The Difference Between Pour-Over and Drip Brew Coffee

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In the United States, 75% of adults are coffee drinkers, and 49% of Americans report drinking coffee every day. The most common method for brewing is with a standard electric coffee maker, but methods like the French press, espresso and cold brew are also gaining popularity. Since farmers can cultivate coffee beans in almost any tropical climate, each cup brings a different texture, flavor and aroma.

With so many methods and techniques available for brewing coffee, many drinkers struggle to weigh the differences and advantages of each. To help continue your coffee education, we've constructed a guide to the differences between two common brewing methods — pour-over and drip.

Drip vs. Pour-Over Brewing Methods

The basics of the drip and pour-over coffee brewing methods are the same. In both, water is added to coffee grounds, and the used grounds are separated from the liquid. However, the differences lie within the specifics of the process. Several variables, like brew time, speed and water flow, affect the characteristics of the end product, including quality, texture and taste.

1. Drip Brew Coffee

If you're a casual drinker, you likely have an electric drip coffee maker at home. They're affordable, fast and easy-to-use, making them the most popular at-home method. For most models, the steps are quick and easy. All you have to do is:

  1. Fill the reservoir with the desired amount of water.
  2. Put a filter in place.
  3. Add your favorite coffee — preferably fresh-ground.
  4. Press a button to begin the brewing.
  5. Wait for your coffee to collect in the pot.

As long as you use the same ratio of grounds to water, this method makes it easy to get the same amount, quality and taste every time. It leaves little room for human error, but it also restricts you from making adjustments to the process. Once you've set up the coffee for brewing, the coffee maker goes through a series of steps to produce the coffee:

  1. The water travels down tubing from the reservoir to the heating element.
  2. The heating element heats both the water in the tube and the plate the pot sits on.
  3. As the water begins to boil, it creates air bubbles in the tubing, which causes a gurgling sound.
  4. As the bubbles rise through the tubing, they push up drops of water.
  5. When the water droplets reach the top, they fall into the basket with the coffee grounds.
  6. They travel through the grounds and filter and drop into the pot.
  7. Once all the water has passed through the grounds, your coffee is ready to drink.

Assuming it works well and your coffee beans are fresh, this method should produce a delicious cup of coffee. The main advantages of this option are its ease and speed. While most electric drip coffee makers are affordable, some models are more expensive, depending on the brand, size and quality.

While electric coffee makers use hot water to brew the coffee, you can also use cold water to make drip coffee — but you'll need a specialized device. The device holds ice water in a chamber above the coffee grounds and filter. As it slowly drips into the grounds, it passes through and drops into a container underneath. As opposed to the near-instantaneous coffee that a traditional maker produces, cold drip coffee takes several hours to create a cup.

If you're a casual coffee drinker looking to get a reasonably tasty cup with little effort and time, a traditional electric drip coffee maker will work for you. However, if you're looking to expand your knowledge and methods of coffee brewing, consider the pour-over method.

2. Pour-Over Coffee

The pour-over coffee method is similar to the drip method, in that you saturate coffee grounds with water and collect the liquid as it passes through a filter. However, one of the main problems with the drip method is that you have little control over how the machine brews the coffee.

The pour-over method allows you to control the temperature of the water, the speed at which it goes into the grounds, the amount of time it brews and how much it makes. Coffee enthusiasts tend to prefer this method because it allows them to control the taste, texture, temperature and strength of the brew.

While there are several types of devices you can use to make pour-over coffee, the method remains the same:

  1. Heat the water to your desired temperature — most people use a gooseneck kettle, as it helps control the flow of water.
  2. Put the filter and coffee grounds in place — preferably fresh-ground.
  3. Add enough hot water to wet all the coffee grounds.
  4. Stop pouring and wait for about 30 seconds.
  5. Continue pouring the water over the grounds at a slow and consistent rate.
  6. Stop when you've produced the desired amount of coffee.

Since this process is entirely manual, you can control almost every aspect of the process. If you want a fuller flavor, you can let the water sit longer in the grounds. If you want it weaker, you can alter the ratio by using more water or fewer beans. If you want a hotter drink, you can start with a higher water temperature. Nearly every step is customizable, so you can make each cup customized to your taste.

However, this method also allows more room for error. Unless you're diligent with your measurements and ratios, you'll have trouble creating the same result twice. Even a minor variation in the recipe can completely change the taste.

Pour-over's recent rise in popularity prompted many manufacturers to produce different devices for using the method. While several variations exist, they fall into two categories — single-serve and multi-serve. Single-serve pour-overs create one serving and sit on top of the cup. As the water falls through the grounds and filter, the device dispenses the coffee directly into the cup. Once all the liquid has passed through, it's ready for drinking. Multi-serve pour-overs make several servings and collect the coffee in the bottom of the device. The user can then remove the spent grounds and filter and pour out the coffee into each cup.

Pour-Over vs. Drip: Difference

The concept of these two methods is ultimately the same. But the difference between pour-over and drip coffee lies within the finer details of the process and resulting product. To choose which method is best for you, you must first understand what makes them different.

1. Quality

As with any other food or drink, most aspects of the "quality" of coffee are subjective. Some people like their coffee made from a dark roast and strong, while others prefer it medium roast and light. Since everyone has their preference, the coffee brewing method that allows for the most variations has the potential to create the highest quality product. Pour-over brewing offers the most variety, as it's an entirely manual process that the user can customize to create the most "quality" cup.

However, this method also requires a level of skill and attention. If you're using this method at home, it's possible to make a terrible cup if you don't know how to use the tools properly. Pour-over offers the potential for a higher quality coffee, but it's up to the user to make it well. If you don't have the time or patience to learn how to make pour-over coffee, you're better off with the electric drip coffee maker. Depending on the quality of the machine, it will produce a reasonably tasty coffee that will come out the same each time.

It all depends on your priorities as a coffee drinker. If you're looking for an average cup that's quick and reliable, electric drip is the way to go. But, if you're looking to challenge yourself and potentially make a fantastic cup that's tailored to your preferences, give pour-over a try.

2. Control

When it comes to control, the pour-over method offers the user more options than traditional drip. With electric drip coffee machines, you control the ratio of grounds to water and the quantity of the coffee, but not much else. You can't control aspects like the pour speed, water temperature or brew time.

With the pour-over method, the user controls almost every part of the process, and each variable makes a notable difference in the type, taste and texture of the resulting coffee. To control the pour-over process, you first have to understand how each variable affects the coffee:

  • Ratio: The ratio of coffee grounds to water is the first thing you need to consider when making a cup. For fuller flavor, use more grounds — for a lighter flavor, use fewer grounds. Try using a scale to weigh the coffee beans before you grind them to get the same ratio every time.
  • Quantity: To control the amount of coffee you make, use less or more water for the brewing. But, be sure not to alter the ratio of water to grounds. The more water you use, the more grounds you'll need to maintain the fullness of the coffee. Also, as the water heats in the kettle and brews with the grounds, some might evaporate into the air. Try adding extra water to account for evaporation.
  • Water temperature: Water temperature is difficult to monitor without proper equipment. Most coffee experts agree that coffee should be brewed with water between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. For an accurate reading, try using a kettle with a built-in thermometer.
  • Pour speed and brew time: For the pour-over method, maintaining a slow, consistent pour speed is paramount. If the pour is too fast, the water spends less time in contact with the coffee grounds, meaning the taste will be weaker. If it's too slow, the coffee could get too strong and bitter. Try using a gooseneck kettle to control the pour better.

3. Time

While the brewing process takes approximately the same amount of time for these two methods, pour-over requires more preparation and attention. With traditional drip coffee machines, you pour in the water, add the filter and grounds, press a button and your coffee will be there waiting for you after a few minutes. Some models even offer an option that lets you pre-set it at night and set a timer to start brewing in the morning. With this method, you just set it and forget it.

The pour-over method is much more complicated. You have to heat the water, add the filter and grounds and pour the water consistently for several minutes. This method requires much more active attention, so it's a less popular option for people with limited time to make their coffee.

4. Durability

Most pour-over devices are made of stainless steel, glass or ceramic, so they should last a lifetime, as long as you take care of them. Even though coffee can stain these materials over time, it should continue to work as well as the day you bought it. Assuming you don't accidentally drop and break it, you'll only ever need to buy one of these.

On the other hand, electric coffee makers are notoriously fickle. Especially if you purchase a lower-quality model, they'll usually only last a few years before you need another one. Since they are electric, there's more opportunity for something to go wrong internally. The electrical circuit can go out, the water tube can clog, or the heating element can stop working. Most models are also made of plastic, so pieces are more likely to break off over time.

If you're looking to buy one coffee maker to use for the rest of your life, pour-over is the way to go.

5. Cleanliness

When we think of coffee stains, we usually think of them on our clothes or teeth. But, coffee can also stain the device you prepare it in. Since most pour-over devices are made of stainless steel, ceramic or glass, you'll just need to clean them consistently to avoid stains and build-up. They are also typically made from one or two pieces of material, so you can easily clean every surface.

Alternatively, electric coffee makers are challenging to keep clean. Since the water and coffee go through so many parts of the machine, it's impossible to clean it without complete disassembly. It's also difficult to keep them dry, as many households use them daily. The constant moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish. One study found yeast or mold in 50% of the coffee machine reservoirs they tested.

Buy Barnie's for Your Pour-Over and Drip Coffee Today

No matter how you make your coffee, it won't taste any good without high-quality, fresh coffee beans. One study found that the appropriate shelf life for an opened bag of coffee is only two weeks. Unlike fine wine or cheese, most coffee does not taste better with age. To make sure you're always getting the freshest coffee, use coffee from Barnie's.

At Barnie's Coffee and Tea, we put flavor first. For nearly 40 years, we've strived to create the most dramatically delicious coffee in the world. From our Pumpkin Spice Coffee to our classic Café Blend, you'll be sure to find the perfect flavor for any occasion.

To explore new and exciting coffee flavors, try Barnie's Coffee today!

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