Is It Okay to Brew Good Coffee in a Drip Coffeemaker?

Pour-over coffee is having a moment among American coffee lovers. What started as a relatively obscure brewing method that, in the United States, lived only in the most boutique specialty shops and the furthest-from-the-grid woodland cabins has become the brewing method of choice for coffee nuts in search of the perfect cup.

Today, every major city and many smaller ones have cafes that specialize in pour-over brews. Head inside one of these shops, and you’ll rarely (if ever) see a drip coffeemaker on the salvaged-wood countertops.

So, why has the pour-over method taken over the high-end coffee scene so thoroughly? And is it still “okay” to brew good coffee in a drip machine?

Pour-Over vs. Drip: What’s the Difference?

Pour-over coffee and drip coffee involve two distinct brewing methods. With a pour-over coffee setup, you place the grounds into a filter and pour hot water over them, letting the brewed coffee drip down into the cup. Conversely, with a drip coffee machine, you place the grounds into a filter and the machine pours hot water over them, letting the brewed coffee drip down into the cup.

That’s right. For all that pour-over snobbery, drip coffee and pour-over coffee are essentially the same thing. A drip coffeemaker is just an automated pour-over process. So why does pour-over coffee get so much love from coffee snobs while drip coffee is increasingly pushed out of craft coffeeshops altogether?

If you like to drink coffee and you live in the United States, the chances that you haven’t had a cup of drip coffee from an automated machine are almost nil, so we’ll skip the discussion of how drip coffee tastes and what an automatic drip machine does. You know how these things work.

If you’re thinking about switching to pour-over coffee, you’ll find lots of advice and pour-over love in various coffee blogs and subreddits. Pour-over proponents reflect moonbeams in their eyes when they discuss the aromatic splendor that arise when a thin stream of hot water swan-dives into a fresh batch of grounds.

 

And it’s true that pour-over coffee has some winning features. A pour-over setup can deliver a rich, strong brew that coaxes the best flavors out of fresh-ground coffee. And it does so in a stunningly low-tech fashion, which means you can brew a great cup in the middle of the forest if you want. (There’s something intrinsically satisfying about brewing a cup of coffee with nothing but fire, water, paper, and a ceramic filter holder.)

A Pour-Over Reality Check

For all its elegant simplicity, a pour-over coffee setup comes with one drawback, and it’s a massive one: It takes eons to make coffee compared to a drip coffee maker. From heating the water and grinding the coffee to pouring the water and occasionally stirring the saturated grounds, making a single cup of pour-over coffee takes 10 to 15 minutes, and it requires at least intermittent attention throughout.

And that’s for one cup. If you and your significant other like to split a 4-cup pot from your drip coffee machine each morning, you’re talking about 45 to 60 minutes of work to achieve the same result with a pour-over setup.

So, yeah — maybe that setup works for all these pour-over snobs. Maybe it works for all the sexy single people living in Spain who amble into their part-time jobs any time between 10 and 11. For the rest of us who have spouses, children, jobs, and take daily showers, a pour-over coffee setup isn’t going to cut it for our everyday coffee fix.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of pour-over coffee. A pour-over setup is a cheap, low-risk investment that can deliver some of the best coffee you’ll ever savor. But make no mistake: for most of us, the pour-over brew method is for lazy Sunday coffee, not weekday getting-it-done coffee.

RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: How to Choose the Best Coffee Subscription

Why Doesn’t My Drip Coffee Taste as Good as a Pour-Over?

So, if a drip coffeemaker is just an automated pour-over, why the love for pour-overs from coffee experts and aficionados and the growing scorn for drip coffee?

Part of the potential problem with drip coffee comes from the fact that when you automate a process, it becomes more complicated. More complicated means more things can go wrong. And when you add in the fact that many home drip brewing machines come at a price point under $30, it’s easy to see where the problem comes in: you’ve got a complex machine that’s frequently being designed and manufactured as cheaply as possible.

So, the biggest problem with drip coffee boils down to the fact that many drip machines are just bad at their jobs. The consistently better results that home brewers get from pour-overs happen because of three common deficiencies in cheap automatic drip machines:

  • They don’t distribute the water evenly over the grounds. This is probably the single biggest reason why many automatic drip machines disappoint. Crack open the filter compartment after a brew, and you’ll find patches of nearly-dry grounds that the water barely touched. You may have measured out the coffee in just the right proportion, but that doesn’t matter if hot water only touched two-thirds of it.
  • They don’t consistently regulate the temperate of the water. Many cheap drip machines never get the brewing water hot enough in the first place, and even some that do don’t keep the water temperature consistent throughout the brewing cycle.
  • They use a hot plate that burns the coffee after it sits for a few minutes. Most people like their coffee to stay piping-hot, but there’s a price to pay for this. An electric hot plate only heats the bottom of the coffee pot. To keep the whole pot warm, it needs to deliver intense heat. However, the liquid in the pot isn’t moving at all, which means the brew at the bottom mostly sits in the hot zone and starts to burn while the liquid at the top stays relatively cool.

If you’re not happy with the results you’re getting from your drip coffee machine, don’t give up on drip — just find a better brewing partner. You don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds to get a drip machine that delivers consistent and solid results, either. For example, check out the highly-rated drip coffee machines in this Consumer Reports roundup, several of which you can buy for under $50.

At the End of the Day, It's Your Cup – Make It Just the Way You Like

At Regular Coffee, we’re not about coffee shaming. If the $20 Mr. Coffee that your Great Aunt Agnes bought you before your first semester at college still gets the job done, power to you. And if you’re a pour-over diehard who starts each morning with a four-minute hand-pour and a soundtrack of Bavarian folk tunes, we tip our hats to you too. No matter how you brew, Regular Coffee is the best way to get fresh, approachable coffee delivered right to your door in whatever quantity you need it, whenever you need it.

Back to Coffee