The main difference between a pour over and a drip coffee maker is the person making it. When you are manually pouring water over your coffee to brew it, you’re making a pour over. Drip coffee refers to a machine pulling water up from a water tank and dripping it through a showerhead onto the ground coffee bed. Pour overs allow coffee drinkers to experiment and play with recipes to your heart’s content — you’re the one deciding how to pour the water (in many ways, you, not the dripper, are the real pour over coffee maker). This is one of the reasons they’re so beloved by coffee enthusiasts. So if you see drip coffee, you now know it was made by a machine and pour overs are made by people!
Bitter flavors in your pour over come from over-extraction, which happens when the water is in contact with the coffee for too long, pulling out bitter flavors and mouth-drying acids. Thirty percent of a coffee bean is soluble in water and of that, the sweetest spot to pull out the best flavors is at 18 to 22 percent. Extract less than 18 percent, your coffee is sour, cloying, and tastes too “strong”. Extract more than 22 percent, and your coffee is bitter and astringent. Two important factors for extraction are brew time and grind size. If you notice your coffee is bitter and drying your mouth, you can grind your beans more coarsely or get your water in more quickly. The less surface area and time it has in contact, the less it will extract. Conversely, if your coffee is sour, set your grinder to a finer setting, pour slower, or both. Also, check your brewing water temperature — if it’s still boiling you could over-extract, whereas water that’s too cool won’t extract enough.
German entrepreneur Melitta Bentz invented the pour over brewing method by poking holes in a pot and using blotting paper as a filter in the 20th century. Since then, many different kinds of pour overs have flooded the market. Some, like the Melitta Cone, use a coffee filter that tapers down to a flat bottom. Others, like the Chemex, have a filter that tapers down to a point. Yet another category, like the Kalita Wave, use flat-bottom filters like a regular drip machine. Pour overs themselves can also be made from different materials — each with advantages and disadvantages. For example, ceramic coffee drippers hold heat well and glass generally looks great, while stainless steel and plastic are harder to break. The way these brewers affect your technique mostly comes down to how their shape and filter impacts how quickly the water flows through them. But with a little practice, you can make great coffee with any of them!