Nel Drip

Background

Coffee from a nel is thick, focused and incredibly sweet – texturally reminiscent of mulled wine. It’s quite moody and fragile, too: Water that’s too hot, a hurried pour or even an offhand remark might wither its complexity. To make it correctly requires a surgeon’s hand, a novelist’s resolve and musician’s capacity for improvisation.

What you'll need

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    If your nel filter is new, remove it from its wire frame and place it in boiling water for five minutes. Following this, attach it to its hoop.
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    While your nel is soaking, grind your coffee. Nel calls for a higher dose of coffee than an ordinary drip; it’s not uncommon to use 45-50 grams. The coffee should be ground very coarsely – about as coarse as is required for French press.
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    Dry the nel by first wringing it out with your hands, then placing it in a dry, clean towel. 
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    Heat your nel pot and filter for one minute, then empty the water.
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    Add your coffee to the filter in a loose mound. Do not compress it.
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    Take a thin bamboo paddle (a butter knife also works) and work your way around the coffee in a gentle sawing motion. Your paddle should extend all the way to the bottom of the filter.
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    Create a button-sized indentation at the top of the coffee mound. It should have the circumference of a nickel and the depth of a thumbtack. Give or take.
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    Let your water cool in its kettle to about 175 degrees F. Begin pouring very gently around the circumference of your indentation. This first pour is almost excruciatingly slow – 45 grams over 45 seconds. Don’t worry about saturating all your grounds; time and the principle of capillarity will take care of that. Once you’ve finished pouring, pause for 45 seconds.
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    Your second pour should be a bit faster – 80 grams over 60 seconds, to be precise. Keep your pour centered. The coffee should at this point be churning and seething a little bit, kind of like the birth of the universe, or something out of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Pause again for 20 seconds.
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    Final pour! This time, it's 60 more grams of water over the course of 30 seconds. When all is said and done, you ought to have poured 185 grams of water over the course of 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
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    While the final bit of coffee is dripping, pre-heat your cups using whatever's left of your hot water. It’s quite common for nel coffee to be a little cooler than traditionally brewed coffee. Heating up the cups is a good way to bring it back to temperature without shocking it. Friend, please don’t microwave this coffee. Enjoy.