The Café au Lait
In this article, we’ll walk you through a timeless classic in the coffee world, café au lait. Transport yourself to a Parisian cafe without ever leaving the house.
If you’ve slipped into the habit of treating coffee as nothing more than a quick caffeine fix, the pour-over method is the antidote you need. This form of manually brewed drip coffee is almost meditative in its precisely measured portions and carefully executed steps.
But don’t let the precision of this method put you off. Although the steps involved can look daunting to a beginner, once you understand the process, pour-over is a straightforward brewing method. It also doesn’t require too much washing up, which is always a bonus.
Best of all, it makes a cup of coffee that is clean, clear, and delicious. The pour-over method highlights the intricate flavors and aromas of the coffee, resulting in a cup that you will happily linger over.
Pour-over coffee was invented in 1908. The brainchild of a German housewife and entrepreneur named Melitta Bentz, it has seen a resurgence in popularity since the third wave of coffee-making hit in the 2000s.
Baristas love the control it gives them, and we love it for making it easy to brew high-quality coffee at home.
Compared with expensive espresso machines that take up a lot of space, the equipment needed for the pour-over is both minimal and affordable. Having said that, there are some essentials you’ll need to get started.
And coffee beans, obviously – won’t get far without those.
Some people also like to have a timer to hand. This helps you time your bloom and evaluate your grind size.
Of course, things are never quite as simple as they appear and you’ll find plenty of different opinions over what kind of brewing device is best, whether you should have cloth or paper filters, etc.
As with any brewing method, having a decent grinder will make all the difference to your pour-over. Being able to control the texture of your coffee is essential to getting the perfect cup. If you are going to spend money anywhere, spend it here.
Although it isn’t essential, most pour-over enthusiasts will invest in a goosenecked kettle. This makes it easier to control the flow of water.
There are a few options to consider for brewing devices and filters. Let’s look at these more closely.
The good news is that brewing devices aren’t generally too expensive. There are lots of different brands out there, each with its fans. Some of the most popular options are the Hario V60, Chemex, Kalita, and Melitta.
Essentially, a brewing device is just a cone that sits over a vessel where the brewed coffee will collect. There are variations in shape and materials, but they’ll all produce a delicious cup of coffee, especially once you’ve had some practice.
There are a few factors to consider though. First, how easy is it to buy filters to fit the device you choose? Most pour-over brewing devices have specific filters to fit them, so you want to know you can pick up more easily.
Second, what is it made of? Many of the most popular brands offer a range of options, including glass, ceramic, stainless steel, copper, and plastic. The one you pick depends on what you want from your dripper. And, yeah, maybe your personal aesthetic too. Some of them are beautiful.
Plastic warms up quickly and retains heat well, which can lead to a more consistent brew. But many avoid this material because of its environmental impact.
Glass and ceramic heat up slowly. This might affect the final brew but can be mitigated by preheating the dripper (more on this in a moment). They retain heat well and are easy to clean. But they are breakable – those who will be brewing on the go or who share their homes with pets, small children, or clumsy housemates might want to factor that in.
Stainless steel and copper are more durable than glass or ceramic. And they heat up quickly too. However, they also lose heat fast, which can affect the taste of your coffee.
The other big debate is whether you should go for a cone-shaped brewing device or a flat-based one. Once again, there are advocates on both sides.
Most say that the flat-bottomed drippers make it easier to get an even extraction, resulting in a fuller-bodied cup of coffee. The cone shape, however, is an easy option for beginners since it is simpler to achieve a flatbed of grounds at the end of your brew.
Paper filters can leave an unpleasant cardboard flavor in your coffee. There’s a way to prevent this, which we’ll discuss as part of the brewing technique.
Paper filters are generally more easily available than cloth options and you can get them to fit your brewing device. There’s also no washing to worry about. But there is an environmental impact to consider, as with any disposable item.
Cloth filters are becoming more readily available, and you can now find options to fit most popular brewing devices. They avoid that papery taste and are arguably more environmentally friendly. They do need washing, however. You’ll also have to prewash them before you can use them the first time.
Increasingly, you can also find stainless steel drippers with a fine mesh filter built-in, meaning you don’t need to use an additional filter at all.
You’ve navigated your way through the different equipment options and are ready to make your first cup of coffee. We’re going to outline the basic method for making pour-over here.
But, of course, we also encourage you to experiment. Once you are comfortable with the technique, you can tweak your recipe to suit your tastes, the equipment you are using, and the beans you have on hand.
Don’t forget to keep notes too. As you adjust your process, you want to keep track of what you’ve done and the results so that you can replicate your successes (and avoid your failures).
The first step in making pour-over coffee is preheating your brewing device. Put the filter paper in first. Then pour hot water from your kettle through your dripper, ensuring that the water comes into contact with the full surface of the filter.
This does two things. First, it warms your dripper, reducing heat loss later when you are brewing your coffee. Second, it removes most of that papery taste you can get from using paper filters.
Don’t forget to discard the water before going onto the next step.
As a rule, the ratio for pour-over should fall between 1:15 coffee to water to 1:17. As you refine your pour-over recipes, you might want to play around with the coffee ratio. Start with 1:16 and go from there.
Since the water is in contact with the coffee for a relatively short amount of time, you want a medium to coarse grind for pour-over. Fine grounds can also disrupt the process by clogging your filter, especially in a cone-shaped dripper.
If your coffee tastes sour, it is a sign that your grind is too coarse. If it is bitter, you have gone too fine.
While you are grinding the coffee, you can also boil your water.
Place the ground coffee in the filter paper and shake it gently to level it. Place the brewing device and receptacle on your scales. This is so you can add the correct amount of water.
You want to use water that is hot but not quite at boiling point. Leave it to cool for around 30 seconds before you start to pour.
Initially, you will pour just enough water to wet the coffee grounds and release the gases. This should be twice the amount of water as you have grounds.
Pour the water gently in concentric circles, using the scales to see when you have reached the correct amount. Then leave the coffee to bloom for 30-45 seconds until you see that the bubbling has stopped and the coffee has settled.
Once the bloom has finished, you can start to pour. Keep a consistent flow of water and start in the center, moving outwards in concentric circles.
You want to take the water as close as possible to the side of the dripper without actually pouring down it. This ensures all the coffee grounds are extracted and none of the water bypasses the grounds.
If you pour slowly enough, you may be able to continue until you have reached the total amount of water for your brew. Otherwise, pour 100 ml at a time and let the water level decrease sufficiently before adding the next batch.
Once all your water is poured, gently agitate your brewing device to ensure all the grounds are saturated. You can either do this by gently swirling the dripper (often known as the Rao Spin) or by stirring it lightly with a spoon.
Leave your coffee to brew until all the water has dripped through. For a single cup of coffee, this should be 2.5 to 3 minutes.
If you want to be precise, you can time the process. This can help you identify if your grind size is right. Too fast suggests your grind is too coarse. Too slow means you have ground it too fine.
That’s it! Your pour-over coffee is ready to enjoy. Don’t forget to record what you did in the Good Fika app so that you can replicate it or make changes for next time.