Drip vs Pour Over Coffee: What’s the Difference?

Both pour-over and drip coffee utilize a gravity fed system to pull coffee through a filter and into a carafe or cup below. However, despite their similar processes, the taste is quite different.

With a pour-over you have more control over how the coffee tastes, and you can brew it according to your own personal preferences.

Most homes have a drip coffee maker that’s gravity fed. Like I said it was always difficult to imagine anything more convenient than letting a machine do the work for you.

Drip Coffee

Drip coffee is one of the more popular methods for making coffee at home. If you’re not sure what drip coffee is, think Mr. Coffee, or even a Hamilton Beach coffee maker.

Most automatic drip coffee makers work in a similar way. You start by placing a filter and coffee grounds into a designated basket. You then use the carafe or pot to measure water to be poured into the reservoir. Once the coffee maker is turned on, it will warm up the water and drip it over the coffee grounds into the carafe below the basket.

There are other ways of drip brewing, but the above is the most common.

Pros of Drip Brewing

Convenience

Certain models can be programmed to start brewing at a pre-set time. Models lacking this feature are as easy to use as just turning on a switch though.

Cons of Drip Coffee

Temperature

The National Coffee Association reports that water in the range of 195F up to 205F yields the best extraction, resulting in more coffee flavor. However, there are many occasions where an automatic drip machine just can’t hit these temperatures, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Irregular Distribution

The ‘showerhead’ of a drip coffee maker is the part that drips the hot water over the grounds. However, the majority of automatic brewers have shower-heads that emit the water irregularly resulting in some portions of the coffee grounds being over and under-extracted.

Minimal Customization, If Any

You might be familiar with drip brewers that have buttons like ‘Strong’ or even ‘Bold’. These are unfortunately just gimmicks that make you think you can decide how strong your coffee flavor is. In truth, you really can’t. Machines like this are limited to very narrow parameters that you can’t change.

Pour Over Coffee

As with drip coffee, you can use a variety of machines and methods to make pour-over coffee. However, this particular method usually means pouring hot water over your freshly ground coffee beans before you let the coffee drip down into a container.

Sounds a lot like drip coffee doesn’t it? If you’re thinking that, then you might be curious if there are any differences.

It’s true that both of these methods mean pouring hot water over your coffee grounds.. However, even with some important things in common, pour-over coffee has a few advantages that you can’t get from a drip brew.

Pros of Pour-Over

Control

This is the one facet of pour-over coffee that many drinkers cherish more than anything. As mentioned above, pour-over and drip coffee look a lot alike in their core functionality.

However, the one definitive difference is how much control you have over the way the brew is performed. We noted above that drip coffee makers have trouble with temperature control. With a pour-over you get to boil the water and then decide the rate at which the water saturates the grounds. You also get to ensure that all the grounds are poured over.

More Flavor

Due to the quality control aspect, the brew flavor is superior. As you add more water, it will have more contact with your beans, resulting in a stronger brew. Your coffee is going to be far more rich than any ‘Bold’ option can offer. You can even steep your grounds for a shorter time to make your coffee lighter.

Durability

Pour-over systems involve far less moving parts and as a result their likely-hood to fail is far less. On top of that, they’re usually only made of one material (glass, metal, plastic) that’s fairly easy to clean.

Cons of Pour-Over

Brewing is Slower

So some people might agree or disagree with me on this topic but brewing a pour-over done the right way can take longer than a drip brew.

What I mean by the right way of pour-over is the following a methodical set of steps:

First you need to your tools like your Chemex, filter paper, scale, burr grinder, and coffee beans.

Grind the proper amount of beans according to the amount of water being used. Typically 1g of coffee to 17g of water is the golden ratio.

Then with some hot water, pre-soak the filter to prevent temperature loss. Then pour the water out of the Chemex (this takes some practice).

Then add your coffee grounds to the Chemex and put the chemex on the scale. Measure out roughly 400g of water and get your water to a boil. Once boiling, allow to stand for 30 seconds. Once ready, your first pass of water is going to wet all the grounds. Then let that sit for 30-45 seconds, this allows the coffee to bloom (allows gasses to release).

With the rest of your water you’ll want to pour rather slowly. Start in the center and do co-centric circles without pouring down the sides of the filter. Doing so will cause the water to rush through the grounds and over-extract resulting in a bitter taste.

Overall this process of pouring the water should take 3-4 minutes. If the water is running too fast then you want to use a finer grind. If it’s taking too long, use a coarser grind.

Once the water has been poured, do a gentle stir of the coffee grounds. Draw an “X” to agitate the grounds and some “Os” to remove the grounds from the side of the filter. This gets all of the coffee involved.

Once the water has run through, remove the filter paper. Don’t allow it to dry as the last few drops won’t taste very good.

Most other comparisons note the above process only taking a couple of minutes (4 or 5). I’m not sure about you, but in the mornings I’m not setting land speed records with my pour overs. If you do them properly, you shouldn’t be either.

Who’s the Winner?

It’s a good question. However, pour-over coffee is a clear winner in terms of quality and taste of the coffee; It also offers a lot more customization.

Having said that, drip brewing is still great for mornings where you just need a machine to do all the work.

To note, not all drip fed brewing machines are bad. We used two examples of coffee makers that cost around $30-50. You can’t expect to get pour-over level coffee out of a machine they mass produce because they break every six months.

If convenience is your biggest priority, it’s going to come at a cost. For instance, our at home drip fed coffee maker is the Technivorm Moccamaster and it’s a little over $300. It meets the check marks for optimal temperature control, quick brewing of 6 minutes, and arm/shower-head optimized for coffee saturation.

If you’re comparing pour-over coffee to a Mr. Coffee maker based on the criteria above, pour-over wins every-time. If you’re comparing pour-over to say a Technivorm or Breville, it’s hard to say which is best.

Espresso vs Coffee Beans: What’s the Difference?

The truth of the matter is that there is no difference between an espresso bean and a coffee bean. A coffee bean is just a coffee bean. However the “espresso” label offers some advice to consumer on how to brew the beans.

Typically if a bean is labeled as “espresso” it means that the beans can handle the high pressures (7-9 bars) of water being exerted on them. They are also typically dark roasted.

With that said, these types of beans still work with other methods of immersion. However, the lower quality beans made specifically for immersion brewing won’t work well for pulling a shot of espresso.

It All Starts With Green Beans

It doesn’t matter what type of coffee you are enjoying, they all start out as green beans. Even monsoon coffee, which is eventually a pale yellow, begins as a green bean.

Before the beans are ground and brewed, roasting must take place. During the roasting process, all of the sugars and oils are unlocked from within the bean. It is the roasting process that gives the coffee its distinct flavor and aroma.

The Basics of Roasting

As the name would suggest, the green beans are exposed to high temperatures during the roasting process. The amount of time that they are subjected to the heat is what makes the difference in the roast level.

You likely have a preference between light, medium and dark roasts. The light roast tends to allow you to experience more of the flavor of the bean while the dark roast is strong and robust. The medium roast is somewhere in the middle and is the most preferred.

Roasting Steps, Temperatures, and Times

During the roasting process, all of the characteristics, aromatics, and flavors within the bean will be created and balanced. When done properly, it will give you that perfect taste you’re after, regardless of whether you’re looking for an espresso shot or if you want to make the perfect latte.

The First Stage

It all starts with green beans that are dried slowly. During this process, the beans will turn to a yellow color and take on the aroma of popcorn or baked bread. The first stage should not be rushed because you will build on it to create the perfect roast.

The First Crack

The coffee is roasted at 400°F. During the first crack, the bean will turn to a light brown color and double in size. The weight of the bean will also drop by about 5% as some of the moisture is released.

The fact that it is called the ‘first crack’ is descriptive of what occurs. There is an audible and physical crack that takes place due to the evaporation of moisture and the expansion of the coffee bean. As the moisture inside of the being heats, it forms steam and the resulting pressure causes the bean to crack open.

There is also typically a change in the aroma when the first crack is about to occur. Some people describe it as the scent of baked bread that changes to a sweeter, caramelized aroma. When this begins to occur, you need to start thinking about the following steps that will take place.

Prior to the first crack occurring, an endothermic reaction is taking place. The bean is essentially absorbing heat. As the moisture escapes the bean, the color changes to yellow and eventually, to brown. Once the first crack occurs, it shifts from an endothermic to an exothermic reaction.

After the first crack occurs, the temperature is increased to about 425°F. The light brown bean will turn to a medium brown and the weight will continue to drop. The resultant change in the bean is from a chemical process known as pyrolysis. CO2 is released from the bean and the chemical composition begins to transform.

The Second Crack

This next step occurs after a brief endothermic resting period. During this step, a secondary audible cue will be provided. In most cases, the second crack is a lot more forceful and louder than the first crack. Think of the first crack as a snapping sound and the second crack as more of a cracking or popping.

Balancing a Roast

In order to get a proper roast, you must take the green bean through both the first and the second crack. At that point, you need to maximize the potential of roasting while at the same time, minimizing acidity and bitterness.

One of the biggest and easiest mistakes when roasting coffee beans is to over-roast the bean. Although it may be tempting to make the bean extremely dark, you are going to lose a lot of the sweetness and aroma that make the brew pleasant to drink.

This isn’t only a mistake that is made by home roasters, many companies that roast coffee also overshoot the roasting process.

A shot of espresso should be a pleasant and fulfilling experience. Most people, however, shy away from drinking straight espresso because it lacks sweetness. More than likely, they only use the espresso in milk-based beverages, such as cappuccinos or lattes. Otherwise, you may add excessive amounts of sugar to the finished product.

Maximizing the Potential of the Beans

During the final phase of the roasting process, the sugars in the coffee bean will start to caramelize. Caramelization will result in a dark color but it will also reduce the sweetness.

In order to strike the perfect balance, you should roast the bean long enough so that the caramelization begins to take place. At the same time, you don’t want to roast the bean too lightly or you may end up with a bitter flavor.

The general recommendation is to stop a little less than half way into the second crack.

Conclusion

It’s important to reiterate that there isn’t much of a difference between products labeled “espresso” or “espresso blends.” Coffee beans are just coffee beans with different levels of roast. Products labeled espresso are typically best suited to be brewed with an espresso machine.