These days, pour over brewers are nearly as ubiquitous as coffee shops themselves.
In specialty coffee circles, conversations about pour over brewing are often riddled with technical terms and obscure references to such-and-such barista’s brewing technique, which may give the impression that it is an intimidatingly difficult task that should only be attempted by a professional.
The reality is quite the opposite: the process of brewing pour over coffee is surprisingly simple, and anyone is capable of crafting consistently delicious cups when armed with the knowledge they need to succeed.
What is a pour over?
At its very simplest, pour over brewing is exactly like it sounds: it’s brewing coffee by pouring water over grounds.
Brewing coffee with a pour over relies on the same basic principle as brewing coffee with your run-of-the-mill automated brewer, like a Mr. Coffee — that by pouring hot water over coffee grounds, you can pull out just enough flavor to get a perfectly delicious cup of coffee. There’s just one essential difference: with a pour over, you are manually pouring the water instead of relying on a machine to do it. This means that you have control over a number of extra variables, like water temperature, brew time, level of agitation, and more. Having this added control allows you to brew your coffee just how you like it and easily make small changes to your brewing process if something tastes “off.”
The very first pour over was created in the early 1900s, and since then, there has been no shortage of variations on the classic design. While it may be fun to get on a soapbox to talk about which brewer is the best and why, the truth is that every brewer has its strengths and weaknesses.
Some are more beginner-friendly and forgiving of small mistakes, while others may require you to spend some more time honing your pouring technique. Some brewers give you a ton of room for daring experimentation, while others are known for yielding a consistent cup each and every time. It should also be noted that while certain brewers may be better suited to highlight a particular type of flavor, the reality is that you can bring out any flavor you want with whichever brewer you choose with just a little bit of know-how.
Choosing the right brewer is a matter of personal preference, but learning what makes certain brewers different from others can help you make an informed decision. It’s like a game of Choose Your Own Adventure… but with coffee brewing!
Step 1: Choose your material
The majority of pour overs are made from one of four basic materials: BPA-free plastic, porcelain, glass, or metal. While these materials differ in a number of ways, two most directly impact your ability to keep brewing great coffee: durability and heat retention.
Metal/Stainless Steel Metal pour overs are by far the most durable. If you’ve got slippery fingers, a metal brewer is most likely to stand the test of time, and it’s also safe to pack into a suitcase or bring along to a campsite. However, it should be noted that the metal can rust over time, so it’s important to allow them to fully dry after each time you brew.
However — and perhaps counterintuitively — metal brewers are typically the poorest at keeping your coffee hot during brewing (there are exceptions to this, but we’ll get to that later!)
Keeping your “slurry” (the coffee that’s brewing inside your pour over) at a reasonably stable temperature is critical to brewing delicious coffee. The good news is that even if your brewer doesn’t retain heat very well, you can still make a great cup as long as you remember to pre-heat your brewer by pouring hot water along the sides before you use it. Also, this low heat retention means that metal is often the material of choice for people who favor iced coffee, because the resulting brew is not always quite so hot.
Glass As you might expect, glass pour overs are particularly fragile. While you’ll still want to pre-heat, glass is far better at keeping your slurry hot than metal. Glass brewers are often particularly aesthetically pleasing and make a beautiful addition to your at-home coffee setup or bar cart.
Porcelain While often slightly more durable than glass, porcelain pour overs are ultimately still pretty fragile. Porcelain and glass pour overs are pretty similar in terms of heat retention, as well, so you’ll want to preheat your brewer with hot water. The most significant difference between glass and porcelain brewers is aesthetic (painted porcelain, anyone?)
Note: Since porcelain is a specialized type of ceramic, these brewers will sometimes simply be referred to as “ceramic.”
Plastic While plastic pour overs are arguably the least aesthetically pleasing, they are far better at retaining heat than any of the other options. They are also one of the more durable materials, bested only by metal. Plastic brewers are highly heat-resistant and almost always made with BPA-free plastic, so you don’t have to worry about getting harmful chemicals in your coffee.
Step 2: Choose your shape
Across the veritable sea of different pour overs, there are three basic shapes that they can be more-or-less neatly divided into:flat-bottom, cone, and wedge.
Flat-bottom Flat-bottom brewers tend to be the most user-friendly. As the same suggests, this brewer has a flat bottom, with one or multiple holes through which coffee drains. One of the most critical aspects to brewing flavorful, delicious coffee is getting all of your grounds equally wet. Since there is more exposed surface area on the bottom of these brewers than others, you can make that happen with relatively little fuss.
Cone A conical pour over has angled sides with one hole in the center. Since all the water has to drain through that single point — and the conical shape doesn’t give you a ton of surface area at the bottom — cones require you to be a bit more precise in your technique in order to equally wet all grounds.
Don’t let this discourage you from using a cone, because there are plenty of great brewing tutorials to help get you up to speed in no time — just be prepared to be a bit more engaged and attentive to your brew.
Wedge If flat-bottom and cone pour overs had a baby, this would be it. Wedge pour overs are V-shaped with one or multiple holes. With more surface area on the bottom, wedge pour overs are slightly more forgiving of small technical brewing issues than cone, but not quite as user-friendly as flat-bottom.
Step 3: Choose your brewer and size
By now, you’ve likely decided which material and shape work best for your purposes (if not, that’s also okay!). With the exception of wedge drippers, which are mainly available in porcelain and plastic, you can find pretty much any combination of material and shape your heart could desire.
If you selected flat-bottom, your options are…
Kalita Wave Available in glass, metal, and porcelain, (with a similar product in plastic) the Kalita Wave is widely regarded as a terrific dripper for pour over beginners, designed to be particularly forgiving of pouring errors. The filter is designed to keep coffee away from the bottom, which increases temperature stability (which, as you’ll remember, makes for great coffee!)
Fellow Stagg A relative newcomer from Fellow Products, Stagg is exclusively available in metal. However, due to its vacuum-insulated double wall design, Stagg retains heat far more effectively than most metal brewers on the market. Added perk: Stagg comes with a built-in ratio aid that’s perfect for brewing without a scale.
If you selected cone, your options are…
Chemex One of the oldest brewers on the market, the Chemex exclusively comes in glass. Uniquely, the Chemex has a built-in carafe directly below the brew chamber. While the smaller sizes (starting at three cups or ~15 ounces) are great for personal use, the largest size holds a whopping 65 ounces of liquid and is your best bet for serving a crowd. Chemex’s patented triple-layer paper filter pulls out all the oils from your coffee, resulting in a “clean” brew like no other.
Origami Dripper An aptly named brewer, the Origami Dripper is reminiscent of an intricately folded piece of Origami paper with evenly spaced angled ridges. Although Origami is only available in porcelain, US distributor Slow Pour Supply offers the brewer in a variety of vibrant colors, making it a beautiful addition to your coffee setup. You can use either Hario V60 filters or Kalita filters, making this a particularly versatile brewer that’s ripe for experimentation.
Hario V60 Named for its signature 60-degree walls, the Hario V60 is available in glass, porcelain, metal, and plastic (four for four. Not bad, Hario). As cones go, the V60 arguably requires some of the highest level of precision, but anyone can achieve mastery given a little time. The angle of the walls encourages water to flow toward the center of the grounds, extending contact time and therefore extraction. A single large drainage hole means your water faces little resistance, but this also means that you can easily customize your brew by manipulating other variables (such as grind size).
If you selected wedge…
Melitta Available in plastic and porcelain, Melitta is the oldest pour over brewer on the market. You can find Melitta filters pretty much anywhere, and the brewer itself is pretty beginner friendly. With a single, medium-sized hole, you can’t customize your cup nearly as much as with other brewers, but it yields a consistently delicious cup with minimal effort.
Bee House Dripper A variation on the classic Melitta design, the Bee House dripper is a more aesthetically pleasing upgrade available in a number of vibrant colors. The key difference is that the Bee House features two holes instead of one, making for a marginally faster draw-down and more forgiving brew than the Melitta.