will bite and be the straight-person.

    1. The process is different. A Mr. Coffee boils water, pours it onto the grinds in a single cycle, and uses a paper filter. This set up uses multiple pour/drip cycles to bloom the beans and then extract their coffee-ness. It also uses a cloth filter, which has different properties than paper.

    2. Since you have not tried the "pricey, retro gear", you don't know what the result is. Maybe to you it will be the same as you get from your "pal" (tongue-in-cheek here for sure!). But maybe your experience will be like mine was - a genuine oh my goodness experience. Here is a chance to find out. Triple-dog dare ya!

    14 Replies
    1. re: PinchOfSalt

      Aaaaah, the cloth filter...

      i.e. I've run out of coffee filters so will use the "Old Sock" trick instead.

      "Bloom" the beans," seriously.

      How can that be any different then just leaving the ground coffee in the hot water for a while, getting good extraction, then filtering.

      Sounds like time for a double blind taste test against my "special friend" Señor Coffee.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        I have a friend (he is an engineer) who does something similar. He is one of those guys who is completely annoying about finding the absolute best way of doing something, buying all the specialized equipment and then taking about 4 hours for a 5 minute job. His coffee, I will admit, is about the best I have ever had. On the other hand, he is the only one who can make it, and early in the morning, I want to wake up and push a button, not screw around with boiling water and coffee filters.

        1. re: tdaaa

          You've thrown down the gantlet!

          Me, Señor Coffee, and cast iron roasted beans, against nerdy engineer boy.

          Double blind.

          At Dawn.

          Cue theme song to "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly."

          Though in all fairness, I usually use a press pot and not Señor Coffee.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            OK. You got yourself a blind tasting. My nerdy engineer friend with his "pour over" system vs. your press pot vs. my capresso machine. It will have to wait for a few weeks, until my buddy comes up from NJ, where he lives. We will use straight from the tap, unfiltered, delicious Belmont water, and all use the same beans and grinder (I prefer starbucks Italian roast, but happy to use whatever you prefer). In addition to the three deuling coffee geeks, we will use additional independent testers and identical cups. And while I encourage the best coffee to win, I have absolutely no intention of changing from grinding my beans the night before and having hot, good-enough coffee waiting for me when I stumble down in the morning.

            I will let you know when my friend is coming up and we can arrange the showdown.

            1. re: tdaaa

              Wait, you lost before you won.

              Italian roast from charbucks has already had ALL the varietal flavor BURNT out of it. Nothing wrong with expresso roast, I like expresso and drink it with some frequency, but it ain't the pinnacle of coffee flavor.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                I like the roasted (burnt) flavors. helps wake me up. My real favorite is tanzinian peaberry, but its hard to find and more expensive. Compared to the swill that is available at my job, anything is wonderful. I even started drinking tea because the coffee here is so bad.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  I love Starbucks coffee. I don't get the "charbucks" silliness at all. Nothing is burnt. All is delicious.

                  And that's eSpresso.

                  1. re: Jay F

                    Jay? Different strokes for different folks. I find it very difficult to stomach a straight espresso shot at Starbucks, and I find that their over-roasted "char" quality even comes through milk drinks. Their brewed coffee is generally too bitter and too acidic as well. The only way I can -- "enjoy" is the wrong word -- "deal" with coffee at Starbucks is iced coffee with some half & half. Even then, the last time I was there, they automatically sweetened my iced coffee --DISGUSTING! (and certainly NOT what I ordered!).

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Starbucks sells pour over coffee now, which is good. You should try it.

                      1. re: calumin

                        Been there; done that. Compared to what I make at home . . . in my office . . . from cafés I go to locally . . . my personal opinion is, "It's not very good."

                        1. re: calumin

                          When I tried it recently it was pretty awful; I'd much rather have had the coffee from the prebrewed pot.

                          This is the inherent flaw in pour over though: it CAN be better than a machine because you have control over all the variables, but if a person is inexperienced or not properly trained, the setup isn't dialed in, or the operator isn't paying attention it will be worse than a machine.

                2. re: StriperGuy

                  So did the showdown ever happen? ;)

              2. re: StriperGuy

                you should really do it so that you can find out the truth; i expect that SG is right on this one. But there is one way to find out.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. Ok, here is my story of a year-long quest of self-taught coffee making and why Hand Pour rules.

                About 2 years ago, before the Hand Pour craze, I bought coffee outside everyday. Like Lauren Bacall, I *LOVE* Cah-FEE! But I did kinda feel guilty about pitching a gazillion paper cups a year and so I bought one of those tall thin coffee thermos/mugs from my local green eco-friendly product store, Greenward. It promptly sat un-opened in my kitchen for months and months while I continued to buy ready-made coffee.

                Rummaging for some kitchen tool, I found my $2 #2 Melitta dripper from college, along with a left-over "gold cone" filter from a coffee machine long since landfilled or thrift-stored. I took them out, and said, hmm, I can make coffee. It sat on my counter for a few weeks till I finally managed to buy some beans somewhere, actually some Barismo beans at Simon's. I already had a coffee mill/spice mill, and so I finally opened up the box on coffee thermos and made my own damn coffee. It was nothing special, I just dumped hot water into the Melitta rather crudely from my smallest Bourgeat saucepan. But I liked it enough and continued making coffee like this till the beans ran out.

                At some point I realized I had a Moroccan tea pot, the kind you make mint tea in, and figured this would save me some arm muscle fatigue since the Bourgeat pans are extremely heavy. So there was this extra step of dumping water in it, and the spout has a large opening and is short, but it beat splashing water around from the lip of a heavy pan.

                One day I boiled the water, put it in the teapot, ran away to do something else, and came back. Too lazy to reboil, I just started pouring. I noticed the oils blooming were nicer and it basically was better.

                Since the #2 Melitta is small, a one-stage pour for 12 ounces is basically impossible. I started consciously playing with all kinds of variables, like how long to cool down the water, making ditches before the first pour, 2 or 3 stage pours, using a small spoon to either agitate or the opposite, pouring the water on the spoon as to not disturb the grinds.

                It sounds crazy, but every single cup of coffee I make tastes a bit different to me, from day to day. I've been doing it for a year every morning, and I have many, many various executions with a teapot and spoon. I can make it "smooth", "robust", "mild" "deep" etc., all with the same bean. I'll announce to guests, "Hey, well this is sort of a after-dinner coffee.", and they have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, but they like. And my equipment is completely ghetto, I actually have no interest in buying nice gear at the moment. The gold coating has long since worn off both the cone and my Japanese demitasse spoons, the plastic Melitta is permanently stained and cracking, and my thermos is so narrow that's it's fallen over more than once while I pour, but I love my setup. I'll take on anyone doing Hand Pours as a job with "pro" gear.

                When a friend came over and I made her coffee she said "OH MY GOD I just wet my panties." She wants to make me a YouTube video making coffee. A couple months ago, I made it to Barismo, after meeting Jaime many times at Hi-Rise and other shops. They had a Hand Pour flyer, and I was shocked at how close their recommendations were to my own self-discoveries. Digging wells, 2-stage, pre-wetting, etc. I'm hyper-aware of what's going on during Hand Pours and can tell who really knows what they are doing at cafes and who is just following directions.

                Anyway, I became a Hand Pour guy before I knew what it was with gear that most people would throw in the trash. You probably know my obsession with "over-roasted' Ethiopian Yrgacheffe. (Currently using Peet's Ethiopian Fancy, going "downscale" I suppose, but it works for me.)

                I really don't care for outside coffee anymore except Cafe Fixe, and Hi-Rise at the Blacksmith, and of course Barismo, and a few places in NYC, especially Abraco.

                I make coffee every morning and I think hard, "What can I do differently today to make the most awesome cup of coffee ever?" It's pretty amazing what you can do with a teapot, spoon, and cone.

                Cafe Fixe
                1642 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02445

                169 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02474

                10 Replies
                1. re: tatsu

                  It seems a bit odd that a devoted, and generally very helpful, 'Hound like SG would take such an anti-Chowish view of coffee-brewing. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

                  Is it so hard to believe that with several different independent parameters on the table (many of them continuous), there might be a particular range of values leading to better results?

                  -coffee origin
                  -storage method of the unroasted beans
                  -days since roast date
                  -water source
                  -temperature of water
                  -rate of pour
                  -total volume of water per dose
                  -filter material

                  Is it similarly difficult to believe that a completely automated (which does not mean consistent!) brewing system might not be within that range, especially given that the values need to be "tuned" to each roast batch of each coffee? Yes SG, even boiling water is a variable that should be taken into account. Water can be too hot, too cold, and "flat", and you can sabotage the whole process if the water doesn't taste good to begin with.

                  Tatsu is correct: coffee can taste different every day, even if you think that you're doing the same thing to the same beans. Yeah, there's the psychological thing, um, don't we know that already? I think Tatsu also captures what is really _fun_ about it: experimenting, enjoying variation, teasing out effects and causes. Among other things, trying it yourself allows you to appreciate the greater skill of others.

                  The fanatics at places like Barismo and Pavement constantly tinker to find suggested values, and to present them in shop as consistently as they can. The rest of us can benefit from their obsessions, and, if we like, enjoy experimenting ourselves. Isn't that the soul of Chowdom?

                  169 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02474

                  1. re: khandha

                    Let's just separate things that have some rational in physics/chemistry and mystical thinking:

                    -coffee origin - Important

                    -storage method of the unroasted beans - Important

                    -roast - Important

                    -days since roast date - Important

                    -grind - Important

                    -dose - Important

                    -water source - If you are using crappy chlorinated water, bad bad.

                    -temperature of water - Important

                    -rate of pour - mystical thinking

                    -total volume of water per dose - important

                    -filter material - not so important, a well washed/rinsed old sock will do

                    - "tuned" to each roast batch of each coffee?" mystical thinking

                    Water can be too hot, too cold - Important

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Hmm, it seems we mostly agree on things that are important.

                      As to mystical thinking, what I refer to as "tuning" includes things like adjusting grind, water temperature, etc. Surely you don't make all of your coffee at the same temperature and with the same grind. And surely batches vary, even if the same beans are being roasted. So I find the "mystical" label puzzling: it still seems like chemistry to me.

                      I don't know what kind of socks you brew with. I imagine that not just _any_ sock will do. A coarse wool sock would probably let things through too quickly, without allowing the water to extract enough from the coffee. I suppose you could grind it finer if all you had was a wool sock, or use hotter water. But would it taste as good as some other way?

                      I don;t see much mystical thinking in what I refer to as rate of pour. Again, it seems like chemistry to me. If a particle is completely submerged in hot water, it will not behave in the same way as if it is simply moistened by hot water. Some may like it one way, some another, but there is surely a difference.

                      All of this is even more obvious when it come to brewing very fine, competition grade teas. If the leaves are in water that is too hot for too long, unpleasant stewed vegetable flavors will creep in. Coffee is a courser beast, no doubt. But still, some care should be taken.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        I know this is an old post, but why would rate of pour be unimportant or 'mystical thinking'? I can think of a few ways that the brew could be affected by rate of pour. Do you still think this doesn't matter?

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          The hole in the gear limits the flow.... Dump the water on and go read the paper. Repeat til your mug is full.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            I'm thinking about trying one of these. I like the shut-off valve feature. It allows for some "steeping" time.


                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              But it also affects the actual temperature at which the coffee is steeping. How much of a real-world difference that makes is open to interpretation - I'm no pourover guru, as I mainly use an Aeropress nowadays. But if someone told me they taste a difference between a very fast pour (which should translate to a hotter extraction) vs a very slow pour (cooler) with all other factors equal, I'd tend to believe them.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                More than a hotter or cooler extraction.I think under or over extracted would make more of a difference.

                              2. re: StriperGuy

                                If you think that rate of pour doesn't influence coffee end-result, then you're saying French press extraction is the same as pour over extraction. Which clearly isn't true.

                        2. re: tatsu


                          Your passion for coffee is really amazing . You say " I can make it "smooth", "robust", "mild" "deep" etc., all with the same bean." ...Can you please share your recipes ..I am very eager. I am now practising Matsuya coffee technique from Japan now....Its totally a different experience ...


                        3. A very simple answer to your initial question. "Why is a pour over better" because you have more control. The end results will depend on your technique

                          1. It seems to me that two principles are at war in coffee making. The first is that you want the water in contact with the ground beans for the maximum amount of extraction. The second is that you want the water in contact with the ground beans for the least amount of extraction of bitterness. Remove the water from the ground beans too soon, you have weak coffee, too late, and you have bitterness.

                            Automatic drip coffee practically guarantees a non-bitter but weak brew (very little water/coffee contact time). A percolator (remember them?) practically guarantees a very bitter but strong coffee (repeated pumping of the water through the grounds). I prefer the drip coffee because I abhor the bitterness of percolator coffee. To avoid the weak brew problem, I really load up the filter with ground coffee, far more than the directions call for. This works to some extent, but not perfectly.

                            As for the hand pour through a filter versus the automated pour from a drip coffee maker, the hand pour may be better because you can control the speed of the pour (i.e., making it slower), giving the water more time in contact with the coffee. (Rarely with a drip coffee maker is the problem that the coffee spends too much time in contact with the water.) However, personally, I haven't got that kind of patience (or arm strength).

                            I have been enamored by the "coolness" of making coffee with a coffee press arrangement ever since I saw Michael Caine, playing Harry Palmer, do it on "The Ipcress File," a cold war thriller. Whatever the value of the coffee made this way (I have mixed feelings), it LOOKS so cool . . .

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: gfr1111

                              " A percolator (remember them?) practically guarantees a very bitter but strong coffee (repeated pumping of the water through the grounds). "

                              I actually went back to using a percolator for my coffee because I was tired of weak, flavorless coffee. I had tried multiple drip makes and french press and was never really satisfied with the flavor. I had some coffee over the summer and it was the best cup of coffee I had had in recent memory. When I asked about it, I was told it was perked. I came home, unplugged my latest coffee maker and took out my old camping percolator. After a little experimenting with timing and amounts, I now have a great cup of coffee every morning.

                              OBTW - my coffee is NEVER bitter - careful timing and measuring takes care of that!

                              1. re: NE_Elaine

                                The one problem with a percolator is that the already extracted coffee is essentially repeatedly boiled. It flows through the grounds, is boiled again, flows through the grounds, etc.

                                Many would suggest, and I agree, that boiling already extracted coffee breaks down the essential oils which provide the flavor we are after.

                                See a great diagram of a percolator.


                                Enjoy your perc, nothing wrong with it, but there is sound reasoning behind the fact that using an old fashioned percolator destroys some of the wonderful coffee flavor.

                                Don't get me started on espresso roasting really good beans.

                                Espresso pots only force the hot water through the grounds once.