The Best Pour Over Coffee Maker:
Unlike the Chemex and V60, Kalita’s Wave brewer isn’t cone-shaped; it has three drip holes instead of one. This changes things more than you’d think. The flat-bottomed brewer ensures the all water that’s poured over it, one way or another, interacts with the coffee grinds. Water sloping down the sides will run into the coffee before it can reach the holes in the base.
It’s also the easiest brewer to nail down quickly. The compact size makes it a poor choice for making large batches, but it’s perfect for one- or two-person households, outdoorsy people or frequent travelers. Two of our experts said it was the most user-friendly, while the third said it was second.
Pour-over coffee is nothing new. The Chemex brewer, now iconic, has been around since World War II. Decades before that, a German housewife named Melitta Bentz invented the Melitta filter and pour-over system. But for some time, the place of the pour-over coffee brewer was largely in the cafés and kitchens of coffee professionals. Today, however, pour-over brewers are in the middle of something of a popularity renaissance.
When I asked Dylan Siemens, the 2017 Brewers Cup Champion and Head of Coffee Education at Onyx Coffee Lab, what pour-over systems have over automated drip machines, his answer was technical, practical and scientific.
“It’s much simpler to make the exact amount of coffee you want and you can bring most pour overs with you if you travel or go somewhere else and still want great coffee. There’s also a lot more experimentation you can get into with changing pour technique, water temperature, pour over device and all that,” he said. “But I think for most people it’s a lot about the ritual of it. I feel like I still learn something every time I make a cup of pour over.”
Edward O’Hickey, Educator at Toby’s Estate, echoed Siemens’s sentiment. “There’s really no way to replicate the feeling of making a pour over the right way if you use a machine,” he said. “It’s a completely different experience — it just puts me in a better mood.”
Steve Willingham, Director of Coffee at Oklahoma-based KLLR Coffee said much of the same: “[Pour over] doesn’t make this magical, unattainable cup of coffee, but it does make excellent, fresher coffee — it’s almost meditative. It’s a completely different experience.”
I asked each coffee pro which pour-over brewers are the best, and each said the same three names: Chemex, HARIO V60 and Kalita Wave. “Those are the big three. There are others, but none are close to those in popularity,” Willingham said.
So we decided to test each for convenience and quality to determine which is the best for you, the everyday consumer.
Easily the oldest and prettiest of the trio, the Chemex is almost as visually pleasing as it is an effective coffee brewer. Chemex separates itself from its peers in two key areas — one obvious, one not so much. It comes in three- to 10-cup variations, and it acts as its own carafe. Place a cone filter in the top, dump in coffee grinds and pour a few times.
The second distinguishing feature is a very, very thick filter. All three of the experts we spoke with said this was the most important thing to know about the Chemex. “It’s pretty, but the filter is doing most of the coffee work,” O’Hickey said. A thicker filter means less coffee material getting down into the coffee. The final cup is decidedly lighter in body, and it highlights bright, floral, sweet notes especially well.
“[The filter] is why I use it the most. It brings a lot of clarity to coffee, and I think it puts a spotlight on some of the flavors that are sometimes harder to pick up,” Willingham said. All three experts noted (multiple times each) the heightened importance of soaking the chemex filter before brewing as well, indicating that, because the paper is so thick, a pre-soak will ensure the early extraction doesn’t simply soak into the paper.
Also noted was the increased precision needed when pouring the water over the coffee. Because of the Chemex’s cone shape, which drops down into a single large hole, if you pour water above the coffee, or right on the edge, you’re essentially diluting your final cup. “The is basically going to run straight through that filter, onto the glass wall and down to the carafe without ever touching your coffee,” O’Hickey said.
Finally, its glass makeup, while visually striking, makes for a slightly annoying issue. Glass is quick to heat, but quick to lose heat as well — this means that coffee is going to cool faster sitting in a Chemex than it would in your mug or most walled carafes. This doesn’t present a brewing problem so much as it does a thorn in your side.
It’s worth noting Chemex’s are rarely used in professional café settings, which heavily favor the following two pour over devices. None of the three brewers are particularly expensive, but the Chemex is barely the priciest.
Verdict: The Chemex brewer is the objectively superior pour-over device for households where more than two people want coffee — neither the V60 or the Wave can compete with its scale. And thanks to its looks, it acts as one part coffee brewer, one part décor when sitting on the counter. It brews a lighter bodied cup of coffee, that will lose temperature faster than the other two brewers on this list. Thanks to its slightly less forgiving brewing needs, it’s not the best entry-level pour over brewer.
The V60 is popular among coffee professionals — both in café and competition settings. The Japanese import comes in ceramic, stainless steel, plastic and glass varieties, but our experts unanimously chose the ceramic as the best option. “I wouldn’t bother with the other varieties, the ceramic holds heat the best,” Siemens said.
It is defined by its small size, cone shape, lighter filters and a single large hole in the base. Unlike the Chemex, V60 filters are lighter (but should still be washed before use) and allow for a stronger bodied cup of coffee. According to Siemens, who competed in this year’s brewer’s cup with the V60, it’s a bit more difficult to “dial in” than the other brewers. But it is much more versatile. “You have to pay a lot of attention to how much and how fast you’re pouring water,” he said. “Pour intentionally and you’ll be alright.”
Siemens recommends pouring concentrically, starting inside, then slowly working your way outside, then back in. The cone shape brings the same issue of water running down the sides of the brewer and not making contact with coffee as the Chemex, so neither brewer is a pour-and-forget system (spoilers: none are).
Our experts agreed the V60 brews clear, light cups of coffee, but not nearly as light as the Chemex. They also agreed that you’ll taste more classic coffee flavors – chocolate, toffee, honey, nutty.
The V60 varies in price between materials and size, but the model our experts recommended, the ceramic
The cup of coffee that the V60 produces sits right between the Chemex and the forthcoming Wave — light, but not too light. It’s not ideal if you’re brewing for more than two people, but its small size does allow it to tuck into a suitcase should you want something a bit better than hotel coffee.
Verdict: Our experts each had a different opinion on the degree of difficulty to make a balanced cup of coffee, but after a couple practice runs, I didn’t find it particularly challenging to get a decent cup (again, don’t miss the coffee with the pour). It’s important to note that while you can brew directly into your chosen mug with the V60, if you’re brewing more coffee, you’ll need a carafe that holds heat reasonably well.
Unlike the Chemex and V60, Kalita’s Wave brewer isn’t cone-shaped; it has three drip holes instead of one. This changes things more than you’d think. The flat-bottomed brewer ensures the all water that’s poured over it, one way or another, interacts with the coffee grinds. Water sloping down the sides will run into the coffee before it can reach the holes in the base. Combine that with the lightest filter of the bunch and the extended water-coffee interaction time, the Wave produces a cup of coffee with the strongest body of the three.
Siemens won the 2017 Brewer’s Cup using a Kalita Wave and says the brewer is the most user-friendly and forgiving of the three, but it’s not completely without flaws. “I find it requires a lot more manual agitation than the others. The coffee isn’t as easily moved by normal pouring, and you can get really wonky coffee if that happens.”
(Onyx Coffee Lab’s Kalita Wave instruction video demonstrates what Siemens means when he says agitation — stirring the grinds with a spoon during brewing or more heavy-handed pouring.)
It’s super small size is a strength and weakness — its small and light enough to work as a coffee option for hiking, camping or regular travel, but its short height means making more than 2 cups at a time will be a stretch.
The Wave comes in ceramic and glass, but the stainless steel model, which is the most used by the pros.
Verdict: The Wave is the easiest brewer to nail down quickly. The compact size makes it a poor choice for making large batches, but it’s perfect for one- or two-person households, outdoorsy people or frequent travelers. Two of our experts said it was the most user-friendly, while the third said it was second.