Everything You Need to Know About Drip Coffee Makers — No Matter Which Machine You Have

updated Jan 18, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Fun fact: Drip coffee makers were invented to automate the process of making, what we now call, pour-over coffee. Pour-over coffee calls for you to lovingly (and slowly!) pour the water over coffee grounds in an oh-so-precise way. It’s great, but it takes a little time and patience! Drip coffee makers, on the other hand, are largely hands-off. These machines have a tank that heats the water and slowly releases it over the coffee grinds in a brew basket. The brewed coffee then drips into a carafe below. (Hence the name!) Simple! And yet, there are still some things everyone should know about drip coffee machines — whether you own one already or are looking to buy one. Let’s take a look.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

First, cleaning it is key.

You may think that, because you’re using the machine for the same thing every day, you don’t really have to do much to it, but cleaning your coffee maker is important! You actually have to descale it and clean it.

Water contains minerals and, of course, you use water to make coffee. Descaling removes mineral buildup inside your coffee machine (on its heating element, specifically). If you don’t descale your machine, your coffee may not get hot enough or it might not even brew properly, as temperature is vital when it comes to extracting full flavor from coffee beans. Descaling your machine can be as simple as running some distilled white vinegar through it.

Read more: How To Descale a Coffee Maker

Cleaning your machine, on the other hand, removes residual coffee oils from the carafe, brew basket, and brew chamber. These oils can clog machines and even turn rancid, making your coffee taste off. They can also clog your machine so that it stops working altogether.

Read more: How To Clean a Coffee Maker

Don’t worry! You don’t have to descale or clean your machine super often. We recommend doing both every time you finish a box of coffee filters. If you want to buy an easy fix, we recommend this for descaling and this for cleaning. However, you should check to see what the manufacturer of your coffee machine recommends, too.

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There are some rules you need to follow.

We’re not going to get super technical here (the whole point of using a drip coffee maker is so that you don’t have to get too into the weeds). But there are a few cornerstones when it comes to making a good cuppa.

  • Start with cold water and freshly ground coffee for the best tasting java.  
  • Don’t use more ground coffee than the manufacturer recommends in the manual. Otherwise, you can wind up with a messy overflow from the filter basket and even a clogged machine. 
  • Clean the filter and the carafe regularly with soapy water. Otherwise, an oily residue will build up, resulting in a brew that tastes off. In general, follow the rules from above!
  • Once the coffee is brewed, it’s best to drink it within a few hours. Coffee that sits in the pot can start to go rancid, as the oils turn. If you have a thermal carafe, the coffee will stay hot/good for longer, but the coffee in a glass carafe will cool much faster.

There are 7 questions to ask before buying a new machine.

In the market for a new machine? We can help with that too. We have a few pointers to consider and then we’ll even share our top picks!

  • How big is it? You’ll likely want your coffee maker to sit out on your counter, so you’ll clearly need to make sure it’ll fit. Measure the space on your countertop where you want to keep the machine (don’t forget to check the height from the countertop to the bottom of your upper cabinets). Then check the coffeemaker’s dimensions to see if it will fit.  
  • How much coffee will you want to brew at once? Coffee maker cups are about 5 ounces. That’s based on the cups that were once standard with dinnerware sets, like your grandmother’s teacups. Today, most mugs hold upwards of 8 ounces. So, if you want to know how many cups a coffee maker can really make, do the math: Multiply the amount of cups by 5 and then divide by 8. That means a 10-cup coffee maker makes 50 ounces, or enough coffee for 6 Today Mugs. 
  • Do you want a carafe that’s glass or thermal? You’ll pay a premium for a model with a thermal carafe, but we think it’s worth the dough. The main thing is that a thermal carafe will keep your coffee hotter for longer than a glass one. Machines with glass carafes usually have a heating plate. If you’re one of those people who’s always worried about whether or not you turned off the coffee maker, this might not be for you. The hot plate can also scorch the coffee as it sits, resulting in a bad-tasting brew. The downside for thermal carafes (aside from the price) is that most thermal carafes can’t be cleaned in the dishwasher and the narrow opening on top makes them tricky to clean inside.
  • Do you care if it has a built-in grinder? Although it’s not super common, some drip coffee machines have a built-in grinder. This means, you don’t have to worry about grinding your beans in a separate step.
  • Does the machine work with a reusable filer? A permanent filter is a more eco-friendly option. In addition, opting for a reusable filter means that’s one less item to remember to toss into your grocery cart on a regular basis. However, it takes a little effort to knock the grounds out of metal filters and, generally, they require hand-washing. Many people have a preference for the taste of one over the other, and the only way to figure that out is to try it both ways.
  • Do you care if it has a timer? Some machines have programmable timers and others do not. You probably already know whether this is an important feature to you!
  • Is it SCA Certified? If you feel like the coffee you make at home never has the rich taste and full body you get from your favorite barista, look for a coffee maker with a sticker that says it’s Speciality Coffee Associated (SCA) Certified. This means the machine meets the SCA’s (SCA) Golden Cup recommendations and guarantees that it brews at the ideal time and temperature for the very best cup of coffee. Just be prepared to use a lot of coffee — this specification is met using 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 5 ounces of water.
Credit: Amazon

There are 2 machines we consider to be the absolute best.

1. Technivorm Moccamaster 79312 Coffee Maker

The Best Drip Coffee Machine

You’ll either love or hate the unconventional design of this Moccamaster, but there’s no arguing when it comes to its brewing performance. It’s as close to perfect as any coffee maker you can buy. In less than 10 minutes, it brews 10 cups of coffee at the scientifically proven right temperature for bringing out the best flavor in the grinds. And then, after brewing, it keeps your coffee hot for up to an hour. It doesn’t come cheap, but if you want the very best cup of Joe, it’s worth the investment. Whenever anyone asks us which coffee maker to buy, this is the one we suggest.

2. Black & Decker 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker

The Best Budget-Friendly Drip Coffee Machine

You’ll never need to zap your mugful: Not only does java come out of this machine steaming-hot, but it also stays that way for a full two hours. In addition, the coffee maker is super easy to use. The buttons are large and easy to press — none of those itty-bitty ones to depress with a fingernail — and the markings are actually readable (no squinting required!). And yes, the low price tag is for real!