Pouring Over

Posted on November 8, 2010

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The following is the contents of an email — somewhat added-to and edited — I sent to a barista trainer, who requested my “recipe” for brewing with a V60.  Since I don’t really have a set recipe but more of a theory on V60 brewing, I decided to share that.  It ended up being far, far longer than I initially thought it would, as I covered pour-over brewing in general as well as some particulars of V60 brewing.

I’ll give you a general overview of how I approach V60 — and pour-over — brews in general, then I’ll toss out a few things I tend to do or look for, then go into some general parameters I use when brewing.  By way of disclaimer, I’ll state that a lot of what I’m saying is guesswork/pocket-science, but as I find I generally enjoy the coffee I prepare (and I try to be as brutally honest as I can in my assessments), or can at least adjust my brews so that I do enjoy them, I don’t feel like a total idiot in sharing my thoughts.

I try to approach pour-overs with the realization that flow-rate is a very, very key factor, much like espresso.  The water is flowing — generally — from the top-down, and thus differs from a press or vac-pot — in which flow-rate is a factor, but not nearly so much –in that the size and uniformity of the grounds will contribute, along with the pouring rate and pattern, water composition and temperature, a much greater impact upon the overall extraction of the coffee than in it would in other brewing methods.  In my pour-over brewing experience, grind size and uniformity affects flow-rate, which affects flow restriction, which, in turn, affects/determines dwell time.  And, since dwell time is much easier to measure and record than grind size/uniformity, I tend to use that as feedback in how my brewing is going.

Okay, here, in no particular order, are those things I tend to do or look for.

  • My base throw size is 6 grams of coffee to every 100 milliliters of water.  That’s a 1:16.6 dry-to-wet ratio, from which I adjust according to taste.  If the coffee is a little older, say, three weeks post-roast, I may increase that a bit, but I usually go with that, mostly because I feel like I want to get everything out of the coffee I can rather than just increase the amount of coffee I’m using to compensate for poor brewing execution.
  • Speaking of brewing ratios, I like using the Metric system.  I really suck at math, so it’s way, way, way easier for me to know what ratio someone else is using when they’re brewing.  1 milliliter weighs 1 gram… simple for simpletons like me :)
  • On a V60, I grind very, very finely, and I brew relatively quickly.  I use a Baratza Vario at home, and if I’m brewing a 15g/250ml batch (fits nicely in a diner mug), I’ll often have the macro lever set to zero or one (if zero is the highest and finest setting), with the micro adjusted accordingly.  For example, if the macro is set to zero, then the micro will be all the way down (courser).
  • When setting the grind, I take into account the coffee’s density.  The higher the altitude, the denser the coffee.  Washed coffees will be more dense than pulp naturals, which are more dense than full naturals.  A more developed (darker) roast will be less dense than a less developed (lighter) roast.
  • The filter you’re using matters.  Cloth filters allow for a different flow-rate than paper filters.  Cloth filters also let through a very tiny amount of undisolved solids, which leads to a slightly different mouthfeel.
  • The bloom tells me things.  More specifically, the color and darkness of the bloom tells me things.  If the bloom is darker than I expected, that tends to indicate that the roast is more developed than I expected.  The practical side of this is that this means the coffee is giving up its solids more quickly and easily; there will be a greater number of quickly migrating fines, those fines will slow down the flow-rate and increase restriction, and in turn, the dwell time will need to be shortened.
  • Trying to speed-up or slow-down a brew so as to shorten or prolong the dwell time is hard to do in a pour-over.  Pouring technique definitely plays a factor.  I have to admit that when I feel like I’m in danger of over-extracting, I should probably just cut short my pouring and add water to the resulting brew, rather than trying to shorten the dwell time.  I’m stubborn, though, and some part of me feels better for being able to finish up the brew.
  • Regarding pouring technique, I start out with a preinfusion of 30 seconds or so, and I use 10 – 15% of my water (what Rao recommends, I believe) to preinfuse.  From there, I’ll pour in the middle and move outward in concentric circles.  For the most part, I keep the stream thin and low, so as not to create much of a channel in the grounds as they settle.  If I do more of a “filling” pour, with a thicker, faster stream, I try to do it earlier in the brew, while the grounds are still suspended in the slurry, so that any “holding” or “sustaining” pour (where I try to hold the level of the slurry steady, so that the exiting brew is equal to the entering water) does not have to break through a thicker layer of settled grounds.  On smaller brews, I find that having a “filling” pour isn’t as necessary… this might be because I tend to do more smaller brews, and I don’t have to worry about that as much, but I’m not sure.  I do use the walls of a V60 for a “high and dry” effect, which Rao hates.  I don’t have any scientific reasoning for saying this is better; in fact, I agree with Rao in principle.  Practically, however, I still greatly enjoy the brews I produce, and I find my technique to be replicable.
  • Another note on pouring technique:  Sometimes, when trying to speed-up the brew, I’ll lift up the kettle higher, so as to create a stronger pour that pushes through the coffee bed a little more.  Conversely, I will sometimes move my pouring pattern into bigger circles so as to try to push those grounds toward the bottom a little more, thus slowing the flow-rate somewhat.
  • On the “high and dry” effect on a V60:  I (try to) use this so as to get some of the grounds up and out of the way, so that when the brew is finishing, it does not have to pass through those grounds.  This means two things.  One, the final draw-down is quicker.  Two, this is very likely resulting in some grounds being extracted more than others.  I’ve gone back and forth over this in my head, and I’m honestly not sure what to think.  I do not have an ExtractMojo handy, so I can’t give you evidence one way or the other.  The only thing I can go back to is to say that I do enjoy my brews, and I usually trust my palate.
  • The shape of the spent grounds does matter.  It tells me how my pouring went, how the grounds were moving and settling in the slurry, etc.  Aesthetically, I like it when they are nice and evenly layered, especially in a V60/Chemex-shaped filter holder, but looks can be deceiving.  I’d rather have a tasty brew than a pretty picture of spent grounds.
  • I try to go right up to the line of over-extraction without actually over-extracting.  In other words, I like to be aggressive in my brewing technique, trying to get everything tasty out of a coffee, then hold that line without getting the nasty stuff.  I don’t like to get a stronger brew just by updosing, not unless I feel like the coffee is already tapped out (old coffee, either in roast or in green form).
  • For small brews on a V60, I use an 01 holder and filter; for larger brews, an 02 holder and filter.  I want space to work with, but if I’m brewing something small, I don’t want to be pouring from several inches away and sending those grounds all over the slurry if I don’t need to.
  • I’ll be honest:  I haven’t tinkered with water temperature too much.
  • If I’m going to change something, I generally change my grind first.
  • While I’m disclosing things, I’ve never brewed with a Beehouse dripper, either, but I definitely would love to.  I would approach that much differently than a V60 or, say, Hario’s Woodneck brewer.
  • One more thing.  The general rule of thumb I employ is a bigger batch size requires a coarser grind, everything else being equal (same coffee, water temp, etc.).  Smaller batch size?  Finer grind.

Okay, now for a few basic parameters I often use: 15g; 250ml; 30s preinfusion; 1:45 total brew time, including preinfusion.  Jay Caragay would disagree with me on that brew time, but like I said, I enjoy my brews :)

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