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I have read about the seemingly involved "Nel Drip" preparation method, and I'm wondering how Nel Pot preparation differs from regular pour-over or drip methods.

I've looked at stuff like this beautiful guide from Blue Bottle and an interview from the same outfit, another preparation guide, some forum posts like this one from CoffeeGeek and others. I also see some other questions tagged like this one discussing general methods focused on paper filters, and some over at Seasoned Advice but none about Nel.

Nel Drip preparation differs (from other pour-over/drip) in its apparatus ("Nel Pot"), which itself consists of a cotton / flannel filter loosely hanging or suspended over a glass carafe. It also seems to be called "woodneck" (but this is not the Chemex, which also has a wooden bit). "Nel" seems to be stylised as proper noun, but also seems to be short for flan-nel, and is of Japanese origin, though I can't find any proper references.

As with other brewing methods, there seems to be some kind of romantic fascination or magical mystique about it, and perhaps a "cult-like following" of sorts. I've seen widely varying comments, from the preparation method being fragile or finicky, to "easy, cheap ... incredible" (both from links above).

It looks like Nel Drip preparation takes more gear, more preparation, more grounds, coarser grounds, and more maintenance. There's talk of pre-boiling the filter, bamboo paddles, storing the filter in the fridge or freezer, ...?

My Questions:

  • How does it differ (in taste/outcome) from conventional paper filter pour-over/drip?
  • Preparation tips that are different from regular pour-over/drip?
  • Cleaning, maintenance, storage of the filters?

I hope that some with experience can talk me into (or out of!) getting more coffee gear... :)

  • It looks like a lot of hubaloo that would still result in Folgers tasting like Folgers and good coffee tasting like good coffee that you just used way too much of to make one cup. If you want to spend a lot of time and money (five times as much coffee?!?!) to make coffee of very similar quality to people using much less complex methods it may be for you. – Suspended User Feb 11 '15 at 16:35
  • @ChrisinAK - are you a Disillusioned Former Nel User? Or perhaps a Skeptical Outsider? From your "looks like" statement, sounds like the latter... like me, hence the question. :) Have you prepared Nel coffee? Tried the Nel output? If so, please continue... – hoc_age Feb 11 '15 at 16:47
  • Firmly a skeptic. Good coffee starts with good beans. While brew method is important, it can't magically create good coffee out of bad produce. The language on the site is a bit flowery for me. It seems very "markety" to me when they are trying to sell you a brew method more expensive (both up front and to use) than others. The Japanese have a very elaborate tea ceremony that about much more than making a good cup of tea. I have a feeling that someone is packaging and selling that as "better coffee". – Suspended User Feb 11 '15 at 17:17
  • @hoc_age I was just wondering how you feel about your nel brewer after using it for some time? – user3372 Oct 26 '16 at 17:03
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Lets answer this question with some data! My company uses machine learning, data science, and sensory science to build flavor profiling and quality control tools for the craft beverage industry.

Lets use some of our 9,000+ full sensory reviews to examine the difference between Paper Filter Pour-over coffees and the Nel.

TL;DR: Nel takes a ton of work to do properly and consistently - but produces a distinct and interesting flavor profile difficult if not impossible to achieve through other brewing methods.


The Data

Data

7,371 Reviews of Central American Washed Coffees brewed in Chemex, Beehouse, kalita wave, or V60 with a paper filter

Average of 7 day old coffee with a SD of 5 days, the data is evenly dichotomously split between a ratio of 40:600 and 35:400 (up-dose) grams of water : grams of coffee


2,143 Reviews of Central American Washed Coffees brewed in Nel;

Average of 30 day old coffee with a SD of 10 days, brewed at approx 50g coffee to 180 ml water


Differences in the Beans - before preparation

Proper Nel uses old beans, usually a month past roast - often considered stale! This is a historical antecedent - fresh coffee was hard to come by when the dutch we're the only trading partner (for some time, and the only one shipping coffee) for Japan.

Pour-Over Methods produce the best flavor profile using fresh coffee (less than 14 days from roast, on average).


Differences in Preparation

Nel: Very high coffee to water ratio, hovering around ~50g coffee to ~200g water. Very slow pour. It should take at least 6 min to pour the water through the grinds.

Pour-over: More standard coffee to water ration, often around ~40g coffee to ~600g water. Standard pour rate, with total brew time around 4 min.


Differences in Flavor Profile

For this section of the analysis, I will be using the Gastrograph to communicate complex flavor profiles consistently and simply. On the Gastrograph, the intensity is shown ranging from 0, the center of the graph, to 5 (the outer most point).

Let's look at the difference in flavor profiles of Central American Coffees below:

Pour-over methods using paper filters:

Gastrograph of Central American Coffees brewed with a Bleached Paper Filter

And we can compare to:

The Objective Flavor Profile of Nel Coffee


Want further analysis? Just leave a comment!

  • Wow, thanks for the pics and text! I humbly ask for more info (but I did give you 10 rep ;-), to clarify: 1- how many data points are aggregated in these plots... really 10k Nel brews? Sounds incredible. 2- Nel uses different beans (2a- origin unlabeled in title; 2b- older beans as noted in Preparation as traditionally appropriate for Nel). 3- quantity of beans was uniformly in the respective quantities you state in Methods? – hoc_age Feb 17 '15 at 22:01
  • @hoc_age I made most of the requested changes; I'm not sure I understand this part of your comment: 2- Nel uses different beans (2a- origin unlabeled in title; 2b- older beans as noted in Preparation as traditionally appropriate for Nel). 3- quantity of beans was uniformly in the respective quantities you state in Methods? – JayCo Feb 17 '15 at 22:39
  • Fascinating! Sorry that my questions were not clear. You answered 1- data set (thanks!). You answered 2a- the general origin of the beans was the same in the Nel and paper-filter (thanks!). My other questions: 2b- Were the beans used in Nel and paper-filtered the same age, or did the paper-filter data use fresh (<2-week-old beans) and Nel brews use old (~4+weeks-old beans)? 3- Just verifying: the Nel brews used 50:200 coffee:water ratio, and the paper-filter brews used 40:600 coffee:water ratio? – hoc_age Feb 18 '15 at 3:07
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    @hoc_age I have updated my answer to include the additional details on coffee age and brewing ratios. Thank you for following up! – JayCo Feb 18 '15 at 15:33
  • @hoc_age if this answer my answer is complete, can you please mark it correct? – JayCo Mar 28 '15 at 21:21
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One thing that the flavor profile doesn't cover is "mouth feel". According to one Nel aficionado, Nel Coffee has a consistency or mouth feel that's different from traditional pour over. Nel Coffee is said to feel thicker in the mouth, like a fine wine can have a thicker feel than a cheap wine. If so, the flavor profile may not indicate this distinction. Best is to give it a try and see whether you think it's better tasting (and feeling) coffee.

I wonder whether the different mouth feel and layered flavors has mostly to do with the method and not so much with the flannel filter itself. For example, would using a piece of cotton muslin give the same result as flannel. I would guess that a paper filter wouldn't because a cloth filter would allow larger particle to pass thru than a paper filter would.

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