How to Make Perfect Pour Over Coffee: Tips From a ProPublished on 09/27/2023 · 16 min readMaster the Art of Pour-Over Coffee with Expert Tips! Demystify the process and brew a perfect cup at home with guidance from a pro barista trainer
Photo by Yurii Maslak
Pour-over coffee is one of the most commonly made and consumed coffees in the U.S., so why is it so mysterious and unapproachable? Making coffee at home should be fun, straightforward, and approachable (unless you’re down a serious rabbit hole of chasing flavor notes of micro-lots, you do you!). Read more to learn everything you need to know to make a pour-over coffee at home—broken down and demystified by a pro barista trainer!
I’m excited that you’re here! My name is Andrea. I’ve been in the coffee industry for approximately nine years, working as a barista, professional coffee taster, educator, and home coffee enthusiast. Yes, my hobby is my work, and my work is my hobby. Many years of my coffee career have been geared towards training new coffee people and ensuring that coffee feels approachable, not intimidating, and welcoming for all! I try to break down advanced coffee concepts in ways that are understandable and digestible for anyone.
Making pour-over coffee should be simple enough._ _Here's a step-by-step, easy guide to making the perfect pour-over coffee.
A Brief Overview of Brewed Coffee
Technically, all coffee you drink is “brewed” coffee. Simply put, brewed coffee uses water to dissolve the dissolvable parts of the coffee grounds, filtering out the non-dissolvable parts. When we (the average coffee drinker in the U.S.) think about “brewed coffee,” generally, we think about a pot of drip, a hearty French press, or a pour-over. So what’s the difference?
Key differences between types of brewed coffee are filter type (metal or paper), contact method (full immersion versus drip), water temperature, grind size, and contact time. The list goes on, which we will get to!
Here’s a brief breakdown of the types of brewed coffee out there:
- Drip coffee: Most commonly known as a pot of coffee. Add medium-coarsely ground coffee into a paper filter in the brew basket over the coffee pot. The machine regulates adding hot (almost boiling) water over those grounds. This water sits for approximately four minutes as it drips through the grounds and into your coffee pot.
- Pour-over coffee: Like drip coffee, but brewed by hand and not machine! Add medium-fine ground coffee to a paper or metal cone filter inside a brewer. Pour hot water (almost boiling) over the coffee grounds in a controlled and timed manner. Total brew time is approximately 3-5 minutes, depending on the brew.
- Cold brew: This differs from iced coffee—hot coffee brewed (drip coffee or pour over) and then poured over ice! Instead, add coarsely ground coffee to cool water and sit it either on the counter or in the fridge for 12-24 hours before straining.
Keywords You Should Know
Before we go any further, here are some keywords broken down into bite-size bits:
- Extraction: Dissolving the dissolvable “solids” from the coffee grounds into the water. When you hear someone talking about “good extraction” or “over extraction,” they mean, did I get the “good stuff” out of the grounds? Did I get too much of the “bad stuff”? More on this in the next section.
- Bloom: The first time you pour hot water onto coffee grounds, you’ll notice it “puff up.” This is called a “bloom.” When coffee is roasted (taken from raw green coffee to brown coffee that you take home), the process creates different gasses that hang out in the coffee grounds. Adding hot water to ground coffee releases these gasses essential for a good brew!
- Acidic vs. Sour: Coffee needs at least some acidity to make it sparkle. Think about the tang of a good orange juice. If you taste coffee and it’s grossly sharp, that’s when it’s “sour” (think spoiled orange juice). Acidity equals good. Sour equals bad.
- Astringency vs. Bitterness: Astringency isn’t a good thing to taste in your coffee—think of the cooling sensation of rubbing alcohol or the taste of cheap alcohol. Bitterness (some bitterness) is good, like having bitters in your Old Fashioned. Bitterness helps balance out the acidity and sweetness of the coffee.
Science of Brewing Coffee: Variables and Extraction
Coffee is three things: a beverage, art, and science. It’s art because every brew, every pull of espresso, every cup is subjective. It’s “science” because brewing coffee is chemistry. Here’s a breakdown of what happens when you brew a cup of coffee.
As stated above, adding water to coffee grounds starts to dissolve the dissolvable solids. However, only some parts of the coffee beans/grounds are dissolvable. And not all dissolvable solids in the coffee bean/grounds are tasty! Recipes should be followed when brewing coffee to ensure that you are getting the tasty bits and balancing out the different aspects of the coffee.
The dissolvable coffee solids are called TDS, or “total dissolved solids.” Aim for a TDS of 18-22%, which gives you the “ideal optimum balance” of coffee flavor to water, according to the Specialty Coffee Association. Too little TDS and your cup is “underdeveloped”; too much TDS and your cup is sour (not acidic!).
More on Dissolvable Solids
Different chemical compounds are released from the coffee at different times and temperatures. This is why “cold brew coffee” (brewed cool or at room temperature for a long time) will not taste like “iced coffee” (coffee brewed hot, quickly, and poured over ice). Heat brings out certain compounds (acidity being one of them), and time brings out certain compounds (that round sort of texture that you only get in cold brew).
This is why recipes are so important when brewing coffee. You want the correct ratio of coffee to water (this will help with a proper TDS and the proper strength of your coffee) and the proper contact time between the water and the coffee. A balance of acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and ideally no astringency is needed to brew the best cup, which is the order in which coffee compounds are released. Following coffee pros' recipes will ensure you balance these compounds properly!
Aim for that middle box in the chart below with each brew: the ideal balance of coffee strength and total dissolved solids.
So, now, onto the more controllable aspects: the variables you can change in your brew.
Your choice of coffee is one of the biggest things that control flavor. Coffee flavor changes depending on the country of origin, how it’s grown, what the climate was that year, soil fertilizer, how it’s processed, and how it’s roasted. Pick a coffee that has the flavor notes you like on the bag!
Experiment! You might surprise yourself. Coffees from Brazil tend to be nutty, but if they get a different processing method, they could turn out fruity. Coffee from Kenya is usually either citrusy or floral and lavender-like. Try light, medium, or dark roasts, depending on your preferences.
The finer the grind, the more surface area is exposed to water. If the grind is too coarse, there isn’t enough surface area for water to properly pull compounds out of the coffee. Start with a medium-fine grind, but be ready to adjust that grind depending on how quickly your coffee drips! (If your coffee drips too slowly, you’ve ground too fine; if it drips quickly, you’ve ground too coarse).
Water is a large factor in brewing coffee. It shouldn’t be hard, distilled, or bottled. You want the right amount of mineral content, and none of those have it. Because coffee is soluble, trying to dissolve in a solvent, it needs to be able to “cling” onto particles in the water. Not enough particles (like distilled water) mean your dissolvable solids have nothing to cling to, and your cup of coffee will taste weak. Too many particles (like in bottled or spring water) don’t leave enough room for dissolvable solids.
Filtered water makes a huge difference in brewing your coffee. Since coffee is 98% water, the water taste and quality greatly affect the flavor of your coffee. Try using a Brita-type filter on tap water. These types of filters can take out undesirable flavors in your water. If your area has super-hard water, ensure you get a hard water softener. This will also prevent the limescale from building up in your equipment. Does your water need a filter or a water softener? Try using a TDS meter; you need a filter if your TDS is over 250ppm (parts per million).
Use water between 195°-205°F. Keep in mind that this should match with what roast you have: lighter roasts need hotter water to break down the solids, and darker roasts need a cooler temperature not to bring out the astringency.
A ratio is how much coffee you use to how much water you use. Use a scale for both your coffee grounds and your water. Don’t guess! Most people start with a 1:16 or 1:18 ratio: 1g of coffee for every 16 or 18 grams of water. This ratio usually varies depending on personal preference. Do you like a slightly lighter body or a somewhat heavier body? Play with this using different roast profiles or countries of origin. This is a starting point for an ideal extraction and perfectly balanced cup of coffee!
Dripper/Brew Method/Coffee Maker
The pour-over device you use makes a huge difference in flavor! My favorite is the Hario V60, but you can use a Chemex, a Melitta, a Kalita Wave, or a Fellow Stagg Pour-Over Set. There are so many options. Pro tip: If you’re a beginner, look for drippers with small holes in the bottom, like the Melitta. It limits the flow of water instead of a large hole like the V60, which is harder to control as a new home barista!
Most standard filters are paper, which is used once and disposable. These are the most commonly used, but you can get a cloth filter (rinse and repeat!) or a metal mesh filter. Paper and cloth filters filter out more sediment (the small bits of non-dissolvable solids), but the metal mesh filters let these through. Choose a filter depending on your preference for a super clean or heartier cup!
What Gear Should I Consider for a Good Cup of Coffee?
Brewing coffee is a science, and scientists need proper equipment! These are my suggestions for the gear to help you get the best cup of coffee possible.
You ask, “Do I need a grinder? Can’t I use preground from the store?” and the answer is, kind of. Will preground coffee make coffee? Sure. But, once the coffee is ground, all of that surface area exposed during grinding is oxidizing because it is in contact with the air (even if the bag or container is airtight). Coffee will begin to oxidize and stale immediately.
It is best to use ground coffee within 24 hours of grinding or within 24 hours of opening that factory-sealed bag of ground coffee. Plus, if you buy preground coffee, you can’t change the grind setting. Regrinding preground coffee makes inconsistent grinds and a huge mess in your grinder. So, yes, you can technically use preground coffee, but grind it yourself if you want the best cup of coffee.
The type of coffee grinder you use makes a huge difference in your brew. You want a grinder that gives you a consistent grind size and doesn’t produce a lot of fines (tiny pieces that “muddy” up your cup). For the best cup, don’t use a blade grinder (like a blender or a spice grinder). Blade grinders have no way of making consistent grind sizes. Your eye may tell you it looks relatively consistent, but if you look closely, the grind size will be all over the place! Grab a burr grinder instead. Burr grinders use two plates with sharp edges that cut the coffee into tiny, even pieces.
There’s also the difference between conical burrs and flat burrs. Conical burr grinders are more affordable and budget-friendly; however, as your palette gets more elevated and refined, conical burr grinders produce coffee that starts tasting muddled and unclear. Conical burr grinders still produce fines and inconsistent grind sizes, meaning differently extracted pieces of coffee. For best results, get a flat burr grinder, resulting in a quick grinding speed, grind consistency, and a clean, quality cup!
- Best budget conical burr grinders: Baratza Encore Burr Grinder or Fellow Opus Conical Burr Grinder
- Best budget flat burr home grinder: Eureka Mignon Crono Coffee Grinder or Fellow Ode Brew Grinder
Step-up flat burr brew home grinder: Mahlkonig X54 Home Coffee Grinder
As noted above, there are several types of drippers/brew methods. Watch videos of pros using different drippers to help you decide, or get one that looks fun and go for it! James Hoffman is my favorite coffee person who explains complicated coffee concepts in incredibly easy-to-understand videos. If you’re stuck on a dripper, ask a Curated Coffee and Espresso Expert for their advice in recommending an ideal one.
While you can certainly place your dripper right on top of your mug, it’s best to brew into a carafe. Why? After you brew your coffee, you want some room to swirl the final product and introduce oxygen into the brewed coffee as you pour it from the carafe to your mug/serving vessel.
“I already have a tea kettle at home. Do I really need another piece of equipment?” Yes, you should consider one. A gooseneck kettle will completely change the game. It controls how fast and where you pour your water and in what pattern. In addition, a tea kettle decreases the amount of water agitating your coffee.
Gooseneck kettle recommendations:
- Fellow Stagg EKG Electric Kettle
- Fellow Stagg EKG Electric Pro Kettle
A scale is arguably one of the most important equipment for brewing coffee. (Remember how we were talking about coffee and science?) You want to be as precise as possible, so use a scale both when weighing out your beans and when brewing. Get a coffee-specific scale with a timer built in to help ensure you’re on track with the timing of your brew!
My favorite is the Acaia Pearl Scale. It’s water-resistant, lightning-quick, and super accurate. I’ve had mine for eight years with absolutely no issue, using it at least twice daily.
How to Brew Pour-Over Coffee
I’m sharing my favorite recipe and brew method, but remember, you have many options! However, this is a good starting point. If you’ve been following along, you can tweak some of these variables to get a nice cup of coffee. Ready? Here we go!
- Dripper: Hario V60 with a paper filter
- Grinder: Fellow Ode, grind size 1.75
- Coffee: Light-medium roasted Costa Rica
- Water: Filtered, and at 200°F
- Ratio: 15 grams coffee, 250 grams water (Roughly a 1:16 ratio)
Step 1: Open the filter and add to the dripper.
With hot water, thoroughly rinse the paper filter (this removes the papery taste and keeps the filter from absorbing too much of the coffee oils). Use enough hot water that your dripper is preheated. Discard the rinse water.
Step 2: Add 15 grams of ground coffee to the pre-wet filter.
Set the entirety of the brew setup on the scale. Gently shake the dripper to even out the bed of coffee. Tare out the scale to zero.
Step 3: Start the timer and get ready to brew.
- Your total brew time (when the brewing stops and the coffee is slowly dripping) should be between 3 and 3:30 minutes.
- Gently pour 30 grams (or double the weight of your coffee dose) into your coffee bed in concentric circles, ensuring all grounds are wet evenly. This should take 10-15 seconds. (This is the bloom!)
- At 20 seconds, gently swirl the dripper to ensure an even water distribution over the grounds.
- At 45 seconds, gently pour another 30 grams into your coffee bed in concentric circles. This process should take approximately 10-15 seconds. (This is a second bloom to ensure all gas is out of your coffee.) Gently swirl.
- At 1 minute, pour 60 grams of water (now you’re up to 120 grams into your coffee bed in concentric circles for about 10-15 seconds.
- At 1 minute 30 seconds, pour another 60 grams of water (now you’re up to 180 grams) into your coffee bed in concentric circles for roughly 10-15 seconds.
- At 2 minutes, pour the last 70 grams of water (ending at 250 grams) into your coffee bed in concentric circles. End with one last gentle swirl.
Step 4: Remove the dripper and set it to the side.
Gently swirl coffee in the carafe before pouring it into a preheated serving vessel/mug.
Note: If your coffee finishes dripping too quickly, you may need to grind a little finer, or your coffee may be stale or old. Use coffee roughly 2-6 weeks off roast and freshly ground. If your coffee is slowly dripping and finishing long after that 4-5 minute mark, you need to grind coarser.
Let the coffee cool down before drinking. Coffee tastes its best at body temperature, not too hot or cold! The first sip may be less than the tastiest due to the coffee oils on the top of the cup. Take another sip and see if it’s different!
Now That You’ve Brewed, How’d You Do?
Did your cup taste good? Awesome. Did it not? That’s okay. Review my tips above and try again! Want to make it a little brighter/more acidic? Speed up the brew time by grinding a little coarser (one click or so). Is it a little too bright and kind of thin? Grind a little finer. Also, experiment with different brewing temperatures. Everyone has their preferences. The recipe above is a good starting point, but see if you can really dial it in!
I’ve discussed a lot in this article, from brewing science, water for coffee, and variables in extraction to brewing and equipment. Don’t worry if your first few cups aren’t perfect. It’s all about trial and error and tweaking a recipe or trying a new piece of equipment that makes the cup of coffee that you’re brewing ideal for you.
If you need help dialing in your brew, picking out a new grinder, or want suggestions for a new dripper, feel free to reach out to me or a fellow Coffee Expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice. In the meantime, go brew some coffee and have fun with it!