Pour Over Coffee in the US: Trend or Fad?

At the March 2015 International Housewares Show in Chicago, multiple vendors featured electric kettles with adjustable temperature controls, filtered coffee systems, and electric coffee makers offering barista-quality coffee. One of the most promising products at the show was the KitchenAid Pour Over Coffee Brewer that claims to marry the benefits of pour over with the ease and consistency of an electric drip coffee maker. Pour over coffee is undergoing a resurgence in the US, as this manual brewing method expands beyond speciality coffee shops in big cities such as Chicago, New York, and Portland, Oregon into smaller cities, housewares retailers, and speciality supermarkets. Coffee shops, appliance makers, and retailers are tapping into Americans’ desire for better tasting coffee by promoting the pour over method. This trend is expected to intensify in the at-home market in the years to come.

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Third wave coffee shops introduce pour over coffee

The pour over brewing method dates back to 1908 when Melitta Bentz in Germany came up with the idea of using filter paper and a drip cone to brew coffee. With the arrival of the French press in 1929 and the even easier electric drip coffee makers, Americans lost interest in the time-consuming pour-over brewing method.

Pour over coffee has gained popularity due to the rise of third wave coffee shops such as Stumptown, which treat coffee as an artisanal product akin to wine by focusing on the importance of single-origin, roasting technique, and brewing styles. As many of the big names among the third wave coffee shops also operate as speciality coffee roasters, selling gourmet coffee beans to speciality coffee shops and restaurants, the actions of an Intelligentsia or Stumptown have a national reach in popularising the pour-over trend. These third wave coffee specialists spend a lot of time and effort procuring the coffee beans by visiting coffee farms to develop relationships with coffee growers, roasting using vintage roasters, and carefully composing blends. In turn, these third wave coffee specialists believe that manual brewing including by pour-over method brings out the nuances in their carefully selected coffee.

These third wave coffee shops began selling pour over brewers and accessories from Chemex and Hario for home use. Housewares retailers followed. In fall 2010, Williams-Sonoma, a high-end housewares retailer, began to sell pour over equipment from Japan’s Hario. Bed, Bath, & Beyond, the largest housewares chain in the US, sells pour-over brewers from Melitta and Bonavita. Supermarket chain Whole Foods Market, owner of Allegro Coffee Company since 1997, sells Chemex Classic and Hario V60 brewers to its affluent and quality-conscious consumers.

Advantages of pour over coffee

Pour over offers several advantages to other brewing methods for both foodservice and home consumption. Fans of the method believe that pour over creates a more complex coffee with little bitterness, with crisp and bright notes.  Having the baristas use the pour over method offers a bit of “theatre” and entertainment to coffee shop customers. Using the pour over method allows a speciality coffee shop to engage with the customer and tell the story of how and where the coffee beans were sourced and roasted.

Despite the claimed flavour advantages of pour over coffee, the pour-over method has the disadvantages of time, effort, and inconsistency. Pour over coffee takes over four minutes for each cup of coffee. This is not an efficient process for weekday mornings when most coffee drinkers in the US want their caffeine fix quickly and are not concerned about nuances of flavour. Using the pour over method requires more concentration and patience than other methods as one needs to use the right wrist motion to control the flow of hot water onto the coffee grounds. Pour over coffee also offers less consistency than coffee from automatic coffee makers.

The pour over method represents an evolution in coffee brewing from manual methods to automatic drip coffee maker to the Keurig and back to the manual. Drip coffee maker users embraced the Keurig single-serve brewer for even more convenience and the promise of a more consistent cup of coffee. At the same time, the growth in third wave coffee shops has familiarised more Americans with a higher quality of coffee that they want to replicate at home. Appliance makers now see an opportunity for coffee makers that brew better tasting coffee than traditional drip coffee makers but are still easy to use. Bodum and Chemex, among others, have introduced automatic pour over makers. KitchenAid’s introduction of the Pour Over Coffee Brewer is notable because it is the largest appliance maker brand to develop an automatic coffee maker that mimics the manual pour over process by slowly pulsing the flow of water.

Outlook

Pour over coffee is not a fad but a long-term trend that is expected to grow in popularity in US homes over the next few years. Specialist coffee shops are expected to continue offering the pour over method as it allows cafes to offer a more individual experience as well as provide some theatre and excitement to the coffee brewing process. The handcrafted, single-cup brewing method ties into the burgeoning interest in craft cocktails, where the drinker enjoys watching the mixologist carefully slice, shake, and garnish fresh ingredients to order. That said, the time constraints of pour over coffee will limit its availability to smaller coffee shops with an educated clientele who view coffee as an artisanal product, not as a commodity.

Inside the American home, demand for pour-over coffee is likely to be led by Millennials (born 1982-2000) who are still developing their tastes. This generation is very ecologically-conscious and interested in the DIY movement. This willingness to tinker ties in nicely with the pour over method as it allows the user to control how they make their coffee instead of letting a machine do all the thinking. This ability to fine-tune the process differentiates the pour over method from the popular French press. A desire to help preserve the environment is likely to lead Millennials to consider trying the pour over method.

Due to the time and concentration needed, Americans are likely to use pour over brewing methods mostly on the weekends. The extra time needed to use pour over devices is not necessarily a deterrent to growing sales of pour over brewers. Many consumers in the US own several coffee brewing devices – a Keurig brewer for weekday mornings, a drip coffee maker for entertaining, and possibly a French press. The relatively low prices of the pour over brewers (about US$23 for a Hario V60 ceramic coffee dripper and US$40 for a Chemex) also make them a good option for infrequent coffee drinkers.

More consumers are expected to embrace the pour over method as appliance makers and retailers introduce more products and devote more merchandising space to these items. KitchenAid’s entrance into the automatic pour over coffee maker market reflects pour over’s move from niche to the mainstream market. This appliance and similar ones likely to be introduced in the near future will familiarise more coffee drinkers with the pour over process as well as upgrade the quality of automatic drip coffee makers. The KitchenAid and other automatic pour over machines represent a new way of making coffee machines by heating the water to the industry standard temperature instead and pulsing the water in timed cycles.