By Rachel Beebe
Of all the ways to brew coffee at home pour over is the best - at least according to our roasters. We love the pour over method because it’s really easy to tweak your recipe to achieve different flavours. You can highlight acidity in a fresh crop Costa Rican, or bring out the body in a rich, satisfying Colombian or eek out every drop of sweetness from a juicy natural process Ethiopian. Finding the “God shot” of espresso is the stuff of mythical lore amongst career baristas—and for good reason. Pulling a perfect shot of espresso is really difficult to do on purpose.
Brewing up a perfect mug of pour over, on the other hand, is completely achievable with just a little knowledge of extraction fundamentals and a willingness to try, try and try again (not a problem when drinking great coffee!). So, here’s how to do it using our latest Basecamp coffee as an example.
Starting your pour over recipe
Start with a little maths. Figure out how much coffee you want to end up with in grams. Divide that by 16 to find a starting recipe. For instance, if you want 250g of coffee in your mug, start with 15.5g coffee. The grind for pour over should be finer than cafetiere, coarser than aeropress. Your grinder instructions should have a range for pour over, so check there if you’re not sure where to start.
If you’re new to the pour over method it’s a good idea to watch a few YouTube videos to get familiar with the technique. A few steps to remember: always rinse and warm your filter and cup before putting in your coffee grounds; weigh the ground coffee not just the beans; start with a bloom that’s about twice the weight of the amount of coffee you’re using; and never let all the water drain from the cone while brewing. If you’re following a recipe and the water drains completely from the cone before the next pour then you need to pour more slowly.
Generally, for a pour over, you’re looking for a total brew time of 3 to 3:30 minutes for 250g, longer if you’re making more.
The basics of extraction are:
finer grind → extracts more
coarser grind → extracts less
faster pour → extracts less
slower pour → extracts more
more coffee to water → increases strength
less coffee to water → decreases strength
Starting a recipe for Basecamp
The first flavour component that extracts is acidity, then sweetness, then bitterness. The trick of brewing an excellent coffee is to extract the acidity and sweetness, and sometimes just a touch of the bitterness. If you under extract your brew you’ll have overly acidic coffee that is too sour. If you over extract it then you’ll have a bitter coffee. You’re looking to get the acidity and sweetness in just the right balance.
So, here’s what I did to find a recipe I like for the Basecamp coffee. I have the advantage of already knowing what the coffee tastes like and also what I’m trying to get out of it. It’s got a simple flavour profile of roasted nuts and milk chocolate and a full body. There’s not much fruity acidity in this coffee. I knew I wanted to highlight the body and the sweetness, so I upped the ratio of coffee to water right from the start. In my first brew I used 17g coffee to 250g water and ground on a setting that had worked for other coffees, 22 on our Baratza Encore. If I’m making 250g of coffee then after the initial bloom I pour up to 100g at 30 seconds, and then another 50g every 30 seconds so that my last pour at 2 minutes brings the weight up to 250g.
It looked like this:
At :30 pour 70g so that the weight comes up to 100g
At 1:00 pour 50g (total weight 150g)
At 1:30 pour 50g (total weight 200g)
At 2:00 pour 50g (total weight 250g)
Adjusting your recipe
It’s important to note that when you’re dialling in a brew you should only change one thing at a time. That includes keeping the rate of your pouring consistent (a gooseneck kettle is really helpful for this). If you pour more quickly on one brew and less quickly on another and you also change the grind size, you won’t know whether it was the pour rate or the grind size or a combination of the two that caused whatever changes in flavour you get. So remember: only change one thing at a time.
My first brew took 3:30 minutes - on the long side of things for that amount of coffee. My note says: yummy, but maybe could be sweeter? Ok body. Bit acidic as it cools.
Remember, sweetness extracts after acidity, but before bitterness. What I had here was a brew that took a little too long, but also tasted a bit acidic therefore I needed to increase extraction without increasing the brew time. To increase extraction I could fine the grind, slow my pour, or increase the amount of coffee to water. Increasing the dose of coffee would also change the strength, and I’d rather see what I can get out of my original ratio before I fiddle with that. Slowing my pour would make the brew take even longer. So, I fined the grind.
Next brew was 17g coffee to 250g water, ground on Encore 20, 3:30 brew time. Notes were: good sweetness, short finish, sour as it cools. So, that didn’t work. I achieved another under extracted brew. I went from “a bit acidic” to “sour.” When that happens it’s a good idea to go the other way with the metric you’re changing. It’s like cross referencing your perception. Also, acidity and sweetness don’t always work the way you think they’re going to in coffee. Sometimes a bit of sweetness actually highlights acidity more. Coffee can surprise you.
Next brew was the same ratio, 17g to 250g, but a coarser grind, 26 on the encore, 3:00 brew time. This time the tasting notes were clear: good flavour, but watery. I needed to up my dose to strengthen the brew.
For the next one I tried 19g coffee to 250g water, and the total brew time was 2:50. On the first sip I knew I’d nailed it with this one. This is the moment I love: the flavour resonates on your palate and it’s just so good. Suddenly, by just changing the weight by 2 grams, I could taste not just more sweetness, but the nature of the sweetness: it was rich caramel and the full body meant that the flavour persisted all through a long lingering finish.
It took me four brews to get this recipe - some coffees will take more, and some you’ll nail on the first go. Brewing is all about balancing acidity and sweetness, strength and weakness, and trying to find the recipe that will reveal the flavours inherent in each coffee. There’s a Goldilocks zone for each coffee where the balance and character of the taste is just right. Some coffees have a wide range and some coffees are finicky and only taste good brewed with very specific parameters. To get better at brewing, take the time to try different recipes, write down your notes (believe me, your caffeinated brain won’t remember what you did four coffees ago!), and only change one parameter at a time.
Our recipe for Basecamp Coffee on Kalita Wave
19g coffee to 250g water
Pour a 40g bloom
At :30 pour water until weight reaches 100g
At 1:00 pour until 150g
At 1:30 pour until 200g
At 2:00 pour until 250g
All the water should have run through by 2:50.
Tasting notes: so sweet! milk chocolate, roasted nuts, full bodied, long caramel finish