We spent over 50 hours testing 10 drippers, used more than 10 pounds of quality coffee beans, and drank more than 100 cups of coffee before determining that the Kalita Wave 185 Dripper is the best pour-over dripper for most coffee drinkers. We spoke to leading coffee experts and writers, and we held two blind taste tests at both Lofted Coffee (a coffee roasting company) and our own test kitchen. We’re confident that with our recommended pour-over setup—including a dripper, grinder, kettle, and scale—you can get the best-tasting homemade coffee without having to wait in line at a high-end coffee shop.
The Kalita Wave produced the most consistent, even, and flavorful cup of coffee among the drippers we tested. Plus, it’s incredibly easy to use, and you can clean it with a simple rinse. The Kalita’s proprietary “wavy” filters and flat-bottom design promote more even water drainage and insulate temperature. One drawback: The proprietary filters are slightly more expensive than those of the competition, and they can be difficult to find in local stores.
If you want a dripper with widely available filters, or if you’re shopping for someone new to pour-over, we recommend the Bee House Ceramic Coffee Dripper (large). It costs less and uses standard cone paper filters, which you can find at most supermarkets.
We also love the Chemex Six Cup Classic Series, a nice choice for fans of great design who also happen to love delicious coffee. The Chemex features a built-in carafe, and its larger design means you’ll have no trouble brewing multiple cups at once. Proprietary Chemex filters are harder to come by than Melitta filters but are available online and through high-end coffee shops.
Before becoming an operations assistant for The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, I was a barista in various high-volume Brooklyn coffee shops and restaurants for over three years. I’m an avid coffee drinker and brewer. I also wrote our guide to the best cheap coffee makers. For guidance, I spoke to leading coffee experts and writers, including Oliver Strand, Nick Cho, and Zachary Carlsen. I solicited testing help and input from Lofted Coffee, a lauded small-batch coffee roaster based in Brooklyn, New York. While I retested the items and wrote a large portion of our current update, sections of the guide relating to grinders, scales, and kettles were originally written by Cale Weissman.
Pour-over is a method of manually brewing a small batch of coffee using grounds and a steady stream of hot water. For the purposes of this guide, we are focusing on drippers and gear that use gravity and pouring to brew (we excluded the Clever Coffee and AeroPress brewers, as they don’t strictly qualify as “pour-over” drippers).
Simply put, the pour-over process entails heating up water to an ideal temperature (around 204 degrees Fahrenheit, or right off the boil), and pouring it in an even stream over your grounds in a dripper fitted with a filter. The dripper, which is usually shaped like a cone or wedge, controls the rate at which the water filters through your coffee grounds. The technique is called “pour-over” because the rate of brew is dependent, in part, on how quickly you pour the heated water over your grounds.
These items are optional:
Handling a pour-over setup works a bit like building up a stereo system: You can start with the basics, namely a dripper and a good grinder, and over time build up your gear to suit your needs. Depending on the setup that you choose, pour-over can also be the cheapest way to get the best coffee.
If you use a countertop coffee machine to brew your coffee, the prospect of a multistep, gear-intensive method might seem daunting and complicated. Once you’ve got the right gear and methods, however, pour-over is a simple, inexpensive, and fun way to make the best-tasting coffee.
Think of it this way: With a press-and-brew coffee maker, you’re able to control only the grind size and the water-to-coffee ratio. More control in the brewing process means you can hone each variable to get the most flavor out of the beans. The right dripper will help to control the rate and distribution of hot water, the appropriate burr grinder will grind your coffee to an even consistency, the proper kettle will allow you to keep your brewing water at an ideal temperature, and a pocket scale and a timer will give you an exact measure of how much coffee and water to use in your brew.
For people who don’t mind engaging in a bit of experimentation to brew the best-tasting coffee, pour-over is worth that extra effort. Take coffee expert and author Oliver Strand’s word for it: “There are people who are consumers who just want ease and facility… But for people who are open to doing something else, if you take a little bit more time and turn something into a ritual, it could be that much more pleasant. I’m a proponent of that.”
While gear is important if you’re after a great cup of coffee, it’s also imperative that you use fresh, high-quality beans. A good pour-over setup will ideally extract the most flavor and body from beans, and is not ideal for use with cheap, preground coffee.
In our previous guide, we tested five drippers in our final roundup. For this update, we looked at more than 15 drippers and settled on testing eight dripper picks, including our previous top picks. We chose to exclude the Clever Coffee and AeroPress models from our roundup this time but added the Melitta and Bonmac drippers plus the Able Kone metal filter. We also added two scales to our competition: the Acaia Pearl and the Hario V60 Drip Scale. I mined Sprudge for the newest in pour-over gear, looked at Amazon best sellers, and spoke to our previous pour-over gear guide writers, Cale Weissman and Matt Buchanan.
I also spoke to noted author, columnist, and coffee expert Oliver Strand, Nick Cho of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, and Zachary Carlsen, editor of Sprudge, all of whom gave me their professional opinions on pour-over gear and technique, as well as insight on their personal tips, favorite gear, and pour-over philosophies.
During the research and preliminary testing stages of writing this guide, I brewed and tasted a lot of pour-over with the help of Michael Hession, our resident photo editor, coffee connoisseur, and intrepid caffeine guinea pig. After a couple of weeks of testing, I narrowed our chosen gear down to five drippers and included a newer scale, the Hario V60 Drip Scale, in our roundup.
I researched brew guides from George Howell and Stumptown and used an amalgam of their recipes to brew our test cups. The recipe I used, while varying slightly, relied on using about 24 grams of ground coffee to about 400 grams of water. Each dripper requires slightly different measurements of coffee and grind texture, so make sure to read a few brew guides particular to your chosen dripper if you’re unsure.
As we did for our guides to the best coffee maker and the best cheap coffee maker, we returned to Brooklyn’s Lofted Coffee to enlist the professional help of roaster Aric Carroll and his team. Using Lofted beans, Aric and I tested each dripper alongside our top grinder, kettle, and scale picks and conducted a blind taste test. We rated each cup of coffee based on balance (or whether we detected any overpowering or uneven flavors in the coffee), strength (subtracting points for coffee that tasted either weak and underextracted or burnt and overextracted), and the overall depth of flavor and mouthfeel.
We followed up with a second taste test at the Sweethome office. This time we invited Emily Rosenberg and Caleb Horton of the Stumptown Education team. We were joined by coffee expert and writer Alex Bernson, as well as previous guide writer Cale Weissman. We also invited Evan Meagher and Alexa Rhoads, two friends of The Sweethome who are newly passionate about coffee and were willing to give us their takes as newcomers. Using Stumptown’s Guatemala Santa Clara beans, we tested each dripper and conducted another blind taste test. We concluded our test with a roundtable discussion of what we liked and didn’t like about each dripper.
The Kalita Wave 185 Dripper is cheap and durable, and no other dripper makes it easier to make the best-tasting coffee. It’s our pick because it did the best job of extracting the most complex and rich flavor of any of the drippers we tested.
The Kalita’s signature flat bottom means that grounds are extracted over a larger surface area simultaneously, lending the coffee a more consistent and even taste overall. The Wave’s signature wavy filters are made from high-quality paper that doesn’t impart a papery taste to the coffee and insulates the brewing coffee from temperature changes more than other filters.
In our first test, senior associate editor Michael Zhao found that coffee from the Kalita had “more pronounced fruitiness” than the other cups, and panelists in our Sweethome kitchen test universally found that it brought out more flavors than the other drippers we tried. Testers thought that the coffee the Kalita produced drew a subtle sweetness from both kinds of beans we used—a note lacking from the other drippers’ coffee.
The Kalita is also one of the easiest drippers to use. We found that the Kalita made great coffee without our having to watch it obsessively, as we needed to do for the Hario while it brewed. The Kalita requires less meticulous water pulsing because its flat bottom self-regulates the rate at which the water drains. Cone-bottom drippers like the Hario drain out of a single point, making the coffee taste more dependent on how you pour the brew water. That’s the difference between laboriously pulsing your brew water for the full brew cycle and being able to pour your water and (more or less) walk away.
The Kalita Wave 185 Dripper’s greatest flaw is the hassle involved in acquiring its proprietary, wavy filters. Because they’re a Japanese import, they’re harder to come by than standard Melitta filters. They are, however, available on Amazon or at specialty coffee shops—the popularity of the Wave has risen steadily thanks to rave reviews by coffee experts like Nick Cho of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters and Serious Eats. Cho believes so strongly in Kalita’s products that Wrecking Ball serves as their sole importer in the United States.
The Bee House Ceramic Coffee Dripper is affordable and produces well-rounded, accessible, and tasty coffee. It’s a great, easy-to-use pick for a beginner, or for someone who would like a dripper that uses the more widely available Melitta coffee filters, which you can find in any major supermarket or even at your local corner store.
The Bee House received favorable marks from all our testers across both taste tests. Some of our expert tasters, however, found that coffee from the Bee House didn’t capture quite the range of flavor and depth of coffee that the Kalita Wave or the Chemex did. In our Sweethome taste test, Alex Bernson noted that the Bee House coffee, while tasty, was the most “middle of the road” brew. He added that “most people might gravitate towards [the Bee House’s coffee]” because Americans tend to favor a less complex brew. Correspondingly, our novice coffee tasters, Evan and Alexa, rated the Bee House coffee as their top pick, praising it as “comforting,” “smooth,” and “syrupy.” In other words, if you’re like the majority of home coffee drinkers and you enjoy a solid cup of coffee with good body and less acidity, the Bee House dripper is a perfect choice.
Emily Rosenberg, head of the New York City–based Stumptown Education team, likes using the Bee House at home because of how simple it is to use and how readily available the filters are. Perhaps the Bee House’s greatest selling point is the fact that its filters are easy to find in your local supermarket, which can’t be said for either the Kalita Wave or the Chemex.
The Chemex Six Cup Classic Series produces great-tasting coffee, is simple to use, and has a stunning design. In addition to winning high marks in both of our taste competitions, it created less of a mess than the other drippers we tested, because it acts as its own pitcher. The Chemex is also the only dripper that easily accommodates making two or more cups of coffee at a time. What’s more, it looks gorgeous and classic, even when empty—as Oliver Strand told me, “If it’s too much of a pain, you have a great vase.”
In our Sweethome test, panelists found the Chemex’s coffee to be “juicy and fruity,” bringing out a “lively” flavor in comparison with the more flat, “hollow”-tasting coffee of drippers like the Hario. Tasters also ranked it among the most balanced cups in the competition, and they detected a “subtle sweetness.” A majority of our testers found that the Chemex coffee had a sturdy strength despite its snappy and light flavors. Such results are due, in part, to the thick proprietary Chemex filter, which removes much of the oils that can lend coffee a bitter flavor. However, the thick filter also tends to extract some of the body of the coffee, so this model produces a less substantial brew than the Kalita Wave.
Most of the coffee experts I spoke to, including Sprudge editor Zachary Carlsen, Lofted Coffee’s Aric Carroll, and writer Oliver Strand, said that their preferred equipment at home is the Chemex. Their reasoning is manifold: It’s a classic and easy-to-use piece. It’s been manufactured by a small, family firm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, since the ’70s. It’s simple to use, and it makes brewing more coffee for guests easy because of its large, accommodating coffee chamber. Another big point in the Chemex’s favor is its gorgeous looks. It’s revered for its classic design, one that has been included in the MoMA Collection.
Like the Kalita Wave, the Chemex uses proprietary filters that can be hard to track down if you don’t live near a shop that carries specialty coffee accessories. That said, they are available via Amazon Prime and have become increasingly available in local high-end coffee shops and at grocery-store chains. The Chemex also requires a bit more cleaning than the other drippers we tried; the narrow neck of its pitcher is harder to get through with your hand, but a proper bottle brush makes the task easier.
Most of the drippers in our test group come in either ceramic, plastic, or metal (with the exception of the Bee House, which generally doesn’t come in a metal version). Typically, ceramic devices have better heat dynamics than metal ones, and as Matt Buchanan, the author of our original pour-over guide, wrote, “heat loss is your enemy” when it comes to brewing pour-over. Interestingly enough, plastic is a better insulator than both ceramic and metal, despite the latter two being more expensive. Glass has the poorest heat dynamics of all, and will typically lose heat a lot faster. That said, the differences in heat dynamics among these materials are nearly negligible, particularly if you (like most people) intend to drink your single cup of pour-over brew immediately.
Additionally, it’s better to choose white paper filters over brown ones. This is because brown filters always make the coffee taste more like the paper, which is a big no-no for expert coffee tasters. If you can’t tell the difference, however, brown filters are cheaper and more environmentally friendly because they require less processing.
We tested the single-cup Melitta Pour-Over Coffee Brewer because it’s a cheap classic and generally well-liked, but we found that it wasn’t a rival to the other wedge-shaped models in terms of taste or usability.
The Bonmac ceramic dripper was likewise similar to the wedge-shaped Bee House dripper but didn’t produce coffee quite as tasty.
In this update, we excluded the Clever Coffee and AeroPress brewers, as they don’t strictly qualify as “pour-over” drippers. The Clever Coffee, while similar in form to a pour-over dripper, actually brews by steeping grounds in a closed chamber for a few minutes before ejecting the coffee into a cup. The drippers we chose to focus on in this update brew coffee in the time it takes water to filter through grounds into a vessel below.
The Hario V60 Dripper is beloved by many coffee experts and coffee competitions. Our testers found that making consistent, good-tasting coffee with the Hario’s cone shape was harder because it tended to over- or underextract grounds.
We also tested the Able Brewing Kone Coffee Filter as an alternative to paper filters but found that the larger holes in the metal Kone produced a coffee high in sediment and too sludgy for most people.
If you want to try a pour-over coffee setup, we’ve pulled together the things you’ll need in addition to the dripper itself.
If you’re after the absolute best-tasting coffee, you’ll have to buy a burr grinder, regardless of the brewing method you use. Nick Cho of Wrecking Ball Coffee and Serious Eats told me that buying a cheaper, blade grinder for making coffee is like “using a hammer to cut sushi.” In other words, a bad grinder will give you chunky, uneven grounds with which to brew, leading to muddled, icky coffee. There’s no better way to ruin the taste of a nice bag of beans than to subject them to a blade grinder, so do yourself a favor and invest in a burr grinder if you’re interested in making great coffee.
As Nick Cho notes, “the blade grinder relies on the little propeller-like ‘blade’ to spin, pulverizing the coffee it encounters into smaller and smaller bits.” The resulting grind will be inconsistent from batch to batch and will contain lots of coffee dust (known as “fines”), which “will brew alongside the more properly-sized coffee bits [and] over-extract, resulting in bitter, unpleasant flavors.” He writes that even the cheapest of burr grinders would be a major improvement and gives some advice on how to choose one. In accordance with our stand-alone coffee grinder guide, we have some preliminary recommendations based on research and our own experience.
In the previous version of this guide, we recommended the Baratza Encore as a solid electric grinder for most people because of its low cost and consistent performance. It’s the low-end model from Baratza. Oliver Strand, writing for The New York Times (which is now the parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), described Baratza in 2012 as “a company that is to coffee grinders what Wüsthof is to kitchen knives: solid, understated, durable.” Strand went on to say: “Baratza has a solid track record, and there’s a reason why its grinders are carried by many of the more conscientious independent coffee shops.”
The Encore uses conical burrs, meaning that the two wheels of the grinding mechanism are cone shaped and thus capable of more variability in grind size than flat-shaped burrs. Due to their more sensitive grind control, conical burrs are better suited to producing consistent coffee-ground output for the purposes of pour-over. Previous guide writer Cale Weissman has used the Encore as part of his pour-over routine for over a year now and has only good things to say. Prima Coffee, widely respected as both a coffee-brewing resource and an equipment distributor, had a local award-winning barista test the Encore head-to-head against more expensive grinders for both pour-over and espresso use. The barista concluded, “The Baratza Encore is a $129 grinder that will grind fine enough for espresso and still maintain a consistent grind for a French Press.”
However, for the finer grinds you’d use for espresso, as well as larger grinds like what you’d use for a French press, the Encore has been known to be a bit finicky, which is why some more dedicated coffee fans and professionals prefer going a step up. Matt Buchanan, who wrote the first iteration of this guide, prefers the Baratza Virtuoso. Of course, the extra hundred-plus dollars it costs will buy you a more high-quality device. Matt put it perfectly: “The more serious you are about coffee—or think you will be—the more value you’ll get out of a higher-end grinder.”
But if you’re using your gear only for pour-over and never plan on dabbling in espresso, you have no need to spend the extra $100, let alone hundreds more on an even nicer machine; that only gets you a device that’s better equipped for espresso.
You can find other popular options, like the Rancilio Rocky and the Breville Smart Grinder (which Wired rated highly). Those are good devices, too, but they have slightly higher price tags and don’t carry Baratza’s reputation in coffee circles. With that, Baratza probably offers the most bang for your buck, and it’s a general pick among experts.
If $130 is a bit too much to spend for you, a manual hand grinder is another option. Senior associate editor Michael Zhao has owned and tested all the popular handheld options from leading brands like Hario, Porlex, and Kyocera. His favorite is actually the cheapest: the Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Coffee Grinder. It combines the easy-loading conical hopper of the larger Hario Skerton Hand Coffee Grinder with the spring-loaded, simple-to-use grind-adjustment mechanism and easy-to-grip size of the Porlex models.
The Mini Mill’s limited capacity has never been an issue, since most pour-over recipes won’t exceed the device’s roughly 50-gram capacity (a single American-size cup takes about 18 to 25 grams). Besides, if you’re grinding more than that on a regular basis, you should get an electric model anyway, unless you’re a masochist with plenty of time to spare in the mornings. Note that the Mini Mill has more plastic parts than the full-size Hario Skerton and feels lightweight, but the full-size Hario lacks the spring-loaded grind-adjustment mechanism, which leads to less consistent grinds because the burr can shift around a bit during the grinding process. After having owned and used the Mini Mill for about a year with no signs of wear, several members of the Sweethome staff are confident that it should hold up over time.
A kettle is a simpler device since you have only two major factors to look out for: an elongated spout and temperature control. The elongated spout is a necessity, because it enables you to precisely control how much water you’re pouring, how fast it comes out, and where you’re directing the water during brewing. All of those factors are important for even extraction and great-tasting coffee. As for temperature, a kettle that brings water to a boil works just fine so long as you’re willing to wait a minute for the water to cool down a bit. Although our full-length guide to electric kettles is primarily focused on quick-boiling water kettles that lack gooseneck spouts, it’s a great resource for learning more.
The Bonavita BV3825B electric kettle heats water quickly to a boil in four and a half minutes; then it’s just a matter of waiting about a minute while the water cools down to a more optimal brewing temperature. Liz Clayton, coffee expert at Serious Eats, likes it a lot, writing: “Insulated handle? Yep. Precise spout? Yep—just a hair’s breadth narrower than the [Hario] Buono’s, comfortably ergonomic, cheaper, and oh yeah, it plugs in. Auto-shutoff and a 1-liter capacity make this easier and cheaper than anything else on the market, allowing us to turn a blind eye to its slightly flimsy base construction. Boils fast, too.”
*At the time of publishing, the price was $93.
If you’re a more detail-oriented coffee person (or a tea drinker who wants different temperatures for different teas), you may want to spend more for the adjustable Bonavita BV382510V to more accurately measure brew temperatures. For example, if you’re using beans from Ethiopia, whose climate is known to make more acidic-tasting coffee, you may want to use a higher temperature than the standard 202 °F. Beyond temperature control, however, this adjustable kettle also has a convenient hold-temperature function that lets you set the kettle and forget it until you’re ready to pour.
If you want a stovetop kettle, opt for the Hario V60 Drip Kettle Buono. Although it’s not quite as precise a pourer as the cheaper Bonavita BV3825ST stovetop kettle due to its wider, more-rounded opening, this model has a pretty design that people are fond of. The Hario is durable, too, whereas the Bonavita gets a bad rep for having a weakly welded spout that’s prone to breaking off when exposed to high heat. (This isn’t an issue with the electric versions, since you have no direct exposure to heating coils or flames to worry about there.)
As far as the competition goes, Hario has an electric version of the Buono kettle, but it costs more and still doesn’t pour as well. You’ll also find a number of models that champion baristas and high-end cafés swear by (Takahiro and Kalita kettles are among the more prominent examples), but they will cost you a lot more money and don’t offer the convenience of a built-in heat source. Similarly, you’ll encounter a lot of no-name Japanese imports on Amazon (like this Fino model) that are cheap but lack electric heating.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $15.
Making use of a scale is one of the best ways to brew a consistent cup of coffee. As we explain in our measuring cup guide, volume measurements are not to be trusted for accuracy. And when it comes to making great coffee, even a gram or two of extra coffee can make the difference between too strong and just right.
In our stand-alone kitchen scale guide, we recommend the American Weigh Scales SC-2KG pocket scale for precise measurements. It’s cheap, and it does the job perfectly. It’s also quite portable, which is good if you want to bring a coffee maker on the road, and it has a backlit screen for easy reading. You could use something like our kitchen scale pick for baking if you already have one, but that kind of scale is accurate only to the half gram, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to brew a precise cup of coffee.
If you plan on brewing with your pour-over setup on a daily basis, you’ll want the Hario V60 Drip Scale, which comes with a timer, to help keep track of your brew time. Its easy-to-use interface allows you to start the timer and scale simultaneously, so you can monitor how much water you pour over your grounds as well as its rate of flow. The digital display presents the time and weight side by side, so you don’t have to spend any effort moving back and forth between, say, your phone’s timer and a scale. The Hario also has a delayed auto-turnoff function that gives you more time to tinker and to prepare the perfect cup of coffee.
Most drippers are easy to maintain: When you’re finished brewing, simply rinse it out with hot water. Coffee oil does build up after a while, and you can purchase biodegradable powders that clear out any lingering residue. Grinders require a bit more maintenance; for the best results, every few months you should take out the burrs and dust them off. While this task can be a bit annoying, it ensures that the grind maintains accuracy, and it cleans off any buildup. As for your kettle, so long as you’re heating only water in it, just keep it wiped down and shiny.
For all things coffee, Sprudge is a great website to check out for articles about the scene. Barista Exchange is another wonderful resource where many pros talk shop. Additionally, Nick Cho of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters writes for various online publications, and his articles are always helpful for learning and understanding the coffee ropes. As for brew guides, we find Stumptown Coffee Roasters’s online guides to be quite helpful when we’re looking for initial recipes.
In our next update, we’ll also be considering the OXO Good Grips Pour-Over Coffee Maker with Water Tank. This OXO model doesn’t require any monitoring after you pour the water over the grounds, which cuts down on brew time and makes it appealing to people who have less time on their hands. Several members of the Sweethome team have bought this OXO model and appreciate its simple-to-use design and small footprint. It also uses standard Melitta filters, and it’s dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
We also plan to test the Blue Bottle Coffee Dripper. Released in December 2016, the dripper has a flat bottom like the Kalita Wave, and uses proprietary bamboo-based filters that, according to Blue Bottle’s site, “require no prewetting and impart no paper-y aftertaste.” The dripper features thin porcelain walls that are meant to retain heat well and a smaller opening than the Kalita Wave, allowing for more precise brewing control.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: January 18, 2017