A dripper is an essential piece of equipment when making pour over coffee because it is used to hold the filter that then holds the coffee grounds. You place it on top of the mug and collect the coffee as you pour water through the coffee grounds and filter. There are a lot of dripper designs and sizes depending on your needs, but the material used to make the ripper has been a topic of conversation for some time now. Some regard the material as very important while other people consider other factors like its size to be more important. To find out if and how the dripper material affects your pour over coffee brew, keep reading.
Variables Affecting Pour Over Coffee Brewing
Before looking at the different materials and how they influence this process, it would be a good idea to look at other variables that can affect the process. These are the variables you need to control to make a consistent and tasty cup of coffee every time.
Pour over coffee is a method of brewing coffee that relies on percolation and gravity. Once the water is poured over the coffee grounds placed in the filter, the water passes through, bringing with it various compounds, solubles, and oils.
From this overview, we can already see that the filter is a variable that can impact how the final cup of coffee looks, tastes, and feels. First, you need to choose the correct type of filter because the filter prevents grounds and oils from passing through the filter. Cloth filters do not do this as well as paper filters. However, bleached paper filters can alter the coffee’s taste.
Next, we have factors such as the brew ratio, brew time, temperature of the water, size, and shape of the dripper as well as the dripper’s material. Adjusting one or multiple factors can affect the cup of coffee you end up with even when you use the same beans.
The Effects of Water Temperature on the Dripper and Brewing
When picking a dripper material, professional baristas look for materials that are consistent and that provide thermal balance throughout the brewing process. Thermal balance is a state where the elements used in the brewing process stop interacting with each other and extraction happens at an optimal place.
An important factor in thermal balance is insulation. With a dripper that has great thermal insulation, there will be very little heat loss during the brewing process, meaning the temperature will be stable from start to finish.
It is important to remember that due to thermal insulation, the kettle temperature can alter the extraction process, thus producing varying cups of coffee.
For example, a lower kettle temperature used with a dripper with high insulation produces a very different cup from using a higher kettle temperature together with a dripper that has low insulation.
Plastic drippers are good insulators and thus do not lose heat quickly. This means extraction will remain relatively stable as the coffee is extracted.
Considering this, you might think non-plastic materials would be worse, but this is not always the case. Even though they draw a lot of heat away from the mixture, drippers like glass or ceramic coffee dripper can be preheated to prevent heat loss during brewing
If you make pour over coffee using a metal coffee pour over dripper, you need to know that metal loses heat rapidly during the brewing process. You can preheat materials like copper and stainless steel, but you need to do so just before starting the brewing process.
Materials like glass and ceramic which draw heat away from the coffee filter often produce coffee that has a weak and sour taste. Plastic does a lot better due to the slower loss of heat during the brewing process. The explanation is that materials that do not retain heat well such as glass and ceramic lead to a lower and unstable temperature during the brewing process. The result is reduced sweetness, a thinner body, and higher acidity levels.
Dripper Material Thermal Heat Retention
Another factor to remember is heat retention. In addition to the materials used not taking heat away from the mixture, you also need to think about whether the material transfers the heat it gains rapidly to the surrounding environment.
Some materials like plastic absorb a lot of heat and then pass it to the environment slowly. This means that even though the temperature falls rapidly during the first few seconds, once equilibrium is reached, the rate of heat loss slows down considerably.
When you think of materials like ceramic and glass, you know they are bad at retaining heat. This means that in a ceramic dripper, for example, the ceramic pour over filter will reach a lower temperature rapidly.
What makes these materials so bad for drippers is that they also lose a lot of heat to the environment very fast. Once they lose this heat, they will take more from the brew to reach temperature equilibrium.
These cycles will continue until the brew is done. Because of these cycles, the brew’s temperature falls at an exponential rate, meaning that the final temperature will be way lower than if you had used other materials. Once this happens you will have the issues of the bitterness and acidity discussed above.
Choosing great materials is a good option, but there are some cases where the construction of the dripper makes a huge difference. Some companies are developing a ceramic coffee filter cone for their drippers that has two layers of plastic or ceramic. These are usually a flat and a ribbed layer that leaves a small layer of air between the filter and the dripper holder. This small space helps offer better heat retention than if only one layer was used.
Baristas say they have seen a lot of benefits to using such drippers because the temperatures are much more stable in the winter where rapid heat loss would affect the quality of the coffee made.
Which Dripper Material Should You Choose?
We have looked at the heat, consistency, and stability of some materials like ceramic, glass, and plastic and seen how their properties can impact the extraction and ultimately the quality of the coffee you make. However, stability and extraction are just two of the factors you need to think about when choosing a pour over coffee dripper.
There are some practical considerations to consider, one of which is the dripper’s lifespan. If you make a lot of coffee, you need your dripper to last as long as possible. You therefore need to find one that cannot be chipped, damaged, bent, or broken.
If you live alone or are the only one making the coffee in the house, this might not be an issue. However, if you take your dripper with you on trips and have more than one person making coffee in your house, it might well be.
Second, you need to think about how your dripper will react to temperature and chemicals. The water temperature you use to brew a good cup of coffee is fairly high and there are lots of materials that would warp under this temperature.
Also, remember that coffee contains acids and other chemicals that can be corrosive for some materials. Acrylic drippers, for example, are great at withstanding the heat but not the acids in coffee and thus they end up stained if used for long enough.
The final practical consideration is cost. Acrylic and polypropylene are both cheap options, but they do not last as long as ceramic and copper. These two types of drippers last longer and are more costly than the other options.
Glass drippers are very costly, but they do not last because glass breaks and thus are not a good option unless you use them once in a while.
The best option that is both cost-effective and durable is polypropylene. It also requires a lot less control. It is not affected by the variables discussed above as the other types of materials do. Lastly, you do not need to preheat it for as long as you would with a ceramic dripper.
What About Double-walled Drippers?
Double-walled drippers are becoming very common. They have double walls with a vacuum between the two walls. This vacuum provides ample insulation, so there is little heat loss, which results in better temperature stability during brewing. People who have used these double-walled drippers say they produce better cups of coffee than the single-walled alternatives.
Also, most internet tutorials and recipes are using these double-walled drippers. If you want to recreate these recipes, you will have to use the same type of dripper.
When choosing a dripper, it is not enough to consider the type of material it is made out of. It is also important to consider how various factors such as temperature, insulation, and susceptibility to other factors will affect the material and thus your brew. Your skill level, budget, and lifestyle will also factor into the dripper material you ultimately pick.