Pour-over coffee has grown in popularity in the last decade due to the rise in specialty coffee shops. It's called such because hot water is literally poured over a bed of coffee grounds. Done well, pour-over brewing can produce very flavorful cups that are nuanced to specific coffee origins and varietals. But the key part of that statement is "done well". If not properly prepared, they aren't much better than batch brewed coffee.
There are so many factors that go into making pour-over coffee drinks that messing up just one of them can make a low-quality drink. Factors such as water temperature, pouring speed, grind size, pouring volume, coffee quality, and brewing device all make up the quality of the brewed coffee. Plus, the barista has to be focused solely on that task and isn't free to interact with customers or do anything else.
With that in mind, when we began thinking about the idea of a coffee shop, we knew we wanted to offer pour-over options for our single origin coffees. I knew we wanted to use the best pour-over brewer available, the Hario V60. The V60 deserves its own blog post, but in short it does the best job of allowing the natural oils into the cup. These oils bring out the fruity, acidic notes of each coffee which balance out the richer, earthier notes. But beyond that I just assumed we would just do manual pours like everyone else and make sure all of our baristas were very well trained.
Then I came across an amazing device that took the human error out of barista pouring: the Poursteady. This automatic pour-over machine has revolutionized the pour-over method and has made manual brewing more efficient and just plain better. I asked Stephan von Muehlen, CEO of Poursteady, a few questions about the machine and company as a whole.
Me: When and how did the idea for the Poursteady first come about?
Stephan: Years ago, two of my co-founders, Mark Sibenac and Stuart Heys were visiting California while working on a project for NASA (it’s true!). Mark, the electrical engineer and coffee fan, dragged Stuart, the mechanical engineer into a Blue Bottle, where they watched a poor barista attempting to make multiple pour-overs at once. That’s when the light bulb went on.
Me: How long did it take from concept to first production?
Stephan: They joked about it for a couple years, and then finally made the first prototype for the Maker Faire here in NYC in 2013. I joined them to help serve coffee. Two days and 800+ cups later, we saw the potential for a product. That was October of 2013. We subsequently launched the company, sold the first machine, and took home the award for Best New Commercial Coffee Equipment from the SCA Expo in Seattle in April, 2015.
Me: What was the main thing(s) you wanted to fix with manual pouring?
Stephan: We knew we were not going to reinvent how to make coffee. We wanted to make a tool for coffee professionals that honors the art and science of pour-over while giving them plenty of control. We also wanted to make sure it worked in busy retail coffee environments. For the customer, they are getting a reliably consistent cup of coffee and a faster moving line. For the barista, the more robotic tasks are automated while they are still able to dial it in, grind the coffee, and serve their customers–all without breaking a sweat. Finally, for the shop owner staffing and training isn’t much different than otherwise. We really set out to make pour-over work as well as espresso for everyone.
Me: Speaking of the SCA Best Product Award, describe that feeling and also what the SCA judges saw in your product that pushed you guys to the top?
Stephan: Yeah! That was great. We were really excited and surprised. We were sharing a small booth with another startup and were just introducing ourselves to the specialty coffee scene for the first time. I think they saw that we made something that addressed a real problem in a new and interesting way instead of creating new ones ;-)
Me: What’s coming down the pipeline for Poursteady in the near future?
Stephan: We are about to release an entirely new software stack that (along with a bunch of essential modernizations, improvements, and a few cool new features for everyone) is really optimized for businesses with multiple locations. I am looking forward to getting it out there!
Me: Lastly, what’s your favorite pour-over recipe? We primarily use the 4:6 method.
Stephan: Good question! I have been using the same recipe for years, but unfortunately not for sound coffee-related reasons. As a quasi-engineer myself, I like to change one variable at a time. I give it a nice long pre-rinse (80ml) then a 40ml bloom with a medium spiral (on a V60), wait 40 seconds, followed by 4 equal pulses with 15s wait times between, totaling 300ml water and with about 3 minutes of contact time.
Whether it's a casual pour-over for an employee or an iced single-origin Japanese pour-over at the busiest time of day- the Poursteady solves so many problems before they occur. Its simplicity, reliability, and consistent product it produces all make the Poursteady one of our favorite machines in the cafe.
No matter if you are brewing for one person or fifty, from pour over to drip machine to French press, and for any coffee type, there is one factor that is more important than any other. It’s the thing that happens after the perfect cup of coffee is enjoyed.
The big secret to making great coffee is...cleaning!
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