So there I was watching some videos on how to do a proper pourover, and I noticed that there seems to be an area of disagreement that most don’t mention: stirring. There are pourover competitions, in case you weren’t aware, and perhaps this is a little secret that some people are into. So, should you stir a pourover while brewing or not?
It would seem that there is some disagreement over whether you should stir or not. But there are some solid arguments in its favor. Ultimately, experiment and see what nets the best results.
But if you want more details, perhaps we should first look into what makes a good pourover. At the bottom, you’ll find the pros and cons and two how-to videos.
A pourover is where they make a small batch of coffee, often as small as one cup, where they need four things:
- Freshly ground coffee
- A Filter
- A Filter holder (often called a “pourover dripper”)
- A heat-resistant container
So what, you might be thinking, this sounds like normal coffee machines.
However, people take this very seriously. Each step likely has someone arguing the merits of each option. Perhaps I’ll write about the pourover in greater detail elsewhere, but for not let’s focus on the basics of the process:
If you watch someone experienced in pourovers, you’ll notice they pour in a particular way.
Again, these are involved in competitions, so there likely isn’t any 100% agreed-upon method, but the thinking seems to be like this:
Constantly cover all areas with the freshest hot water you can get to those spots, moving until you’ve equally wetted and distributed the water everywhere until you’ve used up your desired amount of water.
Imagine you have a hot pan on the stove and you’re frying some onions. Would it make sense to keep them flat on the pan, unflipped, or are you going to jostle them around, make sure the heat is more evenly distributed to each side?
Likewise, the barista will pour the water over the various areas to make sure the heat isn’t concentrated in the middle, like with a standard coffee maker.
This will relate to stirring later.
While it seems simple, making the grounds go from dry to damp, there are actually some complicating factors.
First, CO2 is emitted from the beans when they’re fresh, and this can be seen in the bubbles of freshly ground coffee when it’s brewing.
Light roasts have more CO2, while dark roasts have lost most of it during the extra roasting time.
As the gas is escaping, water isn’t getting in. This will make it extract the oils and minerals less evenly, which is what you want to avoid. That’s where all the flavor comes from, after all.
The period where you wet everything evenly and let it sit for 30 seconds to let the gas escape. This is what people in the biz call a “bloom”; the swell and contraction as the gasses escape.
As the name implies, this is the stage where you let things dissolve into the water, resulting in the brew we all know and (mostly) love.
Luckily for us, the soluble parts that break down quickly in hot water (the solutes) will be more readily absorbed.
The trick is knowing what temperature and duration are optimal for pulling out the good and avoiding the bad.
If you start dissolving out the undesirable parts, this leads to a coffee that is described as “over-extracted”; they pulled out too much of the bad from the beans leading to a less optimal brew.
Speaking of pulling out from the beans, the dissolution stage starts within the beans themselves, then “diffusion” is when the hot water is pulled out of the beans (through osmosis) into the surrounding water.
Honestly, from our perspective, we could basically address dissolution and diffusion as one thing, but technically they’re not.
Coarseness of Grounds
About 33% of coffee weight is solutes, but we only want roughly 15-20%, which is where the skill comes in. That difference of 13% can be quite sizable since that extra chunk is mostly bitter, astringent flavors – not everyone’s cup of tea.
This is also why grind uniformity (making sure it’s all the same size) matters since smaller specs will become over-extracted long before the larger chunks have even gotten started.
Overall, it will take some experimentation on timing and coarseness. The only grinders that can promise real uniformity are burr grinders, which you can read more about here.
To Stir or Not to Stir
Some people claim you should stir, while others think it’s a bad idea.
Here are some of the arguments.
- A light stirring in the middle is good for a more even extraction (getting the same amount from all beans)
- Stirring while the water is at its maximum level will make sure the grounds are still suspended in the water and not stuck at the bottom, where the draining water will keep them pinned and potentially over-extract.
- Allows the gasses to get out faster so the water will get to the beans more readily
- Gravity doesn’t stop just because you are stirring. Thus, if you stir, you could just be giving a clearer path for the water to go through – without passing through the beans.
- Stirring is only usually employed in immersion-based brew methods since there’s no risk of uneven or weak results because the water has nowhere to go.
In general, it seems to me that a slight 10-20 second stir would be appropriate to experiment with. As they say, you have to test it for yourself to find what works best for you and your equipment.
But hey, now you have an extra tool in your coffee belt.
If you’re interested, you can find two how-to videos here where they both add a little stir in:
Also, I’d love to hear your feedback if you have an opinion on this!