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For hundreds of years, making a cup of coffee was a simple process. Roasted and ground coffee beans were placed in a pot or pan, to which hot water was added, followed by attachment of a lid to commence the infusion process. Pots were designed specifically for brewing coffee, all with the purpose of trying to trap the coffee grounds before the coffee is poured. Typical designs feature a pot with a flat expanded bottom to catch sinking grounds and a sharp pour spout that traps the floating grinds. Other designs feature a wide bulge in the middle of the pot to catch grounds when coffee is poured.
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
Like the OXO machines, it has only one button on its interface. Unlike the OXO machines, that button does only one thing: start the brewing process. If you hold it down until it blinks, you’ll activate the pre-infusion; otherwise a simple click gets it going. Brewing a full pot of eight cups took us about seven minutes, by far the fastest of any of our top picks — which is a good thing, considering you can’t program it to start brewing before you wake up.
An early variant technique, called a balance siphon, was to have the two chambers arranged side-by-side on a sort of scale-like device, with a counterweight attached opposite the initial (or heating) chamber. Once the near-boiling water was forced from the heating chamber into the brewing one, the counterweight was activated, causing a spring-loaded snuffer to come down over the flame, thus turning "off" the heat, and allowing the cooled water to return to the original chamber. In this way, a sort of primitive 'automatic' brewing method was achieved.
*SCAA Certified: A Specialty Coffee Association of America certification indicates the machine can heat water to a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit and ensures that hot water will be in contact with coffee grounds for no less than four and no greater than eight minutes. It’s a solid confirmation of quality. But according to Joseph Rivera, a research coffee scientist at coffeechemistry.com, not every manufacturer chooses to submit their coffee makers for SCAA certification, and there are definitely great drip coffee makers out there without its stamp of approval. Six of the 10 coffee makers we tested are SCAA-certified — including all four of our top picks.
The simplicity starts with its design: a single button with a scrolling dial underneath an LED interface. That button is the only one on the entire machine. With it, you set the time, set the water temperature, set how many cups you want brewed, and when you want the brewing to start. It takes a second to get the hang of it, but we were impressed with how intuitive it is — a stark contrast to a machine like the Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Coffee Brewer, which had so many extra pieces, it required constant consultation of the instruction manual.
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Its straightforward ethos is conceptualized in the simple design and operations of the machine. You can conveniently pour up to 44 ounces or 1.3 liters of water into the water tank, then add spoonfuls of your favorite coffee grounds to the basket, and finally flip the switch and sit back as you see the water slowly travel from the tank over to the shower head
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.)
Let’s circle back to that extra-long brew time. There are two factors that didn’t make it an automatic “no” for us. The first is that the OXO On 12-Cup is programmable. Like our experts say, grinding coffee in advance isn’t going to make the most perfect cup of coffee. But the fact that you can program the machine’s “wake-up time” to start brewing and have coffee ready when you are takes the sting out of the wait.
The illy name is most often associated with their coffee, but they also make capsule-style machines for convenient home brewing. This model takes less space than the similar Y3 model, but still has features that coffee lovers look for. It brews standard drip coffee, and it makes espresso with 19 bars of pressure. No matter what you’re brewing, you can choose your brew strength, water temperature, and cup size, for the perfect cup every time.
From there, it’s up to your personal preference. Arabica beans have a higher acidity, with notes of fruit and berries. Robusta beans are darker and richer, with more caffeine. Different levels of roasts — light, medium, dark — determine how much of the beans’ oils will break through the surface of the bean, which also affects acidity, flavor, and caffeine levels. “Get to know your local coffee expert,” recommends Awan. Nothing beats a conversation with a barista or local coffee roaster who can help you try different beans and roasts, and to experiment with those variables in real time. Finding your favorite is all part of the fun.
“This is simply an amazing machine. I have had NO trouble with it whatsoever. … The quality of the espresso is better than what I get out of the coffee shops — using their beans. It took me a long time to tune in the perfect cup of espresso/latte/cappuccino, and there are variables, but mostly in the beans you buy. I had to buy a decent burr grinder, but considering the investment in the machine, another $150 for a good burr grinder is nothing. I only run filtered water through the machine. I love this machine. I have poured over 2,500 shots through it. Not a single problem with the machine. Many mistakes by the operator, but I will take my espresso out of this machine before any store bought cup-o-Joe.”
CR’s take: If you like the look of black stainless steel, you can add a hit of the trendy finish to your kitchen with the Bella Ultimate Elite Collection coffee maker. Appearance aside, this model brews a fresh pot in just 9 minutes and is graceful in action, earning strong ratings in our carafe handling tests. It offers programming, brew-strength control, a pause-and-serve feature, and auto-shutoff. Bella drip machines also received a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At about $50, this affordable, attractive option won’t disappoint.