I was chatting with my friend Dan at the Mudhouse, one of Charlottesville's coffee Institutions, the other day. A thought had occurred to me which seemed a bit obvious in retrospect, and as Dan is the person I know who is Most Serious About Coffee, I ask him about all my crazy coffee thoughts.
In this case, I was asking about hand-pour coffee. The question was whether people separate out the various parts of the brewing process and try them separately, so that, for example, you have three cups of coffee instead of one. The first cup represents the first 1/3 of the water that goes through the coffee grounds, the second the second 1/3, and the last the third 1/3. Dan told me that he hadn't done that with the hand pour, but it was part of his training program on espresso for new baristas. Then he gave me a sample.
The first part of the espresso shot tastes like every espresso you'll get in Italy, because italian espresso uses about 1/6 to 1/20 the water that you'll get from just about anywhere in the U.S. It's packed full of flavor, not really any bitterness. The second and third thirds don't have much flavor at all, but they do carry most of the body of the espresso, and I'm not entirely sure what makes up the body of espresso, so I'm going to have to do some research. Note to self. I'm pretty sure it's not collagen, though.
Right now, in artisanal coffee circles, hand-pour coffee is one of the darling techniques, because it allows for a lot of control and you can get a coffee cup full of flavor and nuance in a way that is different from all of the other techniques. It's not a replacement for other coffee brewing methods, naturally, it's just a way of tasting coffee very differently from what you'd get in, say, a French Press. It's especially good for single origin coffees, where you want to know all the nuances of a particular bean.
To hand-pour coffee, you essentially have a filter with ground coffee above a cup. You pour some hot water over the ground coffee, and coffee fills the cup. Very simple method, lots of things to do to get it right.
Here's what I can imagine: divide the hand-pour process into 10 equal pours. Call the resulting parts of the coffee "slices 1 to 10". If some were really, really serious about coffee experimentation, I could see that person saying "For this bean, you want to use slices 2-4, 7, and 9. For that blend, 1-3, 5-8" and so on. Take out the parts of the extraction that don't work for that bean to enhance or reduce whatever aspects aren't right. Of course, just like my explanation of the hand-pour process, if something like that would work it would be much more involved to get it right.
Even more so, a very fast, very meticulous, essentially crazy person might brew slices of different single-origin coffees and blend them together into a single super cup. Such a coffee would either be: a) indistinguishable from other coffees; or b) the most amazing coffee ever. Either way, it would be terribly expensive to do right. Still, fun to imagine.