The Keys to the Perfect Cup of Pour Over Coffee

True coffee connoisseurs are always on the quest for the perfect cup, and thanks to the pour-over method, many feel they’ve come close to achieving pure caffeinated bliss. Between the ritual involved—which can be likened to meditation—and the efficiency of not wasting a single drop, the process is perfect for those who gravitate toward small-batch, specialty beans. Recently, we spoke with Michael Rice, the owner and operator of Mad Priest Coffee in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to learn more. Here, he shares the tools and tips that will consistently yield the ultimate cup of coffee.

Know when to use the pour over process. “Pour over is no different than standard drip,” Rice explains. “It’s a gravitational, filtered, brewing process, but it does deliver a cleaner cup.” It’s for this reason that, when making a cup from a higher-end, micro batch of beans, he employs the pour over method in order to maximize the freshness and control every step of the way.

Have the proper tools on hand. According to Rice, you only need a few simple tools to make pour over coffee. Here, he breaks down the essential components:

  • A brewer and filters. Of the brewer options, Rice shares, “All of them are the same, in that they are brewing coffee through a filter.” Some prefer the aesthetics of the six-cup Chemex brewer, but his favorite is the Kalita Wave 155. That the smaller basket allows for a bigger coffee bed depth, Rice explains, which affects the overall clarity of the coffee. Each brewer will recommend the ideal filter to use in the accompanying instructions.
  • A grinder. Rice recommends opting for a burr grinder over a blade grinder, which will deliver uniform coffee granules, singling out the Baratza, which he has been happy with for home use. The settings on each grinder will differ, but you want to go for a grind that resembles the coarseness of sea salt. Rice notes that if you don’t want to invest in a burr grinder, you’re better off getting your beans ground at a local coffee shop and holding the grounds in an airtight container until you use them.
  • A scale. Precision is important when it comes to the pour over method. In order to achieve a proper coffee-to-water ratio, Rice says you will need a digital kitchen scale.
  • A gooseneck kettle. Investing in a gooseneck kettle, either electric or one you place on the stove, is essential, Rice says, as the smaller spout allows for more control, which will ensure a smooth pour with less turbulence.
  • Coffee. The type of beans you choose is truly up to personal taste, but in Rice’s experience, the best cup results from washed coffee in a medium to dark roast. For the freshest cup, you want to brew the coffee 7 to 14 days after roasting.

Follow the steps—and pay attention to key factors. If you research the topic, you’ll find that there are varying pour over methods, but the two most important factors, according to Rice, are the bloom and achieving complete saturation. The bloom occurs when the initial dose of water hits the grounds in the first 30 seconds and the coffee opens up and starts to breathe, or degas. In terms of saturation, Rice notes that you don’t want the coffee bed to dry out during the brewing process, so keeping an eye on how the water is filtering through is key. Ideally, your brewing time will take between three to four minutes. If it’s taking longer, you will need a coarser grind, and inversely, if it’s too fast, adjust to a finer grind. Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to follow the instructions outline below:

  •  Step 1. Bring water to a boil.
  •  Step 2. Grind coffee. Rice prefers a 1:15 or 1:17 coffee-to-water ratio, or roughly 23 grams of coffee to 350 grams of water.
  •  Step 3. Place filter in your brewer and pre-wet it with hot water, discarding the water before proceeding with brewing.
  •  Step 4. Add grounds to the brewer and gently tap to level out. Place the brewer on a cup or carafe and place onto your digital scale and zero it out.
  •  Step 5. Bloom your grounds by pouring roughly 60 grams of water over the grounds in a circular motion, being sure to saturate all of the grounds. This will take about 15 seconds of pouring and 30 seconds to settle.
  •  Step 6. During this final step of the process, you will pour 300 grams of water over the grounds to get your final cup, in three different pours of roughly 100 grams each. Rice reiterates the most important part of this step is not allowing grounds to dry out, and maintaining consistent saturation. This is best done by pouring in a circular motion from the center out and reversing, wiggling back into the center.

TSG Tip 352 from Michael Rice, owner and operator of Mad Priest Coffee in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mad Priest Coffee is featured in The Scout Guide Chattanooga.