The Keurig is also the most expensive form of coffee on the planet, costing anywhere from $21.66 per pound of coffee for Folgers brand to $124.55 per pound for Arpeggio K-Cups (for comparison, $100 buys a pound of Panamanian Hacienda la Esmeralda Geisha beans, considered by some to be the finest in the world). It also produces an irresponsibly large quantity of plastic waste. But many people find this trade-off to be worth it: Everyone I know who has switched from an auto-dripper to a Keurig comments on the increased quality of the coffee and marvels at the ease. As for the waste, well, most just try not to think about it.
But another revolution is—ahem—brewing. This one values deliberation, flavor, and quality, treating coffee as something to be savored rather than pure brain fuel. It recalls the painstaking rituals of Turkish coffee (the laborious process is a means of demonstrating hospitality and devotion to one’s guests) and the precision of finicky Italian espresso machines. This newly prominent means of making coffee allows for an intense, individuated cup, but demands an obsessive commitment to craft and method. I am talking, as some coffee aficionados may have already guessed, about the pour-over.
Unlike espresso, which is made in a dedicated machine, or French-press coffee, which is brewed in the eponymous press pot, pour-over coffee can be produced by a variety of devices that share a few common characteristics. From the rugged Chemex (the preferred coffeemaker of Georgia O'Keefe and James Bond) to the high-tech Aeropress, all pour-over devices work the same way: The preparer heats water and, true to the name, pours it over coffee grounds. Unlike the French press, it relies on a paper filter, which makes for a cleaner, less oily flavor. More than any other method of making coffee, the pour-over is all about control—most die-hards insist on using a scale to measure coffee grounds and water, a measure of exactitude meant to ensure the ideal ratio and, therefore, the ideal taste.
It’s also a way to counteract the fickle nature of coffee. Auto-drippers are notorious for overheating water, which can scorch the sensitive beans and lend a foul taste to the resulting brew. Coffee made without the benefit of precise control will mask the specific chemical load of a given bean, which can vary greatly according to the region of origin, the altitude at which it was grown, and the methods used to process it.
Of course, if one is using Folger's or the evenly burned charcoal that some shall-remain-nameless coffee franchises sell as beans, control doesn't really matter. The rise of pour-over coffee has relied on the increased availability of direct-source, lighter-roasted specialty coffees that offer a wider range of flavor possibilities, from toasty to fruity to vegetal. These coffees often come from not just a single region but a single farm, packaged with information about the farmer, the altitude of the farm, and the types of trees harvested for this lot of coffee. (For example, I’m currently brewing a coffee roasted by Cartel Coffee in Tempe, Arizona, and grown in Antigua, Guatemala, by Juan Carlos Chen; it was grown at an altitude between 1,500 and 1,900 meters on Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra trees.)