Fewer and fewer people choose to pour the water over the coffee themselves when automatic filter drip brewers sell for as little as $15 or $20. Reasons to pour-over yourself: The basic plastic cone and glass decanter set is still the cheapest brewing device on the market, short of a tin-can and coathanger; pour-over units do not require counter space; you can be absolutely sure all the ground coffee is saturated because you are doing the pouring yourself; and you can congratulate yourself on being a coffee purist.
Most importantly, however, you can stir the water and grounds in the cone as they steep. This last possibility is of great importance to some aficionados. I live in an area dominated by the cult of Peet’s Coffee, and friends often ask me why, when they get their pound of Major Dickason’s Blend home, they cannot get it to taste like the extraordinarily deep-bodied but clear-tasting drip coffee they drink at Peet’s stores. For two reasons, I tell them. First, they need to brew extremely strong (about 3 tablespoons of ground coffee to every 5-6 ounce cup), and second, they need to stir the grounds as they steep, an impossible gesture with automatic filter drip brewers. So if you do prefer a coffee almost as full-bodied as French press but without the French press grit, you may need to experiment with a manual pour-over brewer. After you saturate the grounds, stand over the brewer and stir with a long-handled spoon until most of the coffee has exited the filter.
The disadvantages to manual pour-over filter drip brewers? In addition to the obvious inconvenience of heating and pouring the water yourself, it is also very difficult to keep the coffee hot. You need to either pre-heat the decanter and drink the coffee immediately, keep the decanter atop an electric warmer or other heating device, or brew directly into a pre-heated insulated decanter, probably the best approach.
At the most democratic end of the price-design spectrum for manual pour-over brewers are simple plastic filterholders, sold either with matching decanter or without. More costly and more idiosyncratic are various models of the nostalgic, defiantly impractical Chemex, the ancestor of all American filter drip brewers. The Chemex was developed from, and still resembles, a well-made piece of laboratory equipment. Many find its austere design (honored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York) and authentic materials (glass and wood in the traditional models) attractive, but the single-piece hourglass shape makes cleaning difficult. Another classic option is a matching porcelain cone and decanter from Melitta with classic, rounded lines reminiscent of traditional French drip pots. Fante’s in Philadelphia (see Sending for It) is a good last-resort source for exotic filter drip models like both the Chemex and the Melitta porcelain design.