There are just a few elements involved in brewing a pot of coffee, and people will disagree over what's the most important when shopping for a drip coffeemaker. Save on the machine, but splurge on gold filters, purified water and quality whole-bean coffee.
You can buy a Cuisinart Cup-O-Matic single-cup coffeemaker for $365, or you can pick up a basic 10-cup drip coffeemaker by Kitchen Selectives at Target.com for $15. Indeed, you can spend just about any amount in between, depending on what you want in terms of features and brand name - they'll all brew a cup of coffee.
No matter the price, a drip coffeemaker generally has a water reservoir on top along with a heating element. The heated water drips through a showerhead-like array of holes and into the basket that holds ground coffee in a filter. The water saturates the coffee and passes through the filter, then pours down into an insulated carafe or a pot that sits on a hot plate.
Cost depends to a degree on the number of features a coffeemaker has. Plenty of coffeemakers that sell for less than $50 feature programmable timers, so your coffee is ready when you need it in the morning, as well as automatic shut-off features for those of us who are forgetful. A few high-end coffeemakers have built-in bean grinders, although these will cost more (anywhere from $50 to $100 or more). They also tend to be bulkier than coffeemakers that lack grinders.
Glass pots have been the mainstay of coffeemakers, but they can break. Stainless pots have come into use, but the major complaint about them is you can't tell how much coffee is left in them. The problem with either one is that they must sit on a heating plate to keep the coffee hot, but further cooking after the initial brew will alter the taste. A pricier option is the insulated carafe, which retains the heat of the fresh-brewed beverage without cooking it on a heating plate and changing its flavor.
For a more thorough description of coffeemaker features and functions, visit About.com's guide to coffee and tea.
Water and Filtration
Making a good cup of coffee is frequently a matter of personal taste. Some purists insist that the water has to be exactly 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit or all is lost and that only high-end machines will ensure that. But for most people, if the water's steaming, it makes a great cup of coffee. There is something to be said, however, for water quality: If your tap water tastes bad, so will your coffee. Some coffeemakers have a water filtration system built in, but these require filters that are sometimes hard to find and can be costly. A better solution is to use a simple tap water filtration system like a Brita water pitcher to remove contaminants and unpleasant taste from your water.
Filters deserve a second thought, too. Paper filters are cheap, easy and disposable. But some people say that using bleached paper coffee filters can affect the flavor of coffee. Again, it's a matter of personal taste. If you're one of those people, try using unbleached, brown filters instead. A better alternative is to purchase a reusable gold screen filter, which costs about $10. It's better for the environment, because you won't be throwing away paper filters, and many coffee drinkers say it allows the full flavor of the coffee to come through. The down side is that some screen filters allow fine coffee bean residue to trickle into your pot - and into your cup.
Buy good, whole-bean coffee and grind it yourself. Even the most expensive, elaborate coffeemaker on the market won't turn store-brand grounds into a magnificent cup.
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