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What is a Coffee Maker?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A coffee maker is an electric countertop appliance that brews hot coffee automatically. It consists of a hot plate, a carafe or glass coffee pot, filter basket, and water reservoir.

A coffee maker is a very simple, low-tech, yet efficient machine. A heating element circles the hot plate at the bottom of the maker. Wrapped in this heating element is a hollow aluminum tube. When water is added to the reservoir, a small hole in the bottom of the container feeds a plastic hose that leads down to one end of the aluminum tube. Once the coffee pot is switched on, the heating element gets hot very quickly. Sensors cycle the element on and off to keep it 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit (90-96 Celsius). Water sitting in the aluminum tube boils and the turbulence creates bubbles that rise though the opposite end of the tube, traveling up an exit hose (making room for more water to enter the heating element). Hot water riding on these rising bubbles creates upward lift that carries a small stream of boiling water to the top of the coffee maker. Here the exit hose terminates on to a drip plate. The drip plate distributes the boiling water evenly to fall through to the coffee grounds below in the filter basket. Hence, the drip coffee maker fills the carafe with freshly brewed java.

If you buy coffee beans whole you can use a coffee grinder to prepare them. It is best to grind the beans just prior to brewing. A drip coffee pot uses medium to coarsely ground coffee, while finely ground coffee is used for making espresso. Note that espresso cannot be brewed in a drip coffee maker, but is made in an espresso machine.

Most coffee pots have a timer allowing them to turn on automatically. Some people prefer to prepare their coffee maker at night, setting the timer so they can wake to freshly made coffee in the morning. Though this is convenient, connoisseurs would not only object to grinding the coffee beans so many hours in advance, but would also point out that once the coffee is brewed it should be taken off the hot plate. Continued exposure to heat will bring out harsher flavors including bitterness.

Some coffee pots use steel filters, others use paper filters. Steel filters will allow more oils to pass, making coffee that is headier and has more body. Paper filters create cleaner, lighter coffee.

Experts say evidence suggests coffee arabica originated in Ethiopia and has been cultivated for about 1500 years. Though coffee is brewed many different ways all over the world, today the coffee maker is by far the most popular way to brew a cup of Joe.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By FirstViolin — On Aug 19, 2010

A good choice for college students is a single serve coffee maker -- they usually are easier to clean, and it's better than lugging a big 12 cup coffee maker around from dorm to dorm.

By musicshaman — On Aug 19, 2010

Are there any brands that make decent cheap coffee makers? I was in Target the other day and there was no coffee maker in there under 50 dollars!

Can anybody tell me where to find a decent, yet cheap coffee maker under 30 dollars?

By EarlyForest — On Aug 19, 2010

One of the newer kinds of coffee makers is a pod coffee maker. Instead of using filters and ground beans, you buy little pods with coffee already in them.

Then you place the pod in the coffee maker, and when you close it, a small lancet comes down and pierces the pod, which lets the water run through the coffee to brew it.

It is a good choice for an office coffee maker, since nobody has to clean out the filter -- when it's done brewing, then you just chuck the pod and you're done.

By sputnik — On Mar 26, 2008

Periodically it is good to rinse the coffee maker to remove any coffee buildup. Instead of water, pour white vinegar in the water chamber, about a quart, and put it through the brewing cycle. Do put in the filter too.

When done pour it back, now warm, into the chamber and let is sit for a while, then go through the brewing cycle again. When this process is done, brew just plain water, to remove any vinegar taste. Do this twice. Now make your coffee, you should be able to taste the difference.

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