Of all the coffee brewing methods, few are as similar in theory as pour-over and drip coffee machines. However, as similar as they are in fundamentals, they couldn’t be more different in terms of the taste and quality of the coffee they produce. These are very polarizing methods given their significant differences in convenience and taste.
If you’re trying to decide which brewing method is right for you, but are confused by how these similar processes could be so wildly different, read on! We’re going to discuss what makes these methods similar, the differences in the final product, and the pros and cons of each.
Pour-over is a brewing method that you may have seen a barista in a small coffee shop use. It involves using a gooseneck kettle to pour boiling or nearly boiling water over a bed of coffee grounds situated in a conical paper filter inside a pour-over cone. The hot water travels through the grounds and down into a cup that collects the brewed coffee. The process involves precision, artfulness, and quite a steep learning curve!
What It’s Good for/When to Choose
Pour-over is the preferred brew method for many coffee connoisseurs because it offers total control over the brewing process. You’re in charge of the water temperature, the grind size of the coffee, and the rate at which the water enters the cone full of grounds. You’re also in control of the bloom time, which is the amount of time you let the gas escape from the grounds once the hot water touches them, and before you continue pouring. The result is an ultimately customizable and very flavorful cup of coffee that you’d never get with a drip machine.
Pour-over cones make single servings of coffee, so you will only be able to make one cup at a time. This quantity is a downside for some, as they involve several minutes of focus to brew one cup and are not suitable for making larger batches like a drip coffee can do with ease.
Pour-over cones are cheap, but when you consider the additional cost of a scale and gooseneck kettle — both of which are required for precision — they will end up costing about the same as a drip coffee machine. They also require the ongoing purchase of paper filters like drip machines, so the upfront and ongoing cost will be similar.
The pour-over method requires weighing, timing, and specific pouring techniques, so there is a lot to learn when it comes to brewing. You’ll likely need to practice numerous times before the process becomes second nature, and even then, brewing will require focus and constant attention for the several minutes it takes.
The pour-over method is not as convenient to brew, but clean-up is a breeze, and there is no ongoing maintenance required.
Ready to buy? Here are 10 pour-over brewers that we recommend.
Drip Machine Overview
The drip machine works almost the same as pour-over, but it uses a water pump to move water from a reservoir, through a heating coil, and up to a “showerhead” that sits over the coffee grounds. The brewed coffee falls into a carafe, which is often kept hot by a heating plate.
What It’s Good for/When to Choose
Drip coffee machines take all of the skill and learning out of the pour-over method, so the coffee produced is far less flavorful. The inconsistent water temperature and dispersion often lead to a burnt taste, especially if the hot plate continuously heats the coffee under the carafe. There is no customization of how your coffee tastes, as you won’t be able to change any of the variables of brewing coffee with a drip machine.
Drip machines may be inferior in terms of coffee quality, but they make up for it in volume. Most drip machines can make around eight cups of coffee with ease, and some can make as many as 20 cups simultaneously. If you’re looking to serve more than one or two people or want to make coffee for company, a drip machine will be far more convenient.
There is no additional equipment needed to use a drip machine other than paper filters, so no scale or dedicated kettle is required. The upfront cost is about the same as the pour-over method, however, and the ongoing cost of paper filters will only be slightly less, as you’ll be able to brew more cups with one filter.
Drip machines are highly convenient, as they require no focus, attention, or learning. They offer coffee brewing at the push of a button, and many can be set to brew on timers, so you can wake up to the smell of coffee whenever you choose.
Ready to buy? Choose from our list of the 10 best drip coffee makers!
What Kind of Coffee Experience Do You Want?
Although the idea is the same with these two brewing methods — drip or pour hot water over a bed of grounds — the result couldn’t be more different, so you’ll first have to decide what you’re looking to get out of your coffee.
Pour-over coffee is flavorful, so it’s best for those who want to enjoy the subtle tasting notes of specialty coffee. Many people find the process of brewing coffee via the pour-over method therapeutic, so if you want a daily routine or ritual that requires some learning and improvement, the pour-over method is probably best for you.
On the other hand, a drip coffee machine makes coffee that lacks a lot of flavor and often tastes a bit burnt. If you’re willing to sacrifice quality and taste for convenience, or if coffee is simply a means of getting caffeine, then a drip machine will probably suit your needs better than pour-over.
Another big difference between these two methods is the quantity of coffee they’re able to produce.
Pour-over cones are suitable for making one cup of coffee at a time, and no more. If you don’t mind a single-serving brewer or having to make multiple cups in succession for two or three people, then pour-over will work for you.
However, many people want to be able to make coffee for company and larger groups of people. Drip coffee machines are capable of making up to around 20 cups at once, and because they require no attention or focus, you won’t need to step away from your guests to make them coffee. If you want larger volumes of coffee, a drip machine will be the better option.
Lastly, you should consider the convenience of each method, both during the brewing process and over the long term.
Pour-over is one of the least convenient forms of brewing because it requires focus and attention throughout the brewing process, and it only yields one cup of coffee. It is, however, effortless to clean, and the apparatus requires no ongoing maintenance at all.
A drip machine is, in contrast, the most convenient form of brewing. You add water, a filter, and coffee, and then press start! It makes multiple cups with the push of a button, but cleaning will be more involved, and you’ll also need to carry out ongoing maintenance, like descaling.
Which is Right for You?
Coffee is a personal preference when it comes to taste and brewing method, so the answer isn’t as cut and dry as which approach is better. You’ll have to decide which suits you the best.
If you want ultimate control over every portion of the brewing process and quality of the taste, then pour-over is best for you, as long as you don’t mind having to learn the process and focus when brewing. If you want larger batches of coffee and ease of use, a drip machine will be better for you, provided you don’t mind lower quality coffee and the need for some ongoing maintenance.
You’ll need to choose which brewing method fits in with your ideal coffee experience as well as your lifestyle, but by now, you should have a good idea of what each brewing method has to offer!