The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Pour-Over Coffee

Updated 06/19/19
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If you couldn’t tell, we’re kind of big coffee fans over here: From drip to cold brew to healthy pumpkin spice lattes, we’re always on the hunt for different ways to get that caffeine fix. To mix things up (and give our Keurig's a break), a cup of pour-over coffee—which you've probably seen at every java shop by now—is tasty, and totally worth the wait. By the New York Times's accounts, pour-over coffee is “so clean, so round and fruity, that you can fully taste all those complex layers of flavor that are supposed to be lurking in the best single-origin and micro-lot beans.” Sign us up.

The Method

In order to master the pour-over technique, we reached out to our friends at Blue Bottle Coffee who use this brewing method at all of the shop’s cafés (40-plus and counting). In case you didn’t know, this manual method requires a kettle and a dripper, although it’s done slightly differently depending on where you go. “One of the first coffee books I ever read had a line in it about how starting your day with a perfect cup of coffee was one of the best gifts you could give yourself,” says Michael Phillips, Director of Coffee Culture at Blue Bottle Coffee.

“The process of making great coffee is not defined by its complexity but rather the focus, the refinement of technique, and then the exact repetition of that technique by the practitioner,” he says. “This all works to settle the mind and is very much indeed like the steps one takes in meditation.” That sounds almost counterintuitive to the way many Americans take their coffee (meaning, with haste, and typically on-the-go), so there's something to be said about being present throughout the pour-over process.

Read on below to read Phillips’s step-by-step, expert tips for how to make Blue Bottle’s signature pour-over coffee at home.

Step 1: Boil Time

To begin brewing your cup of pour-over coffee, bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil. Note, this makes a 12-ounce cup of coffee, and Blue Bottle suggests around 23 grams of coffee grounds for single-origin coffees and about 30 grams (or 3 tablespoons) for coffee blends. When it comes to filtering your water, Phillips says it depends on where you live. “I live in L.A., and we have rather poor water quality, so filtered [water] works great, and buying spring water is even better.”

Step 2: Place Your Filter

Place a dripper on top of the cup or carafe—whichever you want to brew directly into. Put a filter into the dripper (this will be the funnel the hot water will pass through), and wet it before you put the coffee grinds in. “Filters can leave some element of a papery taste and pre-wetting can inhibit that,” says Phillips. If you want to save time, Blue Bottle Coffee developed a filter for its dripper that doesn’t need to be pre-moistened.

Grind coffee beans to the coarseness of sea salt.

Step 3: Add the Coffee Grounds

Put your favorite coffee grounds into the filter (Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground envelope will have the pre-measured amount you’ll need for brewing in case you want to save some time). Make sure to even out the level of grounds, as you would flour in a measuring cup when baking. Pro tip: Getting the coffee ground at the right setting will extract the optimal amount of flavor out of the beans. As a rule of thumb, “if it tastes bitter, you are grinding too fine, and if it tastes sour, you are grinding too coarse,” Phillips notes.

Step 4: Make the First Pour

Pour around 1/4 of the boiled water over the coffee grounds with a swan neck kettle. The kettle gives you control of water flow and helps evenly saturate the grounds, which also helps give the coffee more flavor. Begin pouring at the outer rim, and move inward in a spiral toward the center—be sure the grounds are all saturated with this one pour. Although it may seem complicated and may take you a few tries to get your pour right, stick with it. “The actual pouring technique and the brewing process can be mastered by anyone willing to pay attention to the details and put in a little practice,” says Phillips.

Step 5: Let it Bloom

Once the water has made contact with the coffee, let it rest for about 30 to 45 seconds to release any gasses that inhibit the extraction process involved in making coffee. What’s happening now is called “the bloom” because of how the coffee grounds reacts visually—the coffee will expand as the water comes into contact with it. “It forms a dome-like shape like the texture of rising brownie batter cooking in the oven,” says Phillips. At this point, the coffee is now officially brewing.

Step 6: Make the Last Pours

Finish the brewing process by pouring the remaining hot water over the coffee in two to three equal parts. Take breaks between each pour so the coffee has time to drip, and watch for the waterline to drop about a thumb’s width before you continue to add water. To add water, begin in the center, move to the outer edges, and then go back toward the middle of the grounds. This motion “stirs” the coffee and helps with the coffee’s extraction.

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