Buyers' Guide to Pour Over / Manual Filter Coffee Makers
Pour over or manual filter coffee makers are percolation brewers. They produce a clean, bright flavour with little or no sediment. They’re also relatively easy to clean, if using paper filters, as the coffee grounds can be lifted out using the filter and placed straight in the bin or compost.
Pour overs are probably the cheapest type of coffee maker to buy. However, they are tricky to master, and you may need to purchase additional equipment, such as a narrow-necked kettle or gram scales, to achieve consistent results. If you’re planning on using paper filters, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of these too.
They are also known as manual filter, manual drip and filter cones.
Pour over coffee makers are typically made from one of three materials: plastic, ceramic and glass. There isn’t a huge difference from material to material.
Plastic is cheaper, less fragile, but also less durable. Ceramic and glass are more refined, but don’t retain the heat as well (although this isn’t much of an issue due to the relatively short brewing time).
Filters for pour over coffee makers are also made from one of three materials: paper, cloth and stainless steel.
Paper is the finest of all the filters and will produce the cleanest and brightest flavours, without any sediment.
Filter papers come in two colours: white and brown. White ones have been bleached using a non-chlorine process (often called oxygen bleaching), whereas brown filters are unbleached. The latter usually have a stronger papery aroma than white ones and this can impart on the flavour of the coffee, particularly when brewing smaller quantities and if you haven’t pre-rinse the filter.
White filters were once associated with having a chemical taste and being environmentally unfriendly. More modern bleaching processes have resolved these issues. Whilst they’re not as environmentally friendly as brown filters (the additional process of bleaching uses energy and water), bleaching the filters no longer damages the environment with the release of toxins, in particular dioxins.
Stainless steel filters have the largest pores, so will produce a cup that has less clarity but more body, with a small amount of sediment in the bottom. They are the easiest to care for and reuse.
Cloth filters come somewhere in between, with more body and less clarity than paper, but less body and more clarity than stainless steel. They are often washable and reusable, for at least enough uses to make them worthwhile.
Pour over coffee makers come in three different shaped cones: perfect cone, v-shaped (or truncated cone) and flat bottom.
There are many arguments as to which shape is best; i.e which cone allows for the most even-extraction. But the fact is that there is no substantiated evidence to suggest that one shape is better than the other. Provided you ensure that the coffee grounds are evenly wetted, by pouring in a circular motion during brewing, the shape of the cone will not affect the flavour of the coffee.
From left to right: Hario V60 Dripper (perfect cone), Vicloon Filter Coffee Maker (v-shaped) and Kalita Wave (flat bottom)
The number and size of the drainage holes found in the base of a filter cone differs from one manufacturer to the other. Some have one large hole in the middle whereas others have several smaller holes dotted around the base.
The greater the total area of drainage (i.e. the sum of the area of all the holes) in a cone the more control the user has over the brewing process because of an increased ability to altering the speed of extraction. In other words, the greater the drainage the greater the affect of how quickly the user pours water over the coffee has on the flavour of the resulting cup. However, the payoff for having more control is that the cone is less forgiving of user error. You need to be consistent with your pours to achieve repeatable results. The smaller the drainage area the more forgiving the cone is.
Using the three cones in the picture above as examples: a Hario V60 Dripper, which has a large drainage area, would be more suited to someone who wants to be immersed in the whole brewing process, whereas a Westmark Filter Cone or Kalita Wave, with a smaller drainage area, is for those who want a more hassle-free way of making filter coffee.
Hybrid Coffee Makers
The Aerobie AeroPress coffee maker, which we have classed as a portable model, doesn’t fit neatly into the pour over category as there are many different ways to brew with it. Depending on which method you follow, it can be used solely as a percolation brewer, or as a combination of percolation and immersion. The plunger on the AeroPress means there’s also the addition of pressure to the mix. This means that the AeroPress is capable of producing anything from clean, bright flavours to full-bodied brews more akin to the cafetiere.
Sizing for pour over coffee makers is relatively straight-forward. Their capacity is measured in 180ml/6fl oz cups, which is the average size for a cup. So a 2 cup model will actually make 2 cups or just over 1 mug.