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Coffee Maker Report Card:
The Evaluation Method
The primary criteria against which the coffee makers were measured was quality of the carafe and ease of use. The container that catches the brewed coffee and pours it has to do its job as cleanly and efficiently as possible. And, the coffee maker should be simpler in making a good cup of coffee than being loaded with features that don't put more flavor in your cup.
The secondary criteria included two features that are each important in making good coffee as opposed to many of the other features you'll see on machines that either don't add any real value in making good coffee, don't deliver on their stated purpose, or needlessly complicate the machine. The two features that are important are a thermal carafe rather than a coffee pot that sits on a heater (slowly burning flavor out of the coffee), and a "small-batch switch" that increases the coffee maker's power for making small amounts of coffee at a time.
The Report Card Method - Detailed
The MakeGoodCoffee.com Coffee Maker Report Card starts with two main criteria establishing most of the coffee maker's score, and in addition, "bonus points" that are rewarded to the coffee maker if it contains an additional useful feature. The result was that the top third scoring of the list scored within a narrow range from one coffee maker to the next, until points were added for useful features. The first place coffee maker is one that has both of those features earning "bonus points". Second place through fourth place had one or the other useful feature, but not both.
It is worth pointing out those features that did not result in bonus points rewarded, as they were not deemed of value in making good coffee. They are:
* Programmable: A programmable coffee maker means you are preparing your coffee way too soon before drinking it; ex. getting your coffee ready the night before and programming the machine so that it's ready when you wake up. An argument could be made for the coffee maker with a built-in programmable grinder pulling beans from a built-in airtight container. Otherwise, we did not reward points to a coffee maker that is programmable.
* Brew-strength control: Coffee makers do a poor job of extracting based on how you set this control, and you will find most machines with this feature do not have much variation in the coffee they make from one setting to another. Better to keep more than one coffee in the house or vary how much ground coffee you use if you want to "adjust" your brew strength.
* Dispenser: The odd coffee maker drips the brewed coffee into a container rather than a carafe sitting on a heater. It would seem intuitive to reward for this feature, but the container is heated so coffee is still in contact with heat -- potentially more so than if the brewed coffee were allowed to drip into a carafe on a heater.
* Stop-interrupt feature: Coffee does not brew with the same strength at the beginning of the cycle as it does at the end of the cycle. When the carafe is removed mid-cycle with a stop-interrupt feature, it contains the strongest of the cycle's brewed coffee. If a cup is poured from the carafe, it will be exceptionally strong and coffee poured from the rest of the cycle will be exceptionally weak. The coffee maker manufacturers are lucky we didn't deduct a point for building this feature in (~just kidding~).
The Two Main Criteria
Of the two features contributing the most points to a coffee maker's score, the first is quality of the carafe, or every way that the carafe needs to be handled from preparing the coffee to pouring from it to cleaning up in the end. In the case of a dispenser-style coffee maker, the ease of using the dispenser was evaluated instead of the quality of the carafe.
The second main criterion is ease of use or the simplicity of operating the machine past useless or impractical features. It's meant to make a good cup of coffee quickly and easily. Where features are included to help you customize the coffee you brew, those features were measured against good coffee making practice.
Each of these two main features was measured from 1-5, with 1 being unacceptable and 5 being as good as can be delivered (or "as good as the best"). Scores of 2, 3, and 4 are self-explanatory with 2 being usable but barely acceptable, 3 being acceptable, and 4 being above average. In the following scoring step, bonus points are individually added to the coffee maker's average score from the two main criteria.
The Two Bonus Points
The first is a thermal carafe. If the brewed coffee drips into a thermal coffee pot that doesn't need to sit on a heater, it will keep from burning, keep its freshness and flavor longer, and if the carafe is designed properly, stay hot. This is an important feature.
The second is a small-batch switch that uses more power when you're making a small amount of coffee. Less water spends less time in the brewing process, and as a result, requires "double-heat" (to quote Cuisinart) to ensure the water is brought closer to the optimal 200 degrees Farenheit. Otherwise, the water in your coffee-maker is not extracting enough coffee flavor through heat from the ground coffee.