Whether you’ve tamed your caffeine addiction, or can’t face the morning without a decent buzz, your next cup of coffee is only as good as the coffeemaker that brews it. A tasty cup depends on the right mingling of ingredients, temperature, and timing. Choosing the right coffeemaker doesn’t have to be a grind. Pronto’s Coffeemaker Buying Guide can help you find the best machine to usher you into a new day (see also Espresso Machine Buying Guide).
Coffeemakers can be automatic or manual, simple or sophisticated. If you are like most people and just need to get out of the house quickly in the morning, choose an auto-drip machine. If you want a more gourmet or artisan brewing experience, go for a French press or stove top model.
Smaller batches sometimes result in less flavor when using an auto drip machine, but all hope is not lost. If you are brewing for just 1 or 2 people, consider purchasing a French press, a single or 4-cup machine with flavor-enhancing features, or a pod coffeemaker that uses pre-packed coffee grounds.
Programmable machines that deliver a pot of freshly brewed coffee as you are waking is a worthwhile time saver. Built-in grinders also add flavor, and save time, but be aware they require more cleaning effort and the units with auto grind have a bigger counter top footprint.
Coffee flavor degrades quickly, especially when the brew is exposed to high levels of heat. Consider buying a machine with a built-in thermal carafe, or adjustable hot plate temperature setting, in order to preserve the freshness of your second cup.
Digital displays, water filtration systems and espresso-making capability can improve your morning coffee routine, but they aren’t always worth the price. Consider your needs and compare models to find the right fit.
Most coffeemakers fall into this category. An electrical brewing technique in which hot water is dispersed through a filter in order to extract flavor from the coffee grounds, this is the most efficient brewing process. Automatic drip machines tend to offer additional, time-saving features.
The carafe is the glass pot into which fresh coffee is brewed. In an automatic drip machine, the carafe rests on the hotplate. In the French press, vacuum brewing, and stovetop techniques, the carafe is simply the glass vessel that stores the coffee.
The burner is another word for hotplate. It keeps the coffee warm after it is brewed. Some coffeemakers provide a feature that allows you to adjust the temperature of the burner which, in turn, prevents the carafe from getting too hot.
The grind of the coffee is its consistency. If the grind is too coarse, then the coffee yields less flavor because it is under-extracted. If it is too fine, then it can affect the rate of water that passes through the grinds which can result in overflow. Some coffeemakers offer built-in grinders which can save time and enhance flavor.
A term to describe the different ways in which you can produce a batch of coffee. Some processes, like French press, allow the coffee to steep in hot water before being filtered, while others, like the automatic drip method, extract flavor by running hot water through the grounds for several minutes.
While automatic-drip coffeemakers are by far the most popular choice for home brewing, there is a wide variety of brewing methods to suit the tastes of casual coffee-drinkers and aspiring home baristas alike. To make the best selection, you’ll want to consider the coffeemaker’s efficiency, the quality of coffee it can produce, and how much clean-up it requires.
If you’ve got your heart set on an automatic drip, however, you’re not alone. Since its introduction in the 1970s, this coffeemaker has found a home in millions of kitchens. The biggest advantage of this machine is efficiency. Once you add coffee grounds and water, the automatic drip coffeemaker does the work for you. For the person who craves convenience and consistency, this coffeemaker is a solid choice. It works by distributing water over the grounds either through a single hole or by a shower method. As the hot water passes through the grounds, it extracts flavor. In general, the shower method is more successful at evenly dispersing water over the grounds, which produces a more flavorful batch of coffee. You can use either paper or permanent filters to prevent grounds from falling into the finished product. Daily clean-up is simple, but you can extend your coffeemaker’s longevity by performing periodic maintenance, such as running a pot of water and a decalcifying agent through the machine.
The first alternative to the automatic drip, is the French press which produces flavorful coffee in smaller batches. This coffeemaker is designed to extract maximum flavor from the coffee grounds by allowing them to steep with hot water for 4-5 minutes in a canister. A plunger is slowly depressed to filter the grounds. Making coffee this way, requires more effort than an automatic drip machine, but the result is 1-2 cups of rich-bodied coffee. If you have the time and you love your coffee, a French press will be a welcome addition to your morning routine.
If you are seeking robust flavor, and are brewing only for yourself, consider a vacuum or stovetop brewer. Both systems are composed of two containers, one stacked on the other. The bottom bowl contains water, while the top bowl holds the coffee grounds. When placed over a heat source, the water boils and the resulting steam combines with the grounds in the top bowl. Like the French press, these techniques yield smaller batches of coffee, but for the coffee-drinker with a discerning palate, the results can be worth it.
When selecting a coffeemaker, it’s important to pay attention to how much coffee you think you will brew in each batch. Unless your method is designed to produce small batches, brewing coffee for one or even two may sacrifice flavor because less water passes through the grounds resulting in a weaker extraction. Does that mean you’re limited to a French press or other method if you’re making coffee just for yourself? No. Just limit your selection to models that have flavor-enhancing features. In automatic drip machines, you can find single-serve coffeemakers, as well as 4-cup and 5-cup varieties. On today’s market, you will also see pod coffeemakers, which use pods of pre-packed coffee grounds. Some newer automatic drip machines are pod-compatible, so they can use pods or traditional loose coffee grounds. Conversely, if you prefer the French press method that doesn’t mean you can’t make larger batches of coffee. French presses come in a variety of sizes to serve anywhere from 1-5 people. You may find that you prefer to use the French press for yourself and rely on an automatic drip machine when you have guests.
Have you ever returned to your coffeemaker for a second cup only to find bitter swill where balanced and flavorful coffee once sat? Coffee tastes best when it is consumed immediately after it brews. When it is exposed to high levels of heat as it rests on the hotplate, the flavor begins to break down and turn bitter. Look for automatic drip coffeemakers that offer adjustable hotplates so that your coffee doesn’t cook. However, your best bet is to remove the carafe from the heat source immediately after the coffee has brewed. By pouring the coffee into a thermal carafe, you can preserve freshness. Some models even brew directly into a portable thermal carafe instead of the traditional glass variety so seek them out if flavor freshness is top concern for you.
Most mornings, it’s a struggle to get out the door on time never mind find time to make coffee. Programmable drip coffeemakers give you a head start on your day by allowing you to set an automatic brewing time through the LCD or LED display. For those coffee-drinkers who can’t wait 8-10 minutes to take their first sip, this feature is a necessity. Some machines also allow you to program a shut-off time so you don’t have to worry about the temperature of the hotplate when you finally leave the house.
If you’re a multitasker at heart, another time-saving feature to look for is a built-in grinder. Some coffee lovers say this is a must because it offers convenience without sacrificing the flavor. Coffee begins to lose its flavor not long after it is ground, so shortening the time between the grinding and the brewing will improve the quality of your cup. While the price of coffeemakers with built-in grinders is not necessarily higher than standard coffeemakers, whole bean coffee is generally more expensive than ground. Additionally, machines with built-in grinders require more frequent cleaning, take longer to brew, and generally take up more counter space than standard coffeemakers. If budget, space or time to clean is an issue for you, purchase a separate grinder.
Modern coffeemakers do a lot more than they used to and all these extras are designed to make your coffee-making more enjoyable and your java taste better. One feature to keep any eye out for is ‘pause and serve’. In automatic drip machines, the typical brewing cycles take 8-10 minutes. For those of us who have a hard time waiting for our first cup in the morning, the pause and serve feature is perfect because it allows you to remove the carafe from the hot plate before the coffeemaker has finished brewing.
Coffee enthusiasts will tell you that a good cup owes as much of its superior taste to filtered water as it does to the quality of the grounds. Tap water contains an abundance of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which tend to build up on the inside of the coffeemaker. For that reason, some high-end models include filtration systems to remove these elements before they pass through the coffee grounds.Lastly, if you’re a budding barista with no counter space to speak of, you might consider a dual coffee/espresso maker. While they’re no substitute for dedicated espresso makers, units with this dual functionality get the job done and let you practice your techniques on one space-saving machine. (See also Espresso Machine Buying Guide).