For some people, making coffee is just one element in the morning ritual that they can perform with their eyes closed. For others, brewing coffee is a sacred rite that must be done precisely each and every time. Whatever an individual's brewing style, finding the right coffee machine is no simple undertaking. Determining personal preferences and adding a pinch of knowledge to the mix is the best way to choose the coffee machine that meets a person's individual needs.
Evolution of the Coffee Machine
Some attribute the discovery of coffee to an Ethiopian shepherd who noted his flock became lively after eating the beans of the coffee plant. His discovery inspired monks at the local abbey to make a hot drink by soaking the beans in water. Traders gradually spread the news of this stimulating beverage throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe.
For centuries, people continued to brew coffee by boiling water and adding ground beans. However, innovators in Europe began tinkering with various coffee making machines in the early 19th century. A rudimentary percolator appeared on the coffee scene during this era. This machine heats water to boiling in a lower chamber and causes it to bubble through grounds in the upper chamber until it reaches the desired color and flavor.
Inventors patented the percolator in the late 19th century. With the development of electric models in the early 20th century, it became the coffee machine of choice until the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, automatic drip coffee machines displaced percolators as the nation's most popular way to brew java.
Several variables affect the flavor of brewed coffee. Most coffee drinkers seek to find the combination of the following factors that best suits their personal tastes.
Bean Variety and Roast
While bean variety -- the plant species and country of origin -- affects the flavor of coffee, the roast of the beans largely determines its flavor. Dark roasted beans produce a richer, fuller-bodied drink than lightly roasted varieties.
Extraction is the function of pulling water through the grounds, extracting the flavors and oils from the beans, and incorporating them into the hot water. The level of extraction is equivalent to the weight of the grounds dissolved in the water.
The strength of the brew is the total amount of dissolved solids in the coffee. This is also a measure of coffee concentration, which ranges from strong to watery.
The brew ratio is the amount of coffee grounds to the amount of water in the pot. The relationship of these separate factors in the perfect cup is expressed as:Strength=Brew Ratio x Extraction
Finally, the efficiency with which the coffee machine extracts the flavor from the beans puts the final flourish on the ultimate cup of java. That is why selecting the right machine is critical.
Which Coffee Machine?
Types of coffee machines currently available new and used include:
- Automatic drip
- French press
- Espresso maker
Although percolators had their heyday in the previous century, both new and vintage machines are currently available. Many mainstream coffee machine manufacturers produce new stainless steel percolators with capacities ranging from four to 30 cups. Some are electric while others are designed to be used on the stovetop or campfire.
The parts of a percolator include a cover with a transparent knob, a pot, and an interior assembly consisting of a basket, a pump stem, and a weighted base. The hot water bubbles up the stem and into the grounds in the basket. Then, it filters back into the pot.
Proponents of percolating coffee believe that this type of machine simply makes the best tasting brew. The bubble window on the lid makes it easy to see the color of the coffee and determine when it is done. Simply removing the machine from the stovetop stops the extraction process before the coffee becomes any stronger. Electric percolators have settings that allow the coffee maker to preset the brew strength.
- Retro in appearance for a stylish, vintage look
- Consistent brewing
- Detachable cord on electric models makes cleaning easier
- Nostalgia factor
- Boiling water draws acids from beans, making bitter coffee
- Takes longer to brew than automatic drip machine
- More time-consuming to clean grounds basket
- Water runs through the same grounds repeatedly, absorbing bitterness
Automatic Drip Coffee Machine
Most Americans use automatic drip coffee makers. The machine consists of a tempered glass carafe with a hinged plastic lid, a power base with an electrical cord, a filter chamber, and a water reservoir.
To make a pot of coffee, the brewer measures grounds into the filter chamber and pours water for the desired amount of cups into the carafe. With a flip of the switch, the machine automatically does the rest, releasing the warmed water through the grounds to drip back into the carafe. A built-in heater below the carafe keeps the coffee warm.
Some automatic drip machines have brew timers. People fill their machines with water and coffee grounds the night before, program the timer, and wake up to fresh coffee in the morning.
Automatic Drip Coffee Machine Pros
- Reliable brew
- Warming element keeps pot of coffee drinkable longer
Automatic Drip Coffee Machine Cons
- Requires purchased filters
- Impossible to regulate water temperature for different types of beans
- Can't adjust the time that the water and coffee steep
A French press coffee maker is a glass or stainless steel receptacle into which the brewer deposits freshly ground beans and hot water. Parts of the French press machine include a glass or stainless steel pot, a lid with a plunger, and a screen filter attached to the plunger.
The grounds must be coarse so that they do not filter through the press into the finished coffee. The water temperature should fall within a 195 to 205 degree F range, adjusted according to the type and roast of beans being brewed.
Upon adding water, the brewer should gently stir the grounds and the water, and then loosely place the lid on top with the plunger all the way up. After four minutes, the extraction is complete, and the coffee brewer pushes the plunger all the way down to separate the grounds from the water. The brewer should take care to store any leftover java in a thermos and discard the coffee grounds.
Coffee purists extoll the virtues of the French press, contending that it produces the finest coffee flavor. However, the quality of the French press brew depends in large part on the skill of the brewer.
French Press Pros
- Control over water temperature
- Control over brewing time
- Produces richer, fuller flavor
- Does not require electricity
French Press Cons
- Brewer must be skilled for best results
- Not automatic
- Not programmable
- Coffee cools quickly if not transferred to thermos
Espresso machines produce a highly concentrated, dark and rich brew favored by Italian bistros. The coffee must be finely ground and packed to produce the strong coffee that people drink as "shots" in miniature cups. The brew contains a higher volume of suspended and dissolved bean solids than regular strength coffee. Parts of a home espresso machine include a portafilter, a tamper to pack the coffee grounds in the portafilter, a spout, and a group head that determines how many cups can be made at once. An espresso maker also has a water reservoir, a control panel, an electrical cord, and a milk frother.
Brewing espresso is a multistage process, and most machines designed for home use allow the barista to make only a couple of shots at once. If making a latte, the brewer must heat the milk separately from the coffee using the frother tube on the machine, which blasts steam into the milk, whipping it to a froth. Espresso drinkers immerse themselves in the flavor, aroma, and highly caffeinated experience of European-style coffee.
Espresso Machine Pros
- Produces gourmet coffee
- Saves money over buying beverages at the espresso stand
- Gives the kitchen a professional mystique
- Brings out the full potential of the beans
Espresso Machine Cons
- Produces a brew too strong for some coffee drinkers
- Requires a significant investment
- Creates more mess than other coffee machines
Finding a Coffee Machine at the Right Price on eBay
Budgetary concerns are always a factor in any purchasing decision, and the acquisition of a coffee machine is no exception. The least expensive devices have more plastic parts and less capacity than pricier models. In general, a basic automatic drip machine is the most affordable, but depending on the manufacturer and the number of features, drip coffee makers can also be among the most expensive.
When shopping for a new or used, upscale or vintage coffee machine, stopping in at eBay allows shoppers to view the full spectrum of coffee making possibilities. Those who already know which machine they are looking for can take advantage of eBay's advanced search options to hone in instantly on the perfect percolator or press. Searching in a specific price range, narrowing options to the desired manufacturer, or browsing only one style of coffee machine is as easy as typing in a search phrase and sitting back to see the results.
Making the Coffee Machine Decision
To make an informed purchase, buyers should consider how much time, effort, and expense they are willing to invest in a coffee machine. Perhaps streamlining the morning routine is their most important criterion, or maybe making a delicious cup every time is not negotiable. Others may listen to their strong sense of nostalgia and select a vintage machine. Whatever the final coffee machine decision, buyers can find several options that meet their needs by shopping online at eBay.