What should be required of a filter coffee maker?

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Aina Prat
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If the filter coffee maker is very present in Spanish homes, it is not always easy to choose it. And in addition to the options that we may need, we must first know what performance criteria are essential for it to prepare good coffee.



At first glance, you might think that the filter coffee maker is a rudimentary device, a little overtaken by new technologies and the automation offered by machines such as coffee makers. However, many Spaniards cannot do without it. Moreover, the trend observed on the capsule and pod coffee machine market leaves no room for doubt: the Spaniards remain very attached, especially in the morning, to their large bowl of coffee - so much so that Dolce Gusto or Nespresso (with the Vertuo) has launched into large format capsules, to prepare large mugs. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the filter coffee maker remains one of the favorite household appliances in Spanish homes. In this case, as many of you have expressed your interest in the filter coffee maker during our survey, we will be offering you a dedicated comparison very soon. To set up our test protocol, we interviewed manufacturers and baristas to find out what we should expect from our filter coffee makers so that the coffee is prepared in the best conditions: at what temperature, how to infuse, how to taste it, how to avoid distorting its taste... These elements make it possible to identify essential, practical options and to know which technical points should not be neglected.



What is the correct infusion time?

As a reminder, in a filter coffee maker, a resistor brings the water in the tank to a boil. It is then cooled as it passes through a cooler pipe and then flows drop by drop into the filter holder. Drip coffee brews much longer than espresso — where high-pressure water moves through the coffee quickly.

So we asked experts what the ideal infusion time was. The right infusion time is difficult to determine, especially since it varies according to the quantity of water and coffee prepared. And according to the experts interviewed, the answers vary. For some, the right duration is between 6 and 10 minutes. Others have mentioned a shorter infusion time, speaking of 2 min 30 s (30 s of pre-infusion which is called degassing then 2 min of infusion) to prepare two cups. Anyway, the infusion time varies of course depending on the quantity of coffee installed in the portafilter.

If the operation of the filter coffee maker is basic from a technological point of view, respecting the extraction time is probably not so simple to implement. The speed of preheating and therefore of evaporation of the water varies according to the power of the on-board resistance, but without affecting the infusion. On the other hand, the rate at which the evaporated water is cooled and especially dispensed drop by drop into the coffee will have a direct impact on the infusion time and therefore on its quality. 

A machine that is too fast will therefore be penalized during our tests. We will also pay particular attention to the "stop drop", this part installed at the base of the filter holder. If it allows the coffee to pass through too quickly, the extraction will not be satisfactory. On the contrary, if it tends to become clogged or difficult to clean, extending the infusion time too much, the coffee will be too strong. 



One thing is certain: the speed of extraction of a filter coffee maker is in no way a criterion of performance. Moreover, you are well aware of the time required for this preparation: during our survey, 52% of those who do not use a filter coffee maker said they prefer other methods because they find it too long.

Note that the infusion time can vary the taste of the coffee. Some brands also offer more or less perforated filters that allow the brewed coffee to pass through the filter at a variable speed to influence the infusion time and therefore the aromatic strength. 

The right brewing temperature

Also contributing to the preparation of a good coffee, the infusion temperature is easier to determine. For a filter coffee, the ideal infusion temperature is between 92°C and 96°C. It has a direct impact on the taste of the coffee: the closer it gets to 92°C, the more acidic the coffee. The closer it is to 96°C, the more bitter it is. 

If you leave this range of temperatures, water that is too cold does not allow the aromas to be extracted, while water that is too hot distorts the flavors, giving a burnt taste. 

What impact on filter coffee makers and especially how to manage it? Some automatic machines with grinders offer to vary the extraction temperature, to play on these flavor variations. But filter coffee makers don't offer that kind of choice. No possibility of varying the taste by adjusting the temperature. For this, the user therefore has the choice of adapting the quantity of coffee, but also the grind. The finer it is, the stronger the aroma of the coffee – hence the interest in using a grinder rather than buying ground coffee; we will also benefit from the freshness of the grind. Since filter coffee is infused longer than espresso, unless you like very strong coffee, it is better to choose a medium to coarse grind, but not too fine. 



In our future tests, we will penalize machines that brew at too low or too high a temperature.

How do flavor selectors work?

We can mention the aroma selectors found on some filter coffee makers. They therefore do not act on the temperature, but vary the duration of infusion, by making the water flow more or less quickly (drop by drop or in continuous flow) and in different areas of the filter holder: right in the middle or on the ends. If the method is different, the principle is the same as for the filters mentioned above.

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Should the coffee be kept hot or reheated?

Do you have the habit – like us, don't worry, but bad, know it – of preparing large quantities of filter coffee and then heating it up in the coffee maker, in a saucepan or in the microwave? Baristas reading this will be horrified, because it's a bad idea! 

What should be avoided when it comes to reheating and keeping warm?

In terms of reheating, you should avoid almost everything, because the fateful number to remember is 30 minutes. Beyond this time, the "good" aromas evaporate, leaving a preponderant place to sourness and bitterness. Reheating by turning the coffee maker back on is not a good idea because the coffee cooks and sees its aroma altered, while reheating on a hot plate or in the microwave favors the evaporation of the aromas. 

For keep warm function, the same applies: do not exceed 30 minutes. This option can therefore be practical for those who do not wish to drink their coffee immediately after preparation, but when a coffee maker has such a function, the heating element must not produce a temperature higher than that coffee in the jug. It must be between 80°C and 85°C. A keep warm function at a higher temperature would amount to "cooking" the coffee.

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Be careful, the duration of keeping machines warm is now governed by European regulations since January 1, 2015 - because coffee makers consume a lot of energy, especially when using the keep warm function. It ranges from 5 minutes for a thermal jug coffee maker to 40 minutes if the jug is glass.

Some machines (at Russell Hobbs) even offer a little extra: a gauge displaying the duration of keeping warm, allowing the user to know at a glance how long his coffee will still be hot. 

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One of the baristas interviewed advises using an insulated bottle, which keeps the coffee hot for about 3 hours, insisting on the duration of 30 minutes, not to be exceeded in keeping warm. For those who wish to enjoy their coffee for several hours - knowing that it is hot that it releases all its aromas -, the thermal jug can therefore be a very valuable option. It even seems more suitable than a keep warm option if used all the way and it's 40 minutes.

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It therefore follows that certain options are essential or very useful depending on consumer habits. In addition to keeping warm and the thermal carafe, in our opinion, automatic shutdown, not available on all machines contrary to what one might imagine, is almost essential. It avoids ending up with a cooked coffee with a distorted taste, which does not fail to happen if you forget to turn off the machine, but also limits energy consumption. Let's not forget that these are machines that require power (1000 W on average) to evaporate the water and therefore consume energy.

According to habits, for example breakfast coffee, a machine programmable can be a good choice, precisely avoiding having to reheat or using the keep warm function. 

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What about large containers? 

Filter coffee makers with a large capacity are tempting. But they are preferred for large families, for heavy coffee drinkers or for family gatherings. To get the most out of the coffee, it is better to taste it within 30 minutes of its preparation, possibly a few hours after using an insulated bottle or if the machine has such a jug. Buying a 12-cup machine thinking of making coffee for a whole day or even two days is therefore not the best choice. 

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The ideal tasting

To enjoy a perfect taste, the ideal time after preparation to drink your filter coffee extends up to 15 minutes. After 15 to 30 minutes, the taste is still good then begins to deteriorate beyond 30 minutes. 

As for the temperature, it must be between 80°C and 85°C in the jug to taste the coffee between 60°C and 65°C; these temperatures avoid the burning sensation but allow you to smell the aromas. If the user pours his coffee into a cold cup — unlike some automatic coffee machines with grinders, filter coffee makers do not offer cup warmers — possibly by adding milk, the temperature loss is effectively one fifteen degrees.

Our conclusions for choosing the ideal filter coffee maker

Obviously, according to their needs and desires, each user will select options that suit them. However, based on this information, we can conclude that certain functions are important, even essential, and that certain performances cannot be compromised.

First of all the automatic stop, avoiding distorting the flavors, seems to us to be essential. The keep warm function, for its part, can be useful — to stop before 40 minutes for coffee makers that go that far —, provided that the resistance does not "overheat" the coffee, which our tests will verify ( no more than 85°C). For those who do not drink their coffee immediately after preparation, an insulated jug is a very valuable option. And for those who consume immediately, the programming is also interesting, allowing in particular to do without keeping warm (and saving energy in the process) or even an insulated jug. On the other hand, a large capacity is not necessarily essential, far from it, because to enjoy a quality coffee, releasing all its aromas, it is better to make it several times rather than keeping it warm during the day or to warm it up. As a result, therefore, very small capacities can even be appreciable – especially since if the water/coffee ratio is respected, no more coffee will be used. Finally, technically, if the speed of extraction is not a guarantee of successful extraction of the filter coffee (which can also vary if a machine equipped with an aroma selector is used), the temperature extraction is very important and we will of course not fail to measure it. 

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