Pour-over Brewing Method – the Chemex

in Brewing Coffee

The first time I ever heard of making coffee by “pour-over” was almost a whole year ago.  Click here to see the video I found back then of a tiny Japanese robot preparing coffee by this method.  I commented at the time that it seemed like a lot of work when I was getting coffee from my drip brewer just fine.

Late last year, I was asked for my thoughts comparing the pour-over technique to the French Press.  I came back to my opinion that the French Press is held in such high regard that there must be a reason why, whereas I wasn’t hearing as many advocates for the pour-over technique.

This month, I visited the Planet Bean roastery in Guelph Ontario and saw something for the first time.  All coffee served in their retail cafe was prepared by the barista using the pour-over method.  I asked Bill Barrett about this, and he gave his opinion that this was an ideal method to brew and get maximum flavor from coffee.

By coincidence, I was given another chance to answer this question when Dawn Foster e-mailed me and asked,

“Marc, what is your opinion of the Chemex coffee maker. A friend swears by it.”


What’s the difference?  Is it worth the bother?

Your drip-brewer at home heats the water and dispenses it over the filter of ground coffee.  That filter fills up with the heated water that extracts solids from the coffee that drips into the pot.  Grind some coffee, pour water in the machine, flip a switch, wait, enjoy.

By contrast, the pour-over method involves you slowly and gradually pouring the hot water in a thin continuous stream over several minutes rather than flooding the ground coffee at once.

To the left is the Chemex coffee makerIn the home version of the pourover technique, this is the name I have heard the most often.  To brew coffee in this way, you would still use a paper filter in the cone opening seen on the left.  Once your water is boiled, you would let it cool slightly so that you are not pouring boiling water onto coffee (which spoils it).

What follows is the slow and deliberate process I shrugged at a year ago, of pouring the water onto the coffee in the filter.  This happens in three steps: pour once to saturate the ground coffee, pour a second time to build a volume of hot water in the filter to drip into the bottom chamber, and pour a third gradual time to use up the rest of the water.  In case it isn’t clear, I don’t own one but don’t worry, instructions come with the Chemex :).


The Professional Way

Planet Bean prepares all of their retail coffee by the cup in this manner.  It has the definite appeal of quality that can’t be rushed in how it’s made.

The pour-over station is set up for each cup of coffee sold in the shop.

From the many varieties of coffee available that day, yours is organized in a single serving that is pulled from the shelf and brought to the pour-over station.

The coffee is emptied into the filter.

And the pour-over begins. It is the same process as I described with the Chemex above, with three separate pouring steps before your cup is ready and served to you.


The exciting part for me is that all of this is very new to me.  I can’t deny the East Timor coffee I had on-site at Planet Bean was awesome, but they have quality in every step so it’s difficult to say it was all about the pour-over technique specifically.

I’d love to hear from you if you have experienced the pour-over method – comment here or always feel free to send me an e-mail.  I’m very intrigued to learn more about the pour-over technique.

15 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to try this Marc. I will have one by next week and will have to pick the perfect coffee to “taste” test it! I am very excited to say the least and will let you know how is comes out.

    Thanks again for the wonderful coffee experiences.

    Robin

    Comment by Robin — March 21, 2011 @ 5:21 am

  2. Robin, I can’t help myself either and will be buying one. Let me know how yours turns out…it just might replace my French Press weekend ritual!

    Comment by Marc Wortman — March 26, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  3. About a year or so ago, while searching for a single-serve method other than the K-cup or pod type units, I came across the Melitta cone unit, for about $3 on their website. It uses a #2 cone filter. Stay with their own, not generics!

    I don’t have a grinder, so I just started buying whole bean, dated as far out as possible, and grinding it at the store. Of all the brands available, I went back to Eight O’Clock Columbian, and have enjoyed it ever since!

    Comment by Charlie — April 21, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  4. Marc… I LOVE my chemex. I have to say that it is a weekend process not a daily (yet) Let me know if you want me to buy you one :o) yumyumyum I love good coffee … thanks to you!

    Comment by Robin — April 21, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

  5. Great to hear Charlie, you’ve convinced me to make sure it’s a Melitta or nothing. For under $20, you might consider a propeller grinder for your kitchen instead of grinding at the store. Eight O’Clock sells their coffee whole bean so you could enjoy a little more freshness by grinding at home. Thanks for the comments.

    Comment by Marc Wortman — April 21, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  6. Awesome, Robin. I use a drip-brewer on a regular day, and my French Press when I have the luxury. After being served coffee by pourover twice in the last little while, I’m a believer. I will invest in one, so no need to buy me one 🙂 – you can buy me good coffee instead!

    Comment by Marc Wortman — April 21, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  7. Just did this today and didn’t even know it’s a legitimate way of making coffee

    Comment by Wendy — August 5, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  8. Not only legitimate, but regarded by many as one of the best ways to brew coffee!

    Comment by Marc Wortman — August 9, 2012 @ 1:45 am

  9. What about the one-step South Indian way of making coffee? You have two cylindrical steel containers one over the other. You can read all about it here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_filter_coffee

    Comment by Arun Prabhu — August 26, 2012 @ 5:54 am

  10. Hi Arun, Great to hear from you. I experimented with this method of brewing coffee, using what I had available to me at home and some chicory that I bought from the grocery store. You can read all about it here: http://makegoodcoffee.com/coffee-talk/indian-coffee/

    Comment by Marc Wortman — August 26, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  11. In fact, what a great site as well as helpful posts, I’ll include backlink – bookmark this site? Thank you, so much!

    Comment by Dillon — July 16, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

  12. Ha! Who knew we were making pour-over coffee when we camped, and used the Mellita cone and filter over our thermos carafe!! And it always did taste really good! May have to look into this Chemex thing!

    Comment by Meg — July 1, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

  13. That’s great, Meg. The Melitta is a great “starter unit” before moving up to the Chemex pitcher. Let me know what you think.

    Comment by Marc Wortman — July 2, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

  14. Hi Marc,
    Must say this post was surprising to me on a couple of levels. First and foremost it gave me the warm-fuzzies because some of my earliest memories of the kitchen I grew up in are of my mom and the white ceramic Melitta cone she always used (and still does) to make herself a cup of coffee.
    I also found this post surprising because these memories would have been from the early 70’s, and it never occurred to me that anyone wouldn’t be familiar with pour-over coffee.

    That said, I’ve just recently gone back to, and have been experimenting with, pour-over coffee and I’m tickled that it seems to have become a thing. Of course one of the most satisfying aspects of pour-over is the sense of ritual involved in the process… even to the point where I prefer sitting where I can watch all the coffee being brewed (dripped, pressed or poured) at the bar in our fave breakfast spot.

    Anyway, great site and
    Cheers,
    Evan

    Comment by Evan — September 6, 2014 @ 10:23 am

  15. Well said! And thanks for the nice words.

    I agree that there is something ritualistic in making coffee by pourover. You certainly feel closer to the process, compared to flipping a switch.

    Thanks for the comment. It was great to read, and I’m enjoying a coffee by pourover as I read it.

    Comment by Marc Wortman — September 11, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

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