Does Pouring Height Make a Difference in Coffee Flavor?

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Reddit is a host to countless places for talking about everything from Star Wars to sewing. There are over a million discussion communities on basically every subject you could think of, from personal finance to relationship drama. There’s even a whole subreddit about pictures of clouds.

One of the most popular subreddits is LifeProTips, where people share useful tips that make their lives easier or better. It can be an absolute gold mine of good advice, but it can also be a big source of drama.

Recently one of the top posts was about coffee, which will always catch my attention.

The original advice thread was titled: “LPT: Pour your coffee from a height of several inches (or more). It will introduce more oxygen into solution and tangibly improve the taste.”

The author of the original post suggested that when pouring coffee from a French press into a cup, a person can get a better flavor by holding the French press higher. The original poster said he holds his French press about 18 inches above the cup, but suggested that a person could probably manage six inches without much practice.

On the face of it, that seemed like the sort of tip that might work. If getting more air into wine makes the flavor better, it might work for coffee too, right?

But this idea appears to be very controversial. In fact, shortly after the original thread started gaining a lot of attention, another thread popped up entitled: “LPT: Don’t pour coffee from height. You may burn yourself and it makes little/no difference to taste.” In that thread, someone joked that the original idea may have come from a paper towel company looking to boost sales by tricking people into spilling coffee all over their counters.

In the interest of figuring out how, exactly, to brew a better cup of coffee at home, I contacted several coffee experts to see what they thought.

Jessica Easto, author of Craft Coffee: A Manual: Brewing a Better Cup at Home, said she would have to test the process herself to see if pour height really makes a difference, but said it is not uncommon for baristas at craft coffee shops to aerate the coffee by pouring it from one vessel to another before serving. She said they probably wouldn’t do that with French press coffee, but that aerating coffee like that is done to mix the coffee up so all the particles are evenly distributed, and to cool it to a more drinkable temperature.

“It’s easier to taste the true flavors in coffee when it’s cooler,” she explained.

Easto said it’s possible that the pouring-from-high technique is cooling the coffee, which would likely produce a noticeable difference in flavor. But she does specify that grind size and bean quality are the biggest factors in how good a cup of home-brewed coffee comes out.

“Things like grind size and bean quality (which are, incidentally, easier for home brewers to control) will almost always affect flavor more than the way an average person pours,” she said.

Steven Schreiber of Brooklyn Beans agreed that pouring from up high could be helping to mix the coffee particles, but he said a spoon would probably work just as well.

“There are microscopic particles or dissolved solids in the liquid that with the help of gravity would end up being mixed better, leading to a better cup,” he said. “In my opinion a spoon would work, and it would be hard to scientifically prove the advantage, but [pouring from up high] does make it look cool and sophisticated.”

Steve Hall, co-founder of Tinker Coffee in Indianapolis, agreed that the pouring from higher up could help cool the coffee faster and bring it more quickly to the optimal temperature for flavor. And anything that helps get the coffee out of the French press more quickly will likely curtail over-extraction and lead to a better cup.

“All in all, I think there’s maybe something to this theory, but the risk of spilling coffee would be far too great for me to want to try it,” Hall said.

Basically, pouring coffee from higher up could affect the flavor by helping to cool the coffee faster and better mix the particles, both of which affect flavor. Pouring from up high is not necessarily the best or the most efficient way to do either of those things, but if you think it looks cool and can pull it off without burning yourself, go right ahead.

How do you like to make coffee?