Meet your maker: Searching for the perfect cup of coffee

coffee1 FTWBy Stacy Downs
The Kansas City Star
Via McClatchy-Tribune

So deep is my passion for coffee that I’m excited each night to wake up to it each morning. I love the ritual of grinding beans, pouring filtered water and brewing, because it results in a product that looks, smells and tastes divine.

Recently, my darling drip machine died. I’d always been forgiving of its temperamental nature because it delivered such a satisfying cup. I sought a quick store replacement because the thought of going a day without home-brewed coffee was just too much to bear.

I found a cutie of a coffee maker, better looking than my last one. This new model was white everywhere, except a glass carafe. It featured the stylish simplicity of just one button. And the price was right at a little more than $30.

But it wasn’t the same. It left a burned aftertaste and produced a muddy cup. So I went looking for Mr. Goodpot.

I’m not alone in my search. Coffee makers are a popular home-related holiday gift, especially one-cup machines like the Keurig that allow you to brew French roast, French vanilla or whatever strikes your fancy that day. And then there are manual methods like French press and pour-overs that are becoming popular at coffee shops. Percolators are even making a nostalgic hipster return.

I wondered if more expensive drip machines were worth the price tag. In my quest, I sought scientific knowledge.

Ben Helt of Benetti’s Coffee Experience in Raytown, Mo., is a coffee roaster who teaches home coffee-brew classes. We analyzed my $30 coffee maker and determined how to make it better.

Marty and Tooti Roe of Service Call clean coffee machines throughout the area at independently owned shops and at fast-food chains. About a year ago they opened About the Coffee, a coffee-equipment store open to the public in an industrial section of Kansas City, Mo.

At The Roasterie in Kansas City, Mo., owner Danny O’Neill hooked me up with coffee tasters, Some of the company’s top baristas also joined us to determine the flavor differences produced by a variety of equipment. We used one bag of beans and seven kinds of makers.


At the Roasterie’s cupping room, we put seven sets of equipment in five categories of brew methods both machine and manual and to the test using filtered water, clean equipment and the same bag of whole beans, the Roasterie’s Don Quijote of Costa Rica. The beans were ground just before brewing.

POUR OVER (Best for baristas and foodies.)

The equipment: The Hario V60 ceramic funnel. It’s a manual brewing method, allowing you to brew coffee right into your cup.


-Rich flavor.

-Allows control of brewing time and temperature so the coffee is just the way you like it.

-You can get intimate with your coffee, watching it bloom and brew.


-You have to baby your coffee, watching the kettle for the right temperature and wetting the filter before adding coffee.

-Although it’s manual, it requires equipment, including an electronic gram scale (about $30) to weigh ground coffee and water and a kettle. Models with an electronic reading are best because 200 degrees is the magic number, rather than the boiling point of 212. Those will set you back $60. One way to save money is to buy a plastic funnel instead of a Hario V60. Coffee geeks like the Clever, which is about half the price.

-Makes one cup at a time.

Stacy’s tasting notes: Coffee from the V60 was my second favorite overall. I tasted the full body of the coffee first, not the water.

The equipment: Chemex drip coffee carafe. Grounds should be placed in the cone-shaped filter at the top and hot water poured over them. The wood collar with leather tie serves as an insulated handle.


-Makes more than one cup.

-Allows control of brewing time and temperature so the coffee is just the way you like it.

-Also allows you to get up close and personal with your coffee, watching the brewing process.


-Requires its own kind of paper filter that you can’t always find at the grocery store.

-You have to baby your coffee, watching the kettle for the right temperature and wetting the filter before adding coffee.

-Although it’s manual, it requires more equipment, including a scale and kettle.

Stacy’s tasting notes: I tasted the water first, coffee second. Although it had a clean-water taste, that’s what I didn’t like about it.

DRIP: ONE-CUP (Best for divided households and for those who don’t want it strong.)

The equipment: A cup of premeasured grounds is inserted into your single-serving machine.


-You can have hot cider one day, coffee another, hot chocolate another.

-No mess from grounds when using prepackaged cups.



-Wasteful to use disposable cups.

-Expensive (roughly 60 cents per cup vs. 15 cents if you grind your own).

-Flavor is watery because extraction time is so short (1 minute).

-Coffee can be stale in the prepackaged cups.

Stacy’s tasting notes: We replaced the Keurig K cup with an Ekobrew reusable filter and freshly ground beans. Although the cup was filled to the max, the result was still a watery, weak cup of coffee. Almost a tie with my least-favorite cup.

DRIP: MULTI-CUP (Best for a household with working parents and young kids.)

The equipment: A machine that can brew 10 cups of coffee at the magic number temperature of 200 degrees.


– Brews a lot.

– Cone-shape filter for proper extraction.


– Expensive

Stacy’s tasting notes: This was my third favorite cup of coffee, following the French press and V60. I could taste the coffee first, water second.

FRENCH PRESS (Best for lovers of bold coffee.)

The equipment: Stainless steel with a Pyrex glass liner.


– Extracts oils from the coffee.

– The least-expensive method.

– Not much babying.


– Hard to clean (it contains no filter).

– Leaves a trace of grounds in your cup.

– This isn’t the maker for you if you like more nuanced coffees.

Stacy’s tasting notes: The coffee looks like it has an oil slick on top, a characteristic of a French press extraction. The flavor was divinely rich. My favorite!

VACUUM (Best for show-off entertainers and mad scientists.)

The equipment: Laboratory-like glass chambers heated by a flame at the bottom. Butane burners work best. Here’s how it works: Pour water into the bottom glass and insert the top chamber. Heat the burner, adjusting it for a slow boil. Water will rise into the upper glass and saturate the waiting grounds. Wait about 2 minutes for flavor to be extracted from the grounds, remove the flame, and the condensation in the bottom bowl will create a vacuum and will draw the coffee down through the tube and filter into the lower glass.


-Looks super-cool.

-Produces a clean brew.


-Pricey (burners need to be purchased separately).

Stacy’s tasting notes: This coffee reminded me of the brew from the Chemex. Both contain a noticeably clean taste.

PERCOLATOR (Best for those who want their home to smell just like Grandma and Grandpa’s.)

The equipment: A pot with a small chamber at the bottom close to the heat source. A vertical tube leads from this chamber to the top of the percolator. Just below the upper end of this tube is a perforated chamber for course coffee grounds.


– Incredible aroma, like coffee potpourri.

– The price is right.


– A harsh-tasting cup of coffee, because the water has gotten too hot (boiling point) and circulates through the grounds, causing over-extraction.

Stacy’s tasting notes: Compared with coffees brewed in the other makers, this one tasted burned _ and this was just after it brewed. My least-favorite cup. There’s a reason these fell out of favor in the early 1970s.


Honestly, my $30 coffee maker doesn’t have much going for it except that it’s cute and cheap. “It’s only got one button, which is good,” says Helt. Here’s what he advises:

– Look for the absence of unnecessary features.

– The wattage should be higher than 1,000.

– Thermal carafes are good. It keeps your coffee warm. My former maker kept it warm for hours. My new one, with a glass carafe, stays only hot (burned tasting) or cold.

– Check out the filter. You want one that requires paper filters. The permanent filters get stained with old coffee, which affects flavor. Conical ones are best.

– Invest in a burr grinder. This slices rather than smashes whole beans. Burr grinders start at about $50.

– Keep it clean. Marty Roe of About the Coffee suggests using 1 tablespoon of citric acid (from stores such as Whole Foods) to 1 gallon of water to clean your machine a few times a month.

– Clean the pot and filter basket daily. For manual equipment, clean with liquid dishwashing detergent and rinse well. To remove coffee oils (the brown staining that is rancid coffee, not “seasoning”) Roe recommends Puro cleaner.


Recommended ratio for that perfect cup: 2 tablespoons freshly ground coffee for every cup of filtered water.