Fast-forward a hundred-plus years, and little has changed from dear Melitta’s brass pot and blotter paper innovation. There are now several variations on the market of the filter holder that bears her name, and as many strong opinions on how to best employ them as there are coffee trees in Bali. They vary in size and shape; some are smooth, some are ridged. Some have a built-in decanter, others park right on the mug you drink from. Metal filter, paper filter… Regardless, most coffee professionals agree that the pour-over is still a fine way to brew a tasty cup.
The fundamentals we can all agree upon:
- Use fresh coffee. Always and forever, freshest is best. Ideally, this means buying whole beans, not too long out of the roaster, and grinding to order. The grind will typically be a little finer than for a flat-bottomed coffeemaker, which is finer still than a press pot. Still grainy, though — not powdery.
- Place the filter in its holder over your cup and wet it with some of the hot brewing water. This accomplishes a couple things: it rinses any potential off flavors from the filter; perhaps more importantly, it preheats the filter holder and mug or serving vessel. Of course you’ll want to toss that water before actually brewing.
- Add your ground coffee. The amount will vary depending on the filter, the holder, and your taste. A good place to start is with a ratio of 16 grams of coffee per 300ml (10oz) of water.
- Bloom! Pour a little hot water on the grounds — just enough to wet them, not so much as to float them. Watch the grounds bubble and swell as the coffee releases CO2 and expands, ready to release flavor; wait for this “bloom” to subside, about thirty seconds (if your coffee is super-fresh, it may take longer).
- Slowly add more hot water until the desired volume has been brewed. It’s handy to keep an extra cup around to set the drippy filter on when you’re done. We like to use the Beehouse dripper with unbleached Melitta No.2 filters.
The topic of iced coffee and how best to brew it invites as much discussion as the traditional steaming cup—and as you’d imagine, everyone is pretty convinced they’re right. We’ll spare you the lion’s share of the nit-picking arguments and nerdy hand-wringing and break it down to the two most elemental factions: hot versus cold brewing.
We all recall from high school science class that water is a universal solvent (right?), and it’s this property that we rely on to brew delicious coffee. Hot water behaves more vigorously than cold; it only takes a few minutes to brew a well-balanced cup of coffee when using 200-205º F water. If the water isn’t as hot, it’s going to take longer—a lot longer—to get the goods out of the grounds.
Essentially, both camps are right—you can get a really tasty iced coffee with either method, provided you follow a few reasonably simple guidelines. Which one to choose depends primarily on what kind of flavor profile you’re looking for and, to a lesser extent, what kind of brewing gear you may have around.
The cold brew method involves steeping a greater-than-normal amount of ground coffee in cool or room-temperature water for 12-24 hours. After steeping, the grounds are strained from the resulting strong solution, usually first with a fine mesh sieve and then with a paper filter to capture the silt. What’s left can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for a week or so. The cold water doesn’t extract as much acid as hot water does, though the extended steep time causes some oxidation to occur. When diluted to appropriate strength with ice and/or water, the coffee is exceptionally mellow and smooth, creamy and caramel-y. All this can usually be accomplished with tools and vessels found in the average kitchen, though you have to be the kind of person who likes to plan ahead.
Cold brew is also called Toddy (after the brand name of a fancy-pants commercially available cold brew system), while others know it as New Orleans-style coffee. Keeping a jar of cold-brewed coffee extract in the refrigerator has long been part of New Orleans culture, and several pre-packaged options line supermarket shelves in the area. The extract, often containing a little chicory, is sweetened, iced and topped with a healthy dose of milk for a refreshing respite from hot and humid delta days.
However, if you’re a fan of the bright, juicy coffees from the mountains of Central and South America or East Africa, you may find that cold-brewed coffee is too mellow—or maybe you’re just not the plan-ahead type. Perhaps hot-brewed, or what is commonly called the “Japanese Style” of brewing iced coffee is more to your taste. The method is simple: Set up a pour-over as you normally would (grinder, scale, kettle, 200-205º F water, funnel, filter, etc.), but use half the water (or twice the coffee—you get the idea) and drip directly onto enough ice to replace the missing volume of water. The hot water extracts all the high-toned fruity aromatics and acidity in the coffee; the ice melts to balance the brew and there’s no time for the dulling effects of oxidization. Granted, it’s best suited for making just one or two cups at a time and requires having a pour-over funnel, but freshness counts.