Drip coffee vs pour over coffee — what’s the difference? On the most basic level, there’s only one difference: Who (or what) is doing the brewing, human or coffee maker. While a manual pour-over cone requires human power to add the water to the coffee grounds, drip coffee uses mechanization instead.
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
Just kidding. Of course, there’s a little more to brewing coffee than that, and we’ll dive into some of the finer points that make these two coffee brewing methods distinct for the user — but remember that both methods call for hot water to be poured through a bed of ground coffee, so they’re more similar than a lot of coffee lovers think.
There are a couple of apparent differences in the tools needed to brew a pot of drip coffee or a batch of pour-over coffee, but let’s start with what both have in common: in order to make the best-tasting coffee in either style, it’s helpful to have a high-quality burr grinder that creates a consistent coffee grind-size profile, and one that can easily adjust coarser and finer to taste.
You may also want to use a scale to measure both ingredients in your ratio: the coffee beans (Arabica vs. Robusta) and the brewing water you’ll pour from your kettle or use in your coffee brewer's built-in water reservoir.
Coffee drippers tend to be self-contained and don’t require any additional equipment besides what they come with standard: the device will have a water tank to fill with brew water, a brew basket that can hold a filter and ground coffee, and a carafe to catch and hold the brewed coffee.
For pour over coffee, you will need the brewer cone, a filter, and a receptacle to brew into. For pour-over coffee, you can often mix and match using a different dripper cone or serving vessel, depending on your mood. Drip machines don’t have that kind of flexibility.
With pour over coffee, the user has complete control over the brewing process — which can be a blessing and a curse! The temperature of the brewing water, the amount of water added at a time, the saturation of the grounds in the filter, the pattern of the water’s flow into the coffee — all of these, and more, are elements that a human can control and alter from brew to brew, or even in the middle of one batch. This kind of brewing method allows more room for experimentation and improvement, but it also is a lot to keep track of, learn about, and attempt to re-create from brew to brew.
Drip coffee machines, however, are programmed to deliver roughly the same results every time, heating the water to the same ideal coffee brewing temperature, dispensing it in a set pattern, and operating for about the same amount of time each brew—all of which makes them reliable and consistent. However, they don’t think critically about what a light roast might want done differently than a dark roast, and they don’t have eyes to help them detect whether part of the coffee bed isn’t getting saturated.
So, how long does coffee take to brew? Is drip coffee faster than pour over coffee? That’s a matter of perception.
Most automatic drip machines take about 10 to 13 minutes to brew a whole coffee pot, from when they’re turned on to when the last drop flows through the bottom of the filter. Most of this is passive time, meaning that all the machine needs is to be given the ingredients and turned on, and it will heat the water as well as dispense it: you can use that time to step away and make breakfast, reply to an email, or walk the dog, which makes the time seem to pass quickly.
Pour over brewing requires more active participation, starting with heating the brewing water on the stove — which takes about five minutes in my house, and they’re the longest five minutes of the day — and including the entire brew time of three to four minutes, including draining time. It takes roughly the same total time to make a pour-over coffee. The main difference is that it’s much harder, maybe even impossible, to multitask during the process effectively. It might not be as much fun for the dog, but it does offer the opportunity to slow down, focus, and savor a moment.
Cleanup for drip coffee machines and pour over coffee makers is relatively simple: discard the filter, wash the carafe or brewing receptacle, and clean the filter basket. Drip brewers tend to have more durable plastic pieces, while pour over devices often come in glass and ceramic that can break if dropped in the sink or on the floor, which only happens to me when I’m cleaning them.
Drip machines will occasionally need to be descaled, however, as limescale buildup in the water reservoir and tubing can cause clogs, off-tastes, and even total breakdowns of the machinery. Cleaning with a simple solution of citric acid is a cinch but takes a little time. Pour over devices don’t have this same consideration.
If you understand the basics of coffee brewing and extraction, you can make coffee taste great no matter how you brew it, even if you are on a ketogenic kick and are all in favor of butter coffee. There is no inherent reason that pour over brewing or drip brewing should be better than the other. However, some coffee drinkers find that the lack of overall control that’s possible with drip brewers makes them not as ideal for delicate and unique coffees. On the other hand, the attention and detail that goes into pour-over brewing might not be necessary to get the most out of more chocolaty, nutty, and roasty-tasting coffees.
That said, there’s no wrong way to brew, as long as the results taste like great coffee to you.
So, are you on team drip coffee, team pour over coffee, or both? Here at Trade, we can provide you with the most delicious coffee beans best suited for both brew methods!