Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism
- April 4, 2020
Old school coffee makers don’t have the best reputation among coffee snobs. However, there are few models out there that can get close to a hand-dripped coffee, while still offering the convenience of pressing a button and a large batch size.
To find those top models I have scrutinized the list of SCAA certified coffee makers.
However, the list doesn’t tell you which models represent the ‘best value.’ Rather, it only tells you whether they live up to certain criteria (basically, water temperature, brew time & extraction).
This is my attempt to point out which of the models I personally think delivers more bang for the buck, when it comes to price, features and durability.
My top pick:
Drip coffee makers have fallen out of favor with baristas and large parts of the coffee drinking elite in recent years. Instead, newer contraptions such as the pour over coffee maker and the Aeropress have taken over as the de facto standard brewing methods among the more knowledgeable coffee snobs.
However, the demise of the traditional drip coffee maker is slightly unfair. In and of itself, it’s not an inherently bad brew method.
The Specialty Coffee Association (previously SCAA — nowadays just SCA) has made a list of coffee makers that live up to the highest of barista standards.
In order to make it to the list, these coffee makers have to live up to objective criteria for things like temperature, time, extraction etc. Every year there are tests, where the manufacturers can submit their newest models. And only the best actually make the final list (source).
While the more old-school models simply heated water and poured it over the grounds, the best drip coffee makers available today offer temperature gauges and a pre-infusion step. Both of these options will give you a much better cup of Joe.
But these are not the only important steps in producing the best possible coffee machine. The SCAA has defined an exact list that the coffee makers have to live up to:
|Breville BDC400 Precision…||191 Reviews|
|OXO BREW 9 Cup Coffee Maker||1,482 Reviews|
|Technivorm 59691 KB Coffee…||411 Reviews|
|Bonavita BV1902DW 8-Cup…||264 Reviews|
|Cuisinart CPO-850 Coffee…||486 Reviews|
|Behmor 5393 Brazen Coffee…||579 Reviews|
The Breville Precision brewer is one of the new models on the SCA approved list. That means it brews excellent coffee… but are there any reasons to pick this device over its many cheaper competitors?
The answer is yes; there are quite a few things that make this imposing 12 cup coffee maker one of the best options around.
Recently, coffee celebrity Chris Baca praised it for being one of the top batch brewers for specialty coffee geeks who want to make pour over style filter coffee for big groups of people. (source)
In many ways, it’s the machine that the real coffee nerds have been anticipating. The level of customization that the Breville Precision offers is just next level.
The machine uses an adjustable PID temperature controller. This kind of technology is usually only seen on expensive espresso machines, so suddenly having it available in a drip coffee maker is a pleasant but surprise.
Temperature is more important than many people realize — if you’re brewing a lot of light roasts you want to have it close to a boil, while on the other hand, you should be around 194°F if the coffee is medium to dark.
Speaking of temperature: You can get this device in two versions: one with a thermal carafe and one with a glass pitcher.
The coffee maker also has adjustable pre-infusion as well as flow rate. That’s great if you often brew different serving sizes, or like to geek around.
You also have the option to use both flat bottomed Kalita style filters or regular ones, which I think many people will appreciate. It’s not always easy to find the more unusual filters, so it’s nice to have the option of switching it up.
If you feel realle baristaliciuos, the Breville even has an option so you can attach your Hario V60 or other pour over-cones.
All the features mentioned earlier are useful. However, there is one thing that makes this machine compelling to a specific segment: It’s an enormous device around that brews tasty coffee: With a 60 oz capacity it’s a legit 12 cup coffee pot.
Of course, this means that the machine will take up a lot of space on the kitchen counter. It’s big and bulky! But still, I would say that it looks okay. It’s not ugly.
The main downsides to the machines: It’s a bit expensive and pretty noisy, but if you can live with that, it should be on your radar.
This high-tech OXO Barista Brain is a good compromise when it comes to advanced functionality and a pleasing, sturdy, design.
It doesn’t make the best coffee of all the models mentioned in this article, and it’s also not the most beautiful or advanced machine. However, it doesn’t really have any weak points (which many of the other models do).
The device does feature real barista-style blooming. The water is heated to the ideal brewing temperature, then sprinkled evenly over the coffee to let it degas. Once the wetting process is complete, the coffee is brewed directly into a sealed thermal carafe.
This smart coffee maker can be programmed thanks to the 24-hour timer and will even let you know the freshness of the coffee remaining in the thermal carafe. This is not something I’d personally use, but I know that plenty of early risers appreciate this function.
The thermo-carafe is also well-made. It keeps the coffee hot for 1 hour and kind of ‘drinkable’ for 2 hours. It’s easy to pour from and looks great.
The Moccamaster is a classic for a very good reason. It simply offers a world-class cup of coffee without a lot of fuss.
It’s easy to use and clean, and it delivers on the basics. The downside is that the design and the technology is a bit ‘dated’ compared to some of the grand-cru models, we talk about in this article. You can think of it as the coffee machine equivalent of a sturdy, old BMW versus a modern Japanese car.
One of the main reasons to consider a Moccamaster is that it’s quality all the way through. It will last longer than most other kitchen appliances. I wouldn’t bet money on any of the other models in this article surviving for five years or more; however, this model is the exception.
Onto the geeky stuff: The copper boiling element inside the water reservoir will heat the water to the perfect brewing temperature and release just enough water to the grounds to allow the coffee to bloom. After a short pause, the brewing process will ensue with full speed.
The water spraying arm offers 9 outlets for an even wetting. In my humble opinion it does brew a little bit fast, but you can compensate by choosing a finer grind size. Also, on the newer models of the Moccamaster, there is a manual toggle in the brew basked that lets you slow down the speed, or stop the dripping entirely. This allows for some fancy footwork. For instance, you can do some full immersion brewing in the initial stages of the brewing to increase extration.
The Moccamaster will shut off on its own after 100 minutes. If you leave a cup behind, it won’t burn away.
There is a switch on that lets you determine the temperature of the heat plate. You can choose either 175 or 185 degrees Fahrenheit (79 to 85 degrees Celsius) depending on your preference.
The main downside is the price. In the US, it’s one of the more expensive options. However, it will probably last close to a lifetime, which is something that can’t be said for the other coffee makers. In Europe it tends to be a lot more affordable, so if you’re based there it would be my top recommendation.
Bonavita is one of the more serious coffee brands out there. In fact, Bonavita kettles and coffee makers are frequently used in specialty coffee shops. This is an excellent sign.
This particular model offers delicious coffee in a small footprint. Barely over 12 inches tall and only 6 inches wide, if you’ve longed for barista coffee but can’t give up the counter space, this coffee maker will work for you.
The Bonavita BV1900 features a so-called pre-infusion/blooming cycle that you can turn on or off depending on your need.
While it’s not actually on the SCAA approved list, I can’t help but be a bit more into the sister model BV1902DW, which has a glass range server instead of a thermal carafe.
Many negative reviews of this coffee maker focus on the thermal carafe version. It has a leaky pour, which can create a mess on the kitchen table.
Also, it’s designed in a way that makes it hard to empty out the last drops of coffee.
You won’t have any of these problems if you go for the glass-carafe version and just drink the coffee right away (or decant it into a separate carafe).
The Bonavita uses the special kind of flat-bottomed coffee filter that is well known from the Kalita Wave. These filters promote even extraction compared to the regular cone-shaped ones.
All in all, this model has a lot going for it, and even the most portlandish hipster types out there shouldn’t feel embarrassed to display the product on their reclaimed wood countertop.
You might think Cuisinart coffee… meh… and you’d be right most of the time. Except with this one. Any household with multiple coffee drinkers should check out the 8 cup Cuisinart, which is probably one of the best amateur batch brewers available at the moment.
This hearty coffee maker offers 24-hour programming and a water filter. The thermal carafe is dishwasher safe but in fact, you can also get it with a glass version.
The burner settings offer multiple “keep warm” choices, so no matter how long it takes you to finish a pot of coffee, you can enjoy a hot cup of unburned coffee!
The burner has multiple options for the auto shut-off timer to reduce the risk of dangerous coffee burn events. And of course, you can brew smaller batches as needed.
The Behmor Brazen Plus is the Lamborghini of the drip coffee maker world. It has all the most advanced functions, and there is no doubt that it brews a divine cup of Joe.
But because it’s so uncompromising it’s neither the fastest nor most convenient model on the market.
The Behmor Brazen can be programmed both when it comes to pre-infusion time, temperature, and elevation! Yes, that’s right; if you live in a high altitude area it affects the boiling temperature of water, and you should make some adjustments to your coffee brewing, which this model will actually do for you.
The problem with the Brazen is that it’s pretty slow compared to the other coffee makers. It can easily take 10-12 minutes to brew a batch. This is because it heats the water much the same way as an electric kettle before it starts the brewing itself.
The good thing about that, however, is that you truly obtain the perfect temperature.
This coffee machine has a very large brew head, and you can use it with either the included mesh filter or basket-style paper filters. I recommend that your pair it with Kalita Wave 185 paper filters if you really want to get the cleanest and smoothest cup possible.
The Behmor Brazen doesn’t rely on a heating plate but instead uses a high-quality thermos that will keep your coffee at perfect drinking temperature for 1-2 hours.
One of the main worries with the many functions of the Behmor Brazen, however, is that complicated things tend to break down more easily. Some users have complained about technical problems and breakdowns just outside the 24 month warranty period.
If you’re a super geeky coffee lover, or even a coffee professional, who only wants the best, then this machine should be on your radar. If you can live with less customisability other models such as the Bonavita or Moccamaster might be better options for you.
Ask yourself if you’re gonna be buying freshly roasted beans and grind them yourself? If that’s not you, then opt for a more basic model.
The SCAA has given us some thorough guidelines when it comes to ensuring a high quality of the brewed mocca.
But there are things that you should consider that has more to do with your personal preference before you go shopping.
Do you entertain a lot of people or have a large family? Is it worth it to have a large 12 cup coffee maker that will take up a lot of space on the countertop? If not, you might want to look into a smaller model suitable for 5 cups. There are also single serve coffee makers for people who just like a quick cup.
Are you thinking about getting a coffee maker for camping? Then you should check my article, where I share some advice about that topic.
Back in the days, it was common to use the combination of a glass server and a heat plate. On the surface, this seems like a good solution but there is one problem: If you like to brew bigger batches and pour as you go, eventually the coffee will go rancid and stale in the glass server. This happens because the heat plate is actually causing a tiny bit of evaporation all the time. At the same time, the free air flow oxidizes the brew, making it less delicious.
For that reason, I recommend a thermal carafe for coffee drinkers who want the flexibility of making a big batch to last all day. Yes, it’s more difficult to clean the thermal carafe but you will have a fresher tasting brew for a longer time.
Some models basically just have an on/off button while others are like small computers capable of doing highly advanced stuff. You might want to consider the typical scenario where the machine is going to be used. In an office setting where a lot of people will handle the brewer, too many options are bound to awry.
However, if it’s the same persons who’ll be using the machine, again and again, programmability and memory functions could be worthwhile.
It goes without saying, that you should consider the price tag as well. Today, you can get a lot of coffee machine for just a few dollars. Back in my young naive days I bought one of those, but after using it a few times I wish I had listened to my common sense, telling me; ‘you get what you pay for.’ Obviously, the plastic is going to be cheap and tacky with this kind of machine.
In the range from $100-200, however, you’re able to find proper machines that will serve you well for many years.
I don’t recommend coffee makers with a built in grinder since they don’t usually offer anything better in terms of convenience or taste. It’s better to have a standalone grinder.
The real issue with the classic coffee maker isn’t that it’s a bad brew method. It’s rather that a lot of clueless home baristas have abused this device for decades with bad beans and sloppy cleaning, hence creating the perfect storm of bad brew habits.
In fact, if you just follow the normal barista best-practice you should be able to produce coffee that is almost on par with the aforementioned hipster brews.
To get the most value out of your brewing device – no matter which one – it’s important to adhere to the following guidelines.
Invest in great beans and a good quality burr grinder. If a burr grinder is out of your budget at the moment, purchase your coffee freshly ground in small batches and store it in an airtight or vacuum-sealed container. You don’t need to refrigerate it; simply keep it airtight and cool.
It’s tempting to measure the water by looking and measure the coffee by scooping, but you’ll get a much more consistent cup of coffee every time if you use a scale. A good brewing ratio is usually around 66 grams of coffee to 1 liter of water. You’ll need a scale that can be reset to zero so you can get an accurate measure of weight minus your carafe. If possible, look for a scale that reads both in grams and in ounces. Also, a battery-powered scale will take up less counter space.
Use great tasting water with the right mineral content. Many people forget that coffee’s main ingredient is water. If the water isn’t tasty the coffee won’t be tasty. Ideally, you should use rather soft water with a mineral content around 90-150 TDS.
Always rinse the paper filter before brewing! You don’t want that unpleasant papery taste in your brew!
It goes without saying – but cleanliness should be a top priority! Clean the carafe and the filter with a brush and some cold water. That should be sufficient. Once in a while use a descaler and give the whole apparatus a thorough cleaning with baking soda.
Now you have all the knowledge you could ever need in order to find the perfect drip coffee maker. If you choose one of the machines in this article I’m extremely confident that you’ll be able to make barista-level java juice at home.
Remember, that one thing is the machine… another thing is the brewing technique. Always clean your machine after each use and use good beans as well as water.
That’s it. May the caffeine force be with you.