Monday, November 08, 2010

The Trouble With V60s

Rebecca through the lens of the V60.

This is something I've been pondering for several months now.

Spro Hampden opened on March 18, 2010 for Friends & Family. The next day, it opened for normal service and has been going non-stop ever since. Since the fall of 2009, we've been working with the Beehouse pourover drip brewer and sometime in April 2010, I bought a couple of Hario V60 pourovers for testing in our labs.

Somehow over the next month, those two V60s made their way into service on the brew bar. My merry band of baristas had been playing with them, liked them and started using them in service. I personally was skeptical.

For two months, the V60 remained quite popular amongst the Spro baristas, outpacing its use over the Beehouse. Why? Much of it seemed to center around the notion that the Beehouse was kinda slow.

By July, our baristas started to swing the other way. After nearly two full months of regular V60 service, the little Hario brewer started to fall out of favor and the Beehouse returned to more and more cups.

Within the rest of the "3W" Coffee World, the Hario V60 seems to reign supreme. From shop to shop, all across the nation, everyone and their coffee mother is clamoring to add a V60 brew bar to their shops, or even replace their other brew methods completely.

And I'm really thinking that just about everyone is purporting a sham.

No doubt about it, the V60 is wildly popular. And why shouldn't it be? It's relatively cheap to buy. Cheap to operate. Cheap to replace. Comes in a variety of style and colors. Has a cool design. But most importantly in a production environment: you can brew a cup of coffee in a minute and thirty seconds. Flat.

Add to the speed issue that by doing a V60 brew, you're able to give the customer the impression that you're doing something special, something unique, something cool just for them, when really you're actually just passing off a sham. A fast-brewed, underextracted and not so great cup of coffee that they think is better because it came with a better show.

Watch most of these V60 baristas and what are they doing? They're putting ground coffee into the V60 and then gunning it full of water and letting the stuff flow out. One point Five minutes later, you're coffee is ready. Add a little sugar and cream and most of the people really won't notice the difference.

Some of you are probably wondering: "what's with the 1.5 minute thing?" Well, it's mainly because most standard practices for drip brew coffee calls for an extraction time of 3-5 minutes. That gives the coffee enough interaction time with the water to pull out all of those essential oils and solids that make coffee into coffee. It's not something that you normally rush unless you're using some sort of pressurized extraction, like the vac pot, espresso machine or Aeropress.

Defenders of this practice are sure to whip out their meters and tell you that yes, their meter readings demonstrate that this 1.5 minute coffee registers at 19%, but what they're not telling you is that they've just used two to three times the average amount of coffee to achieve this. Reminds me of the kind of thinking that went along with that automated brewer a few years back where baristas were using 44grams of coffee per serving (when 24 grams would normally have sufficed).

Quite simply: Don't Believe The Hype.

I battled with the V60 myself. Early on, in our lab tests, I noticed that the V60 was fast. Extremely fast. Those vortex channels, paired with that large, gaping hole meant that the V60 was all about the Path Of Least Resistance and that liquid would flow through at a high rate. Pour water into an empty V60 and it's gone. Pour water into an empty Beehouse and it takes a bit of time for the liquid to pass through the three small holes in the brewer.

It is those reduced orifice holes that restrict the flow of water causing pooling in the brewer that aid in infusing the coffee. It is an absolute essential part of brewing and one that you, as the barista, must ensure to create. This means that you either use a more restricted flow brewer (like the Beehouse and subequently, the BonMac) or that you control the flow of water carefully with the V60.

Running and Gunning the V60 makes sense for a variety of reasons:

1 - It gives customers the impression that you're doing something special.
2 - It is fast and allows you to process a line quickly.
3 - It looks personal for the customer.
4 - It allows you to make yourself look better and more "craft."
5 - It allows you to charge much more for the coffee.

However, what Running and Gunning doesn't do is: ensure a quality cup that is superior to other brewing methods, or at the very least, equivalent in quality to a properly calibrated and set Fetco Extractor Brewer.

Sadly, most of the V60 coffee served in America is of lower quality than that of a properly set up Fetco.

And they're charging more.

Recently, a world famous barista was listening to me casually mention that I push my baristas to time out their V60 brews with a target of 3:30 to 4:00 total brew time. The reaction he gave me indicated that he disagreed and that my approach was probably overkill. Of course, I disagree with his disagreement, but I wasn't interested in discussing brewing standards so I left it alone.

Of course, I could be wrong. I doubt it. But I could be wrong. Next time you're out there buying a cup of V60 brewed coffee, watch how they brew and see if they're doing the Run & Gun approach to your coffee. It probably isn't as good as it could be.


Mike White said...

I agree with some of this, particularly the observation that many people overcompensate with updosing. Like the Clover. But there's a simple solution - agitation. I brew my v60's with the same 60:1 ratio and achieve delicious results. It's closer to 3minutes in brew time, so it doesn't "rush" through. But the agitation ensures proper numbers without compensation.

Trevor said...

True, the fact that you must ''control the flow of water carefully with the V60'' is crucial. Without this, it may well make a worse brew than other by-the-cup brewers.
Granted - many folks probably haven't researched and practised technique enough, which makes the V60 phenom risky.
I too was confused by the brewer initially, and had to do quite a bit of research and work with controlled pouring techniques and cone control/formation to get good brews (I aim for about 2-3.5 mins ...depending).
But, understanding it better now, I've had some blinding cups from my V60, and it remains my hme brewer of choice, at the moment!

caffe d'bolla said...

I agree.

But the V-60 was not meant to create a faster brew time. It's still meant for about a three minute extraction.

Eric said...

I work at a shop that uses v60 exclusively. After 6 months of sampling brews from our shop, along with others in the city, I have concluded that it is simply, not only not ideal, but often downright bad. Nearly every cup is underextracted. They start out boring, then turn just plain sour and unpleasant.

I have experimented a fair bit, and found reasonable, but spotty, success with two methods. The main goal with both methods is increased extraction...duh, right??

The first uses MANY small pours that keep the slurry level from rising, along with moderate agitation with a demitasse spoon. The idea here is to prevent two things. First is "high and dry grounds". Second is to prevent water from having to pass through the non-uniform sides of the slurry. It basically means water has no choice but to pass through the coffee bed. About 4 minute brew time. This idea is based on discussions with Nick.

The second method is something I thought about recently. I'm not sure why this idea of updosing took hold, but it seems so silly. Even the most tangential reading of Scott Rao should implant the notion that increasing the amount of coffee in a brew will only decrease the extraction further. Because the v60 is so fast, and designed to be so, I tried to utilize that. My thinking was that I wanted to stretch out the coffee as thin as possible to open up as much surface area as possible to ensure that every particle is evenly (yeah, right!) and properly extracted.

We have been using 27 grams of coffee for a 10 oz diner mug. I dosed down to 20 grams and tightened up the grind considerably. I bloomed (20-30 seconds, as one would expect), then poured somewhat slowly until the v60 was full, then just let that drip through. About 1.5 minute brew time.

The result, Wrecking Ball's Sidama, by the way, was a delicious balance of chocolate, red fruit brightness, and a silky body. This was the first cup that I've been excited about in a little while. We are currently sampling some new roasters, and I have been testing them with this method with some great results.

I regret not having the tools in our shop to perform more rigorous experimentation, but I do have access to them, and plan to control more variables.

Forgive me if I am just catching up with the rest of the world on v60 methods. Suffice it to say that I have found that dosing down and tightening up the grind yields at least comparable results, but in most cases better ones. And going from 27 to 20 grams per cup is like getting every fourth cup for free for the shop owner with no reduction in quality.

onocoffee said...

I like the 60:1 brew ratio. Perhaps tomorrow I will try it by using 720 grams of coffee (coarsely ground, of course). My only concern is the amount of water that will be absorbed by the coffee. My guess is that our typical 13 ounces of water will barely penetrate the coffee.

BTW, for the metrically challenged, 720 grams is equivalent to 1.58 pounds!

Our target time at Spro is 3.5 to 4 minutes. Not sure if I said that previously.

Definitely! It's a shame that the V60 is being exploited with such fast brew times.

I wouldn't worry too much about "not having the tools" in your shop to "perform more rigorous experimentation." All you truly need is your palate and your tastes. Let those be your guide.

I think that one of the potential pitfalls that comes with the utilization of measuring devices, such as that refractometer, is that people become obsessed with a particular number being "right." And I fear that it is that expectation of being "right" that may lead the taster astray. Meaning that they fall into the trap of believing that a reading of 19-20% must be right and, therefore, convince themselves that it tastes "best."

Just like the consumer who convinces himself that this coffee must be the "best" coffee he's tasted because it was made in front of him via a fast-brewed V60...

caffe d'bolla said...


It's just a bunch of wannabes who accept the methodology of the first barista to use the V-60 here. It's not rocket science-- what it is is, once again, young enthusiastic barista making assumptions when all they need to do is actually ask about the WHY of the design. Honestly, most pourover coffee in the US is piss-poor period. The V-60 problem is minimal in comparison. I've seen truly horrific things by extremely "respectable" barista. They just really don't get it sometimes. (sigh) I'll take old and experienced over young and brilliant any day.

Mike White said...

60:1 = 1:60

But you probably knew that already.

onocoffee said...

Actually Mike, I thought you were being ironic!

Mike White said...

Dang, shoulda left it alone!

Anonymous said...

I find that having a good controlled pour and some elevation helps the Harios. I used to use Beehouse drippers in my bar, but found that my water temperature was very difficult to maintain after 3mins. The last portion of the extraction was often sour. I like being able to keep my temp up to 200 or so and brew my coffee between 1.5 and 2 mins.

Trevor said...

Yeah, you mentioned the 3.5-4 mins brew time in the post. Is this time one you aim for with the '2 cup' V60, or the smaller '1 cup'? I've been using a 1 cup until recently, and brewing at about 2mins 40 generally, but up to 3mins 30secs. Recently though I've bought a 2 cup, and initially find this lends itself to more like 3-4 mins, but am still experimenting (and isn't it all dependant to some extent on factors like grind an temp as well as time anyway?).

Careless 'running and gunning' and brew times of only 1.5 mins certainly's unlikely to do the brewer/coffee much justice - but with controlled pours, and the brew times mentioned, I've found the V60 to work well, and find no need to 'updose' - using about 15g for a 250g brew.

Even without rushing the brew all-kak-handed-like, you find the V60 inferior to your other comparable methods? I'm just curious, as my experience with brewed coffee/pourover is limited to home, and something I've been trying to learn more about the last year or so, whereas at work, I'm more used to dealing with espresso.

onocoffee said...

I certainly hope that my commentary doesn't leave one with the impression that I might think that the V60 in "inferior". It is not. In fact, I think the V60 has great possibility but one that needs to be controlled and exploited properly for the best results.

Unlike others in our community, I don't regard one brew method as "inferior" or "better" than others. We've found that each method has something to offer and to discredit one would be akin to a restaurant disregarding the grill because it isn't able to braise.

In caring hands, the V60 (and the right coffee) can make for a wonderful drinking experience.