What is Drip Coffee? How to Prepare the Perfect Cup

Published on 03/03/2024 · 7 min readDrip coffee, a classic brew method, offers simplicity and rich flavors. Learn how to prepare the perfect cup, focusing on grind size, water temperature, and ratios!
Ethan Hauck, Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Ethan Hauck

Photo by Pixel Shot

Drip coffee is perhaps the most ubiquitous drink in the world when it comes to classic Americana (behind Coca-Cola, of course). It brings imagery of late-night diners, early-morning brunch, and the comfort of sipping at home on rainy days.

In fact, drip coffee is a uniquely American thing, with the term “Americano” coming from American G.I.s during World War 2. The stiff, small espresso so common in most of Europe simply didn’t fit their tastes, and thus, the Americano (a watered-down espresso) was born.

As you can tell, drip coffee is something close to my heart. It’s what got me into coffee at the ripe age of three (yes, you read that right), and it’s still an instantly comforting cure for most of my woes. Because of this, it felt only right to break down how to prepare drip coffee perfectly every time.

The Basics of Drip Coffee

As always, it’s important to start simple. Growing your knowledge isn’t an immediate process, and having the essential building blocks to do so will always make the act just a bit easier. So, first off — what exactly is drip coffee?

Put simply, drip coffee is a weaker, generally less flavorful variation of classic espresso, French press, and pour-over techniques. The most common image this term will evoke is of a drip coffee machine sitting in your neighborhood diner (or kitchen countertop), paper filters, and all.

So, with that out of the way, how does drip coffee vary from other techniques?

How Does Drip Coffee Work?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Drip coffee makers use some pretty simple technology in tandem with gravity to slowly force your hot filtered water (not tap water, if possible) through your coffee grounds. Generally, they use a paper filter (or, in modern machines, a metal reusable one) to prevent the grounds from making their way into your brew.

The process for brewing drip coffee generally goes as follows:

  1. The heat of your water forces it to rise through your coffee machine.
  2. Once it’s risen enough, the water begins to dispense into your coffee grounds.
  3. From here, gravity takes over, causing the water to slowly drip (hence the name) into a carafe or cup below.

In contrast, espresso machines and (to a lesser extent) French press and Aeropress coffee brewing methods use far more pressure to force the water through your coffee beans. As such, there are two main differences between drip coffee and just about every other style: the paper filters and the pressure.

Standard paper filters do their job, but they also tend to capture some of your coffee’s delicious oils, leading to the more watery texture and lower extraction that we all know.

Now, with that said, there are some steps one can take to ensure the best cup of drip coffee possible.

(Side Note: Reach out to a Curated Coffee Expert if you want help picking gadgetry or simply want to talk shop; we’re here for a reason.)

How to Make the Perfect Drip Coffee

First things first, we need to talk about tools. After all, an artist, as they say, is no better than their tools. So, what do you need?

Drip Coffee Machine(s)

Photo by Vasin Hirunwiwatwong

The obvious first step here is to find a drip coffee machine that works for you. Generally, I recommend looking for a few things (listed below), but don’t worry, I have machine recommendations, too.

  1. Build Quality
    1. As with all investments, we want to know that what we buy is able to stand the test of time. Because of this, you want to look for drip coffee machines that are primarily made from stainless steel rather than plastic. This goes doubly for the machine’s boiler, as that’s what will need steel the most.
    2. As for the carafe, look for either shock-proof, heat-rated glass (most machines offer this, though not all, for some reason) or an insulated container.
  2. Form Factor
    1. Keep the size of your kitchen in mind. While it may not seem large, an 8” x 15” machine like the Technivorm Moccamaster can take up a lot of valuable space in smaller kitchens.
    2. Similarly, the machine’s water reservoir needs to hold enough to prevent constant refills while not taking up as much space as the machine itself.
  3. Extra Features
    1. The most important features I tend to look for in a good drip coffee machine are removable parts (especially the water tank), a timer, auto-off, and (ideally) a pre-brew feature. Combined, these will allow you to easily maintain and clean your machine while setting it to automatically brew when you want.
    2. A built-in burr grinder isn’t the most common feature for most standard drip coffee machines, but just as the features above, it can be a lifesaver when you’re short on time.

Filters

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

The former allows a more environmentally friendly approach while allowing you to reuse the filter basket rather than tossing it out after each use. If you opt for a metal filter, you want stainless steel, not copper, tin, or aluminum, to prevent the metals from leeching into your coffee.

With metal filters, make sure they’re removable. Some lower-end models have them permanently built in, which can quickly lead to issues with cleanliness and, ultimately, flavor.

Paper filters, on the other hand, are the most common option for budget drip coffee machines. While they do have the downside of soaking up the oils that we want in the coffee, they’re affordable. As a side note, even though they’re single-use, there are plenty of eco-friendly, easily biodegradable paper filters on the market.

Properly Ground Coffee Beans

Photo by Marie C Fields

As with any other brewing process, your coffee grounds are one of the three most important parts, followed shortly by water and heat. This means that selecting a roast and the type of coffee you enjoy is crucial, which can always be a struggle, but stick to it once you’ve found your roast.

Additionally, as mentioned previously, how your beans are ground is crucial to a quality cuppa coffee. In contrast to espresso, you do not want your drip coffee grounds to be super fine. This is because extremely fine grounds can slip through even the best filters, leading to a bit more sediment in the pot than most people prefer. Use a high-quality burr grinder, and if it has settings, be sure to set it to medium grind size rather than large or fine (let alone espresso/superfine).

Dose your coffee with a scale, as with most other methods, to a coffee-to-water ratio of roughly 17:1. Practically, you should have 20 grams of coffee for every twelve ounces you want.

The Process

Now — let’s tackle the how-to. Luckily, this process is far simpler than many other methods, meaning there’s a bit more room for you to mess up without a major drop in quality. This is because most drip coffee machines offer very little control over how it brews — you simply add the coffee and hit brew. So, here’s the process. (I promise it’ll be over before you know it.)

How to Brew Drip Coffee

  1. Grind your coffee beans to a medium grind — you should see smallish flecks of coffee, but most parts should be larger. You shouldn’t have whole or halved beans, but you want to be able to make out bits by eye.
  2. Dose your coffee. As mentioned above, you want a roughly 17:1 ratio of coffee-to-water, meaning a standard 32-oz carafe would need roughly 55 grams of coffee (or 10.5 tablespoons).
    1. (For those non-Americans reading, that would be 60 grams per liter of water.)
  3. Start your machine. Modern machines automate just about everything from here, so this is ultimately a waiting game. Hit the button, go grab your cup, prepare the sugar and milk (if you want it), and grab a nice read — it’ll take a few minutes.

Final Word

All in all, drip coffee is something that’s near and dear to many people’s hearts. While it’s not technically the same drink as espresso or French press (or manual pour-overs or Aeropress), it’s still delicious. This means that having access to a drip machine and knowing how to use it properly can be a great way to hand a cup of joy to loved ones.

Whether you’re massively experienced in the world of coffee or just trying to learn, drip is a great, near-effortless method to learn — and our Curated Coffee Experts are here to help. Drop us a line to chat about ideal roasts, grinds, or the finer details of picking a machine; I promise we don’t bite.

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