Posted Thu Feb 9, 2012, 4:59pm Subject: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
First, a disclaimer: I love pour over coffee. A few years ago I picked up a Hario Woodneck and have spent more time and coffee than I compare to admit experimenting and refining my technique to produce the best cup I possibly can. I love pretty much everything about it: the clarity of flavor; the ritual; the aesthetics; the "slow food" aspect; the meditative concentration it requires to stand still for 2 1/2 minutes with a perfectly steady hand; the ability to tinker with grind, dose, kettle temperature and flow rate to find the ideal brew parameters for a specific coffee. I love how it makes a friend feel special to have me brew a single cup just for them, and the expression on their face when they take that first sip. A couple of months ago I picked up a Coava Kone and I love that, too, although I'd say I still have a long way to go before I've mastered my technique.
However, since many elitist pro baristas are adamant that espresso belongs exclusively at the coffee shops and that home espresso will never compare (see this condescending article as an example: http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/aarondelazzer/07-26-2003), let me be the first (probably not) to say that manual pour over is a brewing method that belongs in the home, not the coffee shop.
Have a look at this video of pour over coffee being prepared at Ritual Coffee, supposedly one of the roasters and coffee shops currently on the vanguard of the "Third Wave" revolution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc8Npl8tHXI
If I were to pay $5 or more for a cup of a premium single-origin and this is how it was prepared, I would request to sit down and have a chat with the manager. Is there any possible way that those cups tasted like anything other than disgusting coffee flavored water? Apparently Ritual got rid of their Clovers so that they can brew coffee exclusively this way. Great...
I've had three cups of pour over at high-end roasters/coffee shops here in Victoria, B.C.; two cups with the Coava Kone and one V60. One of these shops has the 2010 Canadian Barista Champion as their head barista. Of the Kone brews, one was terrible and the other was okay but underwhelming (especially considering the fantastic bean that was used). The V60 was admittedly quite good, if I made it at home I'd be happy with it.
Now, contrast this with my experience at Transcend Coffee in Edmonton, Alberta (a FANTATIC roaster that is also home to both first and second place 2011 Canadian Barista Champions). They wisely decided to skip the pour over trend and stick to their trusty Clovers. As a result, every one of their coffees that I sampled in-shop took me on a sensory voyage, the memory of which lingered on my palate for hours afterwards. They were without a doubt some of the best cups of coffee I've ever had. And, perhaps most importantly, if I had ordered a second cup it would have tasted exactly the same.
So, after that lengthy rant, I'm wondering: has anyone on this forum had a truly spectacular pour over at a coffee shop? Given how challenging quality control is, especially when things are getting busy, is there any valid reason why so many high-end shops are adopting it as their method of by-the-cup brewing (other than all the pomp and circumstance involved, which no doubt adds sex appeal and makes profit)? Are there any coffee professionals who can honestly argue that every single cup that comes off their pour over bar is consistently excellent, and that this is the best way to show off premium single origins? Better than something like the Clover?
lalinpv Senior Member Joined: 9 Feb 2012 Posts: 4 Location: san francisco Expertise: I live coffee
Posted Thu Feb 9, 2012, 5:53pm Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
I think this is a tricky subject. I think that your observation that pour over coffee is not for shops really depends on the shop. If the shop is espresso centric (which i would argue that 99% of them are) and little to no attention or time goes into making single cup coffee and/or the customer base is not really ready to accept the wait/change of routine of having single cup coffee then I think you are right. However I think that single cup coffee can be made well in a retail environment. I just think our notion of "coffee shop" has to change. Espresso and single cup to me just don't go hand in hand. One of these is inherently a quickly made beverage (its name suggests it) and the other requires time, patience, and attention to detail. (not that espresso does not, but the way people make espresso in retail is much more fast paced than what it requires to make a hand brewed cup).
I think your experience of the clover is interesting. No human will ever be able to be constant like a machine, so even if every motion is repeated play by play a single cup made by a pouring kettle will always be more inconsistent than that produced by a machine.
I have had spectacular pour over coffee several times at coffee shops but it is the exception not the norm. I think the main reason to continue doing this is twofold: one it creates higher perceived value, which you mentioned, and allows retailers to charge a premium for the product. two it promotes home brewing. You have to remember that a lot of these businesses are roasters as well and part of their business is selling roasted beans. it is way more accessible for someone who finds coffee minimally interesting to invest in a manual brewing kit than an espresso machine.
I agree though it is beyond disappointing when you pay anywhere between 4-12 dollars for a cup of hand brewed coffee that is simply bad.
Hope this brings new light to your concern.
As for the youtube video, it is hard to judge something just by plain sight. Ive seen people make coffee in techniques that I would never use and the results are nonetheless amazing. Take last years Aeropress Champion as an example.
Cerridwyn Senior Member Joined: 6 Jun 2010 Posts: 397 Location: Inland Empire California Expertise: I live coffee
Posted Thu Feb 9, 2012, 7:20pm Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
I have never had coffee made with a clover. You can't get them anymore. I have had it twice made with a Bunn Trifecta. Once made by someone from Bunn themselves. The other time at a great coffee shop I know. Both times I was very underwhelmed and would never do it again.
I have had pour over from Intelligentsia in Pasadena and Silverlake, Klatch (2 locations I forget which ones), Portola in Orange County, and Bellano in Santa Clara and they were awesomely wonderful everyone. (I missed the chance to go go Verve where they had two great competitors in last years Brewmaster competition because of the weather.)
I have had pour over in two other places that I won't name. One was average. The Barista's technique was too hurried. The other was down right 'meh' and both used high quality coffee.
That being said, I have everything do do pour over and most of the time I use my french press because I'm not patient enough.
I agree with what was said that Coffee shops do it quite well. Espresso shops do espresso well. Know where you go and what their pleasure is. Some are good at both. I have noticed that those in some places I go that have a brisk business have dedicated baristas to their espresso machines and to their coffee. Those are the ones that might actually do both fairly well.
TonyVan Senior Member Joined: 24 May 2010 Posts: 269 Location: Pacific Northwest Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: GS/3, La Pavoni Grinder: Macap M7K, Rocky Drip: Kone
Posted Thu Feb 9, 2012, 10:28pm Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
In general, my experience with pour-over in shops has also been mixed. While espresso isn't guaranteed to be great at cafes either, in my favorite Portland cafes at least, the espresso is consistently very good or better, but the pour-over doesn't always measure up.
The positive exception for pour-over here is at Coava (surprise!), made with the Kone and Devin's meticulous care. With often stunning SOs with outstanding roast technique and brewed at peak, it's no hyperbole to say that most of the cups I've had there were "great" with a few being truly "revelatory."
Though I appreciate their being so exceptional, I just wish Coava wasn't such an exception.
Posted Thu Feb 9, 2012, 11:44pm Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
NOTE: edited for copious typos. I wrote this last night on a touch screen while i was tired. I should have proof read before submitting. My apologies to anyone who had to read that. :P
Thanks for all the replies, folks! I should note that my intent was to be provocative and start discussion; I don't actually believe that pour over has no place in the coffee shop any more than I believe that great espresso can't be enjoyed in the home. In fact, over the past couple of days I was fantasizing about starting a coffee shop that only did pour over and other by-the-cup manual brew methods, no espresso. I agree with lalinpv that espresso and methods like pour over (or siphon) are in a large sense incompatable. Espresso bars are designed to be able to churn out drinks at more or less the same pace that a line up can move through the cash register. Pour over simply doesn't work that way. It is slow, patient. I think that a dedicated "pour over coffee shop" would have a much different vibe to it, much more laid back and relaxed. Not sure there's much of a market for that yet in North America, though. We here tend to get so excited about our own love for coffee that we forget that even at the best coffee shops probably 95% of the customers want to be able to just pop in for an americano in a paper cup and couldn't care less about spending 20 minutes lingering over a delicate and subtle single origin.
I did mention in my initial post that out of the three pour overs I've had at shops, one of them was very good (the V60). I had this one later in the afternoon when the shop wasn't busy. The barista making it for me was able to focus just on brewing my cup. I sat at the bar and we talked shop, sharing a passion for good coffee. Her technique was very different from mine and so we traded notes a bit. It was clear that she likes to use the V60 for herself and cares about making a good cup. THAT is how pour over should be served. What annoys me is when a cup of pour over is brewed in a hurry while the barista is running around doing a bunch of other things (like in the video I linked). I don't see any way how the right amount of attention to detail can be given, especially in terms of timing, to create a quality cup.
In regards to the Clover: I find it much more interesting to see what can be done by someone who is highly skilled at a craft than what can be done by machine, so the idea of a pour over bar is much more enticing to me then a Clover machine. It just makes me sad that it seems to be so rarely done right. If a microroaster is trying to sell their premium priced beans, wouldn't they rather showcase them with something that gives spectacular definition and clarity of flavor (i.e. Clover) vs. something that makes them taste like run of the mill drip coffee or worse ( i.e. poorly executed pour over).
My favorite shops/roasters here in Victoria are very high quality. They hold themselves to the highest standards when it comes to espresso, and even when I get a shot that isn't "the best I've ever had" it is still by all means excellent. When I see someone new working there, it is usually at least a couple of months before they get to move from the cash register to the espresso machine. I wish they would also do such extensive training for their pour over.
Posted Fri Feb 10, 2012, 6:22am Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
The problem is that, in a coffee shop environment, it's tempting to rush a pour-over. That's a sure-fire way to get a lousy cup of coffee. Maybe, JUST maybe, if you have a top of the line commercial grinder that can produce very consistent grind at the pour-over range, it's theoretically possible to get a "dump-and-wait" pour over to work. I've tried at home, and could never get it as good as one I poured more slowly/carefully. It requires 3 minutes of undivided attention, and that's expensive. You want to rush it so you can get more done, or serve more customers - but it makes for bad coffee. Even the best place around here for a pour-over is inconsistent (depending on who pours and how busy they are).
It's a perfectly fine method for home brewing, where you can dial it in, and where you're willing to take the time. But I myself am starting to doubt the legitimacy as a commercial offering. I think it's short lived; some places can offer an impressive (almost daunting) array of coffees because they're brewed by the cup, but if the results don't truly honor what the coffee has to offer, what's the point? Go back to a two-coffee lineup on a given day and brew it in a Fetco or a Bunn.
It (probably) has to be. The market demands change, a turning over of fads, trends, products. What else would keep consumers (and these threads) buzzing? There's always going to be the next great thing.
Go back to a two-coffee lineup on a given day and brew it in a Fetco or a Bunn.
Ah, the old flame is starting to look more attractive! It's not as though we were drinking bad coffee at the great shops before 2007. A short to non-existent memory is what guarantees success of new fads (and historical revisionism). One month ago I had a mind-bogglingly memorable cup of PNG Baroida Estate roasted by Counter Culture brewed at a retail client of theirs in Florida. Second only to the Harar blueberry bomb in 2007 from a Clover at Intelly Silver Lake. It was from a Fetco. Spigot to cup. Incredible.
Posted Fri Feb 10, 2012, 11:35am Subject: Re: "Third Wave" cafés and the pour over revolution: The emperor has no clothes.
Agree with everything Josh said. Although, I'd say french press is a pretty easy and foolproof way to feature by-the-cup single origins. A 12oz press can be prepped and given to the customer with a 4 minute timer and they can plunge themselves. Fun! (Of course, I realize that french press is so passé amongst the handle bar mustache crowd.)
I think that if shops want to have pour over on the menu, then maybe it should be only available to order "to stay" and only during non-peak times of the day. More as a way of showing off a coffee to a customer who's humming and hawing about which bag they want to buy rather than as a complete replacement for their drip brew.
I haven't given up on coffee shop pour over, yet. However, I will limit my further experiences to times when the shop is not busy and when the barista working the bar is someone who's been there a while and who I know I can place my trust in. (Over eager, pimple-faced teenagers need not apply. Although I wholeheartedly encourage their enthusiasm.)
Just a reminder, you can't buy clover's new anymore. Starblechs bought the company and took them off the open market. (unless something has changed in the past year)
Yes, my point in comparing to the Clover is that several of the "cutting edge" shops (such as Ritual, cited above) have apparently sold off their Clovers in exchange for a pour over bar. My hunch is that in a couple of years, once the trend passes, they will realize that they shot themselves in the foot.
There is the new Tifecta, which is causing a lot of fuss and supposed to be able to brew a cup as clearly defined as the Clover, but I haven't tried it and have no idea if it lives up to the hype or not. Cerridwyn obviously wasn't convinced.
Why DID Starbucks buy the Clover, anyways? Do they use it in their shops? Does Starbucks coffee brewed on a Clover make it any more palatable, or can you just more clearly taste the creosote?
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