If there's one coffee ritual that everyone should learn, it's pour-over brewing. For those unfamiliar with this technique, pour-over drip coffee is prevalent in third wave coffee houses, though the practice is much older than one might think. The primary device used to make pour-over coffee is the gooseneck-style kettle—which works in tandem with pour-over drippers, such as the Melitta, Hario V60, Chemex, or Kalita Wave. And while a kettle may not seem as crucial as a dripper or bean grinder, it has a significant effect on how well one can brew a cup of coffee.
Pour-over drippers all essentially function the same way: to hold coffee grinds and allow water to flow through, thereby extracting coffee. Which is no different than how an automatic coffee brewer functions. But the gooseneck pour-over kettle is unique because it gives the brewer complete control over water distribution. The shape and stream of water flowing through grinds ultimately affects the kind of extraction one will achieve. And better extraction means better tasting coffee.
The gooseneck's angle and shape is everything.
Those variables (the shape and stream of the water flow) are important in evaluating which kettle is the best for you. Below, I tested five popular water kettles designed for pour-over coffee. But which one is the best out of the bunch? The answer actually lies with personal preferences, though I did find one to be just a little bit better than the others.
Hario is perhaps the first pour-over coffee kettle you've seen in action. A few years ago, when a group of specialty coffee companies like Intelligentsia started making pour-over coffee a menu staple, the Hario V60 Buono was the top barista tool. At first sign, the device's adorable beehive shape made it easy to love, while its smooth stainless steel body proved durable and reliable over hours of use. A black plastic knob topped off the loose-fitting lid, and the gooseneck itself streamed gently off the bottom. The Buono's handle follows a similar wave-like motif, fitting easily into your hand without slipping off. I still think it's the most lovely kettle of the bunch, handsome enough to leave on your stove for visitors to admire.
This is where the Buono falls a bit behind the competition, and it's mostly because of the Buono's thin body metal and gooseneck angle. When it comes to pour-overs, the gooseneck's angle and shape is everything. To produce a perfect coffee, some brewers, like the Bonavita and Fellow Stagg (more on these below), subscribe to the waterfall theory, whereupon water flows over the edge of the goosenecks tip and drops straight down into the brewer at close to a 90 degree angle. The other theory for water flow is what I'll dub direct injection, whereupon the gooseneck is shaped in such way that water is directed downward toward the coffee grounds.
For my tests, I used the ubiquitous Hario V60 conical brewer. Their Buono kettle falls in-between the waterfall and direct injection angles, which means water is much more likely to flow at an angle, instead of straight down. When you use the Buono, you'll find that positioning the kettle at the precise angle you'll need to produce a slow, steady stream of boiling water was extremely difficult. I've actually had years of practice with this, and still find it challenging. Another issue with the Buono is that its thin metal body tends to quickly lower the water's temperature, which meant a slightly less consistent brew.
Priced competitively at just under $40 on Amazon, the Buono is a really solid starter brewer, and one that you just might take if you're more design conscious.
Kalita Kettle Wave
This impressive-looking kettle might even be more attention-grabbing than the Hario Buono. Girded with a smooth wooden handle, a princely wooden top, and a robust gooseneck, the Kalita Kettle Wave is a sturdy vessel that looks like it will last years (it won't, more on that later). The same ribbed look mimics the Hario Buono, though with a more masculine silhouette. I bought one of these to use every day and have mostly enjoyed the design.
Kalita's larger, but tighter gooseneck actually tapers off elegantly at the tip, ensuring an extremely thin pour that's not too difficult to master. Water flow is a blend of the waterfall and direct injection styles, though it's definitely closer to the direct injection party. I really enjoy using the Kettle Wave and found my brews on both the Hario V60 and the Kalita's own Wave brewer to be excellent on a daily basis. But I had big qualms with the wooden pieces, which wore out over time and even cracked in places.
The pea-sized button on top looks like it might fall off any day now, which is tragic. It means I have to save this kettle for more special occasions, hoping that wooden parts don't break off. The thick metal body does a great job of keeping water at ideal brewing temperature.
This kettle clocks in at nearly $62 on Amazon, making it more expensive and less sturdy than the Hario Buono. It's a fine alternative, though the wooden pieces should be cause for concern if you're a power user like me.
When it comes to design, I'm not actually the biggest fan of the Bonavita. It's stouter and not quite as sexy as the Hario. The large one-liter body has a generous capacity, but the overall look definitely leans utilitarian. Also, the lid is difficult to remove, which becomes frustrating after daily use. While both the stovetop and electric version look nearly identical, the electric version of this kettle comes with a nice hard plastic base and an extra finger grip on the handle, making it easy to hold.
Where the Bonavita comes short on looks, it delivers on price and functionality. Its waterfall gooseneck tapers off mightily at the tip, producing a very steady, thin stream water. That extra finger grip on the electric version is a godsend, while super simple operation makes it easy for those who have to boil their water to make coffee every morning (I have a vacuum pot that keeps water close to boiling at all times, saving me time). I gave my fiancé this kettle for her apartment, and she absolutely loves it. Even her roommates have picked up pour-over coffee brewing with this; it was easy enough for them to learn after a few attempts.
The electric Bonavita, priced at $60, even comes with a precise temperature control edition (which I don't find necessary because the standard version still takes you to boiling), is the all-around winner of the bunch. First, it boils water in just a few minutes. Second, pouring is easy to learn. And finally, it brews pretty fantastic coffee on a daily basis. The only negatives are its plain look and difficult-to-remove lid.
Fellow Stagg Kettle
A few months ago, I reviewed the Fellow Duo, an innovative full-immersion brewing device that works much like a well-thought French press. Fellow, a company that's bent on reinventing how we brew coffee, also has a compelling new pour-over kettle. But does Fellow deliver on its promise to re-think the pour-over kettle from the ground up? Let's start with design. First, both the all-black and stainless models look fantastic on the counter.
The design is more stark, perhaps a meld between classic American form with a heavy dose of Bauhaus minimalism. I like it a lot, and I'm proud to show it off to any admirers. The long, skinny goose neck comes out of the body like a knight holding out a lance, while the ergonomic handle fits perfectly in hand. I didn't find removing the lid to be very enjoyable, though Fellow perhaps wanted it to be difficult to take it off, in case some over-zealous coffee lover tipped the thing too much. Oh, and the thermometer on top is a very thoughtful feature.
Fellow touts three main innovations with the brewer, almost all of which affect its daily performance. First, that thermometer. It's pretty excellent, and very accurate. However, I always found exacting water temperature a less useful parameter than, say, high-quality, freshly ground coffee, or properly filtered water. Also, water naturally bubbles up when it's boiling, which means you already know the temperature (though I guess in higher elevations water does boil at lower temperatures).
The gooseneck, which is solidly in the waterfall camp, is relatively easy to pour intuitively, something the company touts prominently on its website. As long as you can get use to the nearly 90 degree angle at which water will pour from the spout, you can brew fantastic cups of coffee with the Stagg. The last innovation isn't major, but it feels useful when you brew on a daily basis: that weighted handle, which balances out the pouring action. What the handle really did was make it easy for me to find the right angle to pour the water. Is it nice? Sure. Is it essential? Probably not.
Only available on its website, the Stagg runs $69 plus shipping. For the kind of gadget lover who wants the bleeding edge of technology, even in a sphere like coffee kettles, I recommend the Stagg. Out of my preferences, I'd put the Stagg just behind the Bonavita.
Blue Bottle Wood Handle Brewer
From a design perspective, I found a lot to like with this unnamed device, which is available for purchase on Blue Bottle's website. The distanced handle effectively counters the direct injection goose neck. The light wood varnish, coupled with the shiny steel body, made this one easy on the eyes. It's almost like a young Robert Redford of coffee kettles: slightly rugged and understated, yet polished.
Blue Bottle's direct injection spout makes it very easy to pour a slow, steady stream of water into a brewer. I made a couple of darn perfect cups using this kettle. However, that handle did create one major problem in my mind: it made the kettle feel extremely heavy. And when you have to hold up half a liter or more of water for a few minutes at a time, it starts to weigh down on your arm and shoulders. In fact, after a two or three brewing cycles, I found myself wanting to set this kettle down because it hurt my shoulder so much. If you're going to be making a single cup of coffee at a time, you could potentially get used to this, but I found myself reaching for this kettle less and less.
This kettle isn't particularly easy to find, nor is to cheap, priced at $60 on Blue Bottle's website. Sorry Redford, but you just didn't make the cut this time.
If you're up for paying just over $60 (including tax) for the Bonavita plug-in electric, it's the Goldilocks of coffee pour-overs. If you're more into the design thing, the Fellow Stagg is a fine choice, but I wonder what a plug-in model could've done in this lineup. If you're looking for a budget choice, the stovetop Bonavita runs $35 on Amazon, while the charming Hario Buono costs $38.
Note: You're probably wondering why I didn't review the highly regarded Takahiro Kettle. First, I couldn't get my hands on one. Second, it's very expensive, clocking in at $135. Third, it's not designed to heat water on a stove or direct flame, which means you can only use it if you have an external water boiler. But based on my time experimenting with it in the past, it's a terrific brewer that lands in the direct injection camp. Snatch it up if it's within your budget.