Hand poured coffee, like so many activities, was once the only method of brewing coffee. Then coffee machines were invented, and people were eager to get the machines to do the work for them. Now, interestingly, in a quest for integrity and quality, we are creeping back in the other direction. Pour over coffee, a method begun in 1900s Germany but mostly imported from Japan, has caught on like wildfire among U.S. artisanal coffee drinkers because of three essential aspects: flavor, process and story.
Fans of the pour over believe it creates a more complex coffee with crisp and bright flavor notes. Its greater effectiveness is partly due to the stage of the method in which water is added to the grounds; since regular drip coffee makers don't evenly wet the coffee grounds, the coffee is unevenly extracted. The slower brewing time, controlled by the pourer, also allows the water more time to come in contact with the grounds, which creates a richer and more flavorful brew. Oliver Strand in The New York Times described it as "so clean, so round and fruity, that you can fully taste all those complex layers of flavor that are supposed to be lurking in the best single-origin and micro-lot beans."
The Process: A Bit of Theatre
Since each cup of pour over coffee takes approximately four minutes to complete, it may be the least efficient method on the market. However, this is also its secret weapon—since the full pour over experience requires an element of ceremony, barista and customer have a rare chance to interact and bond. The barista might explain the finer points of technique, while the customer feels special to have captured a sizable chunk of the barista’s time for a customized experience.
The Story: A Hill of Beans
When a barista has a chance to engage with her customer while making a pour over, she can tell the story of how and where the coffee beans were sourced and roasted. It’s rare than American customers think too deeply about where a product comes from; as busy as the average worker is, the typical experience tends to be grab-and-go. A chance to slow down and learn something, then, becomes more highly valued.
Pour Over Then And Now: A Brief History
In 1908 Germany, Melitta Bentz, inventor of the paper filter, began using it together with a drip cone to brew coffee. She filed a patent on the design two years later and started a business with her family. But in 1929, the French press arrived, and the electric drip kettle soon thereafter. In America, time is money, and people lost interest in hand pouring, opting instead for a quick fix. Pour over brewing lay mostly dormant in the United States for the next seventy years.
In the early 2000s, a coffee fanatic and businessman named James Freeman began importing small quantities of pour over equipment from Japan, including those made by a company called Hario. After a visit to Tokyo in 2007, Freeman found that the Japanese were “going for a mastery of technique, then a mastery over all the important details of service,” adding up to “an incredibly elusive experience…it seems as though they have something very difficult figured out.”
Soon thereafter, third wave coffee shops began slowly reintroducing the pour over method to America. Cafés began selling the equipment, which gradually increased demand until department stores followed suit. By the time The New York Times heralded the advent of the pour over with a feature story in 2011, its place in American coffee culture was assured.