Pour-Over Coffee: The One and Only Preparation Guide

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Testing new coffee beans? I reach for a pour-over coffee maker.

Testing new coffee beans? I reach for a pour-over coffee maker.

Talking about the particular aspects involved in brewing coffee? I’m usually referring to pour-over coffee from a dripper.

Wanting to prove what the quirks of a particular machine are? I’ll compare the results to pour-over coffee made using a dripper.

I sometimes feel stupid about how often the term “pour-over coffee” appears in my guides and reviews.

Yet this quasi-religion in terms of coffee preparation methods hasn’t just been around since the hype began on Instagram. The coffee from pour-over drippers is pure, stylish and always reflects the underlying character of the coffee beans. The equipment is also very inexpensive.

That said, the hype around coffee drippers does get on my nerves a bit. Some influencers act as if they invented the pour-over principle themselves and try telling you there aren’t any alternatives. So, if you love coffee, you should always drink it black from a pour-over dripper?

What a load of balderdash. The main thing is that you learn how to perfect your brew from a coffee maker and can prepare it without much fuss. I’ve therefore refreshed this guide and added some new tips and equipment to help you do this.

What’s the Best Pour-Over Dripper to Choose?

When looking for a new pour-over coffee dripper, you’ll generally encounter four important distinguishing characteristics:

  1. Material

  2. Shape

  3. Size

  4. Type of paper filters.

All four are ripe for discussion and we should do that next.

I can understand if you don’t want to spend more than about $20 on a porcelain Hario V60 coffee dripper. The question of whether you can brew coffee with confidence in the classic Melitta filter holder, made of plastic and just $8.19, is just as legitimate.

The truth is: both options result in very similar cups of coffee and both produce better pour-over drip than almost any drip coffee maker.

But when it comes to pour-over coffee drippers, conviction also plays a role to some extent. Basically, no one alternative is better than another. I’ll therefore refrain from making a final judgment. I’ll simply introduce you to the different characteristics and leave you to draw your own conclusions.

What Defines Pour-Over Coffee?

This is something I’ve already noted in my French press guide. Manual drip coffee, as a pour over method, is the opposite of immersion coffee preparation. Therefore, it’s more indirect in absolutely every respect.

“Indirect” preparation methods are characterized by the fact that some form of filter or other strainer is used during the brewing process. This filter is essential because it holds back certain components contained in the coffee beans.

Sage the Precision Brewer paper filter in filter holder

In the case of pour-over coffee, these components are bitter compounds and coffee oils. Both are normally responsible for the typical taste of brewed coffee and its full mouthfeel.

When these brash bullies don’t find their way into the cup, completely different aromas can make their grand entrance: citrus notes, floral elements, fruity flavors, etc. In other words, everything that’s otherwise too delicate to compete against the core coffee components.

Arne pouring finished coffee

The coffee from pour-over drippers always blows the minds of newcomers to the specialty coffee scene. By using this preparation method, it suddenly becomes apparent just how great an acidic, light coffee can taste. And that it doesn’t necessarily always take the old familiar bitter notes to become addicted to a certain type of bean.

In terms of a caffeine kick, pour-over coffee brewed using a dripper is a fairly middle-of-the-road performer. In our large-scale caffeine study, pour-over drip ranked in the midfield both in terms of its caffeine concentration and absolute quantity per serving.

It’s also true, however, that coffee drippers extract more caffeine than either drip coffee makers or super-automatic espresso machines. This is in large part due to the extra care and attention involved when you’re brewing pour-over coffee by hand.

You can also recognize a successful extraction from the fact that the coffee tastes different after cooling, but not worse. In fact, new notes arise that you might previously have overlooked. Cold coffee from a super-automatic espresso machine, on the other hand, is usually just that – cold coffee.

Choosing Coffee Beans for Pour-Over

When it comes to specific recommendations as to which beans to use with coffee drippers, I don’t have to think twice: any East African beans – especially those from Ethiopia – are ideal for pour over. At the same time, I also always love me a one hundred percent Kenyan coffee.

In my opinion, the folks at Wood Grouse Coffee, a German roaster from Hanover, are true pour-over coffee specialists. Their tangy roasts offer a taste explosion – though I also think some beginners might be somewhat overwhelmed by them.

Woodgrouse Filterkaffee aus dem Handfilter

As always, you’re playing things safe with so-called omni roasts, which are suitable for almost all types of preparation. This range of products continues to grow, probably also because nobody can keep track of what the most suitable roasts are anymore.

How Do I Brew Pour-Over Coffee Using a Dripper?

Considering the basic requirements for brewing good coffee using a pour-over dripper, preparation should be child’s play. Ultimately, all you need is a filter holder or dripper, paper filters, quality coffee beans and water.

While I often employ approximation techniques with other manual brewing methods, in the case of pour-over coffee, I consider precision to be crucial. That’s because you’ll only be able to tease out the subtleties of the coffee if you prepare it especially carefully.

Dosage and Grind Size

As mentioned previously, pour-over coffee is a “middle-of-the-road” affair. This also applies to grind size, which depending on the coffee grinder should usually lie on the golden mean. On a scale from 1 to 10, you’re looking at a setting of around 5 to 6.

Solis coffee grinder grind size comparison

The grind size has a significant influence on the flow rate. This in turn determines how long or short the coffee grinds are extracted for. The finer you grind the beans, the slower and more intense the extraction will be. This can quickly lead to an imbalance. Generally speaking, pour-over coffee has a tendency to then become too sour or too bitter with a finer grind.

Most roasters and experts calculate dosage in “cups.” With a cup size of 4 ounces (120 milliliters), you’ll need 8 to 12 grams of coffee. This, in fact, also corresponds to the old “one spoon per cup” dosage formula – whereby a typical coffee scoop usually holds 8 grams.

Coffee filter with ground coffee

With a 4×1-cup filter like the Hario V60, the dosage lies at between 30 and 38 grams per 17 ounces (500 milliliters). These figures are deliberately inaccurate because you’ll need to recalculate them each time, depending on the roast you’re using and the desired contact or extraction time.

Preparing the Paper Filter

Regardless of whether you opt for a cone or Melitta-style basket: if you want excellent results, you really should “pre-prepare” the paper filter:

  1. Firstly, fold the filter along its seam so it opens, then insert it into the filter holder or dripper.

  2. Now, take the dripper and filter and moisten them with warm water. Finally, tip the whole thing up, pouring the water out again. Doing this opens up the pores of the paper, flushes out any dust and ensures that the filter perfectly hugs the dripper. At the same time, your porcelain, metal or glass coffee dripper will be nicely pre-warmed.

Preparing the Coffee Grounds

You’ll be doing yourself a big favor by not just dumping your fresh coffee grounds into the filter, but “leveling” it instead. That way, you’re ensuring that the top surface is flat. To do this, briefly shake or lightly tap the coffee dripper, once filled.

This way, you’ll ensure that the entire surface area is evenly covered by water and thus that all the coffee granules can be extracted. You’ll also minimize the likelihood of craters forming.

If significant craters do form, the ground coffee around the edge will be extracted to a lesser extent than what’s in the middle.

Brewing Temperature

The ideal brewing temperature for pour-over coffee made using a dripper is just under 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96 degrees Celsius), which also corresponds to the specifications for French press. You’ll often find 201 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) suggested, too.

This isn’t wrong – it’s just that during brewing, time passes allowing the water temperature to drop slightly.

Many of you report the problem of your coffee losing temperature too quickly due to this brewing method being rather slow. The best way to avoid this is to use a pre-warmed pot or cup. Fill it with some boiling water and allow to stand a few minutes, before emptying it back out.

Brewing pour-over coffee

Since coffee drippers are intended for small cup portions, you should use a Chemex, for example, when brewing larger quantities. This will also need to be pre-warmed, but its special glass has high thermal retention properties.

A kitchen thermometer is the safest way to measure water temperature. Otherwise, use a kettle with a thermometer or the well-known “boiling point of water plus 90 seconds wait time” rule. This isn’t especially accurate, but it’s better than nothing.

Mastering the Correct Infusion Technique

Even if you’ve been accurate at every other step, it’s still quite easy to screw up your pour-over coffee by using the wrong infusion technique. That’s because it’s your hand movements and patience that ensure the coffee is extracted evenly and with the correct timing. The whole thing works like this:

  1. Slowly pour a little water over the entire surface of the ground coffee using gentle circular motions, then allow it to soak for about 30 seconds. This blooming phase “activates” the extraction process, with each coffee granule in the filter swelling without extracting completely. It also allows carbon dioxide from the roasting process to escape.

  2. Pour over more water in circular motions until the filter is at full capacity.

  3. When pouring, take care to ensure that no craters form. If necessary, use the stream of water to move the sticky ground coffee away from the edges.

  4. Should there be water remaining, only repeat the infusion process again after the water from the first full pour has completely drained away.

Many baristas use fancy gooseneck kettles with long, thin spouts for more precision when brewing. They’re not an absolute necessity – but regular water kettle spouts are usually pretty crude, causing too much water to come out at once.

Because they’re so sexy, gooseneck kettles aren’t cheap. Check out the Fellow Stagg EKG if you want further evidence. Still, if you possess a steady hand, there’s no real compelling reason to buy one.

Pour-Over Coffee Compared to Other Preparation Methods

Whenever I ramble on about pour-over drippers, the questions about drip coffee makers aren’t usually far behind – do they use the same principle, are they less effort, less trouble? Even though the principle is the same, coffee makers have traditionally been very crude imitations.

At least until now. I’ve recently had to refresh my drip coffee maker guide yet again. That’s because so many great new devices have come onto the market that are increasingly based on the concept of manual pour-over drippers.

Sage The Precision Brewer Kaffeemaschine Arne

Here’s a selection of drip coffee makers I’ve tested, all of which produce exceptional results. In fact, these machines are capable of making delicious coffee that’s easily as good as anything I can prepare by hand:

The Breville Precision Brewer's filter options

However, this is offset by the fact that you have to invest considerably more money for such a specialized device – well over $200. Basic pour-over coffee equipment (not including the water kettle) will cost you just $20 or less. Especially when you’re buying a budget coffee dripper made of plastic and even cheaper paper filters.

That leaves you more than enough money for decent coffee beans and even an entry-level coffee grinder. Because without either of those things we needn’t continue this conversation …

Compared to its direct “rival” French press, preparing pour-over coffee is a bit more complicated – but also much better attuned to delicate coffee aromas. Plus, you don’t end up with coffee sediment in your cup.

The Chemex is a perfect example of a pour-over device, but because of its special shape and brand image it’s actually considered a category in its own right. Seen in this light, the Karlsbader coffee maker also belongs to the pour-over dripper category. However, with its extra coarse porcelain filter, it extracts in a completely different way.

Since pour-over coffee doesn’t require any pressure, you can’t compare it at all with the espresso from espresso machines, super-automatic machines or moka pots.

Tchibo Esperto Caffè Kaffee Crema Arne

Roughly speaking, these coffees lie at the two different ends of a scale: from gentle and pressureless to powerful and pressurized. While pressurized extraction processes focus on oils and bitter compounds, pour-over drip methods are all about acids and floral notes.

It’s for this reason that very dark roasts are just as unsuitable for pour-over drippers as very light roasts are for home espresso machines. The nuances between these extremes have, however, become much more subtle!

Best Grinder for Pour-Over

Baratza Encore Uebersicht mit Arne

Because I’m such a big fan of manual pour-over drippers, my coffee grinder reviews will usually immediately tell you whether a particular model is suitable for making pour-over coffee or not. I always test this grind first.

The great thing is that even very inexpensive entry-level options such as the OXO Brew coffee grinder or the Baratza Encore are very well suited for use with drippers.

And then there’s the marvelous Fellow Ode grinder, which the manufacturer designed specifically to excel as a grinder for manual brewing methods. Still, you’ll have to spend a pretty penny to get your hands on this puppy.

In my opinion, your best option might be to purchase a manual coffee grinder. There are some truly incredible hand grinders out there, and you’ll get way more bang for your buck. Take the Timemore C3 for example. This manual grinder costs just $89.00, yet outperforms electric grinders costing twice as much.

Cleaning Coffee Drippers: Is Rinsing Enough?

You can clean a pour-over coffee dripper in the blink of an eye. Even though some guides advise against using detergent to clean filter holders, permanent filters or jugs, I don’t see why not. As long as you thoroughly rinse off any cleaning agent residue afterwards, there’s no reason to do without this handy hygiene helper’s assistance.

If that’s too risky for you, then it’s enough to rinse rigorously after each use. We all know how quickly deposits accumulate in pores, though, and coffee fats always seem to seep through.

Bodum Pour Over and Friends: What Advantages Do Permanent Filters Have?

Making coffee with the Hario Woodneck

I’m including this section because one of our Coffeeness team members once received the Bodum Pour Over as a subscription gift.

Basically, pour-over coffee makers like this have permanent filters and preparation pots. They all imitate the Chemex principle, but are essentially nothing more than dressed-up versions of a manual coffee dripper.

Pour-over coffee sets come with the great advantage that you don’t have to buy any consumables for them or worry about which containers will fit the filter. Permanent filters consist of either sturdy metal or a mesh insert, which can be made of various different materials.

Compared to paper filters with their fine pores, permanent filters are somewhat coarser because their filaments (or holes) don’t change when they come into contact with water. The mesh must therefore be fine enough to ensure decent extraction.

There’s no doubt that Bodum designed its pour over maker for absolute beginners. Its plastic mesh filter is designed in such a way that your coffee will still taste good even if you aren’t all that careful during preparation.

How is that possible? The somewhat coarser structure allows more oils and fats to pass through than a paper filter does. This allows very conspicuous aromas to be released into the coffee, which create a rounded, accomplished impression on the tongue.

This impression causes more subtle notes, to lose their impact – something which a beginner doesn’t (yet) notice. Professionals, however, consciously rely on quality paper filters.

However, I do think that any equipment that makes it easier for you to get started is a good idea. Because, even using permanent filters, you still have to freshly grind the beans, maintain the right temperature and experiment with dose.

Reusable filters made of cotton or hemp will reduce the mountain of waste you generate quite considerably. It’s just that I’ve found fabric filters, despite being washable, tend to trap coffee residue in their fibers.

Over time, this looks bad and distorts the taste of every subsequent brew – which is why I’ve somewhat lost my initial enthusiasm for the Hario Woodneck. Incidentally, this problem doesn’t arise at all when using stainless-steel mesh filters.

I’m very interested in what you’d still like to know or have to contribute on the subject of pour-over coffee and manual coffee drippers. Please continue to leave me your comments below!

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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