Articles From Whole Latte Love

The GroupHead Files Part II: Buying a Coffee Maker

Posted: 09/22/05
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Dear GroupHead: cartoon

My trusty old drip coffee maker died a week ago and now I’m in the market for a new one. I’ve taken a look at what you have to offer, and I have to say I’m a little mystified at all the selection – I really thought coffee makers were pretty much the same. Is there something specific I should be looking at before I make my decision?

Confused Brewer


From the GroupHead:

Confused Brewer,

Coffee makers are a lot like televisions. (Stick with me here; this really is going somewhere.) Although it’s true that no matter what one you choose will ultimately do its job, differences in the construction and feature list of the item will not only affect the quality of its output, but also limit or enhance the ways you can use it. For instance, any television is going to show you a picture, but a flat screen TV is going to provide a much larger viewing angle, which makes it more desirable in a room where there’s seating that doesn’t have a head on view of the screen. Similarly, any drip coffee maker is going to make drip coffee, but, for example, one that can brew into 2 carafes at the same time is going to be a lot more useful for people that entertain quite a bit than a brewer that only has 1 carafe. So long story short, yeah, there are a few things you should consider before you buy your next drip coffee maker.

Take a trip in your mind back to grade school when you had to write essays. There were 6 big questions you needed to ask yourself to ensure that all your information was covered. Say it with me: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Now, the “how” and “why” are relatively moot points – you already know why you need your coffee, and since you’re researching drip coffee machines, the “how” has already been answered. But asking yourself the other 4 questions is going to be the key to finding the perfect drip coffee maker for you.
Krups DuoThek Stainless Steel Therm Coffee MAker
Let’s start with the “who”. One big thing to consider, as I mentioned above, is whether or not you entertain frequently. Having a 2-carafe system like the Krups DuoThek can be a lifesaver at big parties, but is also great if, for instance, you have your parents over for dinner quite a bit and they prefer decaf whereas you and your honey are keen on high test. However, the opposite situation is important to consider as well. Say you live alone or your roomie doesn’t drink coffee. To save yourself time and money, either a small capacity brewer like the Cuisinart 4 Cup or a drip coffee maker with a small-pot option (check out the Capresso MT500 or the Cuisinart Brew Central.) is ideal.

Beyond the number of people involved, “who” is also important when you consider how picky you are in general and about your coffee. I encourage you to examine yourself and your quirks – what is normally labeled impatience normally translates into the need for a pause n’ serve option or something like the Bunn brewers’ lightning fast 3 minute brewing time. In addition, if you’re the type of person who always goes to great lengths to ensure you’re getting the best, you’ll want to look for 2 key components in your drip coffee maker: A. showerhead dispersion and B. consistent brewing at the optimum temperature (between 195º and 205º) like you can find on the SCAA approved Technivorm KB741.

Capresso CoffeeTeam Therm Coffee MakerNow on to “what”, which really boils down to the stuff you’ll be putting into the machine. We always recommend using freshly ground beans for the best flavor, but if you don’t have a separate grinder available, a drip coffee maker that features a built-in grinder is an excellent investment. The Capresso CoffeeTeam Therm is a great option for this, but if you frequently switch between flavored and unflavored coffee, you will probably want a separate grinder for your flavored beans anyway – the sugary coatings on the beans will stick around inside your grinder and flavor pots to come. The other main ingredient in the brewing process is none other than good ole’ H20, and the type you use can have a major effect not only on flavor, but on the life of your machine as well. If you know your area tap water is hard, be safe and aim for a coffee maker with a built-in water filtration system like the Capresso Elegance Therm or the Krups FME4.

The “when” aspect of coffee brewing is actually much more important than you may assume at first. The majority of us coffee addicts are going to need – yes, need – their coffee about 2.3 seconds after their feet hit the floor in the morning. And although the intravenous coffee drip is not yet available, programmable clock timers are almost as effective and are available on a variety of models including the KitchenAid Proline and the Krups FMF5. If you’re one of those people who slugs down their coffee on the way out the door, I would probably recommend investing in an auto-off option, which eliminates that nagging feeling that you forgot to turn off the coffee pot and the chance of any danger if, in fact, you did forget. But the “when” aspect also concerns when you’ll be finishing the pot, as time and heat are long time rivals of freshly brewed coffee. Unless you’re planning on downing the pot within the 1st hour, you can retain the precious flavor and the temperature of your brew by going with a thermal carafe model – for example, the DeLonghi DCM485 Coffee Maker or the Bunn BTX-B.

Okay, the final piece of the puzzle: “where”. Not necessarily where you’re brewing, but where you’ll be drinking the coffee. Are you going to serve it at the dinner table with dessert? Try a coffee maker with a thermal carafe that you can set right on the table. Pouring it into a to-go cup and sucking it down in the car? Maybe you should go with a coffee maker that has a small brewing capacity or small pot option.

So after you’ve answered all these questions for yourself, divide them into “must-haves” and “would be nice” features. Why? Well, although there are quite a variety of machines out there, you may not be able to find one machine that fits every criterion, so you may have to work a little bit of compromise into the picture. Then just use our Compare-O-Matic to find the coffee maker that best fits the bill. Fully armed with a checklist of the features you need and want, you’ll be able to make a quick and easy decision and not waste any more time as a caffeine-free citizen.

GroupHead

To learn more about grinders, the Gaggia Classic, and more, simply follow the links below:

Coffee Maker Buying Guide
Differentiating Coffee Makers