Things to Look For in a Drip Brewer
Drip brewers are one of the most popular ways to brew coffee in the United States. We love a pot of hot coffee in the morning, and brewing in bulk like this is a great way to wake up the whole house or office the right way. Drip brewers are also the easiest machine to make a bad purchase on because there are so many cheap options out there. Here’s a few things to look for when you pick out your next coffee maker!
The most important thing when brewing any kind of coffee is consistency. Consistency in temperature, consistency in water flow rate, and consistency in grounds. That last bit isn’t something your brewer can control, but it can ensure that the first two points are perfect.
That’s why heating elements are the first thing you should consider when purchasing a drip brewer. Cheap coffee makers heat water beyond the appropriate temperature for coffee brewing, then dump the water onto the grounds without maintaining the heat. The result is scorched coffee that tastes bitter and burnt. A quality drip brewer will carry an SCA certification that signals that the heating element helps water retain a ~200 degrees fahrenheit temperature throughout brewing. This even heating leads to even extraction, and is the most important part of getting a great cup of coffee.
Then there’s flow rate. Imagine you’re taking a shower, and instead of a steady stream from your shower head you get a load of water dumped onto you a few times. It would not lead to a very comfortable shower! Cheaper brewers do this with coffee, spraying the grounds with water every so often with little consistency and poor coverage. The result is poor saturation and bad coffee. A quality drip brewer will saturate those grounds fully and won’t “channel” or cause water to pool in one spot of the bed of grounds. Usually this is done with a higher quality, consistent pump and a more carefully designed showerhead for the water to come out of.
With the above in mind you can get a great pot of coffee, however, there’s a little more you can shoot for if you want. The most basic additional feature is blooming. The bloom is the part of the brewing process (usually associated with pour over) where a small amount of water is poured onto the grounds to fully saturate and wet them, then the grounds are given 30-40 seconds to “bloom''. During this time, aromas and flavors are released in the coffee, adding more flavor to the cup. Most coffee makers that meet the standards above for heating and flow rate will have a bloom setting.
Another thing to look for is programmability. It’s a nice bonus to be able to adjust the temperature of the brewer, switch to single cup, iced coffee, or other brew settings, and manage flow rate of the water. It gives you the flexibility to experiment with the flavor of your coffee and brew some delicious recipes!
Finally, there’s the choice of glass or thermal carafe. We often get questions about which carafe style is better, but the reality is that there really isn’t a better one. Thermal carafes will keep coffee warmer for longer without a warming plate, but some coffee drinkers can notice a bit of a flavor difference even though these carafes are safe and don’t add metal content to the coffee. Glass carafes don’t have this issue, but they don’t keep coffee very hot and usually have to sit on warming plates, which can also impart a burned taste. The best thing you can do is try coffee from each carafe type to see which you prefer.
And there we have it! Some simple tips on what to look for the next time you’re shopping for a drip brewer.