Pour-Over Coffee: Better Than Brewed?


If you’ve never had a cup of pour-over coffee before, you’re missing out on a great cup. More meticulous than machine-drip coffee, brighter and cleaner than French press brew, and less dangerous than a stove-top percolator, pour-over coffee is often seen as purely the realm of coffee snobs and “cuppers”. But that’s a shame, because not only is pour-over coffee delicious, it’s easier to make than you might initially realize. (See also: Simply Good Coffee: The Chemex Coffee Maker).

Upon viewing the process of creating a perfect cup of pour-over coffee, your initial reaction might be something along the lines of “Why bother? My regular old coffee maker can do this for me.” While it’s true that pour-over brewing is a bit more labor intensive than pressing the “On” button on your DeLonghi, the resulting coffee might just change how you view your morning Joe altogether.

How It Works

The idea is pretty straight-forward — grind your coffee beans, add coffee grounds to the (rinsed) paper cone inserted inside the pour-over container, and pour water carefully over top. The resulting coffee that collects in the carafe or coffee cup reservoir is bright, flavorful coffee that should highlight the best of the roast’s flavor without any of the bitterness. Details such as how hot your heat your water, your water-to-coffee ratio, how much you rinse your filter, and your rate and style of pour are entirely up to you. Fortunately, the Internet is full of advice on the topic of how to brew Chemex coffee.

If hand-pouring water over your coffee grounds seems arduous, take heed of some coffee-expert advice. Jesse Raub, author of the java-enthusiast website Bitter Press, tells us that “regular drip coffee makers don't evenly wet the coffee grounds, which leaves your coffee unevenly extracted. Hand-pouring the water offers you an easy, controlled method for ensuring even distribution.”

Cost Breakdown

It’s hard to argue against the elegant simplicity of the pour-over coffee maker itself. Among the most iconic modern pour-over brands are the Chemex (pronounced “KEM-ex”) and Hario. Chemex is a favorite among pour-over enthusiasts and fans of simple design for its handmade simplicity; in fact, the Chemex is featured in a MoMA collection of objects designed by Peter Schlumbohm, a German innovator who was known for creating simple, usable products for the home. At approximately $35 for an 8-cup carafe, the Chemex seems like a relative bargain compared to high-end coffee makers.

Chemex paper filters cost $8.50 for 100, which a bit less than 10 cents per filter. If you’re not a fan of paper filters, the current “It Girl” of pour-over accessories is the Coava Kone, a metal filter design to mimic the function of a paper filter, while allowing more aromatic oils to seep through during brewing. Reviewers have generally reported that the Kone produces less sediment than other metal filters. At $55, you can be forgiven for hesitating. But consider that you will never have to worry about running out of paper filters on a lazy weekend again, and the Coava Kone might seem like a relative bargain. And really when you add up the cost ($35 + $55 + shipping), you’re still looking at about $100 for a coffee maker that should last a lifetime.

The advantage of a pour-over coffee maker (instead of a French press or percolator) should be obvious — the Chemex and Hario are much easier to clean and don’t involve nuts and bolts. The Coava Kone can be run through the dishwasher, although more fastidious owners prefer to hand-wash their entire coffee brewing apparatus. And wash it you must, because one of the side effects of an inexpertly cleaned coffee making apparatus is bitter, burnt-tasting coffee (the result of rancid oils that need to be scrubbed away after each use).

Pour-Over Coffee: Pros

  • Clean, minimalist design
  • No moving parts to break
  • Generally cheaper than electric coffee makers
  • Easy to maintain, can be washed in dishwasher
  • Greater control of coffee flavor outcomes
  • No hot plate means your coffee doesn’t continue to cook after brewing

Pour-Over Coffee: Cons

  • More work-intensive
  • You officially become a coffee snob

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Guest's picture

While I like pour-over coffee, I've switched to using a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker. It makes what I consider a cross between brewed coffee and espresso. I think it's an even better solution than pour-over because you don't have to buy filters.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the recommendation! Do you find that the brewing process is labor-intensive, or is it still pretty easy?

Guest's picture

I stand by my pour over coffee. I too have a vendetta against paper filters so I did some research and found the perfect solution that allows me to enjoy my pour over, hassle free. It's Grosche's Portland pour over maker that features a stainless steel filter. You get all of the natural oils from the bean into the pour- no blockage from paper filters and even better at no extra expense. Thoughts?

Guest's picture

I go cup-by-cup with a plastic Melitta "perfect brew filter cone" (maybe $6?) and an electric teakettle. It takes the #2 cone filters that you pick up at the grocery. Very, very cheap and makes such good coffee! It takes a little longer and I don't have that sense of coffee abundance that comes with having a full coffeepot in the morning; but this actually allows me to make only as much as I need, and I have been saving money on coffee since I switched to this method. It wasn't snobbery so much as thrift that led me to this method! It's also great to take along on trips. I think pourover is the new French press. I hated cleaning those anyway :)

Andrea Karim's picture

I never could seem to get a good cup of coffee out of a French press, even with good instructions. I don't know if it was perfecting the grind or the types of beans I was using, or if I waited to long or what.

I like the idea of wasting less. It seems like I can never get just the right amount of coffee for two people, so I'm always having to brew more or throw away half a pot.

Guest's picture

We use a Melitta brewer. It's hard to drink brewed coffee--sans Peets, after drinking pour-over

Guest's picture
Janice Takashima

What was old has become new again!
Next will be boiled "camp" coffee with eggshells to clarify the brew.

Andrea Karim's picture

It's true - there's nothing new under the sun!

Guest's picture

It seems odd that this would give you vastly different results. Yes, regular drip coffee makers don't pour the water over the grounds evenly, but the process described for pour-over is the exact same. Why reinvent the wheel when the most noticeable gains in coffee taste will come from 1) buying high quality coffee and 2) grinding your own beans?

Andrea Karim's picture

It might have to do with the kind of stale taste that can come from using a machine for years. We clean ours out with vinegar once a month or so, but we have a pretty high-end coffeemaker, and my husband is super-fussy about how we grind the beans. That said, the pour-over coffee that I have had seemed to lack the bitterness that my homemade coffee always seems to have. I haven't tried a side-by-side taste test.

I don't think it's really re-inventing anything, so much as using a slightly more intense method. Everyone has different priorities - if yours (like mine) is to be caffeinated as quickly as possible, then pour-over coffee might not be the best option.

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