How to Upgrade Your Pour-Over Coffee-for-One Set Up
Coffee at home is the new normal, so it may as well be good. We talked to the pros to help you master the perfect cup.
I was never a coffee drinker. All through those all nighters in college, late nights out during my first few years living in NYC, and working long hours as a book editor, I was never tempted. I was adamant about not becoming addicted to caffeine and cultivated a serious interest in tea instead. My anti-coffee stance was cemented when I met my future husband, another tea drinker who disliked coffee.
I was never a coffee drinker. Until the end of 2015, when I gave birth to my son. All of a sudden, I was up all night long and still expected to function the next day. Since we had zero coffee-making supplies in the house, taking my infant son to a neighborhood coffee shop became something for me to do during my maternity leave. It gave me a reason to get dressed, walk outside, and be around people. I would order a half-caf latte, load in lots of sugar, and try to enjoy it. I didn’t indulge every day, but I soon began to look forward to it, and viewed my latte as a small treat.
When I went back to work, I needed my coffee hit more than ever, even as my husband shook his head in disappointment at my defection. I was officially addicted to caffeine. I realized that I should have some way to make coffee at home, and save myself that daily $5, but it didn’t make sense to get a full-size coffee maker for just one person. The next time I was visiting my coffee-drinking parents, they gave me a spare Melita dripper. The little plastic cone was ideal: small, unbreakable, and perfect for just one cup. And while I still preferred my fancy espresso drinks, I was at the point in my coffee journey where I should probably be able to drink a regular cup of coffee, even if I did have to add a hefty spoonful of sugar, right?
The routine of making my cup of coffee each morning during lockdown helped keep me sane. It gave my morning structure. But it gave me no joy. And that’s when I realized I needed an upgrade.
My little Melita did the trick for four years. That is, until 2020 unleashed its wrath. Suddenly, the opportunities for a coffee shop visit dwindled. My Melita-made coffee was starting to feel a little sad. Still, the routine of making my cup of coffee each morning during lockdown helped keep me sane. It gave my morning structure. But it gave me no joy. And that’s when I realized I needed an upgrade.
So I dove head-first into the world of pour-overs and drippers for one. I consulted coffee-loving friends and expert Ever Meister, the director of education and editorial manager for Café Imports in Minneapolis, about her favorite pour-over set ups and how to make the perfect cup of coffee for one.
“Pour-overs are totally ideal for making small batches of coffee,” she says. “They are designed to hold a small amount of grounds, which is why most of them are cone shaped or tapered: They are optimized to keep the temperature of the brew consistent and to allow the coffee to extract evenly.” Turns out, if you try to brew a small amount of coffee in a large-capacity automatic drip machine, it’s akin to making half the amount of brownie batter but baking it in the same size pan as a full batch, according to Meister. “Pour-over lets you brew the highest-quality, smallest-volume drip coffee.”
So if pour-over is best for brewing just one cup, how do I know if I’m doing it right?
“The key to mastering the pour-over is to get the combination of your coffee-to-water ratio, grind size, and brewing technique calibrated together,” she says. “You want to make sure you’re extracting just the right amount of coffee, that you’re doing it in the right amount of time, and that it’s a technique that you can repeat.” And the best way to find out your ideal combination, says Meister, is to constantly experiment.
“What would your coffee taste like if you added 5 grams of grounds to your recipe? What if you took 5 grams away? What if you made the grind one notch finer or one notch coarser? Does that taste better or worse?” she asks. “Coffee isn’t as set-it-and-forget-it as most people think it is, and you might be one or two tweaks away from the best home-brewed coffee of your life! You’d never know it unless you try.”
So I decided to splurge on some grown-up coffee tools, and start experimenting my way to my perfect cup. These are my favorite upgraded pour-over coffee-for-one tools, from electric kettle to grinder to dripper.
At-Home Pour-Over Coffee Essentials
At-Home Pour-Over Coffee Essentials
I started my coffee adventure with the cheapest electric grinder I could find, which was a small Krups blade grinder. It worked well and was basically fine. And if you’re on a tight budget, an electric blade grinder is your best bet. Still, I decided I wanted to upgrade to a burr grinder. Why? A blade grinder functions like a blender, chopping up the beans with a propeller blade, which results in uneven pieces and can also warm the grounds. A burr grinder or mill uses two revolving burrs that crush the beans evenly between them. When I heard that, I realized that just like I had grown to prefer stone milled flour and chocolate, I would probably prefer the taste of coffee beans ground by burrs. And I was right: my coffee tasted smoother and less bitter. Baratza, a company out of Seattle, was recommended to me by several people, so I went with the Encore, their entry level electric conical burr grinder. While it does take up more space than my little Krups, it also has dial with 40 different settings so I can figure out the precise grind size I prefer (so far, it’s 17).
Okay, hear me out: this kettle will change your life. Aside from looking great on your countertop, you know how coffee is almost always too hot or too cold? This gorgeous electric kettle (which comes in several stylish colors) lets you set the exact temperature you want the water to be and will even hold it at that temperature while you do your multiple pour-overs (in other kettles, the temperature will slowly decrease as you pour). But it turns out, the temperature you brew at isn’t just about the temperature you prefer to drink at. “Water temperature will really affect your extraction rate, because hot water dissolves things faster than cooler water,” says Meister. “Your brewing water is dissolving coffee flavor from your coffee grounds, and hotter water does a better job of it.” Meister recommends an ideal water temperature of just below boiling (205°F) and suggests not going below 195°F.
Another nice feature on the Stag is a timer, for those who are really precise and try to brew their entire cup within three or three and-a half minutes (another recommendation from the pour-over coffee overlords). Plus, the gooseneck, which I thought was purely aesthetic (because it looks really, really good), is actually to make sure your pour-over isn’t flooded with too much water at once; it ensures you only pour a small amount at a time and can direct the flow in circles over the grounds.
But I haven’t gotten to the truly best part of this kettle. There’s a hidden video game inside the LCD screen. If you know how to activate the secret easter egg, a game similar to the original cell phone classic “Snake” appears on the screen. Their version, called "Wormy!," has a cult following and there’s even a Wormy! World Championship, held in the fall. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to know the secret for activating "Wormy!," so here you go:
1. Turn on your kettle.
2. Remove kettle from the base.
3. Toggle the F/C switch back and forth.
4. When Wormy! appears on the screen, your mission is to eat 40 Fellow bow ties in the shortest amount of time.
While the Melita is perfectly serviceable, there are some better (slightly pricier) drippers out there. One that kept coming up in my research was the Japanese-made Kalita Wave, which Meister uses every day. It's available in ceramic, glass, plastic, and metal versions, and all work well. “I love glass and porcelain, but I’m a real klutz so I am relieved to have a metal dripper,” says Meister. The Wave, which features a flat bottom that ensures even water drainage and extraction, produces a consistently balanced and flavorful cup. It comes in two sizes, the 155 for a single cup, or the 185, for making two to four cups.
The downside to the Kalita is that it requires specific wavy filters, which are extremely thin and tear easily. They are also more expensive and hard to find at stores, although they can easily be ordered online.
Hario, another Japanese company, is the other dripper brand that kept coming up among my coffee-drinking friends. While it requires a little more precision than the Kalita Wave, the Hario V60 will reward you with a well-rounded cup once you get the hang of it. Plus, if you’re looking for a complete kit, the Hario V60 Pour Over Kit has everything you need to start your pour-over journey: the conical V60 dripper, a glass carafe, a coffee scoop, and 40 filters. And like the Kalita Wave, it comes in either glass, metal, ceramic, or plastic. While at first the carafe seems extra—why not just brew directly in your mug?—it helps ensure you brew the right amount for a cup, thanks to the fact that it’s clear and carefully marked. Once you’ve had an opaque mug with a dripper on top overflow with coffee, you’ll get what I’m saying.
The Hario V60 also requires its own filters, but they are cheaper than Kalita Wave filters, and come in bleached or unbleached, and with or without tabs.
I had never heard of this nifty gadget before I started researching home coffee-brewing upgrades, but several people recommended it as a fast and easy alternative to a true pour-over, and it’s also ideal if you want an espresso (although regular coffee can be made by diluting it with more water). And let me tell you, making a good espresso at home without getting a huge, expensive, and temperamental machine is nearly impossible, hence my constant coffee shop excursions for lattes and cappuccinos. The AeroPress uses air pressure to force water through the ground beans, simply by pushing the plunger down. But it’s different than a French press: Because the hot water is in contact with the coffee for a shorter amount of time (just three seconds), there’s less bitterness. The lightweight and compact plastic device also requires its own specific filter (just flat, round discs) but they’re pretty cheap and easily found online.
The reason I know I’m not a coffee snob is because purchasing a milk frother during the pandemic was hands down the best coffee-related purchase I made. Any coffee snob would surely name their scale or manual burr grinder, right?! But I realized that one of the things I missed most from my coffee shop cups was the foamy, hot milk that made my latte or cappuccino complete. Plus, I like my coffee hot, and adding cold milk was cooling my brew. An electric milk frother solved both those problems, giving me light and airy milk foam that was hot enough not to cool down my coffee. And while the foam tastes great on top of an espresso made from my AeroPress, it’s also delectable on regular coffee. The Capresso in particular stole my heart because unlike battery-operated stick frothers, it can froth or heat milk to cold, hot, or warm temperatures and at a much more powerful speed, which means much more froth and foam. The Capresso also niftily stores extra frothing and heating disks right underneath it, and expertly froths plant-based milks as well.
49th Parallel 12-ounce Large Latte Cup & Saucer
Over the last 10 months of the pandemic, I’ve come to realize that the times when my daily cup of joe makes me the most happy, is when it’s in a special mug. Sure, grabbing a mug at random works fine in a pinch, but when I want to treat myself, I reach for the café-style mug and saucer that I bought at one of my favorite coffee shops in Vancouver, 49th Parallel. Yes, it reminds me of my wonderful visits to that city, but it also gives me a little more of that coffee shop feeling at home, thanks to the tea cup style mug and saucer. It's all about the little things these days, right?