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A properly prepared cup of pour-over coffee is a joyous thing. Clean, clear, and delicious, it is worth putting in the time to learn how to make this form of hand-brewed coffee correctly.
However, making the perfect pour-over coffee is both an art and a science, which can mean beginners struggle to master the technique at first. Fortunately, most pour-over issues are easily remedied. Here’s our guide to ten of the most common pour-over mistakes, and how to fix them.
A steaming hot cup of coffee is one of life’s true pleasures. But if you are using water that has just boiled for your pour-over, you’ll risk burning the coffee grounds. This leads to bitter, harsh-tasting coffee, not the smooth, clean taste you are aiming for.
If you have a thermometer handy, you can use it to make sure your water is between 195- and 205-degrees Fahrenheit (90-96 degrees Celsius) before you begin to brew your coffee.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a thermometer, leave the water for around 30 seconds after boiling to let it cool down before you pour. This should get it to around the right temperature, although you’ll obviously have to allow for the type of kettle you have and the temperature of the room itself.
Making a great cup of pour-over coffee is all about controlling the direction and speed of the water as you pour it into your brewing device.
Go too fast and you’ll swamp the coffee grounds, risking a cup that is full of fines and gritty on the tongue. But if you aim your water in the wrong place, you may end up missing the coffee bed altogether, sending some water straight through the paper. This results in a weak and diluted cup of coffee.
Part of this is down to practice and good technique. With experience, you’ll learn the art of a slow and consistent flow of water that moves out from the center in concentric circles.
However, having the right equipment is vital here too. For a decent pour-over, you need a kettle with a long gooseneck that will allow you to properly control the flow of water into your brewing device.
Note: For a real premium upgrade, use the Fellow Stagg EKG Gooseneck Kettle, it heats up quick and maintains temp (which is crucial) for a brewing a brighter, cleaner cup in style.
No matter how you brew your coffee, getting the correct grind size is essential to ensuring a delicious result. Since the water is in contact with the coffee for a comparatively short time when you are making pour-over, it is especially important to make sure you are getting this right.
You’ll want to aim for a medium to coarse grind for pour-over coffee. Go too fine and you’ll end up with a clogged filter and a bitter cup. Too coarse, and your water will pass through the grounds too quickly, leaving you with an under-extracted and sour drink.
There’s a certain amount of experimentation involved with getting the grind size exactly right, especially as you try out different beans and roasts. But you’ll also make your life (and your coffee) much better if you invest in a decent burr grinder.
A high-quality coffee grinder gives you more control over your grind size and helps to maintain consistency, reducing the number of fines that make their way into your cup.
The pour-over technique isn’t the slowest way to make coffee, but it isn’t the fastest either. If you’ve taken our advice and are using water that has had some time to come down off the boil, you might find that your coffee is going cold before you have time to enjoy the last drop.
Heat loss during brewing can also affect the taste of your coffee. Too cold, and you’ll find your pour-over tastes sour and acidic.
Don’t be tempted to go back to using boiling hot water though. The solution here is simple – preheat your brewing device before you start brewing. This prevents heat loss and keeps your coffee warm and delicious.
All you need to do is pour hot water from your kettle through your dripper and into your cup/collection jug. Discard the water before you start brewing.
Using a ceramic coffee dripper can also help, as they lose heat slower than glass or metal ones do.
If you find your coffee tastes a bit like paper, you might be missing an integral step in the pour-over process.
Many pour-over devices come with paper filters as standard. But when you use these straight from the packet, they can cause an unpleasant taste in your final cup of coffee.
Fortunately, you can reduce that papery flavor by rinsing your filter papers before you use them. The easiest way to do this is to place the filter in your dripper and then pour hot water over it, making sure to wet the full paper.
The best part is that you can do this at the same time as you preheat your brewing equipment, killing two birds with one stone.
If you still find your coffee tastes too papery even after you rinse your filter paper, you may just be especially sensitive to the flavor. You can try using cloth filters instead, which is also a less wasteful option.
Another option that is gaining popularity is to use a zero-waste coffee dripper. Made of metal, these drippers come with a fine mesh, which filters out the coffee grounds.
Note: Looking to learn more about filters? Check out our article on the best coffee filters (reusable and otherwise).
If you are using cloth or zero-waste filters, washing is very important. Over time, the coffee oils will build up and block the filter, resulting in an extremely slow flow of coffee.
You’ll need to rinse your reusable filters carefully after every use and do a more intensive wash every couple of weeks to keep the filters clear and working properly. Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions to make sure you get the most from your reusable filters.
If you are new to pour-over, you might be wondering why everyone keeps going on about the bloom. It might sound a little finickity, but this is a vital step in making the perfect cup of pour-over, so it is important not to neglect it.
The bloom happens when you pour just enough water to fully wet the coffee grounds. At this point, you should stop and wait before you introduce any more water into your dripper.
You’ll see the grounds lift up and start to gently bubble as they release gas. This gas is carbon dioxide. Some coffees contain more than others, with darker roasts typically containing more than lighter ones.
We want to drive off as much carbon dioxide as possible before we start the brew proper. This is because excess carbon dioxide can introduce a sour note into your coffee. Too much gas will also prevent water from coming into contact with all of the coffee grounds, meaning you won’t get the full flavor.
When you pause to let the bloom take place before you carry on brewing, you improve the taste of your pour-over. Use twice as much water as you have grounds and wait for around 30 seconds (or until the coffee stops bubbling).
Another common mistake beginners make when they start learning the pour-over technique is not agitating the grounds.
There are several times when you need to shift the coffee grounds around in the filter to get a good bed and ensure proper extraction. If you forget to take these steps, the water won’t be able to reach the full surface of every grain of coffee, which means you’ll miss out on the full flavor of your pour-over. When this happens, it is called channeling and you want to avoid it as much as possible.
The first opportunity to optimize your extraction is when you place your ground coffee in the filter. It will naturally form a slope, so you’ll need to level this out by tapping the side of the filter with your hand or giving it a gentle shake. You want as flat a bed as possible before you start to pour your water.
The next chance to improve your pour-over comes when you add the water for the bloom. Agitating the grounds at this stage helps to distribute the water evenly throughout the coffee, meaning the carbon dioxide gets driven off at a more consistent rate. If you don’t do this, some areas of your coffee will have a longer extraction time than others.
You want to be careful here, as agitating the grounds too much at this stage might lead to a blocked or torn filter. Stir the grounds cautiously to prevent clumping and allow the water to reach as much of the coffee as possible.
Finally, you can optimize extraction during the main brewing phase by introducing some movement to the coffee grounds as it brews. This creates a more consistent extraction by ensuring all the grounds are fully saturated with water. It can also increase the rate of extraction, meaning you’ll get the full benefit of all those delicious coffee compounds.
Everyone has their own favorite way to agitate the grounds during brewing. Arguably, the simplest is to just stir with a spoon or stirrer – be careful not to rip the filter if you are using paper. But many people favor the Rao Spin, a technique that involves gently swirling the filter so that the coffee inside starts to spin.
Whatever method you choose, just make sure you are paying attention to your coffee grounds during your pour to get the best flavor possible from your coffee.
In our introduction to pour-over, we gave you a sample pour-over recipe to get you started. Of course, it is up to you to experiment and adapt the recipe to suit your tastes.
We heartily encourage you to play around with your coffee recipes – we’re fans of experimentation here at Good Fika. But what we don’t recommend is simply eyeballing your ingredients, especially when you are making pour-over.
The joy and challenge of this method of brewing is its precision. If you are just guessing at the coffee to water ratio, the quality of your pour-over will be completely hit-and-miss. Likely more miss than hit, let’s be honest.
Instead, we strongly advise that you take the time to weigh out both your coffee and your water to make sure you are getting the ratio correct. As a rule, you are aiming for a ratio of between 1:15 coffee to water to 1:17.
Of course, you can easily weigh out your coffee in advance. Many grinders have timers to help you ensure you grind the correct amount. But to measure your water correctly, the easiest method is to stand your brewing device on a set of electric kitchen scales.
Note: Again, sweet upgrade for not much more is the TIMEMORE Coffee Scale. It’ll look good on your calendar when you aren’t brewing, is rechargeable, and has a nice grip so your coffee cup doesn’t move around while you brew (or worse spill).
Some scales include a timer, which is a nice feature to help you keep an eye on your brew time (more on this below). Make sure whatever you use is large enough to fit your brewing device on.
A slow pour is vital to a good pour-over coffee anyway. But keeping your pour slow and steady will also help you to accurately weigh out your water. Some scales can take a moment to respond to the change in weight and you don’t want to find you’ve accidentally poured too much because you were going faster than you needed to.
Let’s be honest, grinding your beans too far in advance is a cardinal sin in any kind of coffee brewing. But there’s something about the precise and clean flavor of a pour-over that makes it especially hard to hide stale coffee.
When you are gasping for your first cup of coffee in the morning, having the grounds ready to go sounds like an attractive option. But grinding beans increases their surface area, which speeds up oxidation and means they lose their flavor faster.
You’ll be able to tell if your coffee is stale fairly quickly just from the taste. But old, stale coffee also won’t bloom much, if it does at all. So, if you add your water for the bloom and your coffee doesn’t rise or bubble in your filter, it is a good sign that your beans are old or that you ground them too far in advance.
Generally, the fresher you grind your beans the better. Try not to have them ground more than twenty minutes in advance of using them. This is another reason we encourage measuring everything – you don’t want to grind too much coffee and then end up discarding it because you couldn’t use it in time.
Make sure you keep your coffee beans in an airtight container to keep them fresh for longer. Keep them out of the light and at room temperature too.
And we hopefully don’t need to tell you this, but if you buy pre-ground coffee instead of grinding your own beans, you can expect a lot less flavor from your pour-over. We won’t tell you not to, but we will tell you to try grinding your own and then decide for yourself whether it is worth the effort. (Spoiler alert: it is).
Timing your coffee might seem like it falls into a similar category to watching paint dry. But this is more important than many pour-over novices realize.
How long the water is in contact with your coffee has a significant effect on the final taste of your drink. Too long means an over-extracted cup that tastes bitter, dull, and lifeless. But if your brew time is too short, you’ll end up with coffee that is sour, acidic, and with little aftertaste.
Find the sweet spot and you are on your way to the perfect pour-over. The ideal brew time will depend on the coffee beans you are using. But you’ll usually be looking for 2.5 to 4 minutes. Lighter roasts need longer, darker roasts need less time.
If your brew time is too long or too short, it is often a sign that you need to adjust your grind size. The coarser the grind, the faster the water will pass through your coffee.
A very long brew time can suggest a blocked filter, especially if you are using a reusable cloth or metal filter.
Keeping an eye on your brew time helps you diagnose potential issues with your pour-over, taking you a step closer to that perfect cup.
As you can see, brewing with pour-over is hard, it can take time to master, but when you know the tricks, it is much easier to improve your recipe and get a delicious cup of coffee.
Good Fika is a coffee roast and recipe tracker that’s been gamified. You earn badges as you explore the wonderful world of coffee and learn more about your own tastes as they evolve.
The big thing about Good Fika that’s relevant here is crowd-sourced recipes. The Good Fika community has likely already added a great pour over recipe to that roast you’re trying to brew. With the app, you can look up your roast, use this recipe, and have a better cup before the bag is gone.