Pour-Over Coffee: The One and Only Preparation Guide
Brewing coffee using pour-over drippers is something of a religion – and I’m a staunch believer. You’ll find all the tips for making perfect pour-over drip coffee in this guide.
Brewing coffee using pour-over drippers is something of a religion – and I’m a staunch believer. You’ll find all the tips for making perfect pour-over drip coffee in this guide.
Testing new coffee beans? I reach for a pour-over coffee dripper.
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, myself, sometimes feel stupid about how often the term ‘pour-over coffee’ appears in my guides and reviews or on my YouTube channel (in German only).
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 absolute crap. 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.
Table of Contents
Coffeeness is producing more and more video content for you (although unfortunately at this stage, only in German). That’s because, ultimately, the different preparation methods and equipment can best be explained on screen. It should come as no surprise then, that pour-over coffee drippers also make a regular appearance.
I recommend taking a look at the following videos (in German only):
Unfortunately, these videos are only available in German.
When looking for a new pour-over coffee dripper, you’ll generally encounter four important distinguishing characteristics:
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 have confidence in the classic Melitta filter holder, made of plastic and just $12, is just as legitimate.
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.
From Melitta and ‘no-name’ brands to hipster favorite Hario, pour-over drippers and coffee filter holders are made from materials that fall into four main categories:
Among the metal versions, I’ve generally also included permanent coffee filters made from metal that don’t require an extra filter holder and can sit directly on to various pour-over receptacles. I’ll talk more about the specifics of this filter category later.
Plastic, though not exactly instagramable, has existed for ages and is still very popular with consumers. Pour-over coffee drippers made of plastic are extremely cheap – even Melitta sells its original manual dripper for less than $13. The material’s low weight and long durability provide strong arguments in its favor.
On the other hand, plastic isn’t particularly hygienic and doesn’t have good thermal retention properties. I admit, though, that these are probably nerd factors that initially don’t play much of a role for most users.
Glass is the better choice in terms of environmental footprint and hygiene, of course. However, it’s vulnerable to breaking which isn’t exactly great. For me personally, coffee drippers made of glass are an aesthetic choice at most.
Porcelain, in my opinion, is the ideal material because it’s very hygienic, stylish, food safe and temperature friendly. It does tend to break more readily, but the same thing happens with coffee cups too, so no big drama.
Copper coffee drippers are my favorite travel companions. It’s about how they look on my Instagram account, of course, too. But apart from that, they’re also indestructible, have excellent temperature properties and, thanks to their patina, only get even more beautiful over time. Some models even allow you to fold them.
Instead of thinking too hard about what your coffee dripper’s made of, you should give a lot more thought to its optimal shape. That’s because characteristic has such a significant impact on final extraction results in the cup. There are two main categories to consider here:
When it comes to the question of baskets or cones, I’m very clearly a “cone man”. The basket design, as invented by Melitta Benz, has one major disadvantage: water collects at the bottom during extraction and only gradually flows out through the holes into the pot below. This means the ground coffee sitting at the bottom is extracted more strongly.
With the Hario cone design, however, there’s hardly any resistance – gravity ensures more uniform extraction. I imagine that this also has something to do with the Hario dripper’s characteristic grooves that run concentrically downwards. The grooves on the Melitta dripper, on the over hand, go straight down.
In any case, cone filter holders cost more – precisely because they function according to hip Japanese concepts. The stupid thing is that the matching paper filters hit you in the pocket too (even if they are of outstanding quality). But let me come back to that in a moment.
Similar to French presses, pour-over coffee drippers are available in different sizes for different cup quantities. Unlike with French presses, though, you are able to use filters together with the standard-sized 1×4 Melitta even when brewing smaller portions.
The mini versions are much better suited to be placed safely on individual cups. You can use them, for example, to test and adjust new coffee beans to their best individual preparation parameters. Doing so will use less coffee, meaning you won’t waste your expensive investment.
Obviously, the paper filters should match the shape of the coffee dripper. If you decide to use a Hario cone dripper, you’ll also need conical paper filters. As mentioned previously, these are costly. More and more third-party suppliers are making their presence felt in this market segment though.
But buyer beware: Hario filters are not only the right shape, they’re made of particularly pure fibers too. This is noticeable as soon as you give them a smell – no odor at all. You can’t be sure that’s always the case with third-party products.
You can’t be sure about the popular Melitta ones though, either. Even the originals have a slight woody smell to them. The cheap versions really stink – you can’t get rid of that even by rinsing and airing them. The Melitta design has the one advantage that you’re now able to buy them as cheap private label knockoffs in any supermarket.
Especially in the case of more delicate coffee varieties, which are ideal for pour over, the odor residues somehow always manage to come through. These aren’t dangerous, but they do distort the flavor and aroma. Or am I just imagining that?
The fact that the fibers in the Hario filters are of a slightly different structure to those in the Melitta ones is definitely not imagined. If you wet the filter before using it, the Hario fibers swell very well, the pores open much better and the coffee aromas are then able to pass through the paper more easily. But yes, this costs more.
Then again, all this Hario hype has had the advantage that young start-ups are now thinking along these lines and producing high-quality, reusable permanent filters in cone form, which the established manufacturers are simply not interested in doing.
This is something I’ve already noted in the French press guide: manual drip coffee, as a pour over method, is the opposite of immersion coffee preparation and therefore 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 extraction process. This filter is essential because it holds back certain components contained in the coffee beans.
In the case of pour-over coffee, these components are bitter compounds and coffee oils – two components normally responsible for the typical taste of 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. You can find out more about this in my “black coffee” guide.
The coffee from pour-over drippers opens the eyes of, above all, 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.
When it comes to 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 serve.
You can find out more about this in the accompanying video:
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
Successful extraction can also be recognized by 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.
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 moment, I especially like Kushukuru from the German coffee brand mehrwert kaffee, but I also always love me a one hundred percent Kenyan.
In my opinion, Wood Grouse Coffee, a German roastery from Hanover, are true pour-over coffee specialists. Their tangy roasts are a taste explosion – though I also think some beginners might be somewhat overwhelmed by them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most roasters and experts calculate dosage in ‘cups’. With a cup size of 120 milliliters (4 fl oz), you’ll need 8 to 12 grams of coffee (0.3-0.4 oz). This, in fact, also corresponds to the old “one spoon per cup” dosage formula – whereby a typical coffee scoop usually holds 8 grams (0.3 oz).
With a 4×1-cup filter like the Hario V60, the dosage lies at between 30 and 38 grams per 500 milliliters (1.0-1.3 oz per 16.9 fl oz). 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 throughput time.
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:
You’ll be doing yourself a big favor by not just dumping your ground coffee into the filter, but “leveling” it instead, i.e. 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 and in contact with water the whole time.
The ideal brewing temperature for pour-over coffee made using a dripper is just under 205 degrees Fahrenheit, which also corresponds to the specifications for French press. You’ll often find 201 degrees Fahrenheit given 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.
Since coffee drippers are intended for small cup portions, you should use a Chemex, for example, for 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. You could 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 better than nothing.
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:
Many baristas use so-called ‘gooseneck jugs’ with long, thin spouts for more precision when brewing. These jugs are also available as water kettles. They’re not an absolute necessity – but water kettle spouts (and the kettles themselves) are usually cumbersome and crude, causing too much water to come out at once.
Because they’re so sexy, gooseneck jugs aren’t cheap. If you possess a steady hand, there’s no real compelling reason to buy one.
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 are very crude imitations.
At least until now. I’ve recently had to republish my drip coffee maker guide because so many great new devices have come onto the market that are increasingly based on the concept of manual pour-over drippers.
So far, though, only one machine has really made the cut – the Beem Basic Selection Pour Over. It not only automates dosage and gentle infusion, it even provides a built-in circular motion during the infusion process. Brilliant.
This is offset, however, 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 – when buying a cheap 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…
Because I’m such a big fan of manual pour-over drippers, my coffee grinder review 2021 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 Tchibo coffee grinder or the Rommelsbacher EKM 200 are very well suited for use with drippers.
Compared to its direct “rival” French press, pour-over coffee prepared using a dripper 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, though with its extra coarse porcelain filter, it extracts in a completely different way.
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 portafilter machines. The nuances between these extremes have, however, become much more subtle!
A pour-over coffee dripper set is cleaned faster than you can blink. 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 rigorous rinsing after each use is enough. We all know how quickly deposits accumulate in pores, though, and coffee fats always seem to seep through.
This section arose, firstly, due to a user comment, and secondly, due to the fact that one of our Coffeeness team members once received the Bodum Pour Over as a subscription gift.
Basically, all pour-over coffee makers are a set of permanent filters and preparation pots. They all imitate the Chemex principle, but are essentially nothing more than just a dressed-up version 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, pour-over coffee makers are somewhat coarser because their filaments (or holes) don’t change, even when they come into contact with water. The mesh must therefore be fine enough to ensure decent extraction.
I checked: the Bodum Pour Over is one of the pieces that’s been recently added to the category of equipment recommended 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 subtle aromas, especially, to lose their impact– something which a beginner doesn’t (yet) notice. Professionals, however, consciously rely on good paper filters.
However, I do think that any equipment that makes it easier for you to get started is a good idea. That’s because, even using permanent filters, you still have to freshly grind the beans, choose the right temperature and experiment with the dosage.
By the way, I’ve put together a video on this topic. Just click here:
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German
Single reusable filters made of cotton or hemp will reduce the mountain of waste you generate quite considerably, of course. It’s just that I’ve found fabric filters, despite being washable, tend to trap coffee components in their fibers.
Over time, this looks bad and distorts the taste of every subsequent brew – which is why I’ve perhaps somewhat lost my initial enthusiasm for the Hario Woodneck. This problem doesn’t arise at all when using stainless-steel mesh filters though.
As I haven’t used fabric filters for a long time now, however, this objection may long since have been resolved. I look forward to hearing about your experiences!
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!