There are a lot of coffee makers on the market. Some automate most of the brewing process for you. Others are totally manual. In our opinion, the best coffee makers in terms of brew quality are manual ones like the French press and, especially, the pour over coffee maker.
Whether you are looking for a single serve coffee maker or one that can brew a whole pot, manual is the way to go for high quality. However, it is definitely more labor intensive so if convenience is a high priority, an automatic drip coffee maker may be more up your alley.
In this article, we will take a more in-depth look at four of the most widely used coffee makers today.
Drip Coffee Maker
This is the most standard coffee maker today. It’s an automated machine that takes most of the work out of the process. While no machine is going to be able to replicate what a manual method can accomplish, they aren’t worthless.
Different models have different features that can make things very convenient for those who are pressed for time including programmability that allows you to have fresh brewed coffee ready and waiting when you wake up.
So if convenience is your top priority, this is your best option. A few tips to get the best quality you can out of a machine:
- Clean it often. Before each use, clean out the pot and the filter compartment to remove old rancid coffee oils. Use baking soda and water for this. Every 4-6 weeks, run vinegar through the machine for a deeper clean. This will prevent your brew from being contaminated with rancid, stale flavors from the machine.
- Always buy whole beans: fresh ground coffee is far, far more flavorful than pre-ground. And if it’s time you are worried about, a coffee maker with grinder does the work for you.
- Use filtered water: a good standard ratio of water is 500 ml for 30 grams of coffee. Filtered water is important because it is cleaned of any contaminants that could affect the flavor.
The key benefit of this machine is that it is easy to use. Throw in the ingredients, push the button, and walk away. If your morning schedule is hectic, those minutes you save not having to brew the coffee manually can mean the difference between being late and being on schedule.
If you can stand to wake up even just 15-20 minutes earlier, though, you will have a more rewarding coffee experience if you choose to go with one of the manual methods discussed below. Machine coffee does not have the richness or complexity of flavor.
French Press Coffee Maker
The French press is a great little device that brews a beautiful cup of coffee with little effort compared to other manual methods. It’s not as easy as pushing a button but the process is simple to learn. All you need to do is:
- Heat water to 200 F.
- Grind your beans to a coarse grind (think sea salt or raw sugar).
- Add grounds to the bottom of your French press.
- Pour hot water over the grounds.
- Let the grounds mellow in the water for 2-4 minutes. Some people like to give it a bit of a swirl to circulate the grounds. Others insist it should be kept still.
- When done, press down the plunger and serve.
An important note on the French press: if you don’t plan to drink the coffee immediately after the brew time is over, you still need to pour it out of the press and into another container such as your coffee cup or a carafe.
If you leave it in the press, the grounds will continue to diffuse into the coffee until you end up with a bitter, unpleasant brew.
The two most important keys to brewing a delicious batch of French press coffee are temperature and grind.
- Temperature: the water should be 200 F. If you don’t have a thermometer, bring your water to a boil then take it off the heat and allow it to cool for 1-2 minutes before adding to you grounds. Too hot, and it will burn the coffee. Too cold and it won’t diffuse well enough.
- Grind: your grounds should be coarse. If they are too fine, the oils will diffuse too quickly and the bitters will escape out of the grounds and into the coffee.
Getting these things right is as easy as measuring the temperature and monitoring your grounds as you grind them (or setting your grinder to the correct setting if you have one that offers that feature).
Beyond that, you don’t have to be as careful about pouring as you do with the pour over method and filtration is just a matter of pushing the plunger down. So, as far as manual methods go, this is the easiest one to get the hang of.
If you’re just starting out with manual coffee brewing, we recommend a French press.
Pour Over Coffee Maker
Pour over coffee offers the richest and most complex flavor profile of any brewing method. It’s also versatile enough that you can customize a unique brew recipe and technique that perfectly suits your tastes.
This method puts you in complete control of every stage of the brew. The upside of this is that you can fine tune the brew almost endlessly until you reach the perfect cup. The downside is that it takes some practice to get this method right.
The basic process is as follows:
- Heat water to between 175 and 205 F. Experiment with temperatures in this range to find the one you like best.
- When the water is closed to the desired temperature, grind your beans to a medium or medium-fine grind. You can also experiment here with grind size until you find the one you like.
- Add the grounds to the filter. Shake gently to even the bed. If you want, you can also tamp it down.
- Pour in a little water directly in the center of the grounds just until all the grounds become damp. Let it “bloom” for about 30 seconds.
- Pour the remaining water in a slow, consistent flow while moving in concentric circles to evenly coat all of the grounds in water.
- Allow it to drip for another minute or so after the pour is finished.
As you can see the process is a little more involved but it’s also a lot more flexible. You can experiment with technique at just about every step and when you taste the coffee after, you’ll be able to taste exactly what happened where (so you can detect mistakes and figure out what you did right).
If you are willing to practice and experiment, the pour-over method is definitely the most rewarding method that will give you the most delicious coffee. But if you need convenience and speed, opt for a different coffee maker.
Cold Brew Coffee Maker
Cold brew is a method of making coffee that uses no heat. It’s ideal for hot summer days when you still need your caffeine fix but can’t bring yourself to swallow a cup of steaming hot coffee.
The method is better than making iced coffee for two main reasons. First, most cafés use stale, old coffee in their iced coffee so you aren’t getting the best flavor. Secondly, even if you use the freshest of hot brewed coffee, the ice will still melt which throws off the water to coffee ratio and leaves with you a watery cup of joe.
Cold brewing is simple:
- Grind your coffee to a very coarse grind (at least the same as French press grind but it can be a little coarser than that).
- Add it to the container you are making coffee in.
- Pour in cold water.
- Let rest for 18-24 hours.
- Strain out the grounds.
It’s a similar process to sun tea. You can get a specialized cold brew coffee maker or you can improvise using the equipment you already have in your kitchen.
Choosing between these 4 methods can be difficult. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each that you have read about to help you make the best decision for your needs.