Enlightened java drinkers disdain the typical automatic coffee machine on the shelves of their local big box retailer for one simple reason: it lacks control. It turns out that getting the best possible results from those beans — yea, those ones, which some jittery seed worshiper pressed into your hand while swiping your Amex with the other — requires a lot of precision. Heating water to the proper range, between 195°F and 205°F, is the first step in releasing the flavorful oil from the beans, but the average electric drip machine only hovers around 180°F.
Carefully regulating the distribution and timing of hot water over the beans is equally important. Ideally, freshly roasted and ground beans should be pre-soaked in water and allowed to “bloom” for 40 to 60 seconds. This process removes excess CO2 from the fresh beans, a culprit that prevents heated water from properly reaching the full surface of the grounds (this appears in the form of bubbles coming from the wet grinds). More water should then be applied evenly (a notorious problem for basic brewers) across the beans for approximately 5 minutes. Exposing the beans to water any longer or shorter risks over or under extraction.
Hitting this narrow target has led demanding drinkers to sacrifice convenience for the exacting rituals offered by various pour-over methods — or to blow junior’s tuition on barista-made alternatives. But thanks to a new breed of re-engineered automatic machines, that trade-off is no longer necessary. Learn all about these best-of-both-world-brewers after the break.
Bonavita BV1800 Brewer
The Best Bang for Your Buck: Having the blessing of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is an honor bestowed on only a select few brewers, and the Bonavita BV1800 is by far the most affordable of this cadre. The design previously circulated overseas as the Melitta Aroma Excellence, and features a 1,400-watt heating element that maintains a consistent water temperature in the optimal range of 195-205°F. Its showerhead evenly saturates grounds while vents on the top of the filter basket block condensation from sneaking into the basket.
The Bonavita will brew roughly 8 excellent cups in 5-6 minutes, and its base keeps pots warm for up to two hours (if you opt for the hot plate model over the thermal carafe option). Measuring 13.2 x 8.7 x 14 inches, it’s also more counter-friendly than competing machines — though it should ideally be pulled out from beneath cabinets when in use due to the large amount of steam it produces. This is hands down the best automatic coffee machine for drip brewer fans looking to upgrade without breaking the bank.
Bodum Bistro Electric Pourover
Best for the Designer Drinker: Bodum has made a name producing stylish kitchen accessories in a variety of interior-matching colors, and the Bistro Electric Pourover dutifully follows the same playbook. There are some trade-offs here. Its heating element produces slightly cooler water than other options, but it’s still within the suitable range. The included titanium-plated stainless steel filter isn’t as efficient at removing fine grinds like other solutions, so the cup is slightly grittier, albeit it still excellent tasting — akin to a french press.
The spill-proof plastic thermos with a double-wall stainless steel interior carafe is an elegant design that minimizes the machine’s counter footprint while keeping coffee hot. But a lack of integrated heating element does make it less ideal for buyers who like to work through a single pot across a several hours. Some sources, including Gizmodo, feel this machine bests the Bonavita in overall taste, but its $250 asking price (only $118 in red) puts it in direct competition with other excellent automatic coffee machines. You’ll have to decide whether color options like red, orange, black, cream and a limey green are worth the nod.
Technivorm Moccamaster CDGT-741 Coffee Maker
Best for the Palette Perfectionist: Technivorm’s Moccamaster line of coffee machines is the Bentley of brewers, and for good reason. Each machine is hand-assembled from top-notch materials in the Netherlands and boasts a top-of-the-line copper heating element for fast brewing and precise temperature control. The filter basket features an open design with a metal spray head that can be rotated, giving persnickety coffee drinkers the ability to view the blooming and even stir or rotate the basket to guarantee even extraction.
This particular Moccamaster CDGT-741 is an update to the lauded and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)-certified KBT-741, and features a re-designed auto stop filter basket that allows impatient drinkers to remove the carafe from the machine while it’s still brewing; there’s also been a cosmetic change in the form of a tubular housing covered in a machined-aluminum corrugated finish below the water reservoir. The downsides boil down to price and a few eccentricities shared by all Technivorm models. It’s tall and may not fit under some cabinets. The carafe is spoutless — making pouring slightly more difficult — and made of stainless steel, and unlike the Bonavita lacks a glass lining, so it can impart flavor to the brew. The water tower’s measurements are also marked for European 4-ounce cups rather than the 6-ounce bruisers we’re used to stateside. Still, these quirks haven’t stopped most experts from dubbing Technivorm machines the best automatic coffee makers in the biz.
5 TIPS FOR BREWING BETTER COFFEE FROM YOUR EXISTING MACHINE
1. Use Filtered Water: Since coffee is mostly water, using neutral water is key for making the best cup. If your tap water is tinged with strong mineral or chemical flavors, even the strongest varieties of beans won’t completely disguise its impact on your coffee. Brew with water from a Brita or other filtered source, and let the flavor of your beans speak for themselves.
2. Use the Right Grind for the Filter: The ideal grind will be somewhat colored by your personal tastes and the particular machine you’re using, but there’s still a general rule of thumb to follow: Flat-bottom or gold/plastic permanent filters require a medium grind; think sand. Cone-shaped filters require a slightly finer grind, closer to sugar.
3. Pre-heat Your Water: The average drip brewer heats water well below the ideal threshold for proper extraction. Preheating water in a kettle and pouring it into your brewer can eliminate this issue. Conducting a “warm up run” in your brewer using just water and then pouring that water back into the reservoir also works in a pinch when you don’t have a separate heating source. Drink your coffee immediately after it’s brewed, as well — extra time on the heating plate can burn it past the point of no return.
4. Maintain the Right Ratio of Grounds to Water: There’s plenty of science behind this concept, but the general rule of thumb is 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6-8 ounces of water. That leaves you some wiggle room for personal taste preferences. Ideally, you should measure exactly how much water your machine holds (ignoring the marks on the reservoir) and weigh your grinds with a scale.
5. Clean Your Equipment Regularly: Your wake-up machine should ideally be cleaned once a month. Soap and water can suffice, but brewing a pot with a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar (and no grounds, of course) will do a better job. Just make sure to give it another scrub down with water and soap and run a basic brew cycle with only water after. If you really want gold stars, run the same once-brewed 50/50 mixture through another brew cycle before scrubbing.
Breville BDC600XL YouBrew
Best for the Hands-Off Brewer: This machine doesn’t have the niche following of other options on this list, but what it lacks in brand respect it makes up for with idiot-proof technology. While some view it as trivial, the BDC600XL YouBrew does boast a staple feature the other higher-end models strangely lack — an automatic timer. Purists will also rightly point out that you’re paying a premium for an integrated grinder that can’t be adjusted, when a standalone option will produce far better results.
But this machine isn’t aimed at those dissenters. The built-in burr allows users to simply pour in beans and water, select from a range of seven different strength settings (from mild to intense), five different flavor profiles (light to bold) and the number of desired cups (from 1 to 12). The brewer then automatically adjusts the amount of grounds, water and steeping time. There’s no question that this is the perfect machine for buyers who value convenience above all else. It might not produce the best cup on this list, but it’ll still blow the sludge made by your Mr. Coffee out of the water.
Best for the Control Freak: The Behmor Brazen is a drip coffee experimenters best friend: users can set their preferred water temperature anywhere between 190-210°F and even take advantage of altitude correction to compensate for the impact elevation has on the boiling point. The pre-soak function similarly allows brewers to soak grounds with roughly 5 ounces of water from 15 seconds to 4 minutes, while the full saturation water dispersion sprayhead evenly distributes water once the full brewing commences. Those who can’t fully let go of their pour-over bias can simply treat the Brazen as a precision water heater and use the manual carafe release function in conjunction with a Chemex or other device. An auto-timer tops it all off — especially for those who enjoy waking up to a fresh pot.
Bonus: Bunn Trifecta MB
Best for the Trailblazer: Think $300 for an automatic coffee machine sounds ludicrous? How about $550? Don’t let the sticker shock in this case distract you, though. This truly unique brewer features the same advanced technology found in the original Trifecta, which was developed for commercial use and costs thousands of dollars. It brews coffee via a patented technology called Air Infusion, which borrows elements from a variety of brewing styles — it steeps like a french press and agitates in the brewing chamber like a vacuum brewer (by injecting air into the brew at the bottom of the brewing chamber). Once the brew is complete, air from above then forces the coffee through a valve and into the cup.
Users can adjust the brewing time and injection of air, dubbed turbulence, via two knobs; this significantly impacts the the “acidity, sweetness, earthy flavors, extraction level and mouth feel” of the resulting cup. Interestingly enough, reviewers have found that the Trifecta MB’s water temperature is surprisingly low at 185°F, but it doesn’t damper the overall astounding quality of the brew. The one downside besides the price? It can only make a maximum of one 12-ounce cup at a time.