Lessons from Perfecting the Pour Over

By Kevin Meyer Updated on January 10th, 2018

For years my wife and I had been fans of our Keurig.  Pop in a pod and in a minute you had a decent cup of coffee.  Simple, clean, and seemingly “lean” since the process was optimized with very little waste.  That changed when The Atlantic published an article in 2015 describing just how wasteful it really was.  So much so that even the inventor of the machine has disavowed it, and over 10 billion K-cups now make their way to the garbage every year.  “Recyclable” K-cups are on the way, but importantly they are still not compostable, hence most will still end up in the garbage.  Keurig machines themselves are not reparable, so hundreds of thousands of them are also ending up in landfills.

This was a major problem for us, both because we live in a beautiful part of the country and are environmentally sensitive, and also because of my strong belief that “respect for people” is the most important component of lean.  “Respect for people” is really “respect for humanity” – and extends outside of the organization, outside of suppliers and customers, to the community.  Environmental stewardship is therefore important to a true lean organization, and is why, for example, Toyota paints the “smoke” stacks of their factories yellow so the community can see that very little pollution is being created.

So what options besides the Keurig do we have for a single cup of coffee?  Even though I switched to decaf over two years ago, I still love the flavor and like having a cup of joe first thing in the morning.  We tried a couple of conventional drip brewers, but were disappointed with the taste.  For several months we even did a quick 5 minute run to the local coffee shop each morning, but that also seemed a bit ridiculous from a value perspective, even though we did use our own flasks or recycled the cups and lids when we forgot it.

Then one day a friend introduced us to the pour over.  The flavor was rich and deep, with an aroma you could smell from across the room.  We started the research, and were soon overwhelmed with the components and process.  It seems simple, but it’s really not.  Just throw some grounds in a filter, dump hot water on it, and you have coffee, right?  Not if you want a really good cup.  Many call it an art, but I don’t like that term – everything is a process in some form.

Osaka pour over coffee makerFirst you need the equipment.  After reading a lot of reviews we settled on the Osaka, which has a stainless steel filter.  Some people prefer paper filters, but they can interfere with the taste – and they create some waste.  The Osaka is simple, inexpensive, and easy to clean.

Then you need a proper kettle.  A standard tea kettle doesn’t have a precision spout which, as I’ll describe shortly, is critical.  We ended up getting the Fellow Stagg from Williams-Sonoma, which also has a built-in thermometer to ensure the proper water temperature.

To really get a tasty brew you should grind the beans just before use, preferably with a burr grinder.  Blade grinders shatter the beans creating uneven particles.

For raw materials you need water, preferably filtered.  A high quality coffee is also best, and we enjoy Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend.  Buy the smallest quantity of beans possible so they are fresh.

The process is critical.  Even minor variations can cause major changes to the flavor of the final product.  Here’s ours:

  1. Ensure all equipment is available and clean, and all raw materials are available.
  2. Fill the kettle half full and turn on the stove.
  3. Grind enough beans to make four tablespoons of ground coffee, which is enough to produce a 16 oz cup of coffee.
  4. Place the filter into the flask and evenly add the ground coffee.
  5. By now the water should be at the proper temperature: 195-205˚ F, easily determined thanks to the thermometer in the kettle.
  6. The bloom pour: gently pour twice as much hot water as grounds onto the grounds, starting in the center and spiraling outward.  Wait 30-45 seconds.  This saturates the grounds and starts the extraction process.
  7. The main pour: gently and slowly pour hot water onto the saturated grounds, again beginning in the center and spiraling outward, then inward.  The grounds should never be swimming, therefore this is a slow process and will take 3-5 minutes to yield 16 ounces.  It is also a very mindful, meditative activity.  You must be focused on that one activity, clearing the mind of other thoughts.  A perfect way to condition and calm the mind for the day.
  8. Pour the coffee from the flask into your coffee cup, adding cream or sugar as desired.

But you’re not done!  Now it’s important to thoroughly clean all equipment, and returning them to their proper location so the process can be repeated the next morning.  If more raw materials – coffee – are necessary, write a note to pick up more.

Yes this is several more steps than the Keurig, but the resulting value – and reduced waste – is also much greater.

Equipment needs to be sized and specified to match and support the desired process.  Spending a bit more can optimize this relationship, improving value and even reducing cost later on.

The process, and process parameters, need to be very well defined.  Many components of the process are related to individual taste – value from the perspective of the customer.  Methodically experiment with coffee brand, grind size, and equipment to find the right combination.  Kaizen.

Executing the process must consistent and requires total focus.  From start to finish, which really takes all of 5-10 minutes, there needs to be total focus, especially during the main pour.  Standard work.

Inventory the smallest amount possible, and prepare and use exactly the amount of raw materials needed.  Just in time.

At the end, the work area and equipment is cleaned and returned to the defined original condition.  This will make it easy to repeat the process the next morning.  5S.

Enjoy the coffee!  A perfect pour over is a great way to start the day!

  1. George Randell

    January 12, 2018 - 10:49 am

    Loved the “everything is a process” comment. I also push back when anyone claims something is “art.”

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