It’s difficult to beat the convenience of an automatic drip coffee maker, but the coffee they produce falls somewhere between fair and lousy. Aficionados tell us that most in-home machines fail at two critical aspects of coffee brewing, water temperature and extraction time. If the water is too cold or the extraction time too short, flavor will be lost. Conversely, if the water is too hot or the grounds soak for too long, the coffee will end up scorched and bitter. Either scenario defeats the purpose of buying expensive coffee.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the ideal water temperature range for brewing coffee is between 197.6° and 204.8°F (92°-96°C) , and the best extraction time is between 2 and 8 minutes. In 1964, Dutch engineer Gerard Clement-Smit set out to build a coffee maker that met these exacting standards. His company, Technivorm, developed the Moccamaster, the first of its kind to earn certification from the SCAA. Since it’s introduction to the U.S. in the 1980s, it has seen an ever-growing number of loyal coffee fanatics, and today, many consider it the gold standard. But with models starting at $300 and up, does all that precision really make for a better cup of coffee?
To find out, we evaluated the Moccamaster model KB-741 against our four criteria for kitchen electrics: Quality/design, performance, ease of use, and cost/value. The model has a 10-cup capacity (42 ounces/1.25L) and comes with a glass carafe. An energy-efficient hot plate has an on/off switch that is independent of the percolator switch. A similar model (KBT-741) uses an insulated stainless steel carafe but has no hot plate.
There is an automatic shut-off feature, something that was sorely lacking in this model just a few years ago. A manual switch on the front of the brew basket slows the flow of water when brewing less than 5 cups, and stops it all together to pour a cup before the brewing has completed. (A newer model, KBG-741, simply stops the flow when the carafe is removed.)
At the core of all Technivorm coffee makers is a powerful heating element made of highly conductive copper that rapidly brings the water to the 200° mark. Additional features help make sure the temperature remains steady, such as an insulated aqueduct that carries water from the percolator to the brew basket.
The flow of water out of the percolator, into the brew basket, and into the carafe is carefully regulated to ensure proper extraction. Water is extruded through 9 separate holes instead of just one, in effect showering the grinds and distributing the water over a wider area. A funnel built into the carafe lid directs the coffee to the bottom of the carafe, essentially filling it from the ground up. This helps prevent something called thermal stratification, which causes coffee at the bottom of the pot to be stronger than at the top. By forcing the coffee up instead of dripping it down, the flavor is better distributed.
The somewhat utilitarian design is pleasingly reminiscent of the classic Bunn-o-matic machines often found in diners and old school coffee shops. If you want to spice things up a bit, the manufacturer offers a rainbow of color options. However, we noted that the color choices at several big name retailers were limited and some colors come at a premium of as much as $30.
The craftsmanship is clear from the start, but we were surprised by the significant amount of plastic given the product’s price point, and judging by several owner comments, we were not alone. The 10-cup capacity seemed a little small; enough for 2-3 serious coffee drinkers, but a second pot may be needed when entertaining more than a few people. We would have liked to have seen a 12-cup capacity. A 15-cup model is available, but it costs an additional $70.
To test performance, we measured water temperatures in both the brew basket and the carafe throughout several brewing cycles. In the brew basket, we measured temperatures between 197° and 202°F, and between 196° and 199° in the carafe. Both measurements fall within the range of 195°-205°F set by the SCAA for gold cup certification. The warming plate held the coffee at about 190°F one hour after brewing.
It took 30 seconds for the water to heat up and begin wetting the coffee grounds, and within fifteen seconds of that, the first drops of water entered the carafe. A full pot of coffee took 6-7 minutes depending on ground size. (The finer the grind the longer the extraction time.)
There are several factors extrinsic to any machine that can dramatically affect the coffee’s quality, such as the beans, the grind, and, in particular, the ratio of coffee to water. For taste testing purposes, we stayed as close as possible to the SCAA’s cupping standards. We used 63g of medium roast coffee beans per pot, which gave us the proper ratio of 50g coffee per liter of water, and we ground each batch just before brewing using a medium grind.
We were extremely impressed with the results. The Moccamaster consistently produced an excellent cup of coffee pot after pot; the best we have ever tasted from a home drip machine. It had great depth of flavor, strong but never bitter. Taste testers agreed, and those who described themselves as serious coffee drinkers gave it the highest marks. The coffee temperature was perfect, hot enough to withstand a generous splash of milk without going cold but never scolding.
Preparing a pot of coffee with the Moccamaster was extremely easy. Removable lids on both the water tank and filter basket gave us maximum clearnace. Often coffee makers have hinged lids, which we find get in the way when trying to add water or coffee. One disappointing note was the manufacture warning that the carafe and removable brew basket are not dishwasher safe, which we know will be an issue for some. That said, we found that rinsing the carafe and brew basket under the faucet after each use, along with a monthly cleaning of the full machine with a water-vinegar mixture, was more than sufficient.