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Pour Over Coffee: Grind, Temperature, and Other Basic Questions

What Is Pourover Coffee?

“Pour over coffee” is a way of brewing coffee where water is, literally, “poured over” the coffee grounds. “Pour over coffee” does not refer to coffee from a specific country, coffee with a specific flavor, or coffee that is roasted at a specific level of darkness. You can make a pour over using any type of coffee – yes, that includes decaf and that includes espresso (and some YouTubers are even making pour over tea)! However, if you really want to get the best pour over experience…keep reading!

What Makes Pourover Coffee Better?

The vast majority of coffee dorks agree that pour overs just taste better. This is primarily because the brew process is slow, careful, and controlled. Coffee machines don’t let you adjust variables like water temperature or coffee ground saturation. A French press doesn’t let you control the rate that you pour water onto the coffee. Neither does its cousin the Aeropress, and neither do machines.

Different coffee has different properties. By manually adjusting variables like water temperature, grind size, and pouring rate, you can produce strong and unique flavors that can’t be made any other way. A pour over is like a perfectly-tailored suit – and a Mr. Coffee machine is like a bag of white t-shirts from Target.

That being said, different people have different tastes and there’s no guarantee that you will think that even the most expertly roasted and immaculately brewed pourover tastes better than a big old sack of Starbucks. Some people like classical music, and some people like death metal. And some people like Starbucks.

Drip Coffee Vs. Pour Over

Both drip coffee and pour overs use the same basic setup: using a mysterious evil force known as “gravity,” a bunch of very hot water is splashed on top of a raised bed of coffee grounds and the product travels through a paper filter and down into a coffee pot, World’s Greatest Grandpa mug, or giant novelty thermos shaped like a football.

But generally, “drip coffee” and “pour over coffee” refer to two completely different sets of coffee drinking preferences.

“Drip coffee” usually refers to coffee that’s made with an automatic coffee machine. There are huge advantages to machines. They are predictable, yielding the same basic cup of coffee every time you use them. They are usually faster than pourovers and almost always very easy to use. Finally, “Mr. Coffee” is just a sweet name. “Mr. Pour-Over” sounds like a chemical you use to clean the upholstery in your car.

“Pour over coffee,” on the other hand, refers to coffee that is prepared *manually* using a conical brewing tool called a “dripper,” which is not confusing at all. Examples of drippers include the V60, the Chemex, and the Kalita Wave. Typically, pourovers are also made using a gooseneck kettle, which enables a steady pouring rate and pinpoint accuracy. Most importantly, a pourover allows the brewer to adjust the brew process on the fly - it is the exact opposite of an automatic, repeatable process.

Which one is better?

Pourover lovers think that drip coffee is just kind of lazy and boring. Sort of like a blurry JPEG of the Mona Lisa or a filet mignon covered in ketchup.

Drip coffee lovers generally prefer a simple, bold, dark taste and "thicker," less watery consistency. They tend not to mind a little sediment at the bottom of their coffee cup. Drip coffee guys think that if the pourover guys want to drink something that tastes like flowers, they should just go and drink some flowers, already.

At Brain Helmet, we are very careful not to judge tastes, which are highly individualized and sometimes based on factors that are totally beyond your control anyway. Maybe you have zero extra time in the morning to mess around with manual brew methods. Maybe you have a crappy sense of taste or smell. Maybe you're pathologically afraid of coffee machines. If you're a Drip Coffee Dave, you should try our Monolith or Octane blends. If you're a Pourouver Pete, you should check out our wide variety of single origins. If your name is not Dave or Pete, you should just buy everything we sell. Oh, did we mention we have t-shirts for sale?

Is Pour Over Coffee Bad For You?

Not according to this study. Scandinavian researchers (a.k.a. Viking scientists) found that unfiltered coffee is associated with higher mortality than filtered coffee, meaning that pour overs are healthier than immersion techniques like the French press. The researchers speculated that paper filters blocked the absorption of cafestol and kahweol, two chemicals found in oil and coffee sediment that have been implicated in high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. That being said, pour overs are a relatively new and unpopular way of brewing, and so the research is pretty sparse on this topic. Pour overs are probably healthier than all the whipped cream and Chicken McNuggets I have in my mouth while I’m writing this sentence. Maybe.

The Best (And Worst) Type Of Coffee For Pourovers

Technically, you can brew any type of coffee with the pour over method. However, pour overs are supposed to maximize subtle and unique tastes. This means that you need to use beans that are FRESH and ROASTED PROPERLY.

Are your beans fresh? You should look for a “roasted by” date on your coffee. If your coffee is more than one or two weeks past its roasted date, the flavor has already started to fade, although you can prevent this by storing coffee in a refrigerator in an airtight container.

If you find a “best used by” date instead of “roasted by”: congratulations, you blew it. Shady roasters use “best used by” instead of “roasted by” to deliberately hide the roast date, which was probably at least a few months ago. You will find this problem with grocery store coffee, because it takes *at least several weeks* for coffee roasters to get their products onto grocery store shelves.

*Are your beans roasted properly?* Fans of dark roasts tend to prefer bold and straightforward flavors, thicker texture, and lots of bitterness. Coffee roasters produce this taste by cooking their beans so aggressively that unique, subtle flavors are completely destroyed in the process. You can still make a delicious pour over with a fresh dark roast, but you’ll struggle to produce out the depth and diversity of flavor that you would get with a milder roast. But hey, some people just like dark, bitter, harsh flavors. 

How Much Coffee Should I Use For A Pourover?

Generally, we would recommend:

  • - 17-20g of ground coffee for every 8oz water
  • - remember, 17-20g is between 3-4 tablespoons (if you don't have a scale)
  • - remember, 8oz water = 1 cup = 230mL = 236g = half a pint
What Grind Setting Should I Use?

Great question! Grind size can have a truly enormous effect on flavor. *Fine* grind sizes will not only lead to a bitter and narrow taste, but can also produce clogs in the brewing process and take way too much time to brew. *Coarse* grinds will tend to dilute the coffee and produce weak flavors. What a waste!

Generally, you should start on a medium-fine setting, or slightly below the exact middle setting on your grinder. Achieving the perfect cup of coffee is a *process*, and you will want to adjust the initial setting based on your own judgment. Did your pour over take 10 minutes to brew and taste like medicine? Too fine. Does your pour over look like brown tap water? Too coarse. Did you spill boiling water all over yourself? That’s probably not a grinder problem, and you should call a doctor.

How To Make A Pourover Without A Scale

We are huge nerds at Brain Helmet, and we don't love the idea of "ballparking."

We like to measure stuff, run tests, and just be sciencey in general.

But you might not be like us! A level teaspoon of ground coffee weighs about 2g, and a heaping teaspoon weighs about 3g. A level tablespoon of ground coffee weighs about 12g, and a heaping tablespoon weighs about 16g. If you don’t have a scale or a teaspoon OR a tablespoon…dude, what are you even doing here?

Best Water Temperature For A Pourover

One of the *easiest* things you can do to make better coffee is: do not use boiling water! Using boiling water will make your pour over bitter and acidic. Generally, you can begin pouring about 30 seconds after you remove your boiling water from the stovetop. Nerds (like us, we're nerds) will tell you to pour at 205 degrees, but if you don’t have the time or the equipment for this level of precision, just wait 30 seconds instead. 

What Makes Pour Over Coffee Sour?

Sour coffee is generally a consequence of two different things: 1) poorly-roasted beans or 2) under-extraction. There are a lot of ways to produce a sour taste by brewing improperly:

  • - Are your beans ground finely enough? The larger your grounds are, the more difficult it is to smash flavor out of them with boiling water (source: physics). You could fix this by grinding finer coffee or brewing for more time (or both).
  • - Is your water the right temperature? As temperature goes lower, the water loses its ability to extract flavor, leaving you with a dull, sour, and not-hot-enough pourover. Generally, we try to brew at 205 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly 30 seconds off the boil - however, you should be good even if you start a little bit closer to 195. 
  • - Did you use enough water? It can be tempting to try and produce "stronger" flavors by using less water. However, excessive sourness can also be an indication that your brew ratio is a little too concentrated.
If your grind/brew/water game is on point and you think that we messed up when we roasted your beans, please shoot brainhelmetcoffee@gmail.com a message immediately!!

 

What Makes Pour Over Coffee Bitter?

Whereas sourness is generally a sign of under-extraction, bitterness is the exact opposite problem: over-extraction. The fixes for over-extraction are very similar to under-extraction.

  • Your beans are too fine! No, that's not a euphemism. Select a coarser grind size.
  • Your water is too hot! We recommend 195-205 degrees, or 30 seconds off the boil if you're not into thermometers. Boiling water (212 degrees) tends to scorch the coffee grounds, leaving you with a bitter, unsatisfying brew.
  • Or you didn't use enough water! It can be tempting to try and produce "strong" coffee by using less water. This method works, to a point - but eventually your brew will begin to taste bitter and burned. 
Do I Need A Gooseneck Kettle To Make A Pourover?

You don’t *need* one, and if you’re just starting out we would tend to suggest that the money is better spent on a nice grinder. However, a gooseneck kettle gives you a *lot* more control than a standard kettle, allowing you to evenly distribute water at a smooth, steady rate. There are good reasons that practically every coffee YouTuber is using one of these things.