Coffee Maker Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

If you're one of the millions who takes their coffee seriously, a home coffee maker may be a good investment. For many, it can be tough to wake up in the morning without coffee; however, making coffee or espresso at home can save you money and the hassle of an early morning errand. This buying guide outlines the different types of coffee and espresso machines, so you can buy the right one for you.

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  • Drip coffee makers:

    Drip coffee makers are the most popular type of coffee maker. Although some may grind the beans, most require a separate coffee grinder or pre-ground beans. Heated water is passed through the coffee grounds, through a filter (either disposable paper or fine wire mesh), then into a waiting coffee pot, which sits atop a heated plate. Coffee pots can be made from metal, glass or heat-resistant plastics. These coffee makers can be programmed to automatically start brewing at a certain time, which makes them great coffee makers for those who cannot officially wake up in the morning until they've had their coffee. Drip coffee makers are available in many different sizes, capable of making a large pot of coffee or a small amount -- enough for one or two cups.

  • Espresso machines:

    Espresso machines are becoming increasingly popular for home use. Espresso beans are roasted differently than other coffee beans, but the main difference is in the brewing process. Very hot (but not boiling), pressurized water is forced through very finely ground coffee, resulting in a thicker consistency and a higher amount of dissolved coffee grounds. This process makes for an espresso serving size that is measured in shots; each shot is about one ounce of liquid. To make espresso, the espresso beans are first ground between settings of extremely fine and almost powder. Espresso machines then use pressure to force very hot water through the grounds. Most espresso machines are capable of making single-shot or double-shot portions at a time. Because of espresso's intense flavor and high concentration of caffeine, many people like to mix espresso shots with milk, water, or flavored syrups to create drinks such as lattes cappuccinos, macchiatos, and mochas.

  • Percolators:

    Percolators use the pressure of the boiling water to force it into a chamber above the grounds, and then rely on gravity to pass the water through the grounds. This process is repeated until the coffee is fully brewed. Electric percolators offer a more consistent brew by automatically stopping the percolation when the brewing is completed. Stovetop percolators make a rich, delicious cup of coffee, but need to be watched carefully to avoid over-boiling, which releases bitterness in the coffee beans.

  • Coffee press:

    The coffee press, also known as a French press, uses a total immersion technique. Ground coffee and hot water are combined in the cylinder for about four to seven minutes. Then the plunger, in the form of a metal foil, is depressed, filtering out the grounds and leaving the coffee at the top ready to be poured. Pay attention to the size of the grind; a coarser grind is considered ideal.

  • Pressure-brew coffee maker:

    When using a pressure-brew system, hot water is passed through the ground beans and dispensed into your coffee mug. These coffee makers typically have digital settings, a water reservoir, and a removable used-grounds reservoir. Some pressure-brew coffee makers grind and brew the beans, allowing you to choose the bean type and ground size for a perfectly customized cup.

  • Pod-based coffee maker:

    Pod-based coffee makers employ pressure to pass hot water through a pod of packed ground coffee. Typically, these coffee makers are single-serve, although they have a water reservoir. Coffee pods can be purchased separately.

  • Regardless of which type of coffee machine you choose, there are a few important things to consider: How many people will be served daily? Which coffee maker or espresso machine will give you the beverage you want? How long does the coffee machine need to last? Look for a machine that has great reviews and fulfills your needs. For example, if you prefer to buy pre-ground beans or regularly use a coffee grinder, you may not need a machine with a built-in grinder and the extra buttons that go with it. If you like to have both coffee and espresso, look for a combination coffee maker/espresso machine.