How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work? Plus, How to Get the Most Out of It

Coffee Geek Lab / How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work? Plus, How to Get the Most Out of It
Yurii Brown

Certified Barista

June 10, 2021

Drip coffee machines can be found among the top-rated coffee makers favored by countless users.

They are fast, easy to use, and efficient. Plus, they can make pretty great coffee.

But how do drip coffee makers work exactly?

Today, we are going to answer this question. We will look at the brewing process in drip coffee makers and find out how to get the most out of it. Let’s dive right in!

How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work

Drip Coffee Makers Explained: Main Components and the Brewing Process

The first home drip coffee maker appeared around 1972. Of course, modern machines are more complicated. Many of them come with handy programmable features and extra bells and whistles. Evolution of Coffee Drip

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/178877416434692786/

However, no matter what type of a machine you have (or think of buying), you might still be wondering: How does a drip coffee maker work? To answer that question, we need to look inside (literally). The main parts and components of any drip coffee machine can explain the process standing behind your fresh morning cup of coffee. Most drip coffee makers have the same construction, at least when it comes to the important components. So, let’s take a closer look at them to understand how everything works inside a regular drip coffee maker:
  • Water reservoir. Or, in other words, water container. This is where the water used for your coffee is stored. Drip coffee makers come with different reservoir capacities, starting with a single serving and up to 14 cups. 
  • Heating element. A simple wire made of aluminum (typically), a heating element works to raise the water temperature using electricity. 
  • One-way valve. This little component is used to deliver the water to the heating element in order to warm the water up. Quite simple so far, right?
  • Water tube. This is the path through which hot water travels to the drip area.
  • Temperature sensor. Sensors aren’t typically used in all drip coffee makers. They serve to control the water temperature and prevent it from overheating (and, consequently, ruining the flavor of your coffee). A temperature sensor is connected to the electrical fuses. It can cut the power off to stop the heating element when the water temperature is starting to exceed the programmed maximum.
  • Drip area. This is another component that not all drip coffee maker manufacturers use. However, a drip area can come in handy. This is a disc with holes used for an even water distribution. Hot water flows to the drip area through the water tube and then gets dispensed through the holes onto the coffee grounds. To put it simply, the water just falls through the holes. This method often aids improved saturation and better coffee extraction. Typically, the drip area can be found in slightly more expensive drip coffee maker models.
  • Showerhead. If a coffee maker doesn’t have a drip area, it certainly has a showerhead. A showerhead receives the hot water through the tube and sprays it over the coffee grounds to start the extraction.
  • Switch. Used to provide electricity to the heating element, a regular switch is what turns your drip coffee maker on and off.
Now when you are familiar with the contents of your machine, putting it all together shouldn’t be so hard. The way drip coffee makers work is quite simple. The heating element warms up the water to the needed temperature. Then, the water is distributed all over the coffee grounds through the pipe and the hose. Finally, the grounds steep, and the brewed coffee is released down (or shall we say, it drips down?) into the carafe (1).

When Your Drip Coffee Maker Doesn’t Work Right

Now when we have answered the question “How does a drip coffee maker work?”, we can move on to those situations when it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. I am talking about the most common issues drip coffee machine owners typically have to deal with.  And when you know what can go wrong, you are also likely to fix the problem faster when it appears. So, let’s take a look at the potential issues you might deal with as an owner of a drip coffee maker:
  • Clogging. This happens especially often in the one-way valve. It may happen because of the debris or the calcium build-up (which also affects other tubes in the system). Usually, a clogged valve is quite easy to fix by simply fishing out the debris with a toothpick. You might also want to descale your drip coffee maker regularly to prevent it from clogging. Cleaning your coffee maker properly can prolong its life, so try to do that regularly.
  • Power cut-off. This typically happens because of the power cord issues (it might just go bad with time) or the switch malfunction. Whatever the case is, when it comes to electricity, it’s better to turn to a specialist. Trying to fix this issue yourself can be very dangerous.
  • Leaking. Many coffee machines start leaking water with time. This may happen because of the fault in the tubing. Often, leaking can be caused by loose tubes, which are really easy to fix.
  • Slow water flow. If your regular cup of coffee takes more time than usual, this might be caused by the slow flow of water. Typically, the reason behind it is in the clogged tubes.
  • Weird noises. If your drip coffee machine starts making clicking and clacking noises, the issue might be in the system. Sometimes, the glitch in the system makes the sensors (the ones watching for mineral and dirt build-up) block the tubes, which results in strange noises when you try to brew yourself a cup of coffee.

How to Brew the Best Coffee Using Your Drip Coffee Maker

If you want to get the most out of your drip coffee maker and brew the best, most flavorful beverages, consider the following tricks:

  • Use filtered water. Not only can tap water cause calcium build-up inside the machine (2), but may also negatively affect the flavor of your coffee.
  • Keep your coffee maker clean. Both inside and out. As I’ve mentioned before, this can prolong the life of your machine. Plus, preventing the build-up inside the coffee maker will ensure that your coffee tastes smooth and fresh every time.
  • Avoid using the hotplate. Leaving the carafe on the warming plate can overheat your beverage and make the coffee taste burnt. Instead, try using a thermal carafe or a good, insulated travel mug, a tumbler, or a larger thermos. 
  • Use quality coffee (and try to avoid pre-ground coffee). Buying freshly roasted beans and grinding them before brewing is the go-to strategy if you want your beverages to taste good. Pre-ground coffee is not that fresh and may end up tasting stale. 
  • Find your perfect ratio. Ideally, you should use a 1:20 coffee + water ratio. However, tastes differ, and you may find a better configuration if you experiment with different ratios. A kitchen scale would come handy in this case.

So, what kind of coffee maker do you have at home or want to buy? And how do you like your homebrewed coffee? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Victoria Spencer (July 15, 2020). How Do You Make Your Coffee? Here, We Demystify Three Popular Brewing Methods. Retrieved from https://www.marthastewart.com/7846613/coffee-makers-explained-french-press-drip-pour-over 
  2. Ben Fisher and Hope Ngo (May 04, 2020). You should never brew coffee with tap water. Here’s why. Retrieved from https://www.mashed.com/206767/you-should-never-brew-coffee-with-tap-water-heres-why/

Yurii Brown

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