March 2011 Archives

Pour Over Coffee

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Apparently I missed the latest coffee trend, "pour over" brewing. Apparently I missed this because I have done this before, I thought it was just the proper way to drip brew coffee.

The main theory of pour over is that using a regular filter cone drip brew method, some of the grounds are over-extracted and some are under-extracted. To remedy this problem, baristas have practiced with refractometers to measure coffee extraction levels, and developed a precise brewing method. But it seems to me, the very method they have developed actually exacerbates the problem. The classic pour over leaves a ridge of grounds around the edge of the cone that never gets extracted, and the central grounds where the water is poured are over-extracted. 

Some baristas recommend a filter cone with an open bottom like the Chemex carafe. That was the first coffee maker I ever owned. It makes great coffee, but the filters were not crimped, you folded them yourself. They tended to break, dumping the entire load of grounds into the brewed coffee. The use of a metal mesh filter is also recommended, but I owned one of those too. It is too porous, the water flows right through and the coffee is under-extracted.

But there is more to pour over than just a filter cone. The key is slowly adding just enough water to just wet the grounds. The slogan is, "don't drown the grounds." This is a common problem with methods like the Melita cone filters I have used for years. The best Melita method I know is just to add the water slowly and stir the grounds. I used to go to coffee shops in Japan and watch the baristas slowly pouring water, stirring, and testing it with a thermometer, I didn't think anything was special about it, they were just making a really good cup of coffee.

I tested a few "improved" methods with my Melita cone. I don't have a fancy pour over kettle with a thin spout, I just boil water in the microwave. I have a little 1/8th Cup measuring cup, I can spoon water carefully into the grounds with precision. Yes, a pour over cup tastes quite different. It is extremely strong, I do think it is over-extracted. I have reduced the amount of grounds, but it's still heavily extracted. The coffee has more flavor, but it is somewhat bitter as well. And the extraction takes so long, the coffee is cold by the time I get to drink it, I have to reheat it in the microwave. After extensive testing, I don't think a pour over is any better than just stirring the grounds as they extract.

1993: Sphere Study

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If you study drawing, you do a lot of basic studies. Drawing a sphere is a classic study, you must get the lighting and shadows right in order to portray the volume convincingly. But studies can be terribly boring, so you try something different. Anything different. 

I did a lot of studies like this when I was doing a portraiture project, I've posted other drawings from this series and you can probably see what I was working out. This was a particularly good, rough, scribbly sketch, from early in the series. This 9 inch square drawing looks like chalk or charcoal, it's old and starting to get smeared and a little soft, but the whole drawing was soft and smeary to start with. 


Rounding Error

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My local grocery store had a special, 3 frozen pizzas for $10. I bought 2. I was stunned when I saw the register tape.


1995: Tiny Portrait

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I found this tiny portrait on a page with other portrait studies, I must have drawn it around 1995. It's only about the size of a thumbprint and is greatly enlarged here. I must have used a Japanese calligraphy brush with a fine point. It's hard to control that kind of brush at this scale, but I like the coarse strokes mixed with some sweeping, fast lines,