Just getting into this whole “home barista” thing? Start off with the Delonghi BC0330T Combination Drip Coffee and Espresso Machine for pro level features that won’t break the bank. This machine pulls espresso shots, though it isn’t pod compatible like its big brother, the Café Nero (see above), and the “Swivel Jet” frother makes rich, creamy lattes and cappuccinos. It will brew 10 cups of drip coffee, and you can choose the strength of your java with the Accuflavor selector dial. Whether you opt for espresso or coffee, the advanced water filtration system eliminates chlorine for a tasty sip. Other convenient features found on more advanced models include a 24-hour programmable digital timer, pause and serve functionality, as well as a removable water tank for easy fill ups.
Drip-style coffee makers already have a bit of a flavor handicap when compared with other brewing methods, like pour-over and French press, which give coffee drinkers ultimate control over every aspect of the brewing (and therefore extraction) process. This makes it even more important to select a high-quality coffee bean for your at-home drip coffee maker. To learn more, we spoke with Saadat Awan at Woodcat Coffee in Los Angeles.
CR’s take: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.
When everyone in the family likes different styles of coffee, or for those days when you want something different from the usual, this machine is the next best thing to a coffee shop. It can make single-serve cups of coffee or fill the included glass carafe. The built-in frother transforms hot or cold milk into a silky smooth froth in just a few seconds for blended or layered drinks.
Water quality also plays a massive role in the way your coffee tastes. As we discovered in our review of the best water filters, water isn’t tasteless. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are what give “good tasting” water its sweetness — in fact, the SCAA recommends water with 150 milligrams per liter of TDS to brew coffee. (Want to check your water? A TDS reader is only about 15 bucks.)
The machine has advanced technology for making the best milk froth for indulgent flavor, and the froth texture can be adjusted with the twist of a knob, so it’s exactly the way you like it. Cleaning is easy — turn the milk knob to the “clean” position to automatically rinse the milk system. A descaling system alerts you when it’s time to clean, and the pluggable descaling pipe makes the process easy.
If you’re shopping for coffee at the grocery store, “check the roast date, rather than the ‘best by’ date,” says Awan. With mass market roasters, the “best by” date can obfuscate the window in which coffee beans are at their best: about 4 days after roasting, when some, but not all, of the carbon dioxide has escaped from the beans. (Too much carbon dioxide captured within beans tends to create uneven extraction, as the gas escapes — this is what pre-infusing tries to counter. Conversely, too little carbon dioxide in the bean can lead to a loss of flavor.)
Clean the inside of your machine by running water through it. Each machine will have a slightly different process, and some manufacturers provide tips and suggestions in user manuals. CoffeeLounge and other suggest mixing 2 oz. of vinegar in 20 oz. of water every now and then to clean out the machine even more thoroughly. After you use vinegar, though, be sure to rinse it three times with water to avoid any lingering vinegar taste in your next espresso.
It also automatically pre-infuses the coffee, allowing the grounds to vent their CO2 and “bloom.” Remember, only half of the machines we tested had this feature, and it proved to pay off in our taste tests. The four machines we recommend all pre-infuse. Only one coffee maker without it, the Hamilton Beach, performed well at all in our taste tests — but that guy was so cheap and flimsy, part of the brew basket broke during our testing. Sorry, Hamilton Beach.
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.