What Is Drip Coffee? Understanding The Basics & How To Brew

Drip coffee is one of the most popular methods of drinking the beverage. Sometimes called filter coffee, coffee drip machines are a fast, convenient, and consistent brewing method. But exactly what is drip coffee?

Despite its popularity, many people get confused about how drip coffee brewing works and how it differs from other methods.

So this article will break down the definition, science, and brewing parameters of drip coffee to help you deepen your coffee knowledge!

drip coffee machine

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What is Drip Coffee?

Any coffee drinker has seen the standard drip coffee machines common to most households. Drip machines pour water from above over a bed of coffee grounds, allowing it to extract the coffee flavor as it falls into the coffee pot below.

Paper filters are most common as they allow the water to drip through while trapping the coffee grounds and finer sediment.

Drip Coffee Meaning: What is the “drip”?

what is drip coffee

The name of this brewing method comes from the dripping of water through the filter. While at peak brewing, the hot water usually forms a solid stream. But the beginning and end of the process involves water falling one drip at a time.

Drip methods are often considered the automatic version of a manual pour over, but both fall under the same umbrella of percolation coffee brewing.

See More: Drip Coffee vs Pour Over: What Are The Differences

Drip Coffee History

Like so many inventions, the history of coffee drip involves multiple contributions over time. But we can credit a 1909 idea by Melitta Bentz for the original coffee drip method. While nothing close to the electric drip machines we see today, her original Melitta drip method kept coffee grounds out of the brew, contrasting with the more popular immersion techniques of the day.

Stovetop drip makers came out in 1939, and the first electric drip makers appeared in the 1950s. By the 1970s, Mr Coffee automatic drip coffee machines were a staple in American households and became one of the most popular brewing methods.

Drip Coffee Caffeine Content

The caffeine content in coffee can vary widely depending on the coffee bean, roast level, brewing recipe, and amount consumed. As a standard method, you can expect coffee from drip machines to have a typical average of 95mg of caffeine.

Normal filter coffee strength has a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:16. But different recipes, especially in the specialty coffee world, can have bolder doses. For reference, the table below shows the standard caffeine content of a popular Starbucks drip blend Pike Place:

8 fl oz12 fl oz16 fl oz20 fl oz
155 mg 235 mg310 mg410 mg
Starbucks Brewed Coffee Caffeine

As you can see, the caffeine levels are higher than you might expect. So when in doubt, drink slowly and see how your body is reacting.

What Is Unique About Coffee Drip?

Coffee lovers enjoy brewing with different methods because they produce unique flavors and require particular skills. For coffee drip methods, the primary draw is how easy it is. Most basic drip machines only require you to fill them up with water, add coffee, and then hit a brew button.

Drip machines are like the automatic version of a manual pour over, allowing you to do something else while your coffee brews. And compared to full immersion methods like a French press, you can get a much cleaner-tasting cup because of the paper filters.

Drip machines also have the unique ability to brew several cups at a time. And the commercial machines that you see at restaurants and coffee shops can brew large amounts at once.

Coffee Drip Method Benefits

Every coffee method has its pros and cons. And a legit coffee lover will probably complain about the quality of a typical budget-friendly home coffee maker, instead recommending a manual dripper.

But even specialty coffee geeks can enjoy the benefits of the drip method, including:

  • Hands-free brewing during a busy morning
  • Brew large amounts at once when you have guests over
  • Keep a carafe of coffee hot for hours

Many of the best drip machines brew delicious coffee, often better than your average-skilled brewer on a manual drip method.

Cold Drip Coffee

While you usually make cold brew coffee over 18-24 hours, you can turn your drip coffee machine into a cold drip by adding ice to the coffee pot below. This cold brew instantly cools the coffee as it drips onto the ice.

While not quite the same as a cold brew made with cool water, it’s a fast and convenient way to drink cold brew (aka iced coffee) within a few minutes of preparation. But you have to adjust the usual drip brewing ratio to get the right taste. So check out our homemade iced coffee recipe for the full details!

Drip Coffee vs Other Methods

With the basic definition of drip brewing in mind, let’s work through how drip differs from other popular brewing methods.

Is Drip Coffee Just Normal Black Coffee?

If you are buying coffee from a shop, restaurant, gas station, etc, chances are that the black coffee you’re buying is drip. Drip machines make the brewing process convenient, so most places brew this way. But black coffee does not have to be drip. Normal black coffee refers to brewed coffee with nothing else added.

Drip-brewed coffee is, for sure, the most likely black coffee you will find in the world. But you can drink black coffee from a variety of methods.

Drip Coffee vs Espresso

If you are unfamiliar with what espresso coffee is, you might be wondering how the drip method differs from espresso-based drinks. Let’s examine these differences so you can better decide which is right for you.

Basic Difference Between Espresso and Drip Coffee

drip coffee vs espresso differences explained

While the result may look familiar, especially in drinks like the Americano, espresso coffee is quite different than brewed drip coffee.

As you read above, the drip method uses gravity to let hot water naturally fall through coffee grounds. The grind is coarser to allow this flow, and the total brew time is 3-5 minutes. You usually drink brewed coffee in servings of 6-12 ounces, and the strength is much more diluted.

But you need an espresso machine to brew espresso coffee. The pump forces hot water at high pressure through a puck of finely ground and tightly packed coffee grounds. The result is 1-2 ounces of a concentrated beverage with a thick and oily texture.

You can read more about the differences between espresso and coffee for the full details.

Is Drip Coffee Better than Espresso?

Choosing between espresso and coffee drip brews is a matter of preference. Coffee geeks like us tend to love espresso for its flavor intensity. But drip brewing can also be fantastic, and with some beans, the nuanced flavors of a drip method taste better.

Choose espresso if you want a more intense experience or love milk-based drinks such as a latte or cappuccino. And if you want a standard and easy-drinking cup of joe, stick with the drip!

Drip vs Pour Over 

As you read, pour over coffee uses the same physics and principles as a drip (percolation.) But there are some nuances worth knowing about, especially if you’re deciding which device to purchase.

Basic Difference Between Pour Over and Drip Coffee

Sometimes the terms drip and pour over are used interchangeably. But in specialty coffee, pour-over brewing refers to the manual process. A dripper is a device that holds your filter, and you slowly pour hot water over the grounds. The advantage of manual drippers is that you have complete control over the timing, temperature, and pour rate. With skill, you can produce a more even extraction.

Drip coffee from an automatic machine is all about convenience. It heats water and sprays it over the coffee grounds. Your two jobs are filling the water and adding the coffee.

Is Drip Coffee Better than Pour Over?

In general, a manual pour over is better than drip for a skilled brewer. Besides getting a more even and well-timed pour, you can also keep the water at the perfect temperature. And, as you dial in a new bag of coffee, you can easily alter the brewing recipe and parameters based on taste. You can read our complete guide to pour over brewing to get an idea of the skills involved.

But cheaper automatic drip machines do a poor job of heating the water and evenly saturating the grounds. There are high-level machines (like the Technivorm Moccamaster) that can be just as good as manual methods, but they tend to be quite expensive.

If brewing an expensive single origin coffee, we recommend a manual drip brewer.

Difference Between Drip and French Press

The brew strength of drip and French press is usually similar. But the taste differs because they are fundamentally different brewing methods. The French press uses immersion brewing, meaning you immerse coffee grounds in hot water for an extended period. A light metal or mesh filter strains the big particles. But the French press is unfiltered, and you will taste sediment and coffee oils, leading to a bold flavor and heavier mouthfeel.

But drip coffee uses a filter that removes the fine particles and coffee oils. While the taste of drip coffee can still be intense, the lack of oils and fines results in a lighter body and a more delicate flavor profile.

What Is Better Drip Coffee or French Press?

If you have a delicate coffee—for example, a bean from Ethiopia or Kenya—you might get better clarity of flavor from drip brewing. The filter leads to a clean and crisp taste experience. But with certain roasts (or just based on preference,) you might enjoy the bolder flavors and heavier mouthfeel of the French press. Our comparison of pour over vs French Press expands on some of these differences.

For something that balances the two methods, consider the AeroPress which blends immersion with filter (or read more about French Press vs AeroPress.)

French press methods also tend to taste better with milk. In terms of health, a Harvard coffee study suggested that filtered coffee is healthier than unfiltered methods like French press and espresso. Removing the oils and fine particles led to better overall health outcomes.

What Is a Drip Coffee Maker?

An automatic drip coffee maker is a device that heats water and sprays it over the coffee basket. While manual drippers are extremely popular, the term drip coffee brewer usually refers to automatic electric machines.

High-end machines allow you to alter the brewing variables like temperature, dosing, and flow rate. But the simpler machines common to most households are as easy as hitting a button.

How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work?

After you fill a water tank with cold water, a drip coffee maker will use electricity to heat the water to an optimal brewing temperature. This hot water flows into a spray head which evenly wets the grounds in the brew basket.

With the right grind size, gravity will naturally flow the water through the grounds, hopefully leading to an even extraction. The coffee filter stops fine particles and oils from passing through, and the carafe on the bottom usually includes a heating plate to keep your brew warm for hours.

Best Automatic Coffee Machine

Many people prefer the simplest and cheapest models like this BLACK+DECKER 12-Cup Brewer or this Mueller 12-Cup Drip Coffee Maker. But these pale in comparison to manual pour-over methods and other more expensive machines.

If you’re serious about delicious coffee, consider one of these higher-end models:

Braun BrewSense Drip Glass Coffeemaker

Braun BrewSense Drip glass coffee maker

Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Brewer

Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Brewer

Best Coffee Beans for Automatic Drip Machine

Ultimately, the best drip coffee brand depends on your preference and budget. Pre ground beans offer the most convenience, and many popular brands like Folgers or Starbucks Breakfast Blend are super affordable. You can also consider a coffee subscription.

But if you invest in a nicer drip machine and want better-tasting coffee beans, consider choosing one of the specialty brands below:

Stumptown Founder’s Blend

Stumptown coffee beans for drip coffee machine

La Colombe Nizza Medium Roast

La Colombe Best Coffee Beans for Drip Coffee Maker

How to Make Drip Coffee – Basic Brew Guide

The design of coffee machines aims to make brewing as easy as possible. But it is still worth reviewing the details of this brew method if you want to get the most delicious and balanced coffee taste.

Coffee to Water Ratio

A good general drip coffee water ratio is around 1:17, which is 1 part coffee to 17 parts water. Measuring coffee with a scale is the most accurate, and you would use one gram of coffee for every 17 milliliters of water—with water, gram/milliliter measurements are equal!

If you do not own a scale, use one tablespoon of coffee for every four ounces of water.

The Grind for Drip Coffee

The best grind for drip coffee is medium, and many of the coffee bags you’ll see at a grocery store are pre-ground to this size. You need the coffee grind to be fine enough for a solid extraction but also coarse enough to allow water to flow.

But you will get much better flavor by grinding coffee beans at home. Besides having control over grind size adjustments, you will have much fresher coffee when buying whole beans.

Best Coffee Grinder for Drip Machines

By properly storing coffee as whole beans and grinding right before you brew, you maintain freshness as long as possible. Oxygen ages coffee with time, and having your coffee ground ahead of time speeds up this process.

You can read our regularly updated lineup of the best coffee grinders to see options for every budget. Otherwise, consider the following two grinders which pair well with automatic drip machines:

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
Baratza Encore: overall best coffee grinder for drip machines
Bodum Bistro Burr Grinder
Bodum Bistro Burr Grinder: a budget way to home grind for drip coffee.

Brewing Temperature

Our guide to proper coffee brewing temperature goes into the science and details of how water temperature affects extraction. But in short, the ideal temperature range is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit (90°C and 96°C.)

More expensive drip machines allow you to adjust the brewing temperature. But cheaper machines struggle to even get this hot, which is why they often produce flavorless coffee. As convenient as automatic coffee machines are, the downside is that dialing in the perfect brewing temperature is harder.

What Is Drip Coffee: FAQ

Before a final wrap-up, let’s review the information you just read about by answering some of the most common drip coffee questions.

What does drip coffee mean?

Drip coffee is the brewing method where hot water sprays over coffee grounds which sit in a filter, and the brewed coffee drips into a pot or carafe below.

Is drip coffee just black coffee?

Drip coffee can be served black, and it is the most popular method of coffee brewing. But you can also customize it with milk, cream, sugar, or other additives.

Why is it called drip coffee?

The name “drip coffee” comes from the way hot water drips over the ground coffee and falls through the filter into the pot below.

What is the difference between pour over and drip coffee?

You make pour-over coffee by manually pouring hot water over coffee grounds, while drip coffee uses an automatic machine with a built-in water spray head to disperse water into the brew basket.

Is drip coffee stronger than espresso?

No, espresso is stronger than drip coffee as it’s a concentrated shot of coffee made by forcing pressurized water through finely-ground coffee beans.

Final Thoughts

Even though drip coffee is the most popular way to brew coffee, we hope you still learned something new. While we love brewing coffee with manual pour-overs when we can, there is no denying the convenience of a drip machine at home!

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