How to brew great coffee with a drip coffee maker

Are you getting the best possible cup of coffee every morning, or is it not doing it for you? 

If your coffee is lacking, it might be worth reviewing best practices for how to use a coffee maker. It is the simple steps that matter in your coffee making process. While it might seem as easy as adding water and coffee grounds then hitting the power button, getting a high-quality cup of coffee requires a bit more. Read on. 

How does a coffee maker work?

If you take a close look at a drip coffee maker, you will see four main parts: 

  • the reservoir, which holds water (it has a hole at the bottom)
  • a tube from the hole in the reservoir
  • a shower head that sprinkles water on your coffee grounds
  • a heating element, which heats the water
Coffee maker schematic
Source: van der Vegte, Wilhelm & Kitamura, Yoshinobu & Koji, Yusuke & Mizoguchi, Riichiro. (2004). Coping With Unintended Behavior of Users and Products: Ontological Modelling of Product Functionality and Use. 10.1115/DETC2004-57720.

 

The coffee making machine starts its work when you pour cold water into the reservoir. The water flows from the reservoir through the tube that leads to the heating element. The flow of water is all natural, pushed by gravity. 

When you switch on the coffee machine, the brew cycle starts. The heating element heats the water in the tube to near boiling (the ideal brewing temperature is 195-205 F). As the water heat, it produces bubbles that rise up the other end of the tube. The rising tube is narrow and the water bubbles are large, and as such, a column of water rises up the tube between the bubbles. 

The water is then sprayed evenly over the coffee grounds waiting in the filter. As the hot water flows through the ground coffee, it interacts with the surface of the beans and draws out flavor compounds, which dissolve in the water and drip into the carafe or cup below. 

Although some coffee making machines have advanced features to give you more control over the brewing process, the process is pretty much the same for all drip coffee makers. 

How to use a drip coffee maker

To make a good cup of coffee, you need:

  • ground coffee beans
  • water, preferably filtered
  • coffee filter
  • coffee maker

The quality of your coffee depends on the freshness of the beans and the precision of your brewing process. As such, it is important to take care during every step of your coffee making. 

We demonstrate using a Technivorm Moccamaster KB, but the principles for how to make drip coffee are the same with any machine. 

1. Grind your coffee beans

It is important to grind your coffee a few minutes before brewing to get the freshest cup of coffee. When ground beans are exposed to air, an oxidation process starts which deteriorates the flavor. Before grinding, keep your beans in an airtight container so they don’t absorb odors. 

Grinding beans for drip coffee
Grinding beans for drip coffee. © Bean Poet

If you need an ordinary cup of coffee, grind your beans to medium coarseness. Different methods of brewing and different strengths of coffee require different coarseness. You can experiment with different coffee coarseness to see what works for you. 

Choosing and measuring beans

Because the freshness of coffee matters, you shouldn’t keep roasted beans in your house for more than a few weeks. There are two main varieties of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica produces sweet-tasting coffee while Robusta tastes a bit harsher, and has more caffeine. 

Once you have your favorite roasted beans and you’ve ground them to medium coarseness, weigh the coffee grounds. You can use a coffee scale. Weighing is important to get the ideal brew ratio for a perfect cup of coffee. A standard coffee-to-water ratio is 1:16, meaning one part coffee grounds to 16 parts of water. But you can try 1:14 if you like it a little stronger or 1:18 if you like it a bit lighter. Experiment to find your taste. 

Fun fact: Did you know that your final cup of coffee will be approximately 98 per cent water?

2. Add the water

filling reservoir with water
Filling reservoir with water. © Bean Poet

Next, you need to fill the reservoir with cold water. Filtered water or bottled water works great. Do not use distilled water, as the minerals in water help extract the flavors from your coffee beans. 

The Moccamaster is calibrated with litres and coffee cups as measurements.
The Moccamaster is calibrated with litres and coffee cups as measurements. Yours may be different. (© Bean Poet)

You can use the calibration marks on your drip coffee making machine, or you can weigh your water on the scale. If you use the coffee maker reservoir calibrations, 1 ml is approximately equal to 1 gram. 

3. Place your filter

Some filter baskets like this one come right off the machine, others must be filled in place.
Some filter baskets like this one come right off the machine, others must be filled in place. (© Bean Poet)

Place your filter in the filter basket. Some machines require a paper filter, others come with their own metal mesh filters. Put your weighed grounds in the filter and set the basket into place.

4. Brew your coffee

Clicking the power button or a brew switch starts the cycle.
Clicking the power button or a brew switch starts the cycle. (© Bean Poet)

Once everything is set, press the power button or brew switch to start the brew cycle. Some machines give you the ability to brew a stronger coffee or weaker coffee by using a strength selector. The brewing process should take between three and five minutes, unless you have a huge machine brewing for more than 12 people. 

Drip coffee brewing
Drip coffee brewing. © Bean Poet

After brewing, remove the glass or thermal carafe and serve your coffee. If your machine has a warming plate, keep in mind that leaving the carafe on the plate for a long time might give the coffee a burnt, bitter taste.

Optional features of drip coffee machines

If you grind your own beans, the biggest decision you need to make is whether to choose a machine with a coffee grinder or buy a grinder separately. Some coffee aficionados argue that having the machines separate is best. However, having a grind-and-brew machine minimizes the exposure of the beans to air. Plus, the combination machine can save you space and money. 

Other features you might see on your machine include:

  • Smart technology: This is for advanced machines that connect with your smartphone, giving you more control over the brewing process. With these machines, you may not need to get out of bed to make coffee. 
  • Pods: Single-serve pods are fun when you want to try different flavors of coffee. A coffee machine that comes with room for a single-serve pod can come in handy. 
  • Pause-and-serve: This feature allows you to serve the first cup of fresh coffee before the extraction process ends. 
  • Milk frother: style=”font-weight: 400;”> If you love your coffee white, a milk frother allows you to make special coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. These machines are now much more common than they were a few years ago. 
  • Automatic shut-off: This is a standard feature on most coffee-making machines. It not only helps you avoid electrical fires, it also saves you from high electrical bills. 
  • Multi-cup settings: A good machine should allow you to brew as much coffee as you need without wasting the coffee. If you only need a single cup, there is no need to brew eight and waste the rest. 
  • Removable parts: Parts that you can remove are helpful when it comes time to give your machine a thorough cleaning. 
  • Timer: A timer is a great feature if you want a fresh cup of coffee when you first wake up. You can schedule fresh brews at any time and, in some cases, even set the strength and other qualities of your coffee. 
  • Self-cleaning ability: A machine that self-cleans saves you the trouble of scrubbing the parts. These machines detect calcium buildup and start rinsing the parts. 

How to clean your coffee maker

You only need water and vinegar to clean your machine. The process is simple:

  1. Mix equal parts of water and white vinegar. 
  2. Pour the mixture in your machine and press the brew button so the mixture goes through the cycle as coffee would. 
  3. Discard the solution, which will have killed bacteria and removed calcium deposits. 
  4. Clean removable parts such as the drip tray, carafe, and basket with mild soap and water and rinse them thoroughly. 

You should clean the brewer once every three months. 

Once you learn how to use a coffee maker, try experimenting with different settings, brew times, ratios, and coarseness of grinds until you get your flavor. And remember the combination that nailed it, so you can repeat it again and again.