For those accustomed to slugging bottomless cups of eye-widening sludge from a drip coffee pot, the craft coffee movement might seem a little tedious. Baristas now grind, brew and pour a single cup of coffee at a time. Gooseneck kettles, Chemex vessels, burr grinders and unbleached paper filters have replaced cream and sugar as coffee's most essential companions.
But the trend toward quality over quantity isn't just hype. As District Coffee House General Manager Kate Seward explained, the pour-over method is gaining traction--even in Boise--for producing a superior cup of coffee.
"If you go to other cities and go to really good roasters or craft coffee shops, they don't even make drip coffee," said Seward. "They do pour-over or slow-brew processes because it really gives you a chance to develop the natural flavors of the bean and really reach that depth of flavor so that the cup that you're drinking is really full."
Baristas at The District's new location on 10th and Bannock streets are trained in the pour-over method--which involves pouring almost-boiling water over a paper cone filled with freshly ground beans and letting the coffee slowly drip down. The District uses a Chemex vessel, made of nonporous borosilicate glass adorned with a wood collar and tie. And while this method might seem simple, every step has an exacting ritual. Starting with the beans, which are roasted locally to The District's specifications by Saranac Coffee.
"It's our own roasting company. A couple buddies started it as a hobby and it developed into a really great thing," said Seward. "They just work together, two of them, out of one of their garages. They purchase the beans from a supplier and they get them from the different regions, which gets you different flavor profiles. ... For pour-overs, we do a lot of single origins."
Another local company, Neckar Coffee, is also roasting its own single-origin beans and utilizing the pour-over method. Huddled outside of the Boise Farmers Market's indoor building, Steve Tenuto and Grant Shealy poured steaming water from a thin gooseneck kettle over a line of porcelain cones, each heaped with coffee that was freshly pulsed in a burr grinder, which grinds the beans uniformly instead of chopping them into uneven bits.
"Pour-over is the way to go because it's efficient and we can grind to order, so every cup is fresh," explained Shealy. "We've tampered with the coarseness of the grind a little bit. Coffee is incredibly sensitive--it's way more sensitive than I am. ... The grind is finer than a French press and a little courser than an espresso grind."
Neckar's Flapjack Roast is made from Guatemalan beans imported from The Coffee Shrub in Oakland, Calf. The beans are roasted in small batches for 14 minutes on a roaster purchased from Diedrich Manufacturing in Sandpoint.
"A lot of really big commercial roasters will buy super low-grade coffees and they'll roast them super dark to try to mask the origin flavors. It usually doesn't matter too much because they put so much milk and sugar in it anyways that most people can't tell," said Shealy. "But with the beans that we get, you really want to do justice to how much work has been put into harvesting and processing and roasting ... so we like to take it not quite as dark so the origin flavors come out a little more."
The District also prefers lighter roasts. On a recent weekday evening, Seward weighed out 45 grams of medium-roasted El Salvador beans, then ground them on a medium-to-coarse setting in a burr grinder. Tipping over a gooseneck kettle, she saturated the Chemex bonded paper filter, removing any papery residue and warming the glass vessel at the same time. She then discarded the water, scooped the ground beans into the filter and began to bloom the coffee.
"Blooming is a really important step. What that means is you saturate all the grounds evenly with just the minimal amount of water and then you let it set for about 30-45 seconds," Seward said. "What that allows it to do is de-gas, because when you roast coffee, it traps in carbon dioxide in the beans, so when you bloom it, it's releasing all those gasses and getting the grounds ready to brew the perfect cup."
From there, Seward poured a steady stream of hot water into the center of the cone and worked her way out in slow circles until all of the grounds had been drenched evenly. In a minute or so, the aromatic 12-ounce brew was ready to enjoy.
"So instead of getting your 30-ounce coffee and drinking it all day long, it's more about treasuring the quality of what you can get out of the bean," said Seward.
For Neckar, the pour-over method is another way to add a hand-crafted element to their artisanally roasted coffee.
"Another big reason why we do it is we're trying to put as much craft into the preparation of the coffee, as well. ... I personally don't like the idea that my coffee's been sitting in a tank for up to two hours, or however long it's been in there," said Tenuto.
But not everyone has time to wait for their coffee to brew. So The District still serves drip coffee, as well.
"The only issue we run into is if somebody is on the run and can't wait three minutes for a cup of coffee--which makes sense if you're on your way to work. So we offer both," said Seward.