Straight to the Point
If you’re looking to brew better coffee at home, we recommend starting with a good brewer. We like the Ratio Six for brew quality (its eye-catching form factor doesn’t hurt either) and the OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker for our best pick under $200. You can read our full review of coffee makers here.
I spent years making myself a pourover every morning until I finally ponied up for a drip brewer that could actually brew great coffee. While I thoroughly enjoyed lazier mornings with less work on my part, I found making the best auto-drip coffee required some of the same techniques necessary for a pourover. Because while high-quality drip brewers control the brew time and temperature, paying attention to ratio, grind size, and coffee saturation makes a world of difference when brewing larger quantities.
The core of great auto-drip coffee is simple: buy freshly roasted, high-quality coffee, and grind it with a precision burr grinder. A recipe is only as good as the raw ingredients, and there’s no way to make a mediocre coffee taste anything but, well, mediocre. But a grinder, a brewer, and good coffee are only the first steps towards auto-drip greatness.
- The following seven tips are designed to maximize your coffee brewing experience and achieve the best quality brewed coffee time and time again. Consistency is key, and when your morning coffee hangs in balance between delectable and undrinkable, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and get the most out of your coffee maker.
Tip 1: Keep It Clean
Urnex Dezcal Coffee and Espresso Descaler
Also available at Seattle Coffee Gear; price at time of publish is $11.
Biocaf Coffee and Espresso Machine Descaling Powder
Also available at Webstaurantstore; price at time of publish is $20.
Biocaf Coffee Equipment Cleaning Powder
Also available at Seattle Coffee Gear; price at time of publish is $12.
One of the biggest things that can impact the flavor of your coffee might not have anything to do with the brewing process itself; instead, it has to do with your carafe. As water reaches its boiling point inside the coffee maker, it can leave behind calcium and magnesium mineral deposits (scale), which can clog the machine. While some people use vinegar to descale, it leaves behind sharp odors and flavors. A dedicated descaling powder is much more effective, and leaves no traces behind.
Over time, carafes can also build up a layer of coffee oils which can go rancid. This grime can cause brews to taste musty and old. Cleaning powder is designed to break up these coffee oils to get back to a sparkling clean surface and prevents the ghost of coffee past from haunting your morning cup.
Tip 2: Rinse Your Filter
Similar to cleaning your machine, the best way to ensure fresh tasting coffee is to rinse your filter before brewing. Paper absorbs liquid through capillary action, which is when a porous material can pull water along its surface. If you’re brewing coffee in a dry filter, you’re likely going to absorb some of that papery taste in your brew. A quick rinse of the coffee filter before brewing saturates the paper ahead of time, allowing the brewed coffee to pass through easily without absorbing into the already saturated filter.
Tip 3: Weigh Your Coffee
OXO BREW Precision Scale with Timer
Also available at OXO; price at time of publish is $56.
Weighing your coffee can have a massive positive impact on brew quality. Because various coffees have different densities as a result of coffee tree variety, how they were grown, or how they were roasted, a standard 2-tablespoon scoop just can’t match the precision of a gram scale. What we taste in brewed coffee comes directly from the amount of extractable solids in roasted coffee, and the best way to measure solids is in mass. A kitchen scale will do the trick, but we highly recommend coffee scales for their resolution and accuracy.
As for how much coffee to weigh out, the Specialty Coffee Association recommends 55 to 60 grams of coffee per one liter of water, allowing people to make slight adjustments based on brew strength preferences. Which brings us to our next tip.
Tip 4: Measure Your Water
Oxo Good Grips 3-Piece Angled Measuring Cup Set
Also available at Walmart ; price at time of publish is $24.
The measuring lines on your brewer’s reservoir are probably not accurate. In the United States, most coffee makers (including our top pick, the Ratio Six) measure coffee in “cups.” The issue is that a “cup” in coffee maker terms corresponds to five or six ounces, not a standard 8-ounce cup measurement. The best way to accurately measure the amount of water you’re actually brewing with is with a liquid measuring cup with milliliter marks. I use the OXO angled measuring cup, and it helps eliminate any of the guesswork in my morning brews.
This chart below gives a range of brew strength preferences at a variety of different volumes, with the weight of coffee rounded to the nearest whole number.
|One mug||250mL of water||14-15 grams of coffee|
|Two mugs||500mL of water||28-30 grams of coffee|
|Three mugs||750mL of water||41-45 grams of coffee|
|Four mugs||1000mL of water||55-60 grams of coffee|
You can always see if your water measurements line up with the pre-set markings on your brewer’s reservoir to save time, but true accuracy is measured in milliliters.
Tip 5: Learn About Your Brewer’s Functions
It’s best to research your brewer and learn if it has a bloom cycle, and how to make sure it is activated. When coffee is freshly roasted, it retains a small amount of CO2, which causes the grounds to expand, or “bloom,” when hit with hot water. The best pourover recipes always include a bloom cycle and, if possible, your auto-drip machine should, too.
One thing all of our top winners have in common is that they’ve all been certified by the Specialty Coffee Association's home brewer standards. This means our top overall brewers (and our top brewer under $150) all meet strict standards for water temperature management and programmed brew times to ensure each brewer can deliver an amazing cup.
But not every brewer operates the same. While the Ratio Six, OXO 8-cup brewer, and Bonavita 8-cup brewer all have wide sprayheads, good thermal stability, and fast brew times, the Ratio and OXO brewers come with a pre-set bloom cycle that evenly saturates the coffee and helps any lingering CO2 degas from the coffee bed, priming it for extraction. The Bonavita brewer also has a bloom cycle, but it’s not activated by default, and needs to be re-activated every time you unplug the brewer.
Tip 6: Stir Your Coffee
Umeshiso Little Dipper
Price at time of publish is $7.
Some brewers, like the Technivorm Moccamaster, have sprayheads that concentrate their stream in the center of the basket, and don’t feature a bloom cycle to help the coffee become evenly saturated. You can improve the evenness of extraction on brewers like this with a little manual effort.
For brewers that don’t feature a bloom cycle, you can mimic one by stirring the coffee grounds with a spoon as soon as they become saturated. I prefer to do this with a round-backed cupping spoon (though you can use any spoon), and the Little Dipper from Umeshiso is the perfect size for agitating coffee grounds. Originally designed for tasting coffee in a cupping, the Little Dipper spoon has a deep bowl and is round instead of oblong, which helps break the crust and create turbulence for even saturation. Part of cupping requires breaking the crust that forms with the back of a cupping spoon, and stirring your grounds is extremely similar. Just get your spoon in there and zig-zag back and forth for about 30 to 45 seconds, on until the blooming of the coffee grounds settles down, allowing all the coffee to be saturated evenly.
Tip 7: Check Your Water
Third Wave Water Mineral Supplement
Also available at Blue Bottle Coffee; price at time of publish is $17.
Water quality can impact coffee both in flavor and the lifespan of the brewer. If your water source has any off flavors, those can be reflected in the final brew. Carbon filters are a standard practice for most serious coffee drinkers, but these only go so far. Mineral content is key to coffee extraction: hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium actually assist in extracting coffee solids during the brewing process. But if the water is too hard, it can affect the water’s ability to extract. On the flip side, soft water’s lack of calcium and magnesium has a difficult time extracting solids effectively. Carbon filters are effective at removing chlorine, odors, and flavors, but they can’t actually affect the mineral content in the water itself.
Instead of having to resort to expensive reverse osmosis water filtration systems that only the most obsessive coffee fanatics would install, an easy solution for folks with less-than-ideal water is Third Wave Water. It’s a collection of mineral packets custom designed to match the Specialty Coffee Association’s water quality standards that you dissolve into a gallon of distilled water for ideal coffee brewing.
Having custom water coffee might seem like a major step, but for cities like New York (which has notoriously soft water) or Los Angeles (which has terribly hard water), keeping Third Wave Water on hand can be a quick solution to achieving better tasting coffee at home and also prolonging your coffee brewer’s health.
Or you can do what I did, and have a reverse osmosis water filtration system with a remineralization cartridge installed in your basement. Either way, your palate and brewer will thank you.
Is a high-end coffee maker worth the price?
High-end coffee makers often have certifications from the Specialty Coffee Association home brewers program. This means they can brew with 200-204ºF water, saturate the coffee evenly, and complete a brew cycle in fix to six minutes. These are the same brewing standards that commercial coffee makers follow, so if you want your coffee to taste as good at home as it does at your favorite coffee shop, high-end coffee makers might be worth the price.
How often should I clean my coffee maker?
Coffee makers can develop scale build up in the machine and coffee oil build up in the carafe with use. Scale build up takes a while to develop, and is reliant on how hard your water is. You should consider descaling your coffee maker every six months or so, and more frequently in places with very hard water. Coffee oil build up should be cleaned regularly with soap and water, and you can use a coffee machine cleaner to remove old built up grime when your carafe starts to smell like old coffee.
How long does a coffee maker last?
A high-end coffee maker that’s cleaned regularly can last for many years. The biggest issue for the lifespan of a coffee maker is scale build up, which over time can clog the machine. It’s recommended to descale your coffee maker every six months, and more frequently in areas with harder water. Low-end brewers are made with cheap parts, and may only last a few years, even with a rigorous cleaning schedule.