To make a good cup of coffee, you need more than superior coffee beans. You also need a coffee maker that extracts and holds the brew at the right temperature.
Since most people use an automatic drip coffee maker, the machine that has all but eliminated the percolator, the engineers at Consumer Reports recently tested 26 electric machines. For the sake of comparison, two nonelectric models also were tested.
Brews from a full pot, half-pot and two-cup batches were evaluated. A taster noted the flavor, aroma, appearance, strength, body and overall quality of each brew. Several machines made very good coffee.
The Braun Aromaster KF80, $80, was top-rated. Like most coffee makers, it should be available for less at discount.
The Krups Coffeetime 165, $130, also made fine coffee, even in quantities as small as two cups. But it wasn't quite as convenient as the less-expensive Braun. The Hamilton Beach 810, $50, is faster than the other two.
Those three are among the models that come with built-in clock timers. You can fill the reservoir and basket ahead of time, then set the timer. Next morning, you'll be greeted with the tantalizing aroma of hot, freshly made coffee before your feet even hit the floor.
The Krups Brewmaster 150, $65, was another good, convenient performer, but without a clock-timer.
The Chemex Classic Series CM10A, $29, and Melitta CCM10/6, $16, nonelectric coffee makers also are worth considering. They are carafes into which you pour hot water through a coffee holder. They were among the coffee makers that made an average brew.
Coffee kept warm in a coffee maker needs gentle treatment. Brew held at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit will deteriorate a bit in taste after only half an hour. The hotter the holding temperature, the faster the deterioration. Among the highly rated models, the Braun Aromaster KF80 and Krups Brewmaster 150 held coffee at 165 degrees or lower, as measured an hour after brewing.
Before buying a coffee maker, check its components carefully. The water reservoir should be easy to fill, and most are. But be wary of a reservoir with a small opening or obstruction that would force you to take careful aim with the water. A removable reservoir gives you more flexibility.
A one-piece coffee basket is easier to deal with than a basket composed of various pieces that must be assembled each time you brew a pot.
Models with a basket that slides into the brewing unit are more convenient than those with one that rests on the coffee carafe and must be removed before you pour the first cup.
The shape of the glass carafe also should be considered. Some have to be turned practically upside down to be emptied. Before you take the coffee maker home, check to be sure the carafe is in one piece.
You may have to experiment a bit to brew a perfect cup of coffee in a new machine. If the first few pots aren't up to par, try a finer grind, a better grade of coffee or a darker roast. You might also try a more porous filter; very dense filters can reduce flavor.