Coffee Gear
How to Make the Best Coffee
Whether you’re using a French press or an automatic drip machine, our equipment reviewers have you covered.
10-03-2016
America's Test Kitchen

Some like their coffee hot, while others like it on ice. Some like it brewed in an automatic drip machine, while others like when it’s percolated on the stovetop in a moka pot. There are many ways to prepare your morning cup of joe—and people are passionate about their method of choice. But there is one thing every coffee-drinker can agree on: There’s nothing better than a great cup of coffee, and nothing worse than a bad one.

However you like to make your coffee, you’ll want to make sure you’re making it with the best possible gear. That’s why our resident equipment specialists, testing expert Adam Ried and gadget guru Lisa McManus, have devoted so many TV segments to the tools that can make or break your morning brew. We conducted hundreds of tests and drank cup after cup—we’re not afraid of a little case of the jitters!—to find the products that consistently delivered quality brew.

Here’s a compilation of the hits and misses we’ve featured on the show over the past several seasons, so you can be sure to start your morning on the right foot.

Pour-Over Coffee Brewers

Coffee enthusiasts love manual pour-over brewing devices because they let you control water temperature and steeping time—both key to a good cup.

What We Learned:

  • If you’re looking for a simple, no frills brew that requires zero electricity and just four to six minutes of steeping time, a pour-over brewer is your best bet.

Notable Quote: “Making coffee can be a huge production, or it can be pretty simple. Luckily, my first gadget today is very much on the simple side.”—Lisa McManus

Our Winner: Incred ’a Brew by Zevro [Buy Now on Amazon]

Curious about the full details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

Automatic Drip Coffee Makers

In 2008, we tested automatic drip coffee makers and got disappointing results. Only one gave us great coffee—rich and smooth. We discovered that it was the lone product to achieve research-based standards for brew cycle time and water temperature, two factors necessary for bringing out the fullest flavor in coffee without bitter notes. That machine, the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741, uses a powerful heating element of highly conductive copper that quickly brings water to the proper range of 195 to 205 degrees and sends it over the coffee grounds in no less than 2 minutes and no more than 8—the point beyond which undesirable flavor compounds are extracted, according to coffee experts.

What We Learned:

  • When brewing coffee, using good water is key. We used fresh spring water in our testings.
  • For a good brew, it’s crucial that water temperature stays between 195-205 degrees for the majority of a machine’s brew cycle.
  • Design is important. Ease of use and intuitive programming settings are characteristics that should not be overlooked when purchasing an automatic drip machine.

Notable Quote: “The Technivorm Moccamaster did a fabulous job. It spent 87% of its brew cycle in that sweet spot of 195-205 degrees—that’s exactly where you want the water temperature. And that was reflected in the coffee, people really liked it.”—Adam Ried  

Our Winner: Technivorm Moccamaster 10-Cup Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe [Buy Now on Amazon]

Curious about the full details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

Moka Pots

Often referred to as poor-man’s espresso machines, Italian moka pots are small, inexpensive (under $100) coffee makers that use steam pressure to force hot water from a bottom chamber up through coffee grounds. That pressure isn’t high enough for true espresso extraction, but the coffee they make is stronger and more complex than anything brewed in a drip machine.

What We Learned: 

  • Stovetop machines outperformed electric ones.

  • Using coffee that is ground a little bit coarser than true espresso prevents the grinds from falling through the filter.

  • Lightly tamping the grounds into the filter produces better coffee.

  • Heating the moka pot over medium-high heat makes the best coffee.

Notable Quote: “...this is best served when it’s absolutely fresh, so you want to pull it off the heat as soon as you think the coffee is done brewing--and I listen for that. When I hear that the gurgling has stopped, I pull it right off.” —Adam Ried

Our Winner: Bialetti Moka Express, 3 cups [Buy Now on Amazon] 

Curious about the full details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

French Presses

The French press (or cafetière à piston, as the French call it) uses a piston-like mechanism to force ground coffee through hot water, sending the spent grounds to the bottom of the pot and leaving a full-bodied brew on top. Oily and thick from minute particles of the grind suspended in the brew, French press coffee is impossible to confuse with drip coffee.

What We Learned:

  • Insulated pots kept the coffee hotter—after an hour of sitting in our winning insulated pot, our brew was still registering between 148 and 150 degrees, still quite hot enough to enjoy drinking.
  • All-steel models also eliminate the risk of shattering.
  • French presses with gaskets made from silicone yield a less gritty brew (the French press purists on our tasting panel didn’t like this).

Notable Quote: “We monitored the temperature over the course of an hour, at half an hour and an hour. The glass ones all hovered right around 148 degrees—which is certainly drinkable—but the metal insulated ones, that coffee was more like 165 degrees.”—Adam Ried

Our Winner: Bodum Columbia French Press Coffee Maker, Double Wall, 8 Cup [Buy Now on Amazon]

Curious about the full details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

Cold Brew Coffee Makers

Caffeine nerds have long touted the advantages of brewing coffee with cold water. The process, which calls for steeping ground coffee in cold water for several hours (or overnight), is largely hands-off; produces a smoother, less acidic brew than does conventional hot-water extraction; and yields a strong concentrate that can be stored in the refrigerator and diluted to taste with hot or cold water (or poured over ice) to make instant hot or iced coffee.

What We Learned:

  • A good cold brew system should yield a mellow, less acidic cup.
  • Our tasters detected notes of chocolate and berries in the best cold brews.
  • For a quality batch of cold brew, you’ll have to let the grounds brew for 12-24 hours.
  • Cost per cup is a key ratio. Our two favorite cold brew systems yield batches of brew that average out to about $0.50 per cup, or, a lot cheaper than your local café.

Notable Quote: “Cold brew is definitely coming back strong...And the reason is that a lot of coffee aficionados feel like it’s got a richer, mellower, less acidic flavor.”  

Our Winner: Toddy Cold Brew System [Buy Now on Amazon]

Curious about the full details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

Coffee Grinders

Coffee tastes best if the beans are ground fresh before they are brewed. With a wide variety of countertop coffee grinders on the market, it is no problem for home cooks to grind beans on demand.

What We Learned: 

  • Large capacity and a deep cup make enough grounds for an entire pot of coffee and minimize mess.

  • Burr grinders produce cups of coffee with better body than blade grinders.

  • Stopping your grinder and shaking it a couple of times will produce more even grounds.

Noteable Quote: "Most manufacturers recommend [grinding] for 10, 12, 15 seconds. We actually found that if you went for 25 or 30 seconds, it didn’t affect the flavor of the coffee negatively and it gave you a little bit better body.” —Adam Ried

Our Winner: Krups Fast-Touch Coffee Mill, Model 203 [Buy Now on Amazon]

Curious about the details of our testing? Get the whole story here.

All products reviewed by America's Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.

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