One of the more mesmerizing experiences to be had in a specialty coffee shop is watching an experienced barista make a pour-over. We’ve routinely seen customers at our coffee bar pause in mid-conversation as this happens, as if witnessing a performance, and a minute or two may pass before they ask us about what we’re doing.
Depending on his or her familiarity with the pour-over as a brewing method, the specificity of a customer’s questions will vary: from broad inquiries such as How does that work? or Why do you do it that way? to more pointed questions like: What’s your water-to-grounds ratio? Your grind setting, starting temperature, target time? How long do you let the grounds bloom? What do you think is better, V60 or Kalita Wave?
Half the battle of producing a winning pour-over is making informed, deliberate choices with regard to each of these parameters. For instance, we at Ironclad use a 15:1 water-to-grounds ratio, because we like best the proportion of body to sweetness and acidity that this ratio brings out in the cup with our coffees. Preferences vary; another shop might use a 16:1 ratio, and their neighboring café, a 14:1 ratio.
Roasting styles and goals differ as well, along with the innate flavor profiles and characteristics of the coffees themselves. All these and other forms of variance factor into the choices a knowledgeable barista may face when tailoring her or his pour-over recipe to perfection. We have found, for example, that the Ethiopian single-origin coffees that we’ve sourced extract more slowly, all other things being equal, compared to offerings from other regions (possibly due to their having higher bean density). Knowing this, we may compensate by grinding these coffees somewhat coarser, in order to bring the brew rate up to match target duration. Even so, it may take us a number of tries to fine-tune these recipes to our satisfaction.
To the curious brewer-barista, this trial-and-error process of adjustment can prove endlessly fascinating, but the important thing is that it actually leads to a discernible difference in cup quality. At Ironclad, we tend to believe that you don’t have to have a trained palette to be able to tell if the coffee you’re drinking was brewed properly or not. Customers may not always be able to pinpoint or precisely articulate the minute characteristics of the extraction, the age on the roast date, etcetera, but nevertheless, they can tell when a drink has been crafted with care and precision.
Taking as given the cognizance of our patrons, we at Ironclad don’t settle for anything less than our very best effort when it comes to the quality of our coffee. That’s why, when making pour-overs in our café, we use as our standard what we consider to be the finest, most versatile brew-method out there: the 4-6 method. Created by Japanese barista Tetsu Kasuya of Coffee Factory café in Ibaraki, Japan, the 4-6 method was the championship-winning recipe at the 2016 World Brewer’s Cup in Dublin, Ireland, and has since taken the specialty coffee world by storm, increasingly becoming the pour-over method of choice for savvy baristas and home brewers across the globe.
The name of Kasuya’s pour-over method refers to the proportion of water that is used in the different phases of brewing. As he explained during his performance at the World Brewer’s Cup, “You pour the first 40% in two pours, and then decide how many pours you want to make for the last 60%. The first 2 pours decide the balance of the acidity and sweetness. The remaining number of pours will decide the strength of the coffee.” The pours occur at 45 second intervals, and the grounds bed is permitted to dry completely between pours. (This goes somewhat against conventional wisdom about pour-over brewing, which holds that the grounds bed should be fully immersed for the duration of the extraction. However, we’ve explored both methods extensively, and are of the opinion that allowing for drying between pours doesn’t have any discernible negative effects on cup quality.)
What’s really remarkable about the 4-6 method is that it gives the barista control over the “strength,” or intensity, of the brew by varying the number of pours that make up the final 60% of water used. Our theory about why this works is that increasing the frequency of pours produces greater overall turbulence in the grounds, leading to a higher amount of total dissolved solids in the cup and a heightened sensation of a coffee’s brew strength. One can pour all 60% in one, two, three or four passes, in order to produce a desired effect, and/or to play best to a particular coffee origin’s strengths.
To highlight the delicate, floral notes of a coffee from Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea or Ethiopia, for instance, one might use one or two pours; to bring out the heartier, earthier or more savory elements of a coffee from Sumatra, Kenya, or El Salvador, it might make sense to use three or four pours. Kasuya’s recipe in the competition split the final 60% into three pours, in order to dial up the brew strength of a Gesha variety from Panama and produce a more well-rounded cup. Geshas are known for being typically very light, delicate, floral coffees; by making three pours to increase the brew strength, Kasuya was able to produce a winningly sweet, fruity, medium-bodied cup of coffee.
We love Kasuya’s method and are going to stick with it as our pour-over go-to. That being said, one of the great things about specialty coffee is that, in many cases, there isn’t just one right way of doing something, but rather a variety of ways to produce excellence in the cup – some of which have yet to be discovered!
We would love to hear your thoughts on your favorite methods for pour-over. What does your recipe look like? Feel free to leave comments below, or on our Facebook page – we’re all ears (and noses too).
For the Ironclad crew,
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