The Pour Over Talk
The front line of specialty coffee cafes are moving away from pour overs. The reasons are myriad but here’s a summary.
Batch Brewing (or automatic brewing) is way better than it used to be. Brewers like the Gold Cup from Curtis have touch screens that allow you to accurately time exact distribution of water at set times to control the pace, temperature, and flavor of extraction. This programability was available before, but to program Fetcos, even 7 years ago, you had to learn a sort of morse code of pulsing lights to program the brewer. With super premium brewers and tech available to everyone - automation is more commonly tasty than before.
The EK43. It’s not just the EK43. Okay, it’s almost completely the EK43. That gd spice grinder has the best particle distribution I’ve ever seen in a cafe grinder and it costs less than $5k. I tell my trainees, uniformly ground particles extract uniformly, which is mostly true (everything isn’t true under a microscope) and the EK produces particularly consistent ground coffee and uniformly extracted brewed coffee.
We’re all trying to pay our bills. I’d so much rather pay a premium rate to one Barista to make and charge a premium for a premium batched coffee than pay sub-premium rates to two Baristas to make and charge a premium for the same coffee.
Staff reliability and hospitality. Pour overs are unpredictable because they are heavily reliant on human consistency. When well cared for, batch brewers are more predictable, more consistent, and more programmable (trainable) than any Barista I’ve ever worked with. I remain convinced that humans are way better at being humans than they are at being machines.
Five years ago, we were all trying to make a better coffee and create time and space for people to connect over that coffee. Slow coffee was just that - slow. It allowed a break, a ritual, a breath that could be utilized to do the work of hospitality. And, to a certain extent, we were all trying to make our coffee taste better. Nick Cho actually went head to head with a machine to see who could make better coffee in the same amount of time. I realize that the results of that competition work against my argument for automation tasting better - but what if we shifted the conversation away from automating the Barista to freeing up time for the Barista to become a better host.
I don’t currently and did not own a cafe five years ago. So there will be others who can correct this if I’m wrong. But I think the real value of pour overs were creating a space for people to fall in love with coffee. I have been served a lot of bad pour overs. I’ve tasted a lot of coffee that was poorly dialed in. I’ve had the same conversation over and over again:
Gregory: What do you like about ___________ coffee that you’ve dialed in and are making by hand?
Barista: Oh, I just started working here. Whoever is new and hasn’t graduated to espresso makes pour overs.
I was one of those Baristas that fell in love with slow brewed coffee - I wrote a book about it. But I am not convinced that this reaction to pour overs is a universal experience. I do think that pour overs have the potential to be a terrific training tool - and I use them as such in QSQ “Intro to Extraction Theory”.
So what, then? Let’s all recycle our old batch brewers? Donate them to charity and buy iPad embedded Curtis brewers? Yes and no. I think we can all do a lot better job at teaching extraction theory, programming and dialing in our brewers, and grinding our coffee better. I think slow coffee (pour overs) make the most sense in the home or during afternoon coffee service. Having the option to brew with no waste is huge when the cafe slows down and starts serving more decaf. Brewing special roasts or variety selections to order is also a terrific option with low waste and cost for the cafe. And the skillset is invaluable for the Barista as they dig deeper into theory and methodology in their career. But for the busy morning - dynamic and delicious batch or automated brews are entirely sustainable and as tasty as any pour over.
What does QSQ offer in this transition? In order to bridge this gap of inefficient slow brew vs improved batch brew, we need better training materials. QSQ offers brewing calculators, programming tutorials, troubleshooting guides, cleaning timetables, standards recommendations, and training modules to help empower staff and train for better tasting coffee.