Pour Over vs. Drip Coffee: What is the Difference?

Published on 03/11/2024 · 8 min readExplore the nuances between pour-over and drip coffee! Learn about their distinct brewing methods, flavor profiles, and the hands-on control each offers!
Levi Rogers, Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Levi Rogers

Photo by Chokniti Studio

Tl;dr: Both pour-overs and drip coffee makers can produce excellent coffee. The difference between the two lies in the involvement each brewing method takes. Pour-overs require a hands-on approach but can also be used in more places, while drip coffee from a brewer is more convenient– though you might have to spend a bit more to get the same quality taste (and need power).

When I first began roasting, sourcing, and tasting coffee, I made pour-overs all the time. I made pour-overs at home, pour-overs at work, and pour-overs at cafes and farmers' markets. I loved the handcrafted process of making a single cup of a specific coffee. Over time, however, I also grew to appreciate the benefits of an automatic drip coffee maker, the ease of use, convenience, and large brew quantity. So what's the difference? And what's right for you?

What is Pour Over and Drip Coffee?

Drip coffee is a brewing method in which hot water slowly drips over coffee grounds. A paper filter then separates the solubles that are extracted from the coffee by the hot water, leaving one with drip coffee. This method is also called "filter" coffee in many places outside of the U.S.

Simply put, a pour-over is just one way to make drip or filter coffee.

What is a pour-over? A pour-over is a simple, hands-on method of making drip coffee or filter. Hot water is slowly poured over coffee grounds manually (generally by hand, although there are now machines that do this) based on specific brew parameters. The end result is a single cup of coffee. Automated drip coffee makers are another way to make drip coffee. The process is done by a machine, and a large batch of coffee is brewed into a carafe or airpot.

In this article, we'll explore the benefits of both pour-overs and drip coffee makers and see which one is best based on taste, preference, ease of use, and cost.

Pour Over Coffee

Rising again to prominence in the 2010s (but invented way back in the early 1900s), pour-overs became the way to brew specialty coffee. They enabled a level of control and craft while brewing coffee that was absent in basic coffee makers. While time-intensive, pour-overs allow one to ensure customizable saturation, extraction, agitation, bloom, and time. The brew-to-order aspect also ensures that each cup is prepared fresh.

You can find basic Melitta plastic pour-overs in the supermarket, glass Chemex, and high-end pour-overs in specialty cafes. Most are cone-shaped and require a filter, a gooseneck kettle (to pour slowly), and a scale for best taste/correct measurement of water. Pour-overs differ slightly from a French press in that they usually have a paper filter to filter out grounds and rely on drip extraction rather than full immersion for the brewing process.

The Benefits

Here are the main benefits of making pour-over coffee:

1. Ability to Brew Different Coffees

One of the main benefits of a pour-over is that it enables coffee roasters and specialty cafes to showcase their different origins and lots of coffee. Rather than making one large pot of coffee, a pour-over can be made with a small amount of coffee grounds; for example, 24 grams of coffee will give you a 12 oz. cup of coffee. Customers can choose between several different coffees based on the seasonal availability or curated roster. The coffee is then measured in a precise amount and made fresh right before your eyes. While many drip coffee machines can brew with similar precision, the coffee can often sit in the carafe or air pot, leading to a slight decrease in flavor as the coffee will soon taste "old."

2. Freshness

For those at home, a pour-over is often a great option for a fresh cup, especially if you are just making coffee for one person. Rather than brewing too much coffee that will sit in a carafe, a pour-over gives you the option to brew one cup at a time whenever you want it. Simply fire up the kettle, dose your coffee, and pour.

3. It’s Handcrafted

The other benefit of a pour-over is the way in which the brewing process is handcrafted from start to finish. Some coffee drinkers come to appreciate the ritual of making their own coffee every morning. However, a pour-over also requires complete manual attention. The person making the coffee controls the flow of water, the brew time, the agitation, and the bloom. What is the "bloom?" Often argued about, the bloom is simply pouring just enough water to wet the grounds and then watching as the fresh coffee "blooms." This is especially important to do if your coffee is super fresh–roasted in the last 2-3 days–as it allows the coffee to off-gas further after roasting. An experienced person making pour-overs can bring out different flavors, acidity, and sweetness within the cup.

There are many pour-overs and, thus, many different techniques and approaches for each brew method. From a simple Melitta to a Fellow, Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, and more, it takes time to figure out the perfect pour (and grind size) for each one. The Aeropress is a sort of hybrid pour-over/immersion brewing (i.e., French press) that many people also prefer.

4. Ability to Travel

Another advantage of pour-overs is that they are relatively small and can be taken anywhere. Some coffee aficionados love traveling with a collapsible cone or Aeropress and having the ability to make coffee anywhere they can find hot water. Pourovers (and French press) are also perfect for outings like camping or backpacking.

Keep in Mind:

Human error. It takes some time and skill to perfect the pour-over. A misstep can lead to less-than-ideal coffee. It's also time-intensive and requires hands-on attention and focus for five minutes. Pour-overs can also take a significant amount of time to make when brewing coffee for a large number of people. Many specialty cafes stopped serving pour-overs because of how labor-intensive making a pour-over can be, taking a barista 3-5 minutes from start to finish. However, for those at home–maybe even working from home–taking the time to create a five-minute pour-over can be a welcome break.

Drip Coffee

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

With the introduction of the electric drip coffee makers in the early 1970s, drip coffee replaced other methods of brewing coffee–such as the percolator, French press, Moka pot, or Melitta (named after Melitta Bentz, the inventor of the first paper coffee filter) to eventually become the standard brewing method in the United States and elsewhere. Automatic drip coffee machines allowed programmability and timers–allowing one to wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee in their own home. The ease of convenience became hard to pass up.

The Benefits

Here are the main benefits of making drip coffee:

1. Consistency

Although the original "Mr. Coffee-esque" drip makers were simple and less effective at extracting perfect cup quality, the technology grew so that high-quality coffee makers today can brew to a "Gold Cup standard." The Gold Cup standard is one that ensures the ideal water temperature range (195-205F) and an acceptable TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) and extraction yield (The ratio of coffee to water) that falls in the right percentage.

Many drip coffee makers today can brew quality coffee that rivals that of a pour-over and, in some cases, surpasses it. The precision of an automatic drip machine ensures that the coffee is brewed the same day after day. It gets rid of human error. This consistency is one of the main benefits of a drip coffee maker.

2. Ease of Use

This probably goes without saying, but it's just easier to press a button or two than to have to make a pour-over by hand. For best taste, the coffee beans should still be ground fresh in the morning (not the night before), but the water can still be poured into the reservoir beforehand, so all you have to do is grind the coffee, dump the grounds into the filter basket, flip a switch, and you can still have a perfect cup of coffee.

Keep in Mind:

High-quality drip coffee makers often cost more than a pour, and there is less room for manual adjustments. While some brewers offer programmability options for temperature, time, strength, and so on, most are fairly straightforward. water is heated and moved up from the reservoir and distributed over the grounds via a spout. A poor drip maker will often not have the right water temperature (too cold), and the spout can often only wet part of the grounds, leaving some grounds under-extracted. A good coffee brewer can remedy this, but it does cost more. Also, you'll need electricity.

Trips and Tricks for Making Pour-Over and Drip Coffee

  • Use filtered water and grind coffee beans fresh.
  • Ensure you have the correct grind for pour-overs and drip coffee. A drip machine often requires a slightly coarser grind than a pour, but it depends on the coffee grinder and machine.
  • Both pour-overs and drip coffee makers benefit from a weekly or daily cleaning. With a pour-over, it's as simple as dumping the grounds and giving it a rinse. A drip coffee maker will often require a descaling process now and then to keep the machine running smoothly and eliminate mineral build-up. Purocaf and Urnex are two brands that sell such cleaners, but vinegar will also do the trick. Never use soap on coffee equipment because it can often affect the flavor of the coffee maker. Always rinse thoroughly after cleaning.

Final Thoughts

Photo by Venus Angel

While both pour-overs and drip coffee makers can produce great coffee, it’ll depend on personal taste and desired use to find which one fits your needs and budget!

If you need any help chatting through options, feel free to chat with a Curated Expert today.

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