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    What is Drip Coffee?

    by Kieran MacRae | Last Updated: May 24, 2021

    It’s pretty common to see a drip coffee maker in pretty much every home across America, but what actually is drip coffee?

    Drip coffee is a coffee brewing method that’s made in an electric coffee machine; it heats water and drips it through coffee grounds that are held in a paper disposable filter. The coffee collects in a jug on a hot plate and is also known as filter coffee.

    It is similar to pour-over coffee which is the manual version of using a kettle to gently and precisely pour hot water over your coffee grounds through some sort of filter.

    Although both methods are very similar the results are completely different and the coffee produced can be like night and day.

    It’s also interesting that not all drip coffee machines are called automatic pour over coffee machines, it seems that you need to cross over a certain threshold of quality to become known as an automatic pour over coffee maker.

    And to be honest, I completely agree, you can pick up a drip machine for 30 bucks and the coffee it makes is just terrible, it doesn’t deserve such a high title as pour-over!

    pouring a jug of drip coffee

    5 Defining Features of Drip Coffee

    1. The coffee passes through a cone-shaped filter

    Filters in a drip machine are always cone-shaped and pretty much always paper. Permanent filters are becoming a lot more common now which are usually plastic or sometimes metal, but the coffee they make isn’t as smooth so they often get put in a cupboard in favor of paper filters.

    2. The coffee grounds don’t remain submerged

    Immersion coffee is coffee that’s made by completely submerging your coffee grounds in water before allowing them to be filtered, think French press coffee or an AeroPress, in these the coffee, gets steeped like a teabag.

    In drip coffee, you find that the water is allowed to flow through the ground coffee never fully submerging it.

    3. No technique is required

    If you are reading about any sort of technique other than, put in ground coffee, put in water, then you’re probably looking at making pour-over coffee. Then you’ll need a special kettle and to learn different ways to pour the water for better coffee extraction.

    Nah, ground coffee, water, boom. All you need to make a good cup of coffee.

    4. The equipment used is inexpensive

    Some drip coffee machines can cost a lot of money, but as the price goes up you start to see a change in the names of the products, you start to move from drip coffee machines to automatic pour-over coffee machines.

    And while the functionality is largely the same, I’d say they’re different.

    It’s one of those hard differences to nail down, it’s like a ship and a boat, you can fit a boat on a ship but you can’t fit a ship on a boat… WHAT?

    Anyway, drip coffee is usually the lower-end price but that doesn’t mean it won’t taste good.

    5. It can also be called filter coffee

    If you’re in a cafe you might see filter coffee on the menu rather than drip coffee. This is coffee that’s made in a drip machine and kept in a coffee pot for a few hours until it’s deemed that it’s going stale.

    And if you’re in a diner then the coffee will stay in the pot until it’s finished no matter if it’s stale or not!

    Why People Love Drip Coffee

    People love drip coffee because it’s easy to make, it’s quick to make and it tastes pretty damn good.

    Does it taste as good as an artisanally made pour-over coffee? Of course not! But it tastes better than a percolator coffee that’s been horribly burnt and is leagues beyond an instant coffee.

    Plus there’s nostalgia and comfort from having the same coffee you can have at a diner, or that your parents make.

    Drip Coffee Vs Pour Over

    a barista making pour over coffee

    So similar and yet so different…

    The difference between a drip coffee and a pour-over coffee is the amount of effort expended, if it’s an automatic or electric machine it’s drip coffee, and if you’re making it by hand it’s a pour-over coffee.

    Because in both instances hot water is being poured over the coffee grounds and allowed to drip down through a filter. But the effort required is vastly different.

    But from that increased effort you also get an increased return, because pour over coffee, when done correctly, is much tastier and has a much richer profile of flavors compared to drip coffee.

    That’s because the pour over gives you much more control about the speed of extraction as well as making sure all the coffee grounds get evenly soaked for an even extraction across all your coffee grounds. Which all come together to make a really delicious cup of coffee.

    Drip Coffee Vs French Press

    These are pretty different in every respect.

    French press coffee brews by completely submerging coffee grounds in water, where they stew until a filter is pressed through them. While drip coffee is never fully submerged and the water passes through the coffee grounds extracting flavor that way.

    That’s why the grind sizes have to be different, French press grind size is much thicker so that it extracts more slowly, and drip coffee is a smaller grind size so that it extracts faster. And if you swapped the two you’d get horribly bitter french press coffee and weak and watery drip coffee!

    French presses also use a metal filter which gives a thicker taste to the coffee, although you can use a paper filter.

    And while you can buy a reusable metal filter for a drip machine most people prefer paper filters because the taste it gives you is much cleaner.

    Drip Coffee Vs Percolator

    A percolator pot sitting by a fire

    The clue is often in the name, and it’s no different here. Percolators, well, percolate the coffee. That means it is cycled round and round repeatedly through the coffee grounds until you take it off the heat.

    This often leads to VERY strong coffee that is super over-extracted and bitter, which some people love but I am not a fan of.

    This is an immersion brewing technique like French press and so yields a very different flavor to drip coffee which is lighter and cleaner in comparison.

    This over-extraction is also why I prefer a Moka pot to a percolator, they look the same from the outside but a Moka pot has two separate chambers, and the water gets pushed from one chamber, through coffee grounds and into a separate chamber where it’s collected.

    But I digress…

    Drip Coffee Vs Espresso/Americano

    Espresso coffee is made in a completely different manner to drip coffee, water is heated and pushed at very high pressure through ultra-fine coffee grounds to give you a very small very strong coffee.

    But an americano is more similar, it even looks similar to a drip or filter coffee.

    But an Americano is made by adding hot water to an espresso, So it’s taking a small strong coffee and diluting it to a milder coffee, instead of making a milder coffee.


    Fair enough. All the different coffees are super similar, you wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to extract flavor from a roasted coffee bean.

    But once you get into it, you realize that they are all completely different and that they change the flavor into what can seem like a totally different coffee.

    Final Thoughts

    When most Americans think of coffee, they think of filter coffee. If you ask for a coffee, filter coffee is what you expect to get.

    It’s delicious, it’s easy, is it the best tasting coffee? Probably not but it’s the most common and that makes it the best in its own way.

    Related Reading

    15 Best Drip Coffee Makers (Finding Fantastic Filter Coffee)

    Kieran MacRae tried getting into wine but didn't like it, tried getting into whiskey and it was too expensive, then thought "I really love coffee. I wonder if you can get really into coffee?" Turns out you can!