by Lisa Peryman March 05, 2016
For some of us, the pour over coffee method brings to mind stark single-cup drip cones in mud brown made of plastic, plopped on mugs, either with or without filters (depending on the cone) — a step up from instant coffee in terms of coffee ceremony, a crunchy step back in ease of convenience and aesthetic.
In the last several years, however, pour-over coffee has taken on a new sheen of prestige thanks to a resurgence in interest driven by specialized coffeehouses and DIY eco-conscious enthusiasts. That interest has now fussed over to the desire boards of Pinterest, which, according to the number of pins on the topic, has deemed pour over the big It trend of 2016 for home brewers. And there's more: it's not just this year's trend du jour, it's the tea, or rather, fine wine of coffee.
At my local cafe, the following ode to pour over takes pride of place on its proprietor's statement wall:
Pour what? Just the most amazing way to brew a small batch of coffee in a very controlled way, highlighting the true taste of coffee beans and its terroir.
Terroir is a French term associated with wine, used to describe the regional footprint that gives grapes a specificity of place (and the way in which soil and climate, among other considerations, affect taste).
How did pour over ascend to the atmosphere of terroir, you might ask?
According to Euromonitor International, a London-based market researcher, the wine reference isn't a typo. Third wave coffeehouses, writes Euromonitor analyst Virginia Lee, "treat coffee as an artisanal product akin to wine by focusing on the importance of single-origin, roasting technique, and brewing styles." Coffeehouse specialists that also procure their own beans directly from farmers "believe that manual brewing including by pour-over method brings out the nuances in their carefully selected coffee," she says. The method's newfound currency, explains Lee, is a combination of consumer demand for better tasting coffee, the availability of direct-sourced coffee with greater flavour range and pour over accessories elevated in design, promoted by indie coffeehouses and used in-house as theatre for patrons.
And visual, this method certainly is, when teamed with pour over products that offer the high sleek of lines like Chemex (pronounced KEM-ex) and Hario, the former in particular. Invented in 1941 by German innovator Dr. Peter Schlumbohm [pictured], the Chemex coffeemaker has been restored to a place of adulation by third wave coffee connoisseurs for its function and beauty: so iconic is its hourglass design fastened with a wood collar and tie, it remains on permanent display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The Chemex coffeemaker is also a star of movies, television and literature, cast most notably alongside James Bond, who considered breakfast the most important meal of the day (that meal being coffee), which he took very strong, black and without sugar, brewed in an American Chemex (refer Ian Fleming's novel, From Russia, with Love). The Chemex played a recurring role in "Friends" on Monica's apartment countertop, and it earned the unusual distinction as drip brew of choice for the mother of Satan's son in Roman Polanski's horror classic, "Rosemary's Baby". Legendary artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, was also a fan.
In practice, the pour-over method at its highest expression is a slow-mo, sensual, very deliberate affair of the heart (although that should read, higher self), and well worth the extra effort. The pour-over taste is clean, balanced and bright, and deeply pleasant (I prefer it to AeroPress, which I interchange with a Chemex when there isn't time or energy for the concentration the latter requires). The pour-over method permits beans to reveal their unique characteristics without bitterness, achieved through the slow pour of water over fresh coffee grinds in a cone filter for even flavour extraction (unless you mess up, this method relies on meticulous human craft).
The technology is a relief of simplicity and the process meditative, once you have familiarized yourself with it. The following is a basic guide to the magic: grind beans (to a kosher salt consistency), rinse the paper filter inside the pour-over vessel with heated water to simultaneously establish a seal and remove filter dust and taste. Carefully, pour out the water, add in the coffee grounds, make a divot, saturate the grounds with a small amount of heated water spiral poured into the divot to form the bloom (and the release of the gases trapped inside the beans that accumulates during roasting), stir (stick, not spoon) and step away from your vessel. Allow 30-45 seconds to pass; then slowly and gently wiggle and spiral pour (with flair) the rest of the water over the grounds in a circular, in-and-out motion.
The rugged fine and luxe feel of a pour-over vessel like the Chemex permits the cinematic quality of this method to play out in full: the rhythm of slow pouring enhanced by the carafe's soothing aesthetic becomes hypnotic and easily permits the cultivation of a meditative mindset. Yes. A coffee meditation. And if that sounds a bit much, you might enjoy some of the comments attached to the various YouTube videos for the pour-over method. Such as this one [edited for effect]: "What a pretentious way to make coffee. ... ain't no body got time for dat!" Actually, according to the latest market intelligence, people do and will continue to make time for a more handcrafted, labour-intensive coffee experience: see millennials.
There are a number of other factors to absorb along the way: craft and taste enhancing gadgets and coffee hacks to geek out on, such as correct water temperature, coffee-to-water ratio, pour rate, getting the filter folds right and so on. The Internet offers a full belly of how-to videos to this end. To get started: accustom yourself to the steps with the amiable master barista Ty Beddingfield of Florida, or an endearingly "gruff" tutorial by San Antonio's Aaron Blanco, or for a more slick walk-through complete with jazz music (scales and timer), try Stumptown's Liam.
Once you've decided on your pour-over coffeemaker of choice — investment is not prohibitive, a 6-cup classic Chemex costs $53.95 and a Hario V60 ceramic drip cone $27.95 — you might want to continue to perfect your stride with apps, such as SlowBar by John Johnson on iTunes.
As economically reasonable as the pour over option is (aside from the cost of replenishing filter stocks and fresh roasted coffee), it does lead to gear goals and swooning over must-have companions for your coffeemaker, such as the gooseneck beehive-bodied Hario Buono stainless steel kettle. The Buono is ideally suited to the pour control calibre that is so necessary for this particular drip brew method and ... it's just so swell.
Cat and Chemex: found on Pinterest at with-grace-and-guts.tumblr.com
Chemex, Hario grinder and coffee beans: found on Pinterest at agentlewoman.com
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Photography by Lisa Peryman and Richard C. Owens
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Lisa Peryman has worked with Greenpeace Australia and The Wilderness Society (Australia). She studied journalism in New Zealand and book and magazine publishing in Canada. Her background includes reporting and editing for daily newspapers and trade magazines, as well as creative copywriting for broadcast. Lisa is continuing her studies in Canada and currently works with Probe International as an editor and writer. Earnings from Green Beanery operations support the work of Probe International, a Canadian charity that works with citizens' groups around the world to protect their lands and their livelihoods. Probe International is a Canadian trust.