I used to have a coffee machine from the future. It was silver, naturally.
It could be programmed to burr-grind my beans to various levels of fineness, charcoal-filter tap water, and brew 12 cups of coffee before I woke up. It was an object from a Jetsons kitchen, the realization of an automated, mechanized future that humanity rejected the second microchips came into play.
Today, that machine sits unplugged in my closet. It’s been replaced by a ceramic cone with a paper filter–a pour-over system some might call “third wave coffee” tech, despite the fact that its methodology is over 100 years old.
Coffee itself rose to European prominence in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until 1908, when Melitta Bentz, a housewife from Dresden, apparently became fed up with swigs of bitter grounds. So she ripped a piece of blotting paper from her son’s notebook and punctured a few holes in a brass pot, inventing modern filtered coffee as we know it. She patented the device, and it must have been quite the success, because the Melitta coffee company is still around today, selling pour-over products that work largely the same way as the humble original design.
If Melitta represents the German-engineered approach to pour-over coffee, Hario would represent Japan’s. And it’s Hario’s gooseneck steel kettle (released in 2009), ceramic drippers, and perfectly pressed paper cone filters that have intoxicated me long after the honeymoon period of owning something new. I appreciate their mass-produced craftsmanship on a daily basis. With proper use, they can produce an unparalleled cup of coffee–something sweet, acidic, and nutty all at once–mind-tickling spikes of flavor that my Jetsons machine would steamroll flat.
But if I’m to be perfectly honest, it’s the experience of pour-over that keeps me coming back. The process provides a ritual rich with tactility. Because as cognitively as I might approach the process, measuring my beans, controlling my grind, bringing my water up to just the right temperature, and weighing how much water to add, pour-over requires more than proper titration. Each new cup necessitates just a little bit of skill and a little bit of grace, grounded in a series of meditative gut checks.
First, I want to splash the grounds with just an ounce of almost-boiling water before adding the rest of the cup. It’s a presoaking process that begins a chemical reaction, extracting the water-soluble flavors of coffee. That moment requires dexterity, and if I do it right while working with beans at the peak of freshness, I’ll be rewarded with the bloom–a fizzing blossom of aroma that I follow up moments later with more water, poured in circles to create a vortex within the cone. My wrist needs to remain loose, or I’ll pour too quickly and stiffly, stifling a caffeinated whirlpool into a murky coffee lake. But either way, I know it’s okay. A murky coffee lake produces a perfectly acceptable baseline allowing the more perfect cups to sparkle.
While my steel-chested Jetsons machine provides the homogeny of automation, it conceals the zest of choreographed chemistry–a process in which each bubble, twist, and spritz reminds me that as blurry-eyed as I may be that morning, every inch of the world is surprisingly alive. Sometimes, we both just need proper coaxing.
[Gif adapted from Trevor Southworth]