'Hot Enough' Drip Coffeemakers Cost, Electric Kettles Are Cheap. Why?
March 11, 2017 9:25 AM   Subscribe

The thing with drip coffee makers is supposed to be that most do not get the water hot enough to produce a good brew. A few products that say they get the water hot enough are available for premium prices. But... ANY cheapo electric kettle produces boiling water. What's so hard about boiling water, letting it cool several degrees, and then spraying it on coffee grounds?
posted by justcorbly to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I haven't studied this market closely, but it might be helpful to move away from the idea that prices are set by what it costs to make something. If you have enough people willing to pay for a drip coffee machine that uses hotter water, then you have no real reason to charge less. Presumably the electric kettle market is not satisfied by devices that make water below whatever appropriate temperature, while the coffee market would seem to be. (There would seem to be a lot of mediocre coffee being brewed and consumed, so there's one piece of anecdodata in support of that notion.)
posted by veggieboy at 9:47 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Boiling water isn't hard, but most drip coffee makers are designed to be built cheaply without any moving parts.

This video explains how most of the simple ones work.

The more expensive coffee makers have better water handling features and, obviously, more moving parts: valves, pumps, meters, etc to control the water flow, temperature and pressure through the brewing process.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:48 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

The cost of achieving and electronically maintaining a specific water temperature are higher than just hitting boiling point in development and operation. That's why kettles have longer warranties than coffee machines. I employed a coffee machine engineer, it's like employing the mafia because the parts streams are so controlled by manufacturers who will come down hard on anyone who doesn't use a specific solution. That's why the life span of a coffee machine is relatively brief today despite the average unit cost rising.
posted by parmanparman at 9:50 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]

Our Cuisinart drip machine has a mode mysteriously named "1-4" (cups?) that seems to double boil the water and gets darn hot. I'm very pleased with it -- and we use the 1-4 mode all the time even for full pots.
posted by spitbull at 9:57 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Also it's lasted 4 years and looks and works fine. I clean it once a month with vinegar.
posted by spitbull at 9:58 AM on March 11

Just get a percolator, which does exactly what you want. They used to be common--not entirely sure why they fell out of fashion. I suspect it has something to do with coffee machines being used in offices and other places where people want to have hot coffee available all day, so letting gross coffee sit on a burner is (yes) better than letting it perc all day in a percolator. See also keurig machines. Some people claim percolators create "burnt" brew but I get consistently great coffee out of one that cost $8 at a thrift store.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:00 AM on March 11 [9 favorites]

There's good coffee and there's good enough coffee. The threshold of good enough varies, but most people really aren't that picky about getting a perfect cup of coffee, especially when it can be ready and waiting first thing in the morning instead of having to make it themselves while half asleep.
posted by rodlymight at 10:00 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]

It's not hard, but it's not quite as easy as just turning on a coffeemaker and coming back to coffee, and most people don't seem to notice or mind the drop in quality.

I do pretty much what you suggest. I heat up the water in the kettle then pour it over a Melitta style filter, directly into a thermal carafe. It's easy, but you do have to be standing right there manually pouring the water while it's at the right temperature, which is a bit of an inconvenience. (Also, this is probably not a universal thing, but we overpour all the time and get coffee all over the counter because we're not very smart and don't consistently account for cheat cups.)

I don't know why it's so much more expensive to get a drip coffee maker that gets the coffee up to temperature, though. Maybe there's mass collusion in the kitchen appliance industry to artificially overvalue those coffee makers in order to gouge the subset of people who care enough to pay for better coffee.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:12 AM on March 11

@JoeZydeco: The video explains that the heating element is needed at the bottom to maintain temperature after brewing. Eliminate that -- thermal carafe or just drink it before it goes bad -- and the element and the tank could be moved to the top.
posted by justcorbly at 10:15 AM on March 11

Spitbull's 1-4 button exists because allegedly (according to the manual) the first four cups of a bigger pot are more concentrated and get diluted, and therefore if you're only making a small pot, the machine needs to know to lay off a bit (and indeed, a cup poured mid-stream is much stronger than the final product would have been). I always assumed that running a full pot on it would have poor results, so am now curious to try!
posted by teremala at 10:37 AM on March 11

I assume it's because of the rest of the guts of the coffeemaker would need to be much higher quality to deliver the water at temp? It has to pump the boiling water through tubes to the sprayer, so you need pump-and-tube components that keep the temp up and don't break down quickly in frequent contact with boiling water.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:41 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Eliminate that -- thermal carafe or just drink it before it goes bad -- and the element and the tank could be moved to the top.

Bzzt. The materials cost of the thermal carafe (if you mean a real glass/vacuum sealed one) has now tripled the build cost of your product compared to the molded glass pot. Back to the drawing board.

The heated element on the bottom also helps bring the coffee up to serving tempature. The water percolating out the top is barely at 212F and will rapidly lose temperature as it descends through the grounds and into the pot.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:41 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

teramala thanks! I have always been too lazy to look that up. The Cuisinart also has three carafe temperature settings, the hottest of which makes the pot hot enough that you need to let it cool a bit to drink it black. Like all such carafes it isn't so good for more than an hour, but as a lifelong 8+ cup a day drinker that's not a problem I'm familiar with. I pour into a few 22oz thermal mugs soon after brewing anyway.

But a fresh pot is right to my taste.

I like very, very strong drip coffee made from bodega-standard Latin espresso grinds.(Pilon is by far my favorite. Don't scoff until you try it.)
posted by spitbull at 11:26 AM on March 11

There's a couple issues with how you're asking the question, but I'll bite. The idea that the coffee machines that get water hot enough are 'premium pricing,' is kind of fluid and not specific enough. There's no way to determine what you consider premium pricing and what I consider premium pricing.

If we're just talking temperature stability, there are several types of coffee makers on the market. There are machines that don't get the water hot enough, full stop. There are machines that get the water hot enough, but don't maintain that temperature throughout the brewing cycle. There are machines that do maintain a good temperature throughout the brew cycle.

The cheapest hot water kettle I know of that has a built in temperature gauge to maintain a proper (specific) brew temperature, is like $70. That's actually pretty comparable to the sort of the widely reviewed 'best, cheapest option' for temperature stable brewers, the Bonavita BV series (the smallest of which comes up for sale on amazon between $80-100 on a regular basis). The fact that the only temperature stable kettle and one of the cheaper temperature stable brewers are within spitting distance of each other on price, suggests that's just the cost of making a temperature stable system. I personally don't consider 80-100 bucks a 'premium' price for an auto drip brewer (I think that's kind of middle of the pack). You might think otherwise.

That said, the market for good brew machines is actually pretty small, because the cross section of 'people who care about temperature stability' and 'people who are using an auto-drip machine' is relatively small. 'People who care about temperature stability' also, typically care about a dozen other things when it comes to an auto drip machine, which increasingly jacks up the price.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:51 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]

I don't understand the difference between what you're describing and a percolator.
posted by Kriesa at 1:06 PM on March 11

Nthing percolators. Fifty dollars tops and they don't give you the weird burnt taste of drip machines. I have used them for decades. Can't remember exactly the moment I stopped using drip makers. I think it was someone I lived with pointing out the coffee is never hot enough. Percolators are 'wait to drink it' scalding.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:59 PM on March 11

Every manual method I know about -- pour over, immersion, Chemex, French press, etc. -- involves waiting a bit after water reaches 212F so the temperature drops 10-15 degrees. So, I don't agree that water cooling while it traverses the "pipes" in an auto drip is necessarily a problem. Depends on the temperature it's brought up to. And with these measures I'm boiling water on the stovetop or in a $30 kettle.

A hot plate on the bottom is needed only if the user wants to heat the coffee after it is brewed. Coffee tastes different -- bad -- after being heated like this for 20-30 minutes or so, which I imagine accounts for the burnt coffee taste some associate with auto drip makers. Coffee should be delivered into the pot at the right temp, without relying on the hot plate to get it there.

A legitimate Thermos container for coffee does add cost. But that's the only way I know of to avoid a hot plate and keep coffee hot enough to drink. (Or just make one cup at a time.)

"Premium" to me means $100 and up. Every drip unit I've seen that advertises the ability to reach an optimum temperature is priced at $100 and up. I've owned a couple of these and both suddenly lost their ability to heat water sufficiently at about the one year mark.

in essence, if you want to make a product that brews 10-14 cups of coffee at a time and then keeps it hot all day you must deal with keeping a constant temperature throughout the brewing process, power a hot plate, etc. It seems this is where all the cost comes in. Or, at least an opportunity to hike prices.

But, if your goal is to automate/electrify the manual approach to making a small amount of coffee, then it seems to me you're basically looking at boiling water, waiting 20-30 seconds, and releasing the water onto the grounds.
posted by justcorbly at 6:03 AM on March 12

All hail the electric percolator, which will do exactly what you want!
Jump on eBay, and buy a Farberware Superfast, with a GLASS TOP. (Made in USA.) The thermostat is well-made and long-lasting; unlike the Superfasts made in China. (Black plastic knob tops. Avoid those!)
Here: get this done today.
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:04 AM on March 12

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