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How to Use aCoffee Maker

Great For
Consistent Results • Multiple Servings • Light, Medium, or Dark Roasts

You have to start somewhere and the classic automatic drip coffee maker is a great place for beginners (or coffee drinkers of any skill level). A go-to for good reason, drip machine brewing is consistent, easy, and versatile enough to work with any coffee you like. But don’t confuse simple for basic — you can expect really good coffee, easily on par with most manual methods. The secret’s in the right grind, proper cleaning, and filtered water. And while this recipe is specifically for a 10-cup coffee maker, you can easily adjust it for different amounts of coffee. Simply divide the water volume and coffee weight by the same number (E.g. 625 milliliters of water to 40 grams of coffee). Read on and learn how to use a coffee maker to its fullest potential.

Let's Get Started
Add Water
1. Add Water
Fill the water reservoir with cold water.
  • If you can run your tap water through a basic water filter, that’ll produce the best results.
  • Bottled water works great too!
  • Distilled water won’t do a great job, as your water does need some minerals to extract those tasty flavors. You can absolutely use the markings on your drip coffee maker or its carafe to measure water, but if you have a scale handy weigh your water for added consistency (1 ml of water weighs 1 gram). A fun idea to play with for the summer: use half as much water as usual and weigh out a half batch of ice (for this recipe, 625 g) directly in your pot. The coffee will drip onto the ice for flash-chilled iced coffee.
Prep Filter
2. Prep Filter

If your drip coffee maker uses a cone-shaped filter, fold the crimped edges in opposite directions before placing it in the filter basket. If you’re using a wavy, flat-bottomed filter, place it inside the basket as is. Some coffee makers come with a reusable stainless steel filter; if that’s the case, no prep needed.

Brew Coffee
3. Brew Coffee

If you have a bag of pre-ground coffee, just skip right over to the next paragraph. If you’re grinding fresh, start at medium grind size (some grinders have a specific “drip” setting). Since most home coffee makers don’t let you adjust settings like time and temperature, changing grind size is one of the most important ways you can influence taste. Make sure to note your grinder setting, so you can either repeat it or make an adjustment next time you’re brewing. Blade grinders don’t have the same types of settings as burr grinders, so if you’re using one of those, try to grind until most of your particles look roughly the size of sand.

Add your coffee grounds to the filter and place the basket back inside the machine.

Turn on the machine and wait for the brew cycle to complete. Your machine may have extra features like a “strength” selector, but our recipe works best at the default setting (and if you want coffee that’s weaker or stronger than our recipe, you can always adjust the amount of coffee next time). Brewing should take between three and five minutes on most machines, from the time the water starts dripping onto the coffee to when it drips all the way through the coffee grounds.

Serve & Enjoy
4. Serve & Enjoy

You’ve got some freshly brewed coffee ready to drink! If your drip machine has a glass carafe and an electric warming plate, we recommend taking that carafe off the warming plate, as the heat of that plate might make the coffee taste bitter. If you have leftover coffee and want to keep it piping hot, pour it in a thermos.

When you drink your coffee, note how it tastes. If it’s more bitter than you’d like, you can grind coarser for your next batch, if it’s a little sour or not sweet enough, grind a little finer.

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Coffee Talk
Our coffee expert says

What’s the best way to clean a coffee maker?

Coffee makers are literal hot beds for bacteria and yeast, which means that diligence in cleaning them is important. Luckily, it’s an easy process and, while coffee shops use commercial-grade cleaners on their equipment, you don’t need anything other than water and vinegar.

Pour equal parts white vinegar and water into your coffee maker, and start the brew cycle like you normally would. Let the water and vinegar combo go through the brew cycle, then turn off your coffee maker. Toss the solution (which will have snagged calcium deposits as well as bacteria and yeast) and run clean water through your brewer at least twice to remove any vinegar residue.

Clean your coffee maker this way at least once every three months, but make sure you’re cleaning all removable parts of the coffee maker after every pot. Soap and water work wonders in your carafe. Don’t overlook cleaning the basket! Coffee oils and residual grounds can quickly aid in bacteria production and impact the overall longevity of your coffeemaker.

How do coffee makers work?

When you make a pot of coffee, the first thing you do is fill the reservoir with filtered water. Inside, there is a section of tubing stretching from the bottom of the chamber to the top. At the bottom of the reservoir, there is a hole.

When you turn the coffee maker on, water is drawn into the hole at the bottom of the water reservoir. At the same time, electricity is delivered from the heating element to warm the hot plate (if yours has one) and to warm the reservoir water. The water travels through a one-way valve into an aluminum tube which wraps around the base of the warming pad. Inside the tube, the water is boiled with the same heat as the hot plate. Once heated, the water travels back up through the tube and is dispersed from a showerhead onto the coffee bed (this last bit of travel cools the water down so by the time it hits your coffee it’s no longer boiling, but rather around 200 degrees Fahrenheit). More sophisticated models disperse the water in timed pulses to aid in blooming and brewing at a consistent ratio.

From there, automatic drip coffee makers basically work just like manual pour over coffee makers. Water drips through coffee grinds and comes out as brewed coffee on the other side.

Can a coffee maker make espresso?

A coffee maker cannot make espresso, but brewing super-strong pots of coffee with them is totally possible! Espresso can only be made in an espresso machine that pushes the water through the coffee grounds at nine bars of barometric pressure. There’s no pressure system in the inner-workings of a coffee maker, so the water drips through the coffee grinds using gravity alone.

If you prefer a very strong brewed coffee, you can grind your coffee more finely than you usually do for a stronger extraction. You can also add more coffee grinds than you normally do to the coffee basket and use the same amount of water. Don’t add too much though — it’ll clog the flow of the water and create a muddy cup of coffee.