A few weeks ago we posted a little graphic on Instagram describing coffee brewing methods in terms of how much coffee they make and how much effort is involved. We had pour overs all the way to the right of the chart as the most high-effort brewers, mostly because of the effort involved in continuously manual pouring. That said, we should be clear: while making a pour over takes a little more focus than brewing drip coffee in an auto coffee dripper, when compared to most of the things you do in your kitchen, it falls somewhere on the effort scale between preparing instant ramen and making hard-boiled eggs.
An Anecdote and Some History
I’ve lived with the same roommate for over a decade now, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that before social distancing, I have never seen him make a single cup of coffee (pour over or otherwise). A week or two after we all started working from home, he asked me to teach him how to brew with my Kalita Wave (hot and, shortly after, flash brewed). Now most days I brew great coffee in the morning and he brews a delicious coffee later in the day (it’s just as tasty as mine) and a few weeks ago he said to me something like, “So people have designed all these complicated things to make this easier?”
Indeed, we tend to think of pour overs as something done in high-end specialty coffee shops in the 21st Century. But remember that, after being invented by Melitta Bentz in the early 1900s, the pour over was a standard way of making brewed coffee in many households around the world for years. So when you see Jessica Fletcher making a pour over in an '80s episode of Murder, She Wrote, it’s not because she’s some wild coffee nerd (though, honestly, who knows, Jessica Fletcher’s talents and interests are many), it’s because that was just a regular thing to do.
When trying to quantify the effort that goes into making fresh coffee, we focused on the brewing itself (specifically the brew time and brewing method). When factoring in cleanup, paper-filter pour overs are actually quite a bit easier than metal-filter methods like a French press or a Moka pot. Just take your grinds in your filter coffee and walk them over to the compost or trash, give your brewer a quick rinse, and voilà. It’s much easier than getting every last grind out of a French press with a spoon, and cleaner than using extra rinse water to do so (and having to pour it into your trash can or down the drain).
There’s an Easier and a Harder Way to Do Anything
Finally, coffee brewers are only as easy or difficult, good or bad as their recipes. So while my personal pour over recipe for brewing one is relatively involved, there are also lower effort (and way higher effort, to be honest) ways to do it. If you don’t have a scale and are forced to eyeball how much water you’re pouring, sure, you won’t be exactly as consistent as the barista at your favorite shop, but it's not the end of the world. If you’re multitasking and have to pour the water in two big pours instead of a bloom and several refills, it won’t be perfect, but it’ll still probably taste fine. Part of the advantage of pour overs (versus a drip coffee maker) is the ability to adapt and change how you’re making them, and that can definitely also mean simplifying.
Some coffee brewing methods take more effort than others, but overall the home coffee brewing process — whether an auto-drip brewer or a Chemex coffee maker — still falls into the overall category of "Things That Aren’t Very Hard". So, if you’re interested in the qualities of pour overs (clean flavors, less sediment, the ease of making one serving at a time), but have been too intimidated to try this coffee making method, don’t be! It’s a delicious cup of coffee! It’ll be fun, it isn’t that difficult, and — even if you don’t make the perfect, great cup every time — it’ll still be tasty for any coffee lover.