Coffee Maker Roundup: The Pros and Cons of Brewing Methods

Brewing methods have evolved as 21st century innovations have expanded on century-old methods. This article puts your coffee maker options in one, convenient place.

Coffee splashing from coffee cupPhoto: Shutterstock / OJO Images/REX

Your daily grind deserves something special, which is why it is time to supplement the $20 drip machine with a better class of coffeemaker. Expanding your repertoire of brewing methods is like buying spices—the more you have, the more capable your kitchen becomes.

For example, spiced coffee can be created by adding spices directly to the coffee grounds, a process that favors a french press brew, or adding coffee after the fact to a spiced milk solution, a process that is somewhat less dependent on coffee quality.

Coffeemakers vary in their convenience and effectiveness, so we investigated the pros and cons of each device.

French Press

You might have known the French press as a plunger, press pot or coffee press. Elite drinkers refer to it as a cafetiere. The device is simple: Coffee grounds and hot water are mixed together in the carafe, and after the water is saturated, a piston with a filter on the bottom separates the coffee and used grounds. The aeropress functions similarly to the French press, but the piston design is different.

Pros

  • Offers excellent taste. The French press offers the brewer nearly unlimited control over flavor. You control the ground size, brew time and relative strength.
  • It’s easy and affordable: This device is, pistons-down, the easiest and cheapest method for creating fine-tasting coffee. You can pick up a suitable press for about $20.
  • It works in all recipes: Due to its great taste, this coffeemaker pairs well with any recipe that falls within the coffeehouse gradient, whether you’re trying to re-create recipes from the professionals by hand or making a cold brew.
  • It saves counter space. If you are working with minimal kitchen space, the French press is perfect because it’s small enough to store in a cupboard.

Cons

  • Clean up is messy. Unless you can machine-wash your dishes, cleanup by hand isn’t as simple as tossing a filter in the trash. The grounds are still mixed with water when the piston is removed, and the piston filter will need to be cleaned after every use.
  • Taste varies. Brew aroma scales proportionally with the amount of effort put into the brewing process. How you add the hot water and stir the bloom in the first 30 seconds largely determines taste.

Auto Drip

Originally from Germany in 1954, drip coffeemakers are by far the most common in the United States. The machine consists of a water well with an aluminum or copper rod that heats the water, which is then slowly filtered through coffee grounds. Taste is entirely dependent on ground quality, so recipes calling for specific qualities—like smooth textures—require excellent beans.

Pros

  • There’s no learning curve. You probably already know how to use this.
  • Clean up is simple. Throw the filter in the trash, refill the water tank and you’re ready for round two!

Cons

  • Limited ability to control quality. An aficionado’s greatest complaint is the inability to engage with the brewing process.
  • Most rods are aluminum. Copper rods heat the water more quickly and reliably, but copper is expensive. Nearly all major-market coffeemaker brands use aluminum, so many coffee makers fail to reach a temperature that activates all the coffee’s oils and brings forth the full force of the beans’ taste.

Moka Pots

These Italian-made coffee makers have a layer of coffee grounds, and boiling water is pushed up through the grounds by utilizing steam pressure. This gives a stronger, more complex brew than French press but lacks the pressure to reach espresso territory.

Pros

  • Perfect for experimenters. If you enjoy coffee with a complex taste palate, moka pots bring out the full richness of your beans.
  • Unbeatable for recipes. Coffee-based drinks that rely on heavier liqueurs or nuanced piquancy are easily matched by the moka maker’s brew strength.

Cons

  • Price. A quality moka pot can be expensive, upwards of $100. Lower-cost mokas are liable to lose pressure over time and taste more like auto drip coffeemakers.

Vacuum Maker

Created in France as early as 1840, this coffeemaker dominates in Japan and eastern Asia. As with moka pots, this coffeemaker also pulls the water up through the grounds. But it uses a sealed vacuum to drag the water instead of intense pressure. This brewing method is complicated–you are responsible for maintaining water temperature and choosing when exactly to turn on the vacuum.

Pros

  • Extensive manual control. Vacuum brewing is truly an art because it gives you the ability to manually control your heat source and vacuum time.

Cons

  • Time. Setup and cleanup both require a fair amount of time.
  • Accuracy. Eyeballing coffee ground measurements is already a no-no, but adding grounds willy-nilly to a vacuum coffee maker is more noticeable.
  • High learning curve. Learning how to create a proper vacuum brew takes time and patience.

Chemex

Looking suspiciously like glassware from a chemistry lab, Chemex makers feature an hourglass-shaped device. On top a filter is filled with grounds, and the water is poured through to make coffee in the lower chamber. The most important feature of Chemex makers is the width of the bottleneck; a smaller bottleneck drains slower, resulting in stronger coffee. Chemex is guaranteed to make your kitchen smell like a Starbucks, making spiced or cinnamon coffee drinks a must with this device.

Pros

  • It’s easy. Your only job is to pour hot water.
  • Great strength control. Chemex-style coffeemakers make it easy to control caffeine strength, but be warned: Many people wind up buying multiple devices with varying bottleneck sizes.

Cons

  • Manual pour. Your only job is to avoid spilling hot water all over the counter. On the plus side, you’ll build up those forearms.

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