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A Genuine Handmade Cup of Coffee
Brewing a cup of coffee manually- without a coffee maker, can be a relaxing and enjoying daily ritual. It can also seem pretty daunting at first. If you are curious about manual brewing, the barrier to entry is actually really low. It can be about as simply as you want it to be.
One of the most popular methods of manual coffee brewing is a manual drip brewer, also known as a pour-over. This method is comparable in concept to what a standard coffee maker does with some very important exceptions.
Probably the most commonly known manual brewing method is the French press. Nearly everyone is at least familiar with the iconic glass pitcher and plunger attached to a screen combination. If you are interested in a French press brewing guide, it can be found here.
One important difference between an automatic drip coffee maker and a manual drip brewer is the water temperature. Many automatic coffee makers simply do not get the water hot enough to extract all the flavors you want out of your coffee. Water that is just off the boil, around 200-208 degrees Fahrenheit is widely accepted as the standard for ideal water temperature range.
Most pour-over brewers are a simple design— a device filter extracted ground coffee from hot water. Still, there are lengthy YouTube videos, heated forum debates, and even a manual brewing championship. Don’t get too caught up in all the technical details. You are just brewing a cup of coffee. It’s going to be great.
Coffee Brewing Supplies You Will Need
You don’t need a lot of fancy, expensive equipment to start down the road of manual coffee brewing. The most basic drip brewer that I recommend is the Melitta drip brewer. You can purchase it online for around seven dollars. I have seen them at most grocery stores as well. While this is not the most elegant and aesthetically pleasing drip brewer, it will get you descent results. It is also light weight and not easily broken.
Here are the supplies you should gather up before you make your first cup of manually brewed coffee.
A Drip (Pour-Over) Brewer
You can really use any type of drip brewer you like. I recommend staying with something that has smaller holes in the bottom to help you pace the rate water flows through the coffee. Some drip brewers, the Hario V60 for example, have a single large hole in the bottom which makes coffee grind size and pouring techniques more of a concern. Here are some of my top beginner pour-over choices:
- Melitta drip brewer– I like this because it is inexpensive, durable and easy to find.
- Bee House Ceramic Coffee Dripper– The Bee House was my go-to brewer for many years. It is easy to use and looks great. I’ve written a brewing guide specifically for the Bee House.
- Clever Coffee Dripper– This was my first manual brewing device and it will always be a favorite and one I recommend. The Clever Coffee Dripper can be used like a standard pour-over dripper or it can be used as an immersion coffee brewer. I have also written about the Clever Coffee Dripper (here).
I like these because they use standard filters (which you may already have on hand) and because they are pretty forgiving for beginners.
A Kettle (something you can boil water in and pour water out of)
The number of kettles available can be staggering. There are electric kettles and gooseneck kettles and combinations. If you want to keep it super simple, I have used a glass pyrex measuring cup and a microwave. I have also written about gooseneck kettles (here).
Brewing coffee manually is something that most people associate with specialty coffees. Your coffee selection is the most important component to the final product.
I recommend buying quality whole bean coffee and grinding it yourself. This is not a requirement. I believe you will still see improved results no matter what type of coffee you use. Use what you are comfortable with and experiment with higher quality coffees later.
Make sure you pick up the correct filter for the type of drip brewer you select. I recommend using a plain white paper filter not the brown natural type.
Don’t forget the mug! You dripper should be able to sit on top of the mug easily to minimize the chance of spilling your brew. I am partial to ceramic mugs myself. There is nothing quite like sitting down to drink a cup of coffee out of a cool ceramic mug.
Manual Pour-Over Instructions
I realize that there is a lot more that goes into drip brewing techniques than is shared in this post. My goal is to provide a baseline knowledge for trying manual coffee brewing with minimal expenses. Things like a gram scale, a gooseneck kettle, fresh whole bean coffee, and a burr grinder do make a more predictable, repeatable result. However, for the beginner it is enough to get ones feet wet and start simple.
Dosage- How much coffee?
A typical ratio on most prepackaged, store bought coffee is one level tablespoon ground coffee per 6 fluid ounces of water. I recommend starting with this ratio for your first manual brew. Try to shoot for a cup and a half of water (12 fluid ounces) and 2 tablespoons of ground coffee. If coffee is too strong or too weak for your tastes you can always adjust your ratios next time. You can dig deeper into coffee brewing dosages here.
The Filter Rinse- A simple step
The basic premise behind a filter rinse is simple. If you do not rinse your paper filter, there will be tiny little paper fibers in your coffee and it could change the taste. I feel this is less of an issue with white paper filters. You may not feel the need for this step and want to skip it altogether.
The secondary purpose of a filter rinse is to preheat your drip brewer and mug. Starting with a preheated mug and brewer will keep your coffee hot for longer.
To rinse your filter, pour water that is just off the boil over the filter and completely saturate it. Let the water drain into the mug and then discard the water. (Don’t forget to discard the water or you will not only end up with those little paper particles in your coffee, your cup will most likely overflow and make a big mess)
The Bloom- Wait for it
It is now time to brew your cup of coffee.
Once you have discarded the filter rinse water, put the ground coffee into the filter. Bring your water to a rolling boil and take if off of the heat. Wait 10-15 seconds. (This is to bring the water temperature down to 205 or so.)
Pour a small amount of water over the grounds to just moisten them. This is call the bloom. Blooming your coffee helps to off gas some of the carbon dioxide that may still be clinging to the grounds.
A good rule of thumb is to use about ten percent of your water volume for the bloom. Make sure the coffee ground are all completely saturated. If you are using fresh coffee you should see some bubbles during this step. Wait until your bloom has stopped bubbling or about 30 to 40 seconds.
The Finish- Your first manual brewing masterpiece
After you have let the grounds bloom for the appropriate amount of time, slowly pour the rest of the water onto the grounds.
Try to keep the water level low and add water at around the same speed it is filtering through the bottom. Everyone has a technique for this stage. Some people stop and stir halfway through, some people pour only in the center, and some people have perfected a swirling technique that they swear by. You can experiment with some different techniques later. For now keep it simple and repeatable—slowly add water to the grounds as coffee filters out the bottom.
Enjoy- Take a moment
Once all the coffee has filtered though, set the drip brewer on a different cup to catch any stray drips.
Sit down and taste your coffee. Don’t just guzzle it down, sip it. Think about what it taste like. What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? It is too strong? Too weak? Make a mental note (or a real note if you wish) about something you would like to change next time. If it is perfect… then try to repeat the process exactly next time you brew.
More Resources for Further Study
If you are ready to learn more about brewing a great cup of coffee, I have lots of articles to help you on your way. My “Getting Started” page can point you in the right direction.
The best way to see an immediate improvement will be selecting better coffee to brew. Visit a local roaster or look into a subscription service like Angel’s Cup. You may also want to read about the best water for coffee and how to fix a bad cup of coffee.
Have you tried brewing a cup of coffee manually? What tips would you add to this brewing guide? What is your favorite pour-over brewer? (and why?) Let me know in the comment below.
(Post updated September 24, 2020, Originally posted November 11, 2014)