Coffee Cup
"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2003 - All rights reserved

Coffee Cup
Coffee Making Methods
- Drip -

      These chapters were originally written for my newspaper as part of an somewhat-monthly coffee column. They were designed to expose the coffee novice as to the various methods of making coffee and act as a starting point for understanding these methods. If you have been making coffee by any of these methods for any length of time then you will probably not find anything in these chapters to enlighten or educate you. Please feel free to E-mail me with anything that you think could be improved in these methods. -ED

      The kitchen of the 50's and 60's was more likely to be adorned with a percolator. Whether a stove top model or an electric, stand-alone version, they generally were what folks thought about when they thought of making coffee.

      As we became an appliance-driven economy a more modern and better method of making coffee was sought. Thus the drip coffee maker was invented and it didn't take long for it to replace the percolator as the method of coffee making in America.

      They come in various colors, sizes, brands, forms, and price points from $9.95 to well over $200, but they all generally work the same. Inside is a water chamber where a user-measured amount of water is poured. A swing-out compartment in front holds a filter, usually of disposable paper, where the ground coffee is placed, pre-measured to match the user's taste and the amount of water. Put the pot under the spout. plug the coffee maker in, and hit the "on" switch. Minutes later, coffee!

      Inside there is a heating chamber, usually made of metal with an immersed heating element. The element heats the water and some sort of thermostatic valve opens when the water has reached the pre-determined temperature. The heated water then pours through the grounds held in the chamber just above the pot. A filter element, usually made of paper, filters out the grounds delivering a clean brew into the pot. Most of these machines also feature a heating surface that keep the coffee warm.

      The speed and ease-of-use are what have made these machines so ubiquitous in the American home. With a one or two minute preparation time the machine can be turned on and forgotten until the coffee is ready just four or five minutes later. When done the coffee can be poured into a thermos and the filter with its grounds dropped into the trash and clean-up is nearly done. During the morning rush. when most folks "need" their cup of coffee but feel they don't have time to deal with seemingly more complicated methods of preparation, the drip machine seems perfect.

     There are some machines that try to improve on the basic drip machine, offering nearly the same convenience with added features that attempt to improve the coffee. For example, the Bunn brand of pour-over machines have larger water tanks that keep the water hot while on. Water poured into the top of the machine displaces the preheated water that pours over the grounds.

      These machines have come a long way since the introduction of "Mr. Coffee" and the other early drip machines. Many now have built in timers that can be set like an alarm clock to have the coffee ready for you first thing in the morning. Imagine waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee! There are some advanced units that have built in grinders as well so when the timer goes off, the correct amount of coffee is ground and dispensed into the filter. Others go one step further and are self cleaning as well, only leaving the spent grounds in a drawer that is emptied by the user. Since ground coffee loses its flavor within an hour or two of being ground, this can be a real enhancement to the flavor of the brew.

      Although convenient, and admittedly far superior to the percolator that it replaced, the drip machines are not perfect. As far as the taste of the coffee from these machines, the more dedicated coffee drinkers will be able to tell when the coffee has been passed through a paper filter. There are metal filters, usually gold plated, available for some machines. Although the metal filters tend to pass more sediment into the cup, they do not add flavor to the cup as paper filters can. Their primary problem is inconsistency. Due to design limitations and, according to some manufacturers, a liability problem, most of these devices do not get the water hot enough when it hits the coffee to fully extract the essences from the grounds. Water at the correct temperature is the key to any coffee making method. Still, these machines tend to brew on the cool side which is still superior to boiling the coffee over and over as in a percolator. The water in a drip machine generally does not stay in contact with the grounds for very long either, being regulated by the filter media and the fineness of the grind itself.

      Still, for convenience, speed, and flavor, the drip machine has become a favorite.

      For the best in drip coffee makers, take a look at the users' reviews on the Coffee Geek website.

Coffee Cup