A survey we took recently revealed that, of the extremely high percentage of our customers who drink most of their coffee at home, 58% brew their coffee with a drip machine.
What is a Drip Machine?
For purposes of this post, the term “drip machine” means a machine that comes set up to brew your coffee at the push of a button.
All you have to do is plug it in, put water in the reservoir, put grounds in the basket (depending on the model you have, a paper filter may or may not be necessary), push a button, and the machine does the rest.
Some models have timers that enable you to set the machine up to brew and program it to start at a certain time.
Other brew methods, such as the pour over, are also drip, but the technology is different. Pour over will be covered in its own post.
Depending on how old you are, you may have grown up with a drip machine in your kitchen – and think of it as a “typical” way to brew coffee. If you grew up with people who drank coffee, it was probably made with a drip machine that brews multiple cups into a glass carafe.
Moody picture of a modern drip machine.
How a Drip Machine Works
A drip machine heats up the water in the reservoir tank, then passes it through to the grounds inside the basket. As the water passes through the basket, it brews the grounds, and the resulting hot coffee slowly drips into the carafe below.
The process where water meets ground coffee to create the end result is called extraction. Depending on your brew method of choice, hot or cold water is used to extract the compounds and flavors from the coffee. More about the science of extraction and its role in how your coffee tastes in future posts.
Advantages of Using a Drip Machine
Ease of Use
It’s almost impossible to find a machine in this category that is not dead simple to plug in and use. If you can read simple set up directions and have the basic skills necessary to measure water and coffee grounds, you are SET!
A Drip Machine is Not Expensive – Unless You Want it to be
You can find a drip machine for under $20. From there, depending on how picky you are and how much time you have, you can go down a rabbit hole of different styles and features. You can pay $500 or more if you want a super sleek fancy model.
Many Drip Machines are Programmable
You can set a lot of models to start brewing at a certain time, for example. Many have features that let you play with factors like water quantity and temperature.
They Can Brew Coffee In Large(r) Quantities
French press, pour over and aero press are popular brew methods, but are limited to either a single serving or 2-3 small cups. If you have people over or you have a big family who drinks a lot of coffee at one time, a drip machine lets you brew up to 12 cups at one time.
Disadvantages of Using a Drip Machine
They Can be a Drag to Clean
While easy to clean and maintain on a daily basis, most models need to be flushed out with vinegar every now and again to get rid of build up. Brewing a batch of vinegar water doesn’t smell great, and if you don’t get rid of the vinegar thoroughly, the next couple of pots of coffee you make can be tinged with vinegar flavor.
They Don’t Work Well for Coffee Snobs
For all of the bells and whistles you can get on a drip machine, the prevailing attitude among coffee snobs is that the end result reaches a ceiling of quality and taste, which is ultimately limited. While certainly not an all or nothing proposition, if you buy freshly roasted beans, grind as you go, and use good water, you’ll still be limiting the ultimate flavor potential if you don’t eventually branch out and try other brew methods.
Reflections of a Coffee Snob
I want badly to say that, as a coffee snob, I wouldn’t be caught dead using a drip machine. But, alas, I do use one.
Where my use of a drip machine veers away from “normal” is that the one I use is a single serve commercial drip brewer that, when one of our restaurant clients closed (this was years ago and not as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis) we decided to put it in our house. And here it has stayed – and will never leave if I have anything to say about it!
Our $1500 commercial single cup drip machine
Last I checked, the model that we have on our counter retailed for $1500. As a consumer, I certainly would not pay anything close to that for a drip machine. For cafes and restaurants that want to make sure their single serve coffee is made fresh and controlled, it quickly pays for itself.
The truth is that you don’t have to spend near $1500 or even $500 to get a good drip machine that makes a decent, or even good cup of coffee. If you’re not picky about how your coffee tastes, or if you want it to taste better than average but don’t consider yourself a coffee snob, a drip machine will work great for you.
If you do consider yourself a coffee snob, or if you’re curious about different brewing methods and the tastes that can result from those (which involve learning more in depth about freshness, extraction, grind, water temperature, timing, and different coffees from around the world), you may want to keep a drip machine on hand for when you just don’t want to think about it or when you have people over and don’t want to make a bunch of small servings for those who want coffee.
If you find yourself getting into other brewing methods and not using your tried and true drip machine, that may mean it’s time to re-gift it to someone who will use it.