The times when buying a coffee maker simply meant going to the store and picking up the average drip machine are long gone. With the development of new technologies and the emergence of gourmet coffees, a large variety of different types of coffee makers, capable of producing specialized coffees, are now easily available to the average homemaker.
The only problem is deciding which single machine will serve your needs the best!
The purpose of this unbiased coffee makers guide is to help you weed through the dozens of different variations in coffee makers, and settle on the one machine that will produce great tasting coffee at an affordable cost, depending on your budget.
Coffee Makers and Your Budget :: Making Sure You Buy the Right One for You
It is easy to end up spending a small fortune on upscale coffee makers housing interactive displays, stainless steel bodies and additional accessories. Some coffee makers even come as a combination of appliances like coffee brewer and smoothie maker in one.
So before dishing out a lot of money for features that you may never use or miss out on ones you really need, below are some things to consider before the actual purchase.
What Type of Coffee Maker Do Your Really Want?
The first order of business is to decide what type of machine you really need.
- Drip Coffee Maker
- Grind and Brew Coffee Maker
- Thermal Coffee Makers
- French Press
There are many different types to choose from.
Are you buying a machine that delivers the basic cup of brewed coffee or are you looking to create speciality drinks like café latte, cappuccino, café mocha etc. All these drinks use espresso as their basis.
In the drip brew machines boiling water is sprayed over the coffee grounds, allowing it to fuse through the granular coffee grounds and eventually dripping into the pot below. An espresso is made in a specialized machine that forces around 1.5 ounces of steaming hot water through firmly packed powdered coffee grounds.
The extraction, called a shot of espresso, is a dark coloured, syrupy liquid topped off with foam known as crema. The espresso can be consumed straight or combined in a variety of ratios with milk, or cream to produce a variety of hot beverages.
How Much Coffee Do You Need?
If you are not a big coffee drinker, then a one or two cup drip model or single-serve pod might be a good choice.
However if you like flexibility, then a hybrid model that offers the functionality of multi-cup brewing and single-serve would be a better option. Types of single serve models available include K-cup/Capsule/Disc coffee makers, Pod coffee makers, traditional Single Brew models using filters, and Hybrid coffee makers.
The benefits of single serve coffee makers include speed and convenience. The K-cup/T-Discs, Nespresso Capsule and pods all offer the additional benefit of not having to measure anything, simply insert the premeasured unit into the machine and within a minute you have a great tasting cup of coffee.
Single serve coffee makers allow everyone in the household to make a cup of preferred strength coffee. Every cup of coffee brewed is fresh, there is no dealing with a pot that has been sitting around or an hour and develops a burnt taste. Finally, there is no wastage.
The Matter of Convenience
If you have too much going on in the mornings, then consider an automatic machine that switches on and off at a pre-determined time. This allows for a fresh cup of coffee to be ready when you need it, without the need to worry about turning the unit off as you leave the house.
Additionally it prevents the wastage of energy. Also ensure that the water reservoir is clearly marked, the filter basket is easy to use and clean while the controls are simple and suitably positioned.
Durability and Power Supply
Needless to say if your machine is going to be used a lot, then it is best to search for something that is durable. If the machine is only going to be used sparingly, then a cheaper, less heavy duty model will also suffice.
Also for a more heavy duty machine it might be better to look for a model that can be directly connected to water supply pipes of the house. This eliminates the need for refilling the reservoir repeatedly.
The more robust machines will most probably also require more power to run, hence the type of power supply and outlets available should also be kept in mind before making a purchase.
Obviously coffee machines are available in a variety of sizes and some are taller than the average size. This means you will require greater clearance between the top of the counter on lower cabinets and the cabinets at top. In order to be able to operate the machine comfortably, it needs to be placed in an appropriate location.
If the water reservoir is at the top of the coffee maker, you need to be sure that there is sufficient clearance so water can be added with ease.
Categories of Coffee Makers
Drip Brew Coffee Machines and Percolators
The drip brew coffee machines are the most popular types and their basic design has not changed much over the last three decades. They are simple to use with basic components being a coffee holder using paper or permanent filters, water reservoir and a collecting pot sitting on top of a hot plate.
The permanent filter models save money on filters, but require more effort to clean. Paper filters tend to be more hygienic and convenient as the paper is discarded after each use. Other features include models with thermal or glass pots, single or double pots, programmable brewing, and automatic shutdown.
In percolators, the water is placed in the percolator pot with a holder for coffee situated at the top. When the water starts to boil, it is pushed up through a narrow vertical tube into the chamber holding the ground coffee where it mixes with the grounds and drops back into the percolator.
The longer the cycle is allowed to continue, the stronger the cup of coffee that is produced. This is good for individuals who want greater control over the strength of their coffee, but many enthusiasts believe it does not produce as good a cup of coffee as the drip machine.
Espresso makers employ steam to create a much richer and stronger drink as compared to drip machines or percolators. Technically espresso is defined as a highly concentrated extraction of coffee solids dissolved in one to two ounces of water and termed a ‘shot of espresso’.
To achieve this, espresso is brewed by forcing water at 9 bar pressure (with water temperature of 90 to 96 degrees Celsius), through a hard packing of powdered coffee grounds. The higher end professional home machines are built to maintain this temperature and pressure consistent throughout the extraction process, which as a rule of thumb roughly lasts for 25 seconds.
There are basically two types of espresso makers, classified as steam driven machines or pump driven machines. The steam driven units force boiling water through the espresso coffee grinds via steam pressure.
Since these models depend totally on steam pressure to push water through the coffee grinds, there is greater variation in the temperature and pressure of water which is passed through the coffee grinds. That is why the espresso made in this way is usually not as full-flavoured.
In the pump driven units, water is heated to a very precise temperature just below boiling, which is then pushed through the coffee grinds using an internal pump capable of producing the required bars of pressure (typically 9 bar in professional machines and usually 15 for home machined) to produce a more flavourful cup of espresso.
Pod machines offer a large variety of good quality, hassle free drinks at an unmatched convenience. They use single cup pods which have been vacuum sealed with fresh coffee that stays fresh for as long as nine months.
Pods can be purchased in a large variety like coffee Americano, hot chocolate, iced tea, cappuccino and many others. The majority of the machines use a barcode system to automatically recognize your drink and then spontaneously adjust the best setting accordingly.
Some models even come with self-rinsing and descaling features. The drawback is that replacing the pods repeatedly can become costly.
Bean-to-Cup Coffee Machines
The bean-to-cup machines are the real all in one deals starting with the grinding of the coffee to delivering a wide range of espresso-based beverages. Since the process in these machines starts with the grinding of the coffee, you get an even fresher cup of coffee than the one offered by espresso machines.
Once the designated chambers for coffee beans, milk and water have been filled, the machine will grind, add water, dispense coffee and even froth the milk with just the press of one button.
There is plenty of freedom to customize the strength of coffee, water temperature and the type of beans you choose. Bean-to-cup machines tend to be more costly than the traditional units and at times a bit noisier due to the grinding.
Coffee Maker/Espresso Machine Combos
If you want the option of having regular coffee but are tempted with an espresso or cappuccinos as well, then a coffee maker/espresso machine combination unit may be more suitable for your needs.
Since this type of a machine is capable of delivering both types of coffees, you can add a jolt of espresso to your regular morning cup of Joe for a real eye opener.
A combo machine eliminates the need to buy a separate espresso maker while saving on counter space and investment in two separate machines.
Presses and Tea Kettles
Other significantly cheaper options for making coffee include tea kettles and presses. Tea kettles are a necessity for heating water needed to pour over instant coffee as well as when a coffee press is used.
The iconic French press and AeroPress are two popular presses that are a big hit with coffee connoisseurs. Using a press allows for greater control over the kind of coffee produced, but it requires a bit more effort to make and clean up.
In coffee press, hot water is poured over coffee grounds directly in portions; this allows the flavourful oils in the coffee to be released while the gases escaping produce the amazing coffee aroma.
By altering the brewing time, you can control the strength of the coffee. Presses take up very little space and are a relatively inexpensive way of making an exceptional cup of coffee.
Nespresso is another ‘pod’ system for making espresso coffee. The ground and roasted coffee is sealed in capsules capable of maintaining freshness for up to nine months. They can be purchased through mail order or online.
The best part is that nearly all major coffee maker brands have built-in Nespresso systems. It is a convenient way of making great tasting coffee without the hassle of measuring, dealing with filters or clean-up.
The only drawback is that your choice of drinks is limited to what the supplier has to offer, but even this is not a major issue as they have a fairly large range of coffee drink capsules to offer.
Additional Points of Consideration
Frothing is the addition of air into milk. Without foaming milk tends to be rather flat and dull in taste when compared to milk that has air incorporated into it.
Frothing milk makes it taste sweeter and richer, thus making it the ideal complement for cappuccinos and other drinks. Some models of coffee makers come with a built-in milk frother. Usually it is a metal rod used to inject steam into the milk.
A milk frothing wand can also be purchased separately.
In the typical coffee making machines water in the reservoir is brought to boiling using an electric element, but for best tasting espresso, water needs to be heated to around 90 degrees, or just below boiling.
In machines with Thermo-Block system, the water is collected from the reservoir via a pump and flash heated by the coils of the Thermo-Block to the perfect temperature for making great espressos or to 275 degrees for making steam.
The system separates the temperatures needed for brewing coffee from that needed for steaming the coffee thereby preventing the chances of scalding and ruining the taste of the drink.
It also allows you to achieve the true café quality espresso with authentic crema on top.
Hot Plate Versus Thermal Coffee Maker
Typically, coffee is brewed in a glass carafe, but thermal coffee makers brew it into an insulated carafe.
These specialized carafes keep coffee piping hot longer without the need of the hot plate typically seen under glass carafes. The warming plate element continuously cooks the coffee thus, degrading its flavour to some degree.
Factors Shaping the Taste of Coffee
There is no argument that pre-ground coffee is convenient, of consistent quality and cost effective. It is also a fact that coffee grounds start to degrade and lose their flavour as soon as the grinding process is completed.
So, to produce the best tasting cup of coffee possible, you need to grind your own beans when you are ready to have your cup of Joe.
This requires that you either purchase a coffee machine with a built-in grinder or buy a separate grinding unit. Grinding your own beans also allows you to have more control over the type and quality of coffee beans you use.
Water not only influences the taste of your coffee but the life of the machine as well. Usually tap water tends to be hard, having elevated concentration of minerals like magnesium and calcium.
These minerals get deposited inside your machine and collect there eventually hindering water’s flow rate. Many machines come with carbon filters that take care of this problem.
Machines using reverse osmosis or deionizing systems to remove minerals tend to also remove trace minerals which give the coffee a fuller flavor. Also total removal of ions too can harm the machine, because then the water molecules search for external ions to bind with, and this leads them to snatch the metal ions making up the machine’s heating elements.
So, deionized water and even distilled water are not suitable for use in these machines. Should you choose to use these types of waters then it is recommended that a cup of tap water also be added to eliminate the problem.
The method by which water is supplied to the coffee grounds in the machine also affects the final taste of the coffee. Drip coffee machines come with a single hole or shower-head configuration for dispersal of water onto the coffee grounds.
The single hole tends to disperse water on a small portion of the grounds in the middle of the filter leaving flavours from the grounds around the edges un-extracted and wasting coffee.
The shower-head design distributes water evenly over the grounds leading to a more even extraction of flavours and producing a better tasting cup of coffee.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends that you use ten grams of coffee for each six ounce cup of water. While this is a good rule to thumb, there will be some variation in flavour when smaller quantities of coffee are brewed.
This is because even though you are using lesser amounts of grounds the flow rate of water does not change and extraction takes place over the same time period as with larger quantities of grounds.
Many models now come equipped with settings to alter the speed of the water flow to adjust for the smaller quantities of coffee made in drip brew machines.
Some machines are also equipped with strength options that slow or increase the speed with which water flows over the grounds.
Slowing down the rate at which water flows over the coffee grounds allows for more flavour to be extracted from the same quantity of the coffee grinds, thus saving you on coffee when you desire a stronger cup.
Cleaning and Maintenance
The daily maintenance of a coffee machine is not a complicated process.
Permanent filters need to be emptied and washed while paper filters merely need to be discarded. It is important to wash out the filter holder on a regular basis as any coffee grounds that get deposited there will over time affect the taste of the coffee.
The carafe too has to be washed after each use to ensure that after sitting on the hot plate for long periods of time, it does not get stained.
If the coffee machine is used regularly, it is important to decalcify it every three months.
This requires the running a decalcifying agent with a pot full of water. After the pot with decalcifying agent has circulated through the machine, you will need to run one or two pots more with water alone, to ensure that the cleaning agent is washed out completely.
Decalcification can also be achieved by using a mixture of white vinegar and water; in fact some machine makers recommend it over decalcifying.
It’s a Personal Decision
Brewing a cup of coffee can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it.
Some people prefer the convenience of the premeasured, pre-programed systems, while others enjoy tinkering with all the variables that influence the flavour of the cup of coffee as much as they enjoy drinking it, still others want the option to choose from a variety of the coffee beverages available, in the privacy of their own homes.
The type of coffee maker you purchase is determined by your individual preferences and your budget. Deciding exactly what you want from your coffee maker, will help you to purchase a machine which has the features you need, and save money by eliminating the features you do not plan to use.
Coffee Maker Warranties
Before making your purchase, it is important to check warranty information. Old or new, technology can let you down. Some manufacturers offer a one year warranty, others offer a 3 year warranty.
Some of these warranties are ‘limited’, and while some brands define this, others do not. So do your due diligence regarding this. We found several manufacturers didn’t cover any glass in their warranties, so if you break the glass carafe, it is your responsibility to replace it.
Often, the best place to discover the accuracy of this information, is in product reviews written by other customers. As warranty information can be so vague, you’ll get an accurate indication of what is covered and what is not covered.
Coffee Maker Reviews :: What Are Other People Saying?
Isn’t it satisfying to know that many other people have already bought the same coffee maker you want? If you just look on Amazon, you’ll see hundreds of reviews of every type of product, including coffee machines. So, you will get people’s real thoughts on how good, or bad a product is.
You will learn things like:
- How ‘use straight out of the box’ your coffee machine is
- Price approval
- Ease of use
- Replacement parts
- Did the instructions make sense?
- Good/bad customer service (in case you have problems in the future)
- Does it produce the perfect cup of coffee?
- Is it noisy?
- Is the coffee the right temperature?
- Does it leak (in the drip tray)?
- How easy is it to clean?
- How durable is it? (people will often update their reviews six months, even a year later…)
- It might be great for home use, but how about the frequent coffee making in an office?
Where to Go From Here?
We hope that you have found this guide of use and it has helped you decipher the jungle of information out there, concerning buying the right coffee maker. We have set up a few web pages on our site that show you our top 3 coffee machines in each category.