Finding and Mastering the Best Drip Coffee Maker

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Mastering the Right Drip Coffee Maker

By: Alicia Walters  Revised by: Mark Cambell      Last updated: Feb 3, 2024

If you’re ready to upgrade your morning cup of joe, a quality drip coffee maker can transform your brew. But with so many options, how do you choose the best machine for your needs?

This no-nonsense guide will walk you through the most important factors to consider before buying a drip coffee maker as well as how to get the most out of your machine after purchasing. So, grab a cup of coffee (made the old-fashioned way for now), get cozy and let’s dive in!

Pre-Purchase Considerations:

Brew size:

The first question is: how much coffee do you typically brew at once? Drip coffee makers come in a range of sizes from small 4-6 cup machines up to giant 24 cup carafes. Know your usual brew size to zone in on the right capacity for you:

Single-serve (4-6 cups): Ideal for 1-2 people. Makes just enough coffee for a single filling, like the Cuisinart DCC-5570 or BLACK+DECKER CM0700BZ.

Small (8-10 cups): Fits the needs of couples or smaller families, like the Smeg Retro Style , Technivorm Moccamaster or Moccamaster KBGV Select Coffee Maker.

Medium (12 cups): Standard size for most households. Fills mugs for 3-4 people, like BLACK+DECKER 12-Cup Thermal Coffeemaker or  Keurig K-Duo Plus Coffee Maker.

Large (14-16 cups): Suits families with 4+ members or coffee drinkers with big demands, like the Cuisinart DCC-T20. 

Extra large (20+ cups): For cafe-worthy volumes if you’re feeding a small army! 

Start by knowing your typical brew size. Then look for a machine that matches or exceeds it by a few cups for flexibility.

Strength control:

If you like your coffee on the weak side versus extra bold, some models offer multiple strength settings. This lets you personally dial in the ideal richness for your taste. Look for drip coffee makers with features like:  

 • Adjustable brew baskets: Baskets with more fine holes release more coffee oils for a bolder flavor. The Technivorm Moccamaster features adjustable coffee bed depth.

Strength settings: Buttons or dials that allow choosing   between regular, bold and extra bold.  Braun's MultiServe features 3 strength settings from mild to bold.

Pause and serve: Lets you stop mid-brew for a weaker cup. Some Cuisinart and DeLonghi machines have this feature for pausing mid-brew.  

A strength control can ensure the coffee maker caters to different tastes within your household.

Programmable settings:

Now that you’ve covered the fundamentals, consider desired convenience features. Programmable settings like auto-on timers are a huge time-saver for early risers or night owls. Some advanced options include:

Auto start: Programs the machine to brew your coffee when you wake up. Like the Black + Decker 12 Cup Programmable Coffee Maker  

Keep warm: Keeps cooked coffee at a optimal temperature for up to 4 hours. Examples are Cuisinart DCC-3400, Black + Decker 12 Cup Programmable Coffee Maker, and Keurig K-Duo Coffee Maker.

24-hour timer: Allows setting a start time up to 24 hours in advance. Examples are KitchenAid 12 Cup Thermal Coffee Maker, Braun MultiServe and OXO 9 Cup Coffee Maker.

Weigh if these automatic features are worth paying a bit extra for the convenience they provide your busy mornings.

Water Filter Included:

Having an easy-to-replace water filter is a must for maximizing your coffee’s taste. Look for a maker that includes a permanent or disposable water filter to:

• Remove chlorine: Chlorine from tap water leaves an aftertaste and dulls flavor.    

• Trap limescale: Hard water buildup affects how the machine functions over time.

Models with integrated water filters typically last 2-6 months before needing replacement. Permanent filters tend to be more cost-effective long term.

Models with included water filters to consider include:

• Permanent filter: Bunn's Velocity Brew BT models have a paper filter that is replaced.  

• Replaceable filter: Options like the Keurig Universal Reusable Filter allow easy replacement every 2-6 months.

• Optional filter: Some machines like the Mr. Coffee 12 Cup Café Barista include an optional water filter.

Post-Purchase Care:

Cleaning and Descaling:

Proper cleaning and regular descaling are crucial to maximize your machine’s life and coffee quality. Hard water buildup inside causes functionality issues over time.  

Clean daily: Rinse filter and carafe after each use with dish soap and water.  

Deep clean weekly: Run an entire clean-cycle or vinegar rinse to remove old grinds and oil residue.   

Descale every 2-3 months: Use a descaling solution specifically for coffee makers to dissolve mineral buildup inside the heating mechanism and water reservoir.  

#-To minimize long-term effort :  

• Thermal carafe: Cleans  easier than glass but more expensive. Options include OXO, KitchenAid and Cuisinart.

• Removable filter basket: Allows for easy hand washing. Almost all brands feature this.

• Descaling setting: Featured in Braun, DeLonghi and Krups machines.

You can extend the life of any drip coffee maker dramatically simply by keeping up with proper maintenance. Don’t let cleaning fall to the bottom of your to-do list!

Adjusting the Grind Size:

For the fullest flavor, your coffee grind should match your maker’s filter. Coarse grounds work best for drip coffee brewing. But over time, you may need to:

Adjust finer: If the brewing process is too fast and coffee tastes weak or thin       

Adjust coarser: If brewing takes too long and produces an overly bitter or burned flavor.

Find the best coffee grinders with adjustable grind-size here.

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By now you’ve gotten the basics of post-purchase care down pat: keeping your machine clean as a whistle and properly de-scaled so it functions like new. But what about those finer tweaks and tips that can take your daily drip from decent to downright delicious?    

Let’s pull back the curtain on the following lesser known - but hugely impactful - hacks, tweaks and troubleshooting tips to help you optimize, customize and truly master the hunk of plastic and metal sitting on your counter...  

Tips & Hacks:

Water Usage:

The Golden Ratio of brewing success boils down to one key principle: getting your water to grounds ratio just right. And in the wonderful world of drip, that ratio is 17:1. This means about 10 grams of coffee for every 6oz cup of coffee. For a stronger taste, use a 15:1 ratio.

Water Temperature:

While we’re talking H2O, did you know the optimal temperature range for drip coffee brewing is between 195 to 205°F?   Any higher and you risk scorching your grounds, while lower temps extract less flavor.

Most machines try to hit that Goldilocks zone automatically. But over time, elements can degrade and the thermostat may need calibrating.

The fix? Test your brew water temp with an instant read thermometer next time you run a fresh pot. If it’s noticeably off, YouTube is littered with helpful DIY calibration tutorials for your specific model.     

Just remember - temperature, like happiness, demands a delicate balance. So dial yours in for the tastiest possible brew!

Filter Type:

When it comes time to replace your coffee maker’s filter, options can seem overwhelming. Do you go with unbleached paper? Permanent gold-tone mesh? Or thick bronze filters?

The answer depends largely on your priorities. Paper filters yield the cleanest cup but create more waste. Mesh is reusable and eco-friendly but let through more oils. Thick filters fall in the middle.   

My advice? Experiment to see which produces the flavor you prefer. Then stick with that type for consistency - while being open to changing horses if the taste starts to go stale! Variety may be the spice of life, but routine is king in the realm of coffee. Just make sure to buy filters in bulk online.

Removable Parts:

Most drip coffee makers have a few key parts you’ll want to clean or replace periodically:

• Coffee filter basket: Hand wash after every use; replace every 6-12 months. 

• Carafe: Hand wash daily; fully clean weekly in the dishwasher.

• Water reservoir: Hand wash daily; fully clean weekly.    

• Heating element: Inspect yearly for calcium buildup that can affect heating.

Following these basic maintenance schedules will keep your machine running like new. But if noticeable declines start to creep in, don’t be afraid to retire parts prematurely! 

After all, just because something’s removable doesn’t mean it has to stay forever. So, recycle, replace and don’t look back - for the good of your precious morning cup of joe. 

Is that all? Of course not! Here are some additional secret tips and hacks for you:

Use hot tap water - For a faster brew time, fill the reservoir with hot filtered water straight from the tap instead of cold water. 

Pre-soak filters - Wetting the filter paper before adding grounds helps create a better seal and allows the coffee to brew more evenly.  

Add a dash of salt - A sprinkle of salt in the grounds helps bring out coffee's natural flavors by balancing its bitterness. Start with 1/4 teaspoon or a smaller dash per cup and adjust to taste.

Brew a half pot - For less waste, brew only as much coffee as you need. The leftovers will stay hot in a thermal carafe for a few hours.  

Grind right before brewing - The fresher the grounds, the better the taste. Grinding coffee immediately before brewing ensures optimal flavor.

Defrost with ice cubes - For machines with metal reservoirs, add ice cubes to the empty reservoir overnight to slowly defrost any mineral buildup.

Using cinnamon - Brew a pot with a cinnamon stick added to the grounds for a spicy twist on your morning cup. Remove the stick before drinking.

Add chocolate - Baker's chocolate grated into the filter basket gives your brew a mocha-like flavor without any extra ingredients in your cup.      

Empty first, then clean - Emptying leftover coffee and old grounds from the machine before cleaning helps the soap and water reach all surfaces more effectively.

Dry on "warm" setting - After washing and reassembling your machine, run it on the "warm" setting for 5-10 minutes to evaporate excess moisture that could harbor bacteria.

Hope these additional tips and hacks provide some fresh inspiration for tweaking your coffee maker! Let me know if you have any other questions. I'm happy to provide more ideas for optimizing your drip brewing experience

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Troubleshooting Tips:

Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it will - and usually at the most inconvenient time. In the case of your drip coffee maker, that may mean problems brewing your first precious cup.

Common issues include:

Leaks: Check gaskets and seals for signs of damage or misalignment that can be fixed. Over time, consider replacing old rubber parts for lasting prevention.

Overflowing: The water level sensor may be stuck or clogged. Carefully remove and clean any debris that's trapped inside.     

Slow brew times: Excess scale buildup can slow water flow within the machine. Refer to your model's descaling instructions to remove mineral deposits. 

Won't turn on: The on/off switch may be faulty, or a blown fuse needs replacing. This typically requires disassembling parts of the machine, so refer to the manual for guidance.

The key is to stay calm - an iced latte always helps - and methodically work through potential root causes. Start with the simplest fixes first before diving into more complicated repairs.  

And remember: even the finest French press will fail you at times. The only constant in life is change, my caffeinated companion. So embrace occasional trouble as an opportunity to learn something new!


Fellow coffee enthusiasts often ask:

• How often should I clean the filter basket?  

  - At least after every use; deep clean weekly in soapy hot water.

•  Can I use tap water in my machine?

- Only if your tap water is filtered first. Otherwise chlorine and minerals will affect taste.

• Are permanent filters better than paper ones?

  - It depends. Paper filters yield cleaner tasting brews but create more waste. Permanent filters are reusable but let through more oils. 

• How do I adjust the settings on my machine?

  - Check your owner's manual for specific guidance on programming options like auto-start timers, strength controls, etc.  

• What can I add to improve the flavor of my coffee?

  - Either dark roast beans for a stronger cup or a dash of cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla or whatever tickles your fancy!   

With patience and practice you too can eventually answer - or find answers to - any question about the proper care and feeding of your coffee making contraption. For knowledge, like love, grows greater with each cup shared.

Hopefully this thorough look at both pre and post-purchase factors has helped guide you towards choosing and maintaining the right machine for delicious drip coffee at home. Feel free to reach out with any additional questions! Remember: a happy coffee maker leads to happy coffee drinkers. Now go grab yours a fresh pot. You've earned it.