THE WASHINGTON POST – When I broke my favourite glass coffee dripper this summer, I took it as an opportunity to explore the latest in home brewing equipment. I spent a few days researching devices before settling on a porous ceramic dripper made from silicon carbide. I thought I’d like the thing because it requires no filter, conducts heat well and looks like someone carved a crude coffee cup from lava rocks.
Within a week, I stopped using the dripper and shoved it into a crowded cupboard, where the rest of my coffee equipment sits, as neglected as my daily workout routine. I tell myself that these tools are necessary for my job, but that’s just a convenient lie to cover up the truth: I’m a coffee gadget collector, which is a polite way of saying I’m a coffee gadget hoarder. If brewing devices were dogs, someone would call the Humane Society on me.
Should you open my cupboard, you would discover a wonderland of toys: a Chemex brewer (my second), a handheld coffee grinder (I also have an electric burr grinder on the counter), an old whirlybird blade grinder (back when I didn’t know any better, now used for spices), a butane-fuelled siphon (plus canisters of butane), a French press (the gateway gadget), an AeroPress (a handheld brewer, great for travelling), a copper cezve (for my dalliance in Turkish coffee), a stainless steel frothing pitcher (for the countertop espresso machine), boxes of paper filters of various size and shapes, including No 4 filters for the Technivorm Moccamaster that sits next to the burr grinder.
I haven’t even mentioned all the drippers that take up space: Not just the ceramic one, but also a Kalita Wave, a Hario V60, a Clever (not technically a dripper but close enough) and a collapsible dripper that gives you the freedom to do pour-overs on the road. The latest member of the family is a Stagg X dripper from Fellow, a handsome little guy that offers pinpoint control.
Should you continue to search my kitchen, you’ll find more gadgets: a coffee scale, several water kettles with long-neck spouts (including one that lets you dial in the exact temperature), cold-brew coffee makers and even a Keurig machine, which, out of shame, I keep hidden in a closet near the washer.
You might wonder what’s the point of all this? I could state the obvious – to make good coffee (Keurig excepted) – but that’s not the whole truth. Yes, each of these tools helps you brew beans at home, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. But good coffee is, almost, secondary to the journey to get there. In the still of the morning, with music playing softly in the background, I brew coffee to attune my body to the day.
To remind myself that the fix alone – the first hit of caffeine, so warm and exhilarating – is not what makes life better. It’s the build up to the fix, too.
Pour-over coffee is a manual, not a push-button, process. It requires your assistance to prepare the water, grind the beans and pour the water. These acts, by necessity, demand that you keep your phone tucked in your pocket, staving off the moment when it will suck the soul out of your day, buzzing with the latest news and absurdities of the day.
Brewing coffee by hand is about mindfulness. It asks that you pay attention to every step, starting with the beans you buy. They must be fresh, no more than a week from the roast date. (Don’t trust bags that claim beans are good many months from now.) The beans also should be roasted on the lighter side, so you can taste more than the bitter, ashtray dump of burned coffee. You must pay attention to your water, too. Don’t use tap. It contains chemicals that can alter the flavour. Rely on filtered water.
The recipe below is a simplified pour-over, designed so that you won’t need a kitchen scale or a thermometre. You will still need a few things, however: a dripper (I recommend the Kalita Wave), the filters for a Kalita, a small handheld grinder and a water kettle, preferably with a long spout, all of which are available at your favourite online behemoth. They are tools that can serve you for years.
The beauty of the pour-over is that, at any point when you feel distracted by worry, you are quickly snapped back into place by this process. As you pour a thin stream of water into the dripper, you can pay attention to the light refracted through it. You can feel your feet on the kitchen floor. You can feel air fill your lungs with a deep, cooling breath. You can listen to the pianist playing on the album in the next room, the one who crafted that solo with such care. The point of all this equipment is not to imprison you with tools and technique, but to use them to open your senses for the coffee to come.
LOW-TECH COFFEE POUR-OVER
Active time: Six minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Servings: One cup
Specialty equipment needed for this technique can be bought online or at kitchen specialty stores.
1 3/4 cup (395 grams) water
1/4 cup (23 grams) fresh coffee beans, ground medium-fine just before brewing
Bring the water to a boil in a tea kettle or other pourable water kettle. Remove from the heat and let stand for about one minute 30 seconds. (The time will vary depending on how well your kettle retains heat; you’re aiming for a temperature right around 205 degrees.)
While the water is coming to the proper temperature, grind the coffee beans to a medium-fine consistency. (You don’t want to grind them too coarsely because your coffee won’t steep long enough for a proper pour-over.)
Place the paper filter into the dripper perched over your coffee cup, then wet the filter with a small amount of hot water from the kettle. Dump any water that drips into the cup before starting your pour-over.
Dump the grounds into the damp filter. Distribute the grounds evenly across the bottom of the dripper so that they form a flat surface. Pour enough hot water to wet the grounds but not submerge them. The grounds should start to bubble and maybe even rise like bread in a hot oven. (This is the “bloom” stage when the beans are releasing carbon dioxide, which allows the hot water to better extract flavours from your coffee.) Let the grounds bloom for 30 seconds.
Start pouring the hot water in a thin stream directly in the center of the dripper, about eight inches above the device. Slowly pour in concentric circles over the grounds until you reach the outer edge of the dripper, making sure no stray grounds are caught in the folds of the filter.
The grounds will change colour as you add hot water, usually turning from dark to light brown. They also will bubble along the way.
Repeat the concentric-circle pouring technique several times until the kettle is empty. Ideally, the process should take three to four minutes. If your pour time is shorter than three minutes, grind your beans finer next time. If longer than four minutes, grind them a little more coarsely.
Remove the dripper from the cup, dump the grounds and let your coffee cool for a few minutes before tasting it.
The full flavors of the coffee won’t reveal themselves until the temperature drops a little.