Thoughts on Pour Over and Ceramic Drippers

Pour over coffee.

A slow brewing method that has gained popularity even in the face of society’s “need for speed”. In a world riddled with the coffee equivalent of fast food joints and pod-fed, automaton, one-touch wonders; pour over has built quite a following in third-wave coffee shops everywhere. The precise measurement of coffee, finding the perfect grind, the temperature of the water, the timing, “riding the bloom”; its all so technical and time consuming.

But is it all worth it? Hell yeah it is.

That collection of tedious tasks makes for one damn good cup of coffee. It unlocks fragrances and flavors you never knew existed in those beans. Citrusy undertones, hints of dark chocolate, that buttery finish.

Try getting that out of a plastic pod.

The equipment you use can be a huge factor in releasing all of those wonderful attributes. Today, we’re discussing ceramic drippers. There’s a lot of them out there. Hario, Bonmac, Bee House…hell, even the coffee chain that shall not be named has one! (I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Starbucks.) When we first jumped into the world of pour over, we bought The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee. We would venture to say that this book is to coffee as Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is to bodybuilding, but this is open to debate.

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s dripper of choice is the Bonmac and the Bee House. They pretty much built their business on pour over, so it would seem logical to follow their lead. We purchased two Bee House units and got to work. Other than two very annoying nubs on the underside of the cone (it was a pain in the ass trying to get them to sit flat on our homemade stand), they functioned flawlessly. We also purchased a Hario V60 to take for a test drive and found that it functioned perfectly as well. They had their subtle differences, and that was reflected in the coffee it brewed.

Hario V60

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The design is elegant, clean, practical and well executed. The V60s wide saucer ledge, coupled with a smaller inner lip allows for easy accommodations for various size cups and dripper stands. The handle and body have a good, firm feel to them, making it feel natural to grab and hold, especially while shaking and tapping the vessel.

The breakthrough in the Hario V60 is its precisely angled design, spiral-ribbed side walls and large exit hole. The spiral ribs extend the entire side walls, which allows the filter to free-float on the dripper. This allows air to escape and the grounds to fully expand. The Hario V60 is always showy with its full, round and dramatic mushroom blooms even with older roasts. So if you’re expecting to wow your guests, whip out the V60!

What makes the Hario V60 a must have in any coffee enthusiasts cupboard is that you can be so experimental with it. Got a dark roast and want a slower pour? Grind finer, lower your temperature and the hole is still big enough to accommodate. Then, take notes. How does it taste? Got a lighter roast? Raise your temperature, grind courser or pour faster. The point is, the Hario V60 opens up the doors for years of experimentation and it won’t let you down.

Well, there is one thing that can let many people down. The Hario V60 requires its own special filter paper and its not cheap!

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Bee House

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The Bee House has a gorgeous design, with its elegantly sloping integrated handle. The vessel itself features the classic wedge shape and is very similar to the Bonmac and Bonmac Pro. The ridges extend about 3/4 of way up the side walls and there are two exit holes. It is also the only ceramic dripper on the market that has ingenious viewing holes to prevent overspill if you’re not using a scale, making it very user friendly.

So what makes the Bee House different in terms of brewing? Firstly, the wedge shape allows the coffee bed to sit lower and closer to the drip holes. Andy Sprenger, two-time consecutive winner of the US Brewer’s Cup, explains:

I maintain the coffee bed quite low in the brewer (Bee House). I think this helps with heat retention and more consistent contact with water to grounds (minimizes high and dry grounds). (Source: Spruge.com)

We believe this is precisely why the ridges only extend 3/4 of the side wall. Pour over is like the espresso drink form of coffee because it is made uniquely on the spot. The large Bee House is designed to brew about 12-20g of coffee, which is perfect for an individualize cup of coffee. Andy Sprenger maintains that although he’s brewed countless cups using the V60 and Kalita Wave, he still gets the

…most flavorful, pure and evenly extracted brews out of a Bee House. (Source: Seriouseats.com)

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So, if you want a consistently good cup of coffee, the Bee House is for you. That is if you can overlook some poorly executed design elements. One being that the small, oval shaped saucer coupled with the larger inner lip makes its less versatile, or even dangerous to use with cups in your cupboard. Its been notorious for committing acts of coffee betrayal by spontaneously toppling over, sending a mass of hot, sticky, coffee lava all over my thighs. If you to decide to build a dripper stand as an alternative to stacking them on top of your cups, you may run into another issue.

Those little nubs you see on the far left and far right of the dripper left us frustrated. Even after sanding out a circular area for the dripper to slide into, we ran into the issue of instability due to those little nubs on the outer edges.

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On a better note, it does fit perfectly over the Hario Range Server and uses easily available wedge shaped filters!

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Other Drippers:

Seriouseats.com gives a really good overview of the major types of ceramic drippers: Hario V60, Bonmac, Bonmac Pro, Bee House and the Kalita.

Our Verdict

What we have found is that no design is truly superior to another. Subtle differences in design create subtle differences in the coffee. Differences that may appeal to some and not to others. Different techniques call for different tools and in the end, its about what works best for you on your journey to find YOUR perfect cup of coffee.

Good Luck!

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