Drip Coffee vs Pour Over: What’s the Difference?
The difference between pour-over and drip coffee goes far beyond manual vs automatic brewing. These two popular methods might seem similar at first. However, you must consider the versatility, the skill required, and the taste of the final cup of coffee when comparing them.
Read on about drip coffee vs pour-over and see which way of brewing coffee is right for you.
The pour-over brewer could be considered the poster child for third-wave coffee, but its origins date way back to 1908. Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz was fed up with the coffee grounds left in her cup with percolator brewing and devised what would be the first pour-over brewer – inventing disposable paper filters at the same time (1).
Pour-over brewing is usually referred to as a drip or filtration method, but it essentially works using gravity. Hot water is poured slowly over the coffee grounds, extracting the coffee as it passes through. It’s a simple idea, but the option to make subtle variations at every step of the way means it can be an involved process.
The use of a paper filter results in a cleaner taste than with other types of coffee makers, allowing you to taste the nuances of the beans. There is a wide range of options for buying a pour-over brewer, but they are generally affordable and portable.
Read more about what is pour over coffee.
- Brews nuanced coffee
- Total control over the brew
- Requires time and patience
- Needs additional equipment
The drip coffee machine was devised to emulate the technique of the pour-over brewer but to automate the whole brewing process. The first iteration was the Wigomat in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that drip coffee went mainstream for coffee lovers, thanks to the Mr. Coffee brand (2).
An electric drip machine works with the same concept of gravity brewing, trickling hot water over coffee grounds. In this case, the machine does both the heating and pouring of the water. The resulting brewed coffee is very smooth but can lack depth.
The focus of an electric drip coffee maker is simplicity and convenience. It’s made for batch brewing, so it’s often popular in offices, with the multiple cups kept warm by either a hot plate or a thermal carafe.
Read more about what is drip coffee.
- No skill required
- Keeps coffee warm
- Easy batch brewing
- Minimal options for customization
- Flavor can be too mild for some
Comparing the Details: Pour Over vs Drip Coffee
Now that we’ve defined what we’re working with, let’s look at how pour-over differs from the drip coffee method. These might be similar brewing methods in theory. Still, you’ll be surprised to see how they vary in level of skill required, the versatility of the brew, portability, and the most crucial aspect: taste.
Ease of use
Drip coffee machines are the epitome of convenience. To brew your pot of coffee, you’ll need to add the filter and coffee grounds, check that the water reservoir is full, and switch it on. You might have some additional settings to play around with on more advanced models, but these are often optional for starting the brewing process.
To get the most out of your coffee maker, Home Grounds always recommends grinding your beans, which will be an extra step needed before you start. This is one of the few different coffee brewing methods where you can use pre-ground coffee in a pinch – it’s usually a medium grind which is the standard for auto-drip coffee makers.
Making coffee with a pour-over is more involved, but that’s also part of its charm. The hands-on process is just as crucial for many people as enjoying delicious coffee.
The ritual of the pour over is like a meditation.
Before you start brewing, you’ll need some additional brewing equipment and a bit of prep. The pour-over variations mean that consistency is essential to getting a good cup of coffee. A good coffee grinder goes without saying, and you’ll want a scale to weigh both your beans and your water.
The most crucial step in the pour-over method is pouring the water. This involves starting with a short pour to bloom the coffee, then pouring the water slowly over the coffee grounds in a spiral. It’s not tricky, but the specific pouring techniques require practice and patience. Some brewers will be more forgiving of technique than others. Getting the perfect pour is easier with a gooseneck kettle, which allows for a more precise water flow.
For a full explanation of all the steps involved, read the Home Grounds guide to making pour over coffee.
Winner: The automatic coffee maker wins hands-down for this round. A drip coffee machine’s whole reason for existence is to make brewing coffee at home more convenient.
The downside to the efficiency and convenience of a drip coffee maker is that there’s not much scope to customize how your coffee tastes. On a machine with just a simple on/off button, all you can control is the ratio of coffee to water used and the grind size.
For coffee lovers who want more control, look for a more advanced drip machine with a few extra settings – it’ll be worth the extra few clicks before you get started. The most common options include an optional preinfusion cycle, water temperature, and brew strength, usually adjusted by increasing the brew time.
Versatility is one of the key pour-over coffee benefits. You have control over the brew to the extent that any other type of coffee maker is not possible. The grind size, the water temperature, the ratio of coffee to water, and then pour speed will all impact the taste of the resulting brew.
This makes it a suitable method for specialty beans, as you can tweak the technique to bring out different aspects of the coffee.
The pour-over coffee maker brand you choose will also give you variation in the coffee. All pour-overs work with the same concept, but even small changes to the shape of the holes in the cone can impact the water flow and even the level of skill required for coffee brewing. Some pour-overs, such as Chemex, use proprietary paper filters to change the result.
Winner: Pour over. Even if your automatic drip coffee maker has options to customize your brew, it can’t beat the complete control that a manual coffee brewing method offers.
Drip coffee makers are an excellent fit for kitchens and offices, but they aren’t really designed to take on the road to electrical appliances. As well as needing power, the size of the drip machine makes it less portable. Some compact models brew as little as two cups, but most are designed for a minimum of four cups and up to as much as 14 cups.
Pour overs are a popular choice for portable coffee brewers, some even designed specifically for camping. Single-serve and even two-cup versions are small enough to put in a backpack, and if you opt for plastic or metal, you won’t have to worry about breakages. Remember that you’ll still need a way to heat water to use the pour-over method. There are some exceptions – we wouldn’t recommend trying to pack a Chemex into your suitcase – but for the most part, they’re pretty travel-friendly.
Winner: Pour over. Electric coffee makers and portability aren’t much of a match. For coffee while you travel, a manual brewer is always a better pick.
The image of late-night diners and truck stops has given the drip method a bad reputation, but a cup of this smooth and simple tasting coffee is how many people choose to start the day. Usage has fallen in the last decade, but the electric drip coffee makers remain the most popular brewing method for coffee drinkers in the US (3).
The biggest problem with drip coffee comes from one of its most appealing features. The hotplate that allows you to keep your coffee warm is speeding up the chemical breakdown of the freshly brewed coffee, resulting in bitter and astringent flavors (4).
With a little care and a halfway decent machine… perfectly good filter coffee is possible.
When done correctly – using freshly ground coffee, good water, and paying attention to ratios – drip coffee brewing can make a delicious cup of joe with a rounded profile.
The pour-over method is often the choice for coffee nerds, and there’s a good reason why. The technique is excellent at bringing out the unique characteristics of higher-quality coffee beans. You know when coffee is described as having notes, or stone-fruit or jasmine? You’ll be able to taste those subtle flavors when you brew with a pour-over.
The general profile of a pour-over coffee is clean and crisp, as the paper filter traps many of the beans’ oils. It might not be for you if you prefer to drink coffee with a rich, bold taste like the French press, but it’s an excellent method for lighter roasts.
Winner: Pour over. The brewing method’s ability to bring out different aspects of the coffee makes for a more interesting and ultimately more enjoyable cup.
The Verdict: Is Pour Over Coffee Better?
In the battle of pour over vs drip coffee, pour over coffee is usually considered superior by coffee connoisseurs, but deciding on the best of the two brewing methods all comes down to what you like to drink.
With pour over brewing you get a much more complex cup of coffee, which is ideal if you want to explore and truly appreciate specialty coffee. It’s also an excellent choice if you want to travel, or if you prefer to brew just a single cup of coffee at a time.
The smooth, rounded taste of drip coffee is undeniably popular. It doesn’t have the same depth of flavor, but this makes it very easy drinking – which might be what you want if you’re brewing large batches. The sheer convenience of the coffee maker also makes it a much easier start to the morning.
No, pour-over coffee is not stronger than regular drip coffee, but pour-overs tend to brew a more flavorful cup. In terms of caffeine content, pour-over coffee can have slightly higher levels of caffeine (5). This is because the water used for manual pour-over brewing is often hotter than in a drip coffee machine, and more caffeine is extracted as part of the brewing process.
The best coffee for pour-over coffee is usually considered single-origin or specialty beans and often light to medium roast. The pour-over brewing process highlights the lighter flavor of these coffee beans in a way that other brewing methods do not. In reality, you can use any bean, but make sure they are freshly roasted and ground directly before brewing.
The best drip coffee maker will be the one that has the capacity and features you need, fits within your budget, and brews a great tasting cup of coffee. Home Grounds picked the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT, which has SCAA certification, a preinfusion cycle, and is backed by a 5-year warranty. For more options, read this guide to some of the best drip coffee makers.
- Walker, K. (2021, September 18). The History of the Pour-Over | When Art Meets Science. Sagebrush Coffee. https://sagebrushcoffee.com/blogs/education/the-history-of-the-pour-over-when-art-meets-science
- The history of the coffee machine. (2018, April 10). WMF Coffee Machines. https://blog.wmf-coffeemachines.uk.com/the-history-of-the-coffee-machine
- Drip coffee maker usage among U.S. past day coffee drinkers 2010–2020. (2022, January 13). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/457447/drip-coffee-maker-usage-coffee-drinkers-united-states/
- Cho, N. (2018, May 20). Hack Your Mr. Coffee. Medium. https://medium.com/@nickcho/hack-your-mr-coffee-c9af70023b7a
- Preuss, A. (2022, January 6). How Much Caffeine Is in Your Coffee? Coffeeness. https://www.coffeeness.de/en/how-much-caffeine-in-coffee/