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Discover what makes a perfect drip coffee maker.
Can home coffee makers deliver Starbucks-quality drip coffee?
Although coffee drinkers may pay top dollar for gourmet beans, many still use drip brewers with outdated designs that do not extract a coffee's full flavor and aroma. Without a properly designed coffeemaker, your brew is prone to developing a cooked flavor, like liquid ashes.
Which components are critical to a great drip coffee maker?
The biggest problem with the typical home coffee maker is the small hole through which the hot water is forced to drip. This causes the water to soak the grounds unevenly and miss some of the coffee ringing the basket walls, which shortchanges the flavor, says Marc DeMarchena, a teacher at the culinary school Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, R.I. By contrast, models that shower hot water through a sprayer head completely saturate the grounds.
The second biggest problem is inadequate wattage. You need high electrical power to heat water to the ideal temperature range, from 195 degrees to 205 degrees Fahrenheit, says Ted Lingle of the Specialty Coffee Association. Otherwise, you miss out on many coffee flavors and aromas.
Which automatic drip coffeemakers are the most convenient?
Luckily, gourmet coffee shops have raised the expectations of consumers, and manufacturers are responding with better-designed home coffee makers. For example, one well-designed model is the Mr. Coffee 8-Cup Thermal Carafe (about $40; model TFTX85, www.mrcoffee.com), which sports a better sprayer head than others in the price range. The device extracts full flavor by heating the water sufficiently and soaking the grounds thoroughly. Its timer lets you program it to kick on with your alarm clock. Better coffee makers, such as the Mr. Coffee Thermal Carafe, also feature an insulated carafe, which keeps coffee hot and fresh for at least an hour.
Single-serve machines that use pods -- doses of ground coffee packaged to seal in flavor and aroma -- add greater convenience at slightly more cost. Pods let you avoid dealing with grounds. They're fast to use: Add water and insert a pod, then return in about a minute after the device has brewed a cup. They also extract full flavor by heating the water sufficiently and soaking the coffee grounds thoroughly, says DeMarchena. Prices start at about $50 for top brands, such as Philips' Senseo, with packages with 40 pods that work with the Senseo starting at $16. (www.senseostore.com)
Which type of device delivers the most flavor for the money?
Manual drip coffee makers, which start at $9. These devices require you to measure coffee into a paper filter, bring water to a boil in a kettle and then pour the hot water over the coffee grounds in splashes. Obviously, having to heat your own water requires a separate step from using an automatic drip coffee maker. But the manual drip method will bring noticeably more flavor to your java, and you can use a manual drip with an insulated thermos, letting your coffee stay fresh and hot for hours. It makes for a weekend treat that will spare you the lines at Starbucks. One suggested device is Melitta's 6-cup manual coffeemaker.