We’ve previously alluded to the idea that you may not be getting the best coffee out of your countertop drip coffee maker. Sadly, many units are problematic. If you’ve ever walked into a kitchen or work break room and took in a whiff of acrid coffee that’s been sitting on the burner for a few hours, you know what we’re talking about. Here’s the lowdown:
Water Temperature: You probably know how important water temperature is to a brew (that sweet spot just below boiling between 195-205°F). And while there’s not a perfect way to test the water temperature of your machine, some quasi-experimenters have found that many old school drip coffee makers don’t heat water to within that range.
Note: Some people try to subvert their machines' shortcomings by pouring hot water from the tap into the chamber but this not only doesn’t increase the temperature of the water when brewing, it can actually undermine the quality of your brew. Cold water contains more dissolved oxygen than warm or hot water, so when filling your coffee maker (or kettle) always use cold water, as low oxygen levels can mute brightness and acidity.
The Dreaded Warming Plate: Almost all countertop coffee makers are equipped with a warming plate that heats the coffee and keeps it hot in the pot after brewing. Sounds like a great idea, but not so fast! These warming plates essentially cook your coffee continuously as it sits. This heat breaks down the chemical structure (read: pleasant flavors) you worked hard to bring out in your roast, and it doesn’t take long before your coffee is ruined. Note that this breakdown begins the moment your brewed coffee drips through the filter and into the bottom of your piping hot carafe.
There you have it: Diner Coffee - an absolutely piping hot cup of bitter sludge.
One would think that the easy solution would be to simply turn off the warming plate, but the heating plates on most units are controlled by the same element that heats the water, meaning that while the machine is on and you are brewing your coffee, the chemical breakdown of your coffee is happening while it brews!
Band-Aid: The moment your coffee is done brewing, remove it from the heating element/pot and put it in a thermal carafe. This carafe will keep your coffee hot for a long time without sacrificing any of the flavor. But remember, the moment the first drop of coffee hits the hot pot, the breakdown begins.
Legit Solution: Ditch that coffee maker. If you’re roasting quality green coffee beans at home (or even just buying good/expensive roasted coffee), that old drip coffee maker is doing you negative favors and, frankly, wasting your time and money. Here are a couple approaches:
Suggestion #1: Buy any type of a manual brew setup. If you’re only making a few cups a day, manual brewers like a Hario pour-over filter basket, Chemex or Aeropress are cheap and can drastically affect the quality of your brew when done right. You’ll actually inherit more control over individual brew nuance, helping you brew better coffee.
Suggestion #2: If you’re keen on full pot brewing for volume and convenience, consider investing in a drip coffee maker that brews into a thermal carafe rather than a glass pot with a heating plate. These units are becoming increasingly popular and can be found from the major brands such as Cuisinart and Hamilton Beach. We use one from Bonavita that we like. It has a pre-soak feature and is very consistent.