Coffee, anyone?
June 24, 2008 1:42 PM   Subscribe

What is a good, cheap coffee-maker for someone who will only make coffee a few times a year?

I prefer to get my caffeine delivered via Diet Coke, and I rarely drink coffee. My husband also does not drink coffee. So even though we are grown-up married people, with kids and a mortgage and everything, we do not own a coffee-maker. Consequently, when people come over for dinner or whatever and want coffee, they are out of luck, unless they are brave enough to attempt the execrable instant decaf Taster's Choice that my mother-in-law stashes in our freezer every time she comes to visit. My own parents are coming for a visit next week, and both of them are big-time coffee drinkers. I'm thinking rather than doom them to seven days of hiking to the corner deli for their morning coffee, I should probably just suck it up and purchase some kind of coffee machine to have at home.

So: suggestions? Something that isn't too big, too complicated (since I of course am clueless in the ways of coffee), or too pricey -- and that will make coffee good enough for those with a refined coffee palate?
posted by mothershock to Food & Drink (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Coffee press. Add hot water and ground coffee and wait 2 or 3 minutes, press and pour. Nothing to break or learn, easy to clean and store.
posted by voidcontext at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2008

French press caffetiere? Cheap, easy, and makes pretty drinkable coffee.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:47 PM on June 24, 2008

My immediate thought was: buy any decent brand (Mr. Coffee, Bunn, Cuisinart) at a yardsale for less expense, if you can. I'm in your shoes: not that big on coffee, but I have a maker anyway for the rare occasions when I do want it. $5 at a yardsale, and it came with a ton of filters.

The brands I mentioned above are reliable. Unless you want to wow them for some reason with a French Press and the finest of beans, middle-of-the-road seems like a good route to take.
posted by dorothy humbird at 1:48 PM on June 24, 2008

Coffee press. Bonus: You can use it with loose leaf/herbs to make a nice little pitcher of tea, too.
posted by desuetude at 1:49 PM on June 24, 2008

Go with the coffee press, and if you really love the people who are coming over, get a cheap grinder and grind up some coffee. The combination of a press and a grinder (even a cheap one with just a blade instead of burrs) will get you 90% of the way to Awesome Coffee Land.
posted by burnfirewalls at 1:53 PM on June 24, 2008

(You can also use said blade grinder to handle other small food processing tasks. Bonus!)
posted by burnfirewalls at 1:54 PM on June 24, 2008

On reflection, I seem to have glorified the French/coffee press. It does seem like a nice option, although there are certain benefits to drip brewing (automaticity).
posted by dorothy humbird at 1:54 PM on June 24, 2008

Cheap french press is the way to go. Here's one I bougt on Amazon, and I'm happy with it.
amazon link
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:55 PM on June 24, 2008

bunn is pretty good - fairly expensive (around $100), but a good brand, and dead simple to use (the basic one has just an on/off switch). mr. coffee is cheap and usable. I've had perfectly fine luck with a cheap Proctor Silex for a while too. (I have a Krups now that's going on 10 - works great, but probably more than you want to spend.)

the key is really to get one without a timer (that's the confusing part) and that's at least 8 cups (less can make the coffee taste bitter - make the whole pot, even if you're not gonna drink it). basic coffee is simple - put water in the water place and coffee in the coffee place and turn it on. spend the money on the actual coffee grounds. don't buy Folgers - buy something good in a bag. many supermarkets carry upscale (or at least Starbucks, or maybe Peet's), and a lot carry some local roasters' wares too. bad coffee will taste like bad coffee even if you make it in a Technivorm. your parents may have a preference (f.e. around here, I pretty much only drink Ugly Mug stuff).
posted by mrg at 1:55 PM on June 24, 2008

Plastic cones are super cheap and make good coffee, and they're very simple to use and easy to clean and store. You can get them at the grocery store or at coffee places that sell supplies. You'll also need the appropriate size filters.
posted by yarrow at 1:57 PM on June 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I would vote No on the coffee press for occasional coffee making. I am a coffee drinker and own three coffee makers including a press, and the press isn't marked with cup lines or anything like that. It takes some experimenting over time, or did for me anyway, to get the right coffee/water ratio figured out. If I only got it out three times a year, I'd either never figure out the ratio or never remember it the next time I got it out.

I'm seconding Ms. Humbird on "any decent brand cheap at a garage sale." I am no expert but the thing that improved my own coffee the most was beginning to grind my own beans, so get a grinder, put in one tablespoon of beans per 6 oz. "cup" of coffee (as marked on your inexpensive but reliable coffee maker), grind it up, and go.
posted by not that girl at 2:00 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have had the same Braun coffee maker for nearly fifteen years. It is a basic, white plastic, 10-cup coffee maker with one button. It's either on or off. It makes a great cup of coffee and is not complicated. I make everything from Folgers to organic coffees that I grind myself and everything comes out great.

Here is one on Amazon. Mine is not hourglass shaped like this but more straight up and down, but the concept is the same. One button, basic coffee maker.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:04 PM on June 24, 2008

I love my Chemex coffee maker. It's elegant and looks beautiful sitting on my table, coffee or no coffee. It's also makes the best cup, hands down. And it's electricity-free!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2008

Seconding not that girl. Don't get a coffee press if you don't know how to use it and your guests don't, either. For drip coffee fans, French press is a bit weird and not hot enough. Any random electric coffee maker from Target should be acceptable to the majority of people, especially if you also spring for a little blade grinder and a decent bag of beans. If you provide the machine and the filters, your coffee-drinking guests should be able to make coffee to their liking.

Case in point, I have a decent espresso machine, a french press, an Aeropress, and a few other machines laying around. Which machine gets the most use? A basic Mr. Coffee machine I bought 15 years ago.
posted by cabingirl at 2:12 PM on June 24, 2008

Post a request to freecycle asking for someone's coffee maker they don't want anymore. Odds are you'll get a response with a simple something that fits your needs.
posted by inigo2 at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2008

I have a small (four cup) coffee plunger (aka coffee press) and it has cup lines, costs very little (~$25) and is very easy to get right. The good thing about it is you can put tea leaves in there and make a nice cup of tea instead.

But these days I just buy a box of coffee bags for guests and let them make coffee one cup at a time whenever they like. It's fairly decent coffee (way better than instant anyway), convenient, takes up less room and doesn't cost much. I don't tend to have large groups of coffee lovers around at a time though, so YMMV.
posted by shelleycat at 2:18 PM on June 24, 2008

Your parents are the big-time coffee drinkers, right? Why not ask them what they use? That way you can guarantee it will be how they like it :)

Otherwise I'm in the French press camp.
posted by melvinwang at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Go with the single-serving coffee cone, like yarrow suggests. If you're really only going to use it as rarely as you say, then a standard coffee maker is just going to take up space, and turn into this big thing you have to dig out of the back of some cabinet. The single-serving ones work on exactly the same principle, and are easily replaceable when (and I do mean when, not if) you lose or break one.
posted by mkultra at 2:23 PM on June 24, 2008

I don't drink coffee, but I have an Eva Solo CafeSolo which I've been very happy with. It is easy to use, doesn't take up much space, looks good and makes damn fine coffee (or so the say those who have drunk the coffee it makes and also actually like coffee, I wouldn't know).

Of course, it probably costs more than anything anyone else has mentioned so far :(
posted by esilenna at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2008

A Mr Coffee 4-cup maker served me nicely for a few years until I made some kind of mistake using Mr. Coffee brand cleaner. Luckily, it's cheap enough to just get even a brand new one to replace it (though I've moved to a press for daily use). Your quantity needs may vary, though?
posted by knile at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Aeropress makes a better quality of coffee than a French press, with no nasty grounds in the bottom, doesn't cost much more and is MUCH easier to clean. The coffee from my Aeropress tastes just as good to me as coffee from ridiculously expensive machines.
posted by emilyw at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I recently decided to get a drip coffee maker after using a french press for years. I went with the cheapest thing from Target (this Mr. Coffee) and while the coffee it makes is just fine, the carafe drips like nobody's business when I pour coffee. And the machine never seems to dry out inside based on how the lid is designed. So, um, my advice is to get something cheap, but not that one.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2008

Big coffee drinking household experience [except for me, I just make the stuff, apparently rather well too ;-)] get an 8-cup cafetière (coffee press) for your parents' visit.

Step 1: Fill kettle with fresh water.
Step 2: Put a well rounded tablespoon of coffee in cafetière.
Step 3: Allow kettle to boil, leave for 20 seconds (you don't want to put boiling water on fresh ground coffee).
Step 4: Pour hot water into cafetière, stir and put plunger on top, leave for 3 minutes.
Step 5: Slowly push plunger down.
Step 6: Serve.

Coffee too strong? Put a little less next time. Your guests will know how much coffee to use and will remember for the next visit.

The advantages of using cafetières/coffee presses? They take very little storage, rarely break and make the best coffee in the world.
posted by ceri richard at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2008

Another vote for the plastic coffee cone -- super easy, nothing to clean beyond throwing out the filter and rinsing the cone, and it takes up almost no space.
posted by scody at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2008

A Mr. Coffee 4-cup one should be large enough to make coffee for a couple of guests at a time, simple enough to use (one switch) and small enough to store easily the rest of the year.
posted by andrewraff at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2008

I own this French press from Ikea ($12.99). This manual Melitta coffemaker ($11.92 plus paper filters) also makes good coffee, and is quite easy to use and clean. (The linked article suggests cloth filters, but I prefer paper filters.)
posted by iviken at 2:38 PM on June 24, 2008

Thirding the Mr Coffe 4 cup. I own it, and it works great. $20 a Target.

I also own a French press and love the coffee it makes. But I agree that it's not very hot, and it can be hard to master the proportions of coffee/water/grind. And it's a pain to clean. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I could never use it two days in a row because I never wanted to clean it.
posted by peep at 2:42 PM on June 24, 2008

I don't know where that other "e" went.
posted by peep at 2:45 PM on June 24, 2008

The Melitta coffee maker and paper filters cost less at
posted by iviken at 2:45 PM on June 24, 2008

2nding the Aeropress.
posted by s01110011 at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2008

Why use a coffee maker at all? Just bring water to a boil in a pan, and throw in fresh-ground coffee. Run the back of a spoon over the top of the floating coffee grounds so they sink. Nicer if strained through a filter (maybe through one of the cone+paper thingys) but strong and delicious if simply poured carefully from the pan. Visitors come back for more of my coffee, wondering what the secret is to the brew. Learned from myy French mother in law, who always makes coffee this way. For cafe-au-lait, start with boiling milk, or milk+water, instead of just water.
posted by anadem at 3:06 PM on June 24, 2008

Watch the sales, and buy a basic drip coffee maker. Use decent beans, fresh ground, and you're good. Only coffee purists will turn up their noses at it, and if they're that picky, I expect they'll bring their own. I drink coffee only rarely, and while I use a french press for mine, it's much easier to fire up the 10 cup Mr Coffee for a morning's worth of sit and chat over coffee/tea and muffins than it is to figure out scaling my usual to more than one person. (caveat -- I have lots of storage space and I've got lots of stuff that I only use once or twice a year,and adding a coffeemaker to that isn't a big deal. If you don't have lots of space, buy a coffeemaker at a thrift store/yard sale, clean it, use it, clean it, then sell or donate it. Repeat the next time they come over.)
posted by jlkr at 3:21 PM on June 24, 2008

I have a history on this site of giving free coffee advise, and this occasion will be no different. What is different, however, is what I'll recommend. I picked up the Aerobie Aeropress this weekend (and as a coffee purist, I must say that I'm a little disgusted with myself, since I have a Press, a Chemex, an espresso machine, and a drip machine), but this little gizmo is fantastic for a fast, portable, simple cup of coffee. The taste isn't phenomenal, and it certainly leaves a lot to be desired (all plastic irks me) but for convenience, speed, and cleanliness, it's great. It takes a couple seconds to grind the beans, throw on the filter, heat the water, and just press it through. Clean up is also easy. A simple rinse if you're lazy; throw it in the dishwasher if you're uber lazy, and 2 second scrub if you have the time. The coffee grinds just pop out into the trash can, and there is absolutely no reason to get your hands, or drain, dirty.

I was impressed. Not enough to use it everyday, but it's a handy little thing, and great for the lazy coffeemaker.

The press is messy. The coffee is thick and oily. And the coffee gets cold very quickly. (I love the press, and I use it on weekends when I have time, but really, it's not the greatest daily coffeemaker.)

The espresso machine is clearly not what you want.

The Chemex coffeemaker is also very clean and efficient, but it takes FOREVER for the water to get through the filter, and by then, the coffee is colder than you'd like it to be. Plus the filters are expensive, and clean up is a bit tricky because of the inverted glass.

The traditional drip coffee maker is great, but messier than the AeroPress. And there are more parts than can get funky, smelly, and stained.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 3:23 PM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: Wow -- these are all fantastic answers. I'm intrigued by the make-it-on-the-stovetop method and I may experiment with that over the weekend (how much fresh-ground coffee do you throw in?)... otherwise, I'll head to Target with a better idea of what I'm looking for, thanks to all the info here.
posted by mothershock at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: (Oh, and the coffee bags -- those look awesome. Can you get them stateside, or are they a New Zealand thing?)
posted by mothershock at 4:00 PM on June 24, 2008

Apropos the temperature of coffee from a press - preheat the press jug with hot water, and preheat the mugs. No problem then.

I think a press hits the sweet spot for cheapness and ease of use. No paper filters or other disposable crap required, no electrical parts, easy to obtain and replace.

Personally, as a terrible coffee snob who roasts his own beans and owns the world's most impractical espresso machine, in your house I'll take what you give me and keep my opinion to myself.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2008

I have a small BlackBerry branded french press. Although it might actually be cheaper to find a French press in a store you are welcome to it for the cost of postage.
posted by KevCed at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2008

My office uses the coffee bags. They're pretty good. Not as good as the flavia pod stuff we used to have at the old office (and which I ended up buying a mini version of for home), but plenty good enough even for daily use. They do get them from Japan though. I don't know if that's just because you can't get them here or because they know people and get a good bulk price.
posted by juv3nal at 4:08 PM on June 24, 2008

If you buy a minimal amount of coffee (sign up for monthly delivery and then cancel after the first shipment) from Gevalia, they will give you a free coffee maker.
posted by oceanmorning at 5:43 PM on June 24, 2008

The key to good coffee is the coffee, not the machine you use to brew the coffee. You also want to grind the beans immediately before you brew the coffee. So get a pound of really good coffee beans that will wow your folks. Then get a coffee grinder so that you can grind the coffee. You can use the grinder for grinding up cinammon, allspice, nutmeg, etc. after your folks are gone.

After that, you have two choices for brewing the coffee that will be least hassle, and take up least room in terms of storage: Coffee bags, or a plastic coffee cone. By coffee bag, I don't mean the pre-packed bags of coffee. I've had them, and they're serviceable, but nothing I'd drink if I had a choice. Don't go there. Instead, go to your local tea shop, or any good coffee shop or kitchen store and get a box of bags. These are just the empty little teabags that you fill with whatever--loose tea, coffee, etc. That way, you have the bags, and you can fill it with the really great coffee that you've just ground up. Another, more bulkier option is to get a plastic coffee cone and a small packet of paper filters that's the right size for the cone. You can store away the plastic cone and paper filter when you don't need it.
posted by jujube at 5:57 PM on June 24, 2008

Here are some tea bags, found from a quick search on amazon. I've seen them at Whole Foods, as well.
posted by jujube at 6:05 PM on June 24, 2008

3rding Aeropress, or a Moka pot.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:05 PM on June 24, 2008

The cheap coffee makers are awful. At best, they sound like they're vomiting as the hot water makes it's way up to the filter. Kind of ruins the appetite for me anyway. I've been off caffeine for several months now. Disregarding local coffee shops, I'd go for a french press or even cowboy coffee (might have to look at camping websites for info on this).
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:11 PM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone -- and jujube, that sounds like it might do the trick. I'll check that out as well!
posted by mothershock at 7:14 PM on June 24, 2008

how much fresh-ground coffee do you throw in?

Something like a dessert spoonful per mug, heaped when extra-strong is needed. But you should experiment! As lots have said, using freshly ground makes a big difference.
posted by anadem at 9:44 PM on June 24, 2008

While we're all chiming in, I have the French Press from Ikea (mentioned above) and it is perfect for making 1-3 cups of coffee at a time. It's small, stores easily, is fairly easy to clean, and doesn't require purchasing of filters or other accouterments. I've put my auto-drip in the closet and only get it out for emergencies when I need to make more than 3 cups at once, or need to program it to start at a particular time. I even like the taste better from the french press!
posted by raygan at 10:12 PM on June 24, 2008

Oh, I have the coffee cones, and a french press, and a stovetop espresso maker. I used to have a 4-cup Mr. Coffee but broke it in a move. You have a million options here.

Coffee machines tend to break down unless you use them regularly--the seals can dry out and crack.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:28 AM on June 25, 2008

I have to second the Chemex love, and think it would be perfect for a non-coffee drinker as you could use it mostly as a gorgeous glass pitcher and only occasionally as a coffee maker rather than just getting some single-use item that you'll mostly never use.
posted by judith at 1:10 PM on June 25, 2008

Sounds like you are headed in another direction but I have been in the same situation for years and the coffee cones simply do it for me. We pop that 1 cup cone on a little pitcher and make multiple cups when the in-laws descend. The cone and a box of filters take up nearly no space. We buy a nice ground coffee, stick it in the freezer and we are ready.
posted by pointilist at 10:34 PM on June 25, 2008

« Older Leviticus 20   |   out damn spot! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.