Pour Over into Spring
A Lesson on the Equation for Hand-brewed Coffee
Two mugs and two small metal pitchers sit on a table at D² Java in Exeter, NH. Owner Dan Demers reaches for one of the pitchers and fills his mug a quarter ways with a Costa Rican brew. I do the same. “Do I drink it now?” Demers raises his eyebrows, encouraging me, “You can do whatever you like,” before giving his coffee a swirl and adding, “I like to let it cool a moment to take in the flavor.” He sips. I mimic. The brew is light but assertive, sending a floral sweetness to the front of my mouth. Second pitcher: a Kenya Nyeri Thageini engulfs my palate, leaving a rich finish at the roof. “It’s thick,” I say. Demers nods, describing a fuller-bodied coffee that can more traditionally bear cream and sugar.
We’re drinking pour overs, coffee made by hand rather than by machine or something more automatic. The tools include a goose-necked kettle for controlled pouring, a conical dripper for holding grounds, and a catch pitcher for brew that passes through the dripper’s tapered bottom.
Over a 3 minute process, baristas use these tools to extract, as evenly as possible, about 20% of ground coffee’s 30% available dissolvable solids. “If you extract too little,” Demers explains, “you get a sour coffee. If you extract too much, you get a bitter, astringent coffee.”
In short, pour overs aim for balance, that literal sweet spot featuring any one varietal’s key flavor, or sweetness, which is affected by everything before brewing—growing, processing, roasting. This means that a coffee’s quality is all there before a barista must present it.
With the patience of a former math teacher, which he is, Demers explains that baristas solve for a varietal’s sweetness— e.g. fruit (like strawberry), citrus (like lemon), caramel (like brown sugar)—by formulating an equation with four extraction variables: temperature, grind, dwell time, and agitation.
To effect greater extraction, baristas use hotter water, a finer grind, a longer dwell time (less water poured through in smaller additions), and a pour technique that causes the grounds to move more. To effect lesser extraction, baristas use cooler water, a courser grind (often the size of sea salt granules), a shorter dwell time (more water sent through more constantly), and a pour technique that causes the grounds to move less. Baristas also monitor brew ratio, or the amount of water put through the amount of grounds brewing, meaning that they can affect brew strength without necessarily having to increase extraction.
At this point I admit a bias. I lived almost a decade in Portland, Oregon, actively avoiding what seemed the pretense of pour overs on every corner, but now I wonder if my Jersey-bred cynicism has kept me from enjoying good coffee. After all, I prefer our Costa Rican brew straight. Then again, I prefer our Kenyan sample with cream. So if these brews can just turn into cream-and-sugar-please, why the pour over to begin with?
Looking past D²’s pour over bar to where he offers batch brews and mochas, Demers honestly qualifies that virgin pour overs aren’t the only path to a good cup of coffee. Still, his inspiration to open in 2012 remains unchanged—his passion for the pour over: “Nothing else,” he asserts, “can provide the freshest cup possible and the truest sense of the quality a café can offer.”
Ultimately, pour overs are about preference clarity. They help customers identify their favorite coffee for cream and sugar, and they even let customers discover—just maybe—that they like a certain coffee black. Either way, Dan’s baristas won’t pour them wrong.