What is Drip Coffee? The Complete Guide 2021 and Beyond

June 27, 2021

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Whether or not you have heard of the exact term, if you are an avid coffee drinker, you have almost undoubtedly had drip coffee before.

Drip coffee, or sometimes called filter coffee, is essentially just coffee that has been brewed by your typical automatic coffee maker. This is pretty much the standard way people drink coffee, so you probably have not thought about it before in much detail, but what is drip coffee, really?

What distinguishes it from other coffee-making methods? If you want to know more, keep reading for our complete guide to drip coffee in 2021.

What Is Drip Coffee?

Essentially, drip coffee is brewed by automatic coffee makers, whereby hot water is dripped onto a basket lined with a filter and filled with coffee grounds. The water mixes with the grounds to create brewed coffee, and this coffee eventually makes its way into a carafe.

Let us look a little more closely at the different components of a drip coffee maker.

Components of a Drip Coffee Maker

white drip coffee maker

Heating Element

This is what is used to heat the water for your drip coffee. The heating element is a coiled wire and is usually found on the left side of the coffee maker’s base.

Reservoir

This is where the water sits before it gets warmed up by the heating element. There is a tube that is connected to the bottom of the reservoir that brings hot water to the showerhead.

Showerhead

The showerhead is the part that distributes the hot water from the reservoir over the coffee grounds in the filter basket.

Filter Basket

This is what holds the filter and coffee grounds. The filter helps ensure that a ton of coffee grounds do not end up getting into the carafe and into your coffee cup.

Carafe

This is the container that collects your freshly brewed coffee at the end of the process.

How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work?

Essentially, drip coffee makers work via thermal pressure and gravity.

  1. Once you turn the coffee maker on, the water goes from the reservoir to the heating element via a tube. The heating element begins to heat the water in the tube as well as the area under the carafe to keep the coffee warm once it has been brewed.
  2. The water begins to boil, thereby creating air bubbles in the tube that force the water upwards. This is what is referred to as thermal pressure.
  3. The water drops travel up to the showerhead, where they are then distributed over the grounds in the filter basket. The water mixes with the grounds.
  4. Via gravity, the water eventually makes its way through the grounds and filter, and then the freshly brewed coffee drips into the carafe.

Why Is Drip Coffee So Popular?

The popularity of drip coffee really comes down to three things: simplicity, convenience, and affordability.

The first reason, simplicity, is that an automatic drip coffee maker does just about all the work for you: you just fill the reservoir with water, put coffee in a filter, press a button, and then wait a few minutes. This coffee brewing method does not require any babysitting or any special techniques on your part, and if you are consistent with the kind of water and coffee grounds you put in there, you will know what to expect from your cup every single time.

These reasons also contribute to why drip coffee is so convenient, as you do not have to stand there and directly control each element of the coffee brewing process. This is especially true if you are rushing around in the morning before work or school and do not have much time to devote to preparing your coffee.

Finally, drip coffee makers are also affordable. Ok, well, some high-end automatic drip coffee makers can be expensive, do not get me wrong, but you can get a basic automatic drip coffee maker. Even the inexpensive models can yield you a decent cup of coffee.

What Goes Into Making a Good Cup of Drip Coffee?

Since an automatic drip coffee maker does most of the work for you, the only things you really need to worry about are the water and the coffee.

Water

While any type of water will do for drip coffee makers, it is typically ideal to use filtered water for a couple of reasons. The first is taste, as filtered water will not contain nearly the amount of minerals that can be found in a lot of tap water.

The presence of minerals in your water will certainly affect the taste, so if you want a purer or cleaner tasting coffee, then be sure to use filtered water. The second reason to use filtered water is to prolong the life and function of your coffee maker. If you keep adding hard water from your tap to your coffee maker, you will eventually get mineral buildup in there that could mess with the water flow, especially if you are not thoroughly cleaning your maker on a regular basis.

Coffee

white table spoon in filled coffee jar
Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

What is drip coffee without the coffee? For drip coffee, you can use nearly any type of coffee bean or roast – it really depends on personal preference, as they will all technically work using this coffee-making method. The grind, however, is another story.

The coffee grind is one of the most important elements in determining the taste of your coffee. If you choose too fine of a grind, your coffee may end up tasting bitter, regardless of your choice of roast or beans. This is because a fine grind can lead to an over-extraction of your coffee grounds, resulting in a bitter flavor.

On the other hand, if you choose too coarse of a coffee grind, your grounds may be under-extracted, which may make your coffee taste sour or flat.

Some coffee-making methods are better suited to different grinds, and drip coffee is no exception. It’s best to go for a medium grind, but if you notice bitterness or flatness, try changing up your grind before blaming the coffee itself.

Speaking of grind, if you are looking to get the most flavor out of your coffee, consider grinding the beans yourself instead of purchasing them pre-ground.

Coffee grounds are at their most flavorful just after grinding, no matter what method you end up using, so if your automatic drip coffee maker does not already have an integrated grinder, consider buying one yourself, like a burr grinder.

How Much Coffee and Water Should I Use for Drip Coffee?

A general guideline for coffee to water ratios is about 1 gram of coffee for every 15-18 grams of water or 1:15-18. This may not suit everyone’s individual taste preferences, so feel free to experiment.

Is Drip Coffee the Same as Pour Over Coffee?

person pouring hot water with tea pot
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Pour-over coffee has been surging in popularity lately. On the surface, it does seem like it is very similar to drip coffee machine: water is poured over coffee grounds in a filter and drips down via gravity into a cup or coffee pot. Some people may use the terms drip coffee and pour-over coffee interchangeably because of this, but really, they are quite different.

In short, pour-over coffee involves a lot more control over the coffee-making process than your typical drip coffee. You have direct control over variables such as the water temperature, how the water is distributed over the grounds, and how long the brewing time is overall. Pour-over methods allow you to tinker with your brewing coffee process as much as you want, and little changes can certainly make a big difference in your final cup of coffee.

Now, pour-over coffee-making can be considered a skill, as it takes time to learn exactly what you need to do to achieve the desired results, so it is certainly not for everyone. But when it is done correctly, it creates an arguably superior cup of coffee to your average cup of drip coffee, especially if you have a more inexpensive automatic drip coffee machine.

Some automatic drip machines may not get up to the ideal temperature to extract the flavor from the grounds or may have a showerhead that does not evenly distribute the water during drip coffee brewing. But, if you enjoy the coffee that comes from your drip machine, along with the convenience factor, then it may not be worth the extra time and effort it takes to do the pour-over method.

Additional Tips for Creating the Perfect Cup of Drip Coffee

  • For optimal coffee grounds extraction, make sure your brewer keeps the water temperature between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once a month, run 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water through your machine as if you were brewing a pot of coffee. This will give it a deep clean and ensure that no mineral buildup or old coffee oils make their way into your cup.
  • If you use paper filters before you brew, rinse them with cool water to get rid of any excess paper fibers and get them primed for filtration.
  • It cannot be stressed enough: if you can, use freshly ground coffee as opposed to pre-ground. You will notice a difference in taste!

What are the Best Drip Coffee Makers?

What to know some of the best drip coffee makers to make that great cup of coffee? Then please read our post The Best 10 Drip Coffee Makers for 2020?

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