PHOTOS: Rites of the slow-pour brew

The pour over method is gaining steam thanks to Blue Bottle in Williamsburg.

Brooklyn admittedly has a reputation for snobbery, but it can back it up. Case in point: coffee. The borough is brimming with local roasters and importers and individual pour-over brewers showing off their best beans, which are gaining steam in cafes, pop-ups and flea markets. The basic idea is simple, barring exact measurements: Pre-wet coffee in a dripper stacked atop a mug, let it steep, stir the grounds, slowly and steadily add more hot water and voila! In an age of instant gratification, what makes this affordable luxury of the starving artist worth the longer wait? We ask the brains behind four Brooklyn-headquartered coffee brands to chip in their two dollars and fifty cents.

There’s something precious about the pour-over: Each cup is a one-of-a-kind testament to the complexities of the bean and the craft of the brewer. But it’s also a culinary science. While Blue Bottle Coffee’s James Freeman admits taste is a subjective experience, he defends the precision of pour-overs. “We can control the brewing ratio. In terms of an urn, you couldn’t pack all that coffee in a basket,” he says. “Coffee’s a bit like butter — more is almost inevitably better than less. [Pour-overs] allow us to use more.”

Manual quality control isn’t just about quantity; baristas adjust the water’s temperature, the length of the pour and, therefore, even distribution in a way machines can’t. Crop to Cup’s Taylor Mork explains that the dispersion of spray sets pour-overs and urns apart. “With the pour-over you can have an even extraction,” he says. “You’re not going to have grinds that are overextracted and bitter and some that are underextracted. Everything gets wet evenly.” That’s not to say the method always produces perfect results; rather, it offers flexibility.

Although meticulous, pour-overs are a labor of love. “If coffee comes with little effort, with the flick of the wrist out of a spigot, what is that saying?” asks Freeman. “Is it cherished and appreciated?” Waiting for an individual cup isn’t an inconvenience because showmanship, artistry and camaraderie are priceless. Mork agrees. “To present the options of ‘wait longer and pay more’ or ‘get quick and pay less,’ pour-overs are one of the few things people will pay more for.” Gimme! Coffee’s Erin McCarthy counts those extra minutes as an opportunity to learn. “I like going to a shop where the barista knows what they’re talking about and can tell me a snippet about the coffee, the farm it was grown on, who grew it, how it was processed,” he says. Fellowship, it seems, better sweetens the coffee experience than sugar. “You’ve got to remember, people aren’t coming to a cafe to drink coffee,” says Kitten Coffee’s Rowan Tuckfield. “They’re coming for half an hour of pleasure.”

If you’re looking to brew at home, investing in a modest amount of equipment — a ceramic or plastic cone, an herb grinder, a pouring kettle — is necessary but cheap. Mork even suggests using a scale to measure water “if you want to go super geeky.” Across the board, however, the experts insist on freshness. This means buying coffee in small volumes, storing it for up to two weeks in an airtight container in a dry cupboard, and grinding the beans just before brewing. “It’s all about volatile hermetics, which is a fancy way of saying beautiful aromas that evaporate once you grind the coffee,” says Tuckfield. “And your sense of taste is based on smell.” Freeman argues that grinding beans on a cup-by-cup basis is about more than fragrance. “Some people are like, ‘I don’t have time to grind my coffee.’ It makes me sad when people say that. What else don’t you have time for? Investing time in sensual pleasure is important!”

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to savor an individual brew — it’s your own, and that’s the beauty of it. Tuckfield advises to trust your palette. “If you want to put syrup in your coffee, put bloody syrup in it,” he laughs. “There are some people who say that you should never put anything in coffee, but if you put a little sugar and milk in your coffee — like everyone else in the world does — that’s just fine. Find the method that pleases you most.”

Sure, exclusivity may be snobbish, but certainly not freedom of choice.

McCarthy’s tips for the ultimate coffee drinking experience:

Drink the coffee “for here”
 
Wait a couple of minutes for the coffee to cool before sipping. “You can taste more as the temperature cools, and it will sweeten up, too. A lot of people don’t realize this and add sugar before the coffee has cooled. It’s like adding salt to well-cooked steak before tasting it.”
 
Slurp it in a little bit, then roll it around in your mouth before you swallow. “This will help you to taste more nuances in the coffee.”
 
Smell it all the way. “The dry grounds smell terrific, and you get a lot of really beautiful perfume-y, high notes from the wet aroma [the gasses that rise up while it’s brewing].”
 
Go to a cafe where the baristas are knowledgeable. “They can tell you the story of the coffee with confidence.”
 
Bring a friend! “I’ve had the best coffee tasting experiences when I was discovering a coffee with someone else.”

Quoted: Coffee talk

James Freeman
Owner, Blue Bottle Coffee
www.bluebottlecoffee.net
What’s stirring: A Rockefeller Center location

On maxing out: “I can drink for professional reasons or also sheer pleasure and it’s kind of nice to have the option of doing either/or. I like to think of it as drinking champagne at a party — you’re carrying your cup around and the hostess refills and at the end of the night you say, ‘I just had one glass of champagne.’”

Taylor Mork
Director, Crop to Cup
www.croptocup.com
What’s stirring: Pour-overs at the Brooklyn Flea

On sustainability: “I tend to not think we jam this whole farm-direct thing down people’s throats. We try to have a helpful amount of information about each coffee, but not greenwash. The more flowery you are with your language — a lot of it doesn’t matter. [Pour-over brewing] is the best way for people to notice the differences between origins.”

Erin McCarthy
Regional manager NYC, Gimme! Coffee
www.gimmecoffee.com
What’s stirring: Free Samples of their $40 per pound Finca San Luis this Sunday at noon
 
On pleasure: “I love to smell the coffee when it’s freshly ground and also when it is brewing — the gases are amazing. These two stages are just as much a part of me enjoying a cup as the taste. When I’m tasting it, I usually suck in and aerate a bit — if I’m in public, not too loud or obnoxiously, but I want the coffee to spray my whole mouth, hitting all my taste buds.”

Rowan Tuckfield

Owner, Kitten Coffee
www.kittencoffee.com
What’s stirring: Two more pop-up shops

On refining your palette: “With coffee there’s really beautiful flavors but there’s also really disgusting flavors. And if you’re not careful, you pull them out. It’s like having your first glass of really good whisky. Once you’ve tasted [good coffee], it’s like, ‘that’s what all the fuss is about.’ Then you start getting your vocabulary around the defects.”

Curious how pour-over compares to a deli brew… in a blind taste test? Click here


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