What You Should Know Before Buying a Coffee Maker
When it comes to coffee makers, we all want one thing: that one beautiful cup of coffee in the morning that tastes perfect to us. If you’re getting confused by pods, cups, bars, bold brews and shots, read on.
We’re going to break down the basics of how to determine the right coffee maker for you.
There are a few things to ask yourself before you start. We’ll cover the basic types of coffee makers that meet just about every need. We’ll also go over some of the features you may find on various coffee machines.
First Things to Consider When Purchasing a Coffee Maker
What Kind of Coffee Do You Enjoy Drinking?
The different types of coffee will also determine what kind of coffee maker you should buy. If you like regular black coffee in a light to medium roast, you can pretty much stick with a drip coffee maker. If you like a bold a cup of coffee like a certain popular Seattle paste the coffee house, a French Press is probably your best bet. Many machines now have strength setting where you can allow the coffee to steep a little longer in order to extract more flavor from the beans, giving you a stronger tasting cup of coffee.
How Much Coffee Do You Drink on a Daily Basis?
If you live alone, you make just want a single-cup brewer. However, this really isn’t practical with three or more people desperately waiting for their turn for a cup of coffee every morning.
Do You Enjoy the Coffee Making Process?
Some people want to learn how to brew with a kettle and their own grind. Others are content to discover amazing K-cup flavors from their local shop. There are no right or wrong answers. The answer is to discover whatever works best for you.
Types of Coffee Makers
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of coffee makers available for kitchens today.
Great for Thirsty Groups
Automatic drip coffee makers are the best way to go when brewing for a crowd. They can produce plenty of coffee all at once – up to 60 ounces in a dedicated carafe.
Coffee drips into a glass carafe. The carafe is seated on a burner. There’s a graphic level on the side of the reservoir that tells you how many cups you’re getting. This is a little deceiving to most consumer though since you’re generally getting 5 ounces per cup, not 8 ounces like they serve in the coffee shops or when you’re trying to fill your travel mug.
There are no bells and whistles with this machine. You’ll also need to buy filters and pre-ground coffee.
Water is poured into a reservoir where it is heated. The water is then dispensed over loose grounds that are sitting in a filter. From there, the coffee is dripped into a carafe – usually glass or thermal – that sits on a hot plate if glass, a simply resting area if it’s a thermal type.
Pictured to the left: KRUPS Simply Brew Compact Filter Drip Coffee Maker | 5-Cup | Silver.
Click image to see it on Amazon.
Other Versions of the Automatic Drip Coffee Maker
Brew and Dispense
Brews multiple cups, but keeps the coffee in an enclosed area to keep it hot.
Grind and Brew
Have a whole bean grinder built into the machine. The beans are ground fresh just before steeping. One drawback here is that there are a lot of parts that can break and that need cleaning.
Pod/Capsule Dispensers (Single Serve/Pod/K-Cup)
One Serving Delight
Single serve coffee makers usually dispense coffee via pods. Pods are filled with a pre-measured amount of coffee. Single serve coffee makers are not as popular as they used to be because there’s a lot of waste what the plastic pots. However, many coffee drinkers who have become aware of this have started using a single-serve version of the mesh filter described above. You simply fill the canister with your favorite coffee grounds and brew as usual.
If you’ve ever owned a pod dispenser then used a different brand at a friends’ house, you may be surprised at how differently the coffee brews.
With a pod dispenser, you want consistent brewing temperatures, consistent amounts being dispensed and price per pod.
Pods, in general, are more expensive than buying bags of pre-ground coffee and using coffee filters. You are also somewhat limited by the types of coffee you can buy as pods are usually not interchangeable between different brands.
Pictured to the Right: Hamilton Beach Flexbrew Coffee Maker
A True Classic Method
The coffee is placed in a container above the water. The water is heated to a boil, forcing it up through a cylinder until it is covering the grounds. The resulting brew drips down into the bottom of the pot. These coffee makers are great for making four to six cups of coffee. They come in both, electric and stove top varieties. The stove top versions are quite popular with campers.
You have to watch the coffee carefully – or get good at the timing. The water goes through the grounds several times and this can lead to a very bitter cup of Joe if you’re not paying attention.
Pictured: Presto 02822 6-Cup Stainless-Steel Coffee Percolator
Click image to view on Amazon.
A Simple Way to Enjoy Freshly Ground Beans
The French Press works basically by pouring hot water over loose grounds in a carafe. There’s a mechanism where you literally start pressing the coffee grounds down to the bottom of the carafe, extracting flavor along the way.
While it can be tricky to get right, the patience and right technique pay big dividends. There also hacks to eliminate the sediment found in the bottom of your cup.
Pictured: Café du Chateau French Press Coffee Maker
Click image to view on Amazon.
The Standard of Brewing Techniques
A pour over is literally pouring water over ground beans which are in a funnel over a carafe or mug. It’s pretty much the same as making yourself a cup of cowboy coffee. There are several different variations, the most popular being the Hario V60 and the Chemex. The actual technique involves weighing or measuring your coffee and your water. Bring the water to close to a boil but not actually boiling. Then, you slowly pour the water over the grounds, letting them bloom and then, continuing to slowly pour your water and waiting until it has dripped through into the carafe.
It should be noted that, like many things that appear simple, the price of the equipment needed to create successful pour overs can add up quickly. You may need filters, a digital scale, a timer and a kettle. If the kettle doesn’t have a built in thermometer, you’ll need a thermometer, too.
Baristas like it because it’s like a manual transmission on a car – you have total control over the success or failure of the brew. There’s a learning curve, for sure, but the rewards for practicing until you find success are immeasurable.
Pictured: Bodum Pour Over Coffee Maker with Permanent Filter
Click image to view on Amazon.
You Can Brew an Espresso at Home
Espresso machines are for those that enjoy lattes and cappuccinos, not to mention espresso. Espresso uses a very fine grind of coffee bean. The grounds are tightly compressed into a small holder, or puck, and secured into place. The machine actually uses a combination of pressure and near boiling water to extract the flavor from the beans. The result is a very dark, thick, rich cup of coffee that is usually no more than two to three ounces in volume. Espresso is one of the strongest cups of coffee you can enjoy. Espresso machines only produce 1 cup of coffee at a time.
If you are certain that you have the time and the patience to make a cup of espresso or blend your favorite latte every morning keep in mind that these machines are more expensive than your standard coffee maker.
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine in Brushed Stainless Steel
Click image to see on Amazon.
Note that there are now single serve cup machines that come closer to imitating a cup of espresso. Breville-Nestle’s Nespresso pot, being the most popular at the moment. There are now pods made specifically for these Nespresso machines, too, so you’re not always at the mercy of a single brand’s flavors and pricing.
Espresso on Your Stovetop
This is the stove top version of an espresso maker. It uses the same principles of boiling water, pressure and steam to extract flavor. Moka pots will give you a very good cup of espresso but you are at the mercy of uncontrollable environmental elements to get it right. Plus, they’re not recommended if you have a glass stovetop.
The biggest difference between these stove top pots and a higher priced espresso machine is the amount of pressure used to extract the flavor from the beans. You’ll get a decent cup of espresso from a Moka pot, but don’t expect it to compete with a high end machine.
Pictured: GROSCHE Milano Stovetop Espresso Maker Moka Pot.
Click image to see it on Amazon.
A Slow, Cold Brew
Cold brewed coffee is gaining popularity. Cold brewed coffee is accomplished by allowing water to essentially sit over a coarse ground coffee beans. The water slowly seeps through the beans into the carafe, extract flavor in the process. This brew process can last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. It takes a lot of coffee and a lot of patience to get this right. The result is a near syrup like coffee that will probably need to be diluted, but it’s also one of the most delicious and complex tasting coffees you’ll ever drink. There are quite a few brewing systems that will help keep the coffee contained and out of the way while you do other things.
Pictured: JoyJolt ‘s Fresco 48 Ounce Cold Brew Coffee Maker
Click image to check the price at JoyJolt
Other Things to Consider When Buying a Coffee Machine
Space on Your Counter
Wherever you put your coffee maker be sure and measure the amount of counter space available prior to purchasing it. Many of the elaborate espresso makers are taller than the amount of headroom available in the average sized kitchen. Even a standard automatic coffee maker may need to be pulled out from under the cabinets in order to pour water into the reservoir from the top of the machine.
If you have absolutely zero counter space to keep a machine, try a pour-over cone coffee maker. It takes patience to make the coffee but it will always taste great and you can store the mechanical funnel just about anywhere when you’re not using it.
Ease of Cleaning
The last thing you want to do is spend 30 minutes cleaning something that just took 5 minutes to use. Look at the materials, if there are any high maintenance pieces to the machine, you might want to look at a different model.
Large Drip Tray It should be easily removed for cleaning. Single serve coffee makers are likely to have drip trays and automatic drip coffee makers will usually have a hot plate or carafe warmer for keeping coffee hot in a carafe.
When it comes to buying a coffee maker, you’d be surprised at how many features you get used to and certainly can’t do without. Here are just a few of the features found on today’s coffee makers.
- Coffee Grinder This can save you money and space on your counter.
- Steamer and frother for milk.
- Self-cleaning option, pause and serve. You can grab a cup before the coffee has completed its brewing/drip cycle. Replace the carafe and the brewing cycle will continue.
- Programmable Brew Strength
- Water Filter. Clean drinking water is an absolute necessity for a good tasting cup of coffee. A built-in water filter is a nice addition if your tap water isn’t the most pleasant to drink.
- Scheduling Menu For those that want a cup of hot coffee waiting for them when they wake up.
- Auto shut off. For Peace of mind.
- Coffee Mug Warmer. These can be found on some high end machines. These warmers are often found on top of the machine. The idea is to take advantage of the heat that’s dissipating from the coffee maker. Warm mugs mean hotter cups of coffee.
- Dedicated Water Line in Reservoir. Eliminates the need for you to ever spill water while trying to fill a reservoir again.
Of course, all of these features come at a price. French press coffee makers are cheap because there are no buttons to push but they can also vary based on the materials they’re made from.
Some features are sold as separate items. For instance, if you enjoy that frothed milk, you can always buy a handheld whisk or splurge for an electric frother. Bean grinders are also very cheap to come by but may not get the fine grind you need if you’re looking for a quality cup of espresso.
If you happened to own one of the original Keurig K-cup machines, you might have had “conversations” with your neighbors about the noise level. While Keurig has made huge advances in quieting down their coffee makers, noise level for any machine is still something that needs to be considered if you need to be quiet in the kitchen.
Price is always a consideration when it comes to getting a decent cup of coffee in your home in the morning. You can spend anywhere from $30.00 to $5000.00 trying to get what you want from the coffee machine. At the $1000.00, it might even be better to go to your favorite coffee shop. Most people will be content with something cheaper that it will save you time and money to the long run.
Look for ease of filling the water reservoir.
Also check to see how easy it is to empty the carafe. Wasted coffee is wasted water – a side of carafes that often goes unnoticed.
Clean Water is imperative but you need some minerals to bring out the flavor. Distilled water really isn’t a good choice. The mineral content in the water is what gives the coffee a certain amount of character. Regular bottled water will work.
Paper and Gold-tone are popular types necessary for coffee machines. Gold-tone mesh filters allow sediment to seep into the coffee, creating a cloudy, textured mouthfeel to your brew. It has still gained popularity by being the only truly eco-friendly filter alternative to paper. To clean it, you simply empty out the grounds and wash it either by hand or on the top rack of your dishwasher.
Paper filters create a very clean taste as long as they’re rinsed prior to brewing.
Sprinkling system in the water dispenser so that the water doesn’t shoot straight down.
The point of this is to saturate the beans evenly. The most common method for doing this effectively is with a shower head sprinkler. It looks like a mini shower head stuck on the inside of the lid of the coffee maker.
Once you have a solid idea of how many cups of coffee you’ll be drinking every day and what kinds of coffee drinks you enjoy, you’ll have a solid understanding of what kind of coffee maker you should buy.
This will make narrowing down your choices that much easier. Don’t forget a programming function if you need your coffee ready for you when you wake up and don’t forget to factor in a milk frother if you’re looking to replace the lattes and cappuccinos that your favorite, wallet hungry, coffee shop enjoys selling to you.