Pour-over or hand-pour coffee has become increasingly popular with the routine caffeine team players. For a long time I was a major skeptic of this process. The main reason being a bias towards the drip brew systems I grew up with. I also couldn’t really see a difference between them.
Both pour-over and drip coffee utilize a gravity fed system to pull coffee through a filter and into a carafe or cup below. However, despite their similar processes, the taste is quite different.
With a pour-over you have more control over how the coffee tastes, and you can brew it according to your own personal preferences.
Most homes have a drip coffee maker that’s gravity fed. Like I said it was always difficult to imagine anything more convenient than letting a machine do the work for you. Let’s take a look at these two brewing methods and see if I can persuade you too.
Drip coffee is one of the more popular methods for making coffee at home. If you’re not sure what drip coffee is, think Mr. Coffee, or even a Hamilton Beach coffee maker.
Most automatic drip coffee makers work in a similar way. You start by placing a filter and coffee grounds into a designated basket. You then use the carafe or pot to measure water to be poured into the reservoir. Once the coffee maker is turned on, it will warm up the water and drip it over the coffee grounds into the carafe below the basket.
There are other ways of drip brewing, but the above is the most common.
Pros of Drip Brewing
Certain models can be programmed to start brewing at a pre-set time. Models lacking this feature are as easy to use as just turning on a switch though.
Cons of Drip Coffee
The National Coffee Association reports that water in the range of 195F up to 205F yields the best extraction, resulting in more coffee flavor. However, there are many occasions where an automatic drip machine just can’t hit these temperatures, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The ‘showerhead’ of a drip coffee maker is the part that drips the hot water over the grounds. However, the majority of automatic brewers have shower-heads that emit the water irregularly resulting in some portions of the coffee grounds being over and under-extracted.
Minimal Customization, If Any
You might be familiar with drip brewers that have buttons like ‘Strong’ or even ‘Bold’. These are unfortunately just gimmicks that make you think you can decide how strong your coffee flavor is. In truth, you really can’t. Machines like this are limited to very narrow parameters that you can’t change.
Pour Over Coffee
As with drip coffee, you can use a variety of machines and methods to make pour-over coffee. However, this particular method usually means pouring hot water over your freshly ground coffee beans before you let the coffee drip down into a container.
Sounds a lot like drip coffee doesn’t it? If you’re thinking that, then you might be curious if there are any differences.
It’s true that both of these methods mean pouring hot water over your coffee grounds.. However, even with some important things in common, pour-over coffee has a few advantages that you can’t get from a drip brew.
Pros of Pour-Over
This is the one facet of pour-over coffee that many drinkers cherish more than anything. As mentioned above, pour-over and drip coffee look a lot alike in their core functionality.
However, the one definitive difference is how much control you have over the way the brew is performed. We noted above that drip coffee makers have trouble with temperature control. With a pour-over you get to boil the water and then decide the rate at which the water saturates the grounds. You also get to ensure that all the grounds are poured over.
Due to the quality control aspect, the brew flavor is superior. As you add more water, it will have more contact with your beans, resulting in a stronger brew. Your coffee is going to be far more rich than any ‘Bold’ option can offer. You can even steep your grounds for a shorter time to make your coffee lighter.
Pour-over systems involve far less moving parts and as a result their likely-hood to fail is far less. On top of that, they’re usually only made of one material (glass, metal, plastic) that’s fairly easy to clean.
Cons of Pour-Over
Brewing is Slower
So some people might agree or disagree with me on this topic but brewing a pour-over done the right way can take longer than a drip brew.
What I mean by the right way of pour-over is the following a methodical set of steps:
First you need to your tools like your Chemex, filter paper, scale, burr grinder, and coffee beans.
Grind the proper amount of beans according to the amount of water being used. Typically 1g of coffee to 17g of water is the golden ratio.
Then with some hot water, pre-soak the filter to prevent temperature loss. Then pour the water out of the Chemex (this takes some practice).
Then add your coffee grounds to the Chemex and put the chemex on the scale. Measure out roughly 400g of water and get your water to a boil. Once boiling, allow to stand for 30 seconds. Once ready, your first pass of water is going to wet all the grounds. Then let that sit for 30-45 seconds, this allows the coffee to bloom (allows gasses to release).
With the rest of your water you’ll want to pour rather slowly. Start in the center and do co-centric circles without pouring down the sides of the filter. Doing so will cause the water to rush through the grounds and over-extract resulting in a bitter taste.
Overall this process of pouring the water should take 3-4 minutes. If the water is running too fast then you want to use a finer grind. If it’s taking too long, use a coarser grind.
Once the water has been poured, do a gentle stir of the coffee grounds. Draw an “X” to agitate the grounds and some “Os” to remove the grounds from the side of the filter. This gets all of the coffee involved.
Once the water has run through, remove the filter paper. Don’t allow it to dry as the last few drops won’t taste very good.
Most other comparisons note the above process only taking a couple of minutes (4 or 5). I’m not sure about you, but in the mornings I’m not setting land speed records with my pour overs. If you do them properly, you shouldn’t be either.
Who’s the Winner?
It’s a good question. However, pour-over coffee is a clear winner in terms of quality and taste of the coffee. It also offers a lot more customization.
Having said that, drip brewing is still great for mornings where you just need a machine to do all the work.
To note, not all drip fed brewing machines are bad. We used two examples of coffee makers that cost around $30-50. You can’t expect to get pour-over level coffee out of a machine they mass produce because they break every six months.
If convenience is your biggest priority, it’s going to come at a cost. For instance, our at home drip fed coffee maker is the Technivorm Moccamaster and it’s a little over $300. It meets the check marks for optimal temperature control, quick brewing of 6 minutes, and arm/shower-head optimized for coffee saturation.
If you’re comparing pour-over coffee to a Mr. Coffee maker based on the criteria above, pour-over wins every-time. If you’re comparing pour-over to say a Technivorm or Breville, it’s hard to say which is best.