QUESTION: Do coffee makers make a difference in taste? What if I used the same beans with different coffee makers? — David J
ANSWER: Many variables can go into the way your coffee tastes, and the coffee maker you choose is one of the most influential of these factors. Coffee brewed from the same beans at the same level of freshness, using the same grind size on the beans, can really shift in taste depending on the coffee maker you use to prepare it. The specific coffee making setup you use also will impact how long it takes you to brew your coffee, how easy it is to prepare.
The various types of coffee makers can also come equipped with options like whether the finished coffee can be kept warm for a while or whether you can set a timer for when the coffee will start brewing. Let’s take a look at the way the coffee maker you choose can impact the way your coffee tastes and some other things to consider when you’re choosing a coffee maker.
No matter which type of coffee brewing system you use—a drip coffee maker, French press, pour over brewer, espresso machine, or something else—the basics of the coffee preparation routine will remain the same. Heated water must come into contact with the ground coffee beans, and a filter usually comes into play to keep grit from the ground coffee out of your beverage.
The filter your coffee maker requires may be a disposable paper type, or your filter may be a part of the coffee maker itself, as with metal filters used in some espresso machines or the filter that’s part of a French press. The hot water and ground coffee will steep together as the water drips through the brewer into the carafe below. How long it takes for the water to move through the brewing process mainly depends on the grind size you use on your coffee beans. More finely ground beans will result in a longer brewing time, while more coarsely ground beans will permit the water to flow through more quickly.
One of the factors that have an impact on the taste of your finished coffee brew is the temperature to which the water is heated before it is added to the ground coffee. Water at different temperatures will extract different flavors from the coffee beans you use. The way your system is set up will also affect the speed at which the water moves through your brewer (along with the grind size, as previously mentioned).
If the water moves too quickly through the process, you can end up with a weak, watery cup of coffee. On the other hand, if the water is left to steep with the ground coffee for too long or just isn’t moving quickly enough through your coffee brewer, you can end up with over-extracted coffee that tastes burnt, too strong, or unbalanced. When the flavors are over-extracted from your coffee beans, the strongest notes in your coffee will be pulled to the forefront, trampling over more nuanced and delicate background flavors until they are no longer noticeable.
Some coffee makers will first send a stream of water into the receptacle with the grounds, then use a stirring mechanism or agitator to mix the water and ground coffee. Still others use a different technique where the water is sprinkled over the ground coffee in a shower instead of just a single trickle. Each of these individual factors will have its own effect on the flavor of the brew your coffee maker produces.
What to Consider When You Choose a Coffee Maker
With so many options to choose from, it may help narrow the field to think of what’s most important to you so you can make those factors a priority and find the perfect coffee maker for you. Here are a few different things to take into account when creating your short list of potential coffee makers.
Hands-Off Convenience or a More Involved System?
Do you enjoy the meditative ritual of preparing your morning coffee, hovering over a more hands-on method of brewing your cup of coffee? Or do you tend to be busy or in a hurry in the morning? If so, you may want to choose a coffee maker that will let you simply press a button to start the coffee brewing and go about your morning routine. Some coffee makers even allow you to set a timer for the coffee to start brewing on its own, allowing you to simply set it and forget it. While none of these convenience factors will really impact the flavor of your brewed coffee, they will alter the experience of preparing your coffee quite a bit.
Coffee, Espresso, or a Hybrid?
Are you happy with a simple pot of drip coffee, or do you need that shot of espresso or latte beverage to be thrilled with your coffee experience? You’ll never match the taste of espresso and espresso-based beverages with a drip coffee brewer, so if you’re an espresso lover, purchasing your own espresso machine can save you a lot of money in the long run compared to buying your espresso drinks from a coffee shop. Hybrid systems that can brew either coffee or espresso are available, which can save you a lot of counter space by offering an all-in-one option instead of requiring separate machines for coffee and espresso. However, if the quality of your coffee is of utmost importance, you’ll probably want to have separate machines to give you the most control. While pod or cup coffee makers do offer cappuccino or espresso options, these are really more of novelty items that will do in a pinch than truly high-quality beverages like you could produce with an espresso machine.
How Much Coffee Can You Prepare at a Time?
Another important factor to think about when you’re choosing a coffee maker is the amount of coffee the brewer prepares each time you use it. Most pour over brewers will produce one single cup of coffee at a time, making them perfect to bring to the office or to use at home if you live alone. A standard French press will brew about three cups of coffee at once. The cup or pod coffee makers work well either for single individuals or for homes where a group of people live together, but everyone drinks a different style of coffee. You can simply stock different types of cups or pods and allow everyone to choose the type they like the most and brew their coffee individually. In offices or homes with large families, you may want to go with an automatic drip coffee machine or a large brewer so you can make a whole pot of coffee at a time.
Sure, you can always get a cheap $20 electric drip coffee maker or an inexpensive pour over or French press device that can make a great cup of coffee without breaking the bank. But if you’re serious about your coffee, and you want to have a machine in your home that can consistently make the best possible coffee, you are going to need to invest in an SCA certified coffee maker that costs a good amount of money. There is no reason to invest thousands of dollars on your coffee maker, but there is a big difference between what you get from a $20 drip machine, and you get from a machine that costs between $200 and $300. A machine in that price range, which is SCA certified, will heat the water up to the ideal brewing temperature, which is 203 degrees Fahrenheit. Cheap coffee machines don’t heat their water to nearly that temperature, resulting in coffee that is under extracted. Pricier machines typically have nicer brew shower heads as well, which help to cover the grounds more easily and evenly, resulting in a better extraction, and a nicer cup of coffee. Though the type of coffee you use, the type of water you use, and the grind are all very important factors in brewing a good cup of coffee, a nice coffee maker can make a big difference in the quality of coffee you brew.