Pour-Over and Drip Brew Coffee - What Is The Difference?

According to legend, in 850 AD, an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi was the first person in the world to discover the energizing effects of coffee. After observing his goats acting caffeinated, he excitedly brought the beans to a monk who discarded them into a fire, thinking they were useless.

And the legend goes that upon noticing the coffee aroma from the roasted beans, Kaldi and the monk ground them up and made the world’s first cup of coffee.

From there, coffee spread worldwide, until in 1908, a German housewife named Melitta Bentz disrupted coffee brewing. And the echoes of her discovery are still seen today. Melitta invented the paper coffee filter and was the first to use the pour over method.

Pour over is huge in Japan and South India, where it’s deeply ingrained in the culture. And there was a surge in popularity in the US in recent years, but some of that has worn off. Even with all the new gadgets that claim to be just as good as pour over (we’re looking at you drip coffee machines and Keurigs), the debate between pour over vs. drip is still as strong as it was 10 years ago.

Let’s see what the fuss is all about!

What is Pour Over Coffee?

Pour over coffee was invented at the turn of the 20th century. Its creator, Melitta Bentz, wanted to make coffee more predictable, less bitter, and more flavorful. She succeeded by using a paper filter.

The essence of pour over is exactly what the name entails — you pour hot water over coffee grounds in a filter (paper or permanent). It’s known that paper filters create smooth coffee; however, the paper also filters out some of the natural oils. That’s why permanent filters, usually made with a fine stainless steel mesh, are the preferred choice for coffee purists. For most people, though, paper filters are adequate.

Pour over holds a special place in the coffee community — touted by baristas and connoisseurs as the hands-down best.

Why Many Drinkers Prefer Pour Overs

Pour over is the preferred brewing method for coffee purists and people that have grown up doing it. There’s more beneath the surface than just the perfect, most pure cup of coffee.

For many, making pour over coffee is a ritual. Physically pouring water over coffee grounds involves timing, skill and patience, which people in the modern age have less and less desire to get involved with.

To put it simply, pour over tastes better, it’s not (that) hard to master, and it feels good to put some extra magic into your coffee-making routine.

What is Drip Coffee?

Almost 50 years after the invention of the paper filter and the pour over method, Gottlob Widman (another German) invented the world’s first electric drip coffee machine — dubbed the “Wigomat.”

Drip coffee is very similar to pour over, except for one major difference — drip coffee machines are electric. They do everything a pour over coffee maker does, except they do it automatically. With a press of a button, the machine heats water and douses coffee grounds with hot water. The coffee is filtered using either a paper or permanent filter, and you get wonderful, tasty coffee without any effort.

But is convenience the most important factor in the drip coffee vs pour over showdown?

Why People Like Drip Coffee

Drip coffee machines were invented to solve one of the biggest problems of that day and age — the advent of the modern working lifestyle. People started making more money, the availability of electricity spread like wildfire, and time became more of a concern.
Drip machines are easier to use, and there are very few things you can do to mess them up. The machine is already set up to brew for a certain amount of time with a specified water temperature Out of the box. Some machines do allow you to change these settings, but people stick with the default settings for the most part.

Today, drip machines also mimic pour over with “bloom” modes (we’ll discuss this later) and special showerheads that evenly wet the grounds to extract more from less. Some of the more expensive drip machine models go a step further and even weigh the grounds before automatically choosing the best settings.

Pour over vs Drip: Сost

Pour over coffee makers have fewer moving parts, they’re not electric and the only expenses after purchase will be filters (if the machine works with paper filters only) and that’s it.

Drip machines have heating elements, reservoirs, a carafe (or no carafe), and require electricity and filters (if the machine works with paper filters). They also require regular cleaning, which can be a big turn-off for people prone to forgetting this type of thing (hint: clean your washing machine!).

Pour over makers are as cheap as $20 (Bodum Pour Over), and the most popular brands, Chemex coming in at just under $50 — Chemex Pour Over.

Drip machines are obviously more expensive, with the most popular options coming in at over $100, like the Cuisinart 8-Cup Drip machine (from $180). More expensive ones, like the Technivorm Moccmaster starting from $300.

What’s interesting is that the more expensive machines are the ones that have the most manual, customizable features. This is funny because that means the regular pour overs are worth their weight in (customizable) gold!

Pour over vs Drip: Strength

According to the Specialty Coffee Association, the “golden” ratio of coffee to water is 1:18. In other words, for every 1 gram of coffee, you would use 18 ml of water. For our American audience, you get the same ratio if you use 1.63 g coffee for every fl oz.

You may be thinking, why do I need to weigh my coffee? Can’t I just use a spoon? And, yes, we understand that weighing coffee, whether it’s for manual or drip, sounds like a pain; however, to get the best results, you should think about buying a good scale (you can use it for food prep too).

We mention weighing coffee is that the amount of coffee and water directly affects the strength of your coffee. Think of it like the soft drink dilemma — do you want to dilute your drink with ice or experience the full flavor and strength of the drink on its own?

This applies to both methods.

Pour over vs Drip: Flavor & Taste

Before we get into the differences between flavor and taste, we’d like to note that both heavily depend on the type of coffee you use and the type of machine and filter you have.

The pour over technique is harder to master, but you get total control. There are no excuses for the machine doing something wrong or the water not being hot enough. You get total control of the result — which many coffee drinkers prefer.

No one’s going to turn down coffee made in a good drip machine with good coffee. The flavor and taste are both there, but the coffee tastes worse to the trained tastebuds of a barista (or coffee snob). Think of it like a wine-tasting — everyone has their own preferences. If you like coffee brewed in a machine, or just prefer the convenience, that’s totally fine.

Both methods can be equally tasty, depending on the machine and preparation.

Pour over vs Drip: Caffeine

The short answer is that you can’t really compare the caffeine content of a manual and electric machine.

There are too many factors that affect the caffeine per cup, like the type of coffee. Robusta coffee beans have about 2x the caffeine as Arabica.

Other factors that affect the caffeine content per cup include:

  • Brewing method (which in our comparison is more or less the same)
  • Amount of coffee (remember in the section on Strength we mentioned buying a scale?)
  • Serving size (see above for the optimal ratio of coffee to water)
  • Type of roast (generally, darker roasts = more caffeine).

Control

As already mentioned, you get complete control of the brewing process with the pour over technique. Do you want to prime the filter by wetting it? Want to bloom the grounds before the main pour to extract the most flavor? Then, you should opt for a pour over.

If, on the other hand, you want a reliably, consistently good cup of coffee that is free from any errors made by a human hand, and you’re too busy to boil and pour water, then a drip machine will be your best friend.

Both methods offer customizability and control, but pour over gives you total control.

Cold Brewing

Cold brewing is a method of extracting the full flavor of coffee with cold water instead of hot water. Drip machines don’t have the functionality to do cold brewing.

Pour overs, while not intended for cold brewing, are perfect vessels to brew with cold water. Then again, you can always use a simple glass jar. Here’s a video by Starbucks showcasing three methods of cold brewing.

Time

Einstein proved that time is relative. This applies to coffee-making as well. Drip machines take about 5 minutes from button press to ready coffee. Pour overs take a comparable amount of time, about 5 minutes, from boiling the water to grinding and steeping.

One time consideration is the time it takes to perfect your pour over skills. You may not get the barista-level Golden Cup of Coffee you were expecting your first time around. Watch a few videos and practice your pouring technique to take your coffee game to the next level.

Cleanliness & Maintenance

One huge difference in the drip vs pour over is cleanliness and maintenance.

Drip coffee machines are more convenient and less convenient at the same time. We’ll explain why. Drip machines do everything a pour over does (in most cases equally fast or faster). The only big downside is the cleaning process, which is more time-consuming and may require cleaning products.

One upside of most drip machines is the self-clean function. We recommend reading the cleaning instructions in the user manual for the best results.

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Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/04/15

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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