Category Archives: Coffee & Tea

Electric Water Kettles

I entitled this blog post “Electric Water Kettles” for a very specific reason. I do not ever want any of you associating the word “tea” with an electric kettle because you CANNOT put tea in the kettle! It is only for water. This should make sense if you are used to making tea the old-fashioned way; boil water in a kettle on the stove, pour it into a teapot, and then steep your tea in it. A teapot is usually made of ceramic or porcelain, and I would hope that it goes without saying that a teapot cannot go on your stove top to boil water in.

Fine T Machine

There is, however, an electric device you can both brew and steep tea in if you really want to, but it’s a tad on the spendy side. It’s called the Fine T Machine and it has several settings for a variety of tea types and works extremely well (I used one heavily at one point, even producing multiple batches for a tea tasting), so worth every penny! I also just discovered that Breville has come out with a nifty looking machine they call the One-Touch Tea Maker. I’d love to hear your reviews if you’ve used this since they are usually a good brand name.

Bodum electric kettle is the best!!

As for your basic electric water kettle, hands-down the longest-lasting brand I’ve ever seen in action is the Bodum. These very rarely ever got returned (actually, we could hardly keep them on the shelves because we sold so many!), and the stores we worked in owned these and used them extremely heavily and they were all some of the original models, still perfectly functioning many years later. They’ve since improved the design a tad by making the power switch stronger and the connection to the base more durable and simpler to latch.

I know the thought of using plastic alarms a lot of folks, particularly with boiling water. First of all, Bodum products are BPA-free. Secondly, as I explain in my BPA blog, the temperature needs to be extremely hot or else whatever going in needs to be highly acidic for there to be any leaching. Boiling point is not nearly what sanitize mode is in your dishwasher! And lastly, all electric kettles have plastic on the lid, handle and base. If they are glass, there could also be “metal” handles or lids which are usually a thin metallic film painted over plastic that will eventually start peeling off.

Chef’s Choice glass kettle

If you prefer the glass (especially because they do look a little more elegant than Bodum’s modern design), my next pick will always be Chef’s Choice. Another solid brand name, the kettles always seem to last a lot longer than other selections. Now that I just wrote all of that, of course Bodum has come out with a model that is mostly glass, similar to other glass electric kettle models (I swear, click the link, it says “new” over the image! :P) I used to like the Capresso, but as I mentioned in the coffee maker blog, they’ve outsourced to China and the quality of the brand is diminishing a little. I’d say it’s hit or miss if you buy one.

Chef’s Choice stainless kettle

Chef’s Choice also makes a couple of stainless steel models that I would also highly recommend. The great thing about all of these kettles nowadays is that they are “cordless”– they detach from the base so you can walk around and pour without a cord getting in your way!  They also mostly all have auto shut-off, which is just fabulous.  You can find some electric kettles that have temperature settings, as well.

I’m sure Proctor-Silex and Delonghi are solid enough machines, and of course Breville has a good brand reputation. Share your thoughts with us if you’ve had experience with an electric kettle you love or dislike!

Breville One Touch tea machine

Electric Espresso Machines

Electric espresso machines can be a fun addition to your kitchen or someone’s apartment or college dorm room if they can’t find the space for a full-size drip coffee maker. If you’re a serious coffee or espresso drinker, you probably want to consider something a bit heartier if you’re going to be utilizing it on a regular basis.

Capresso 4-cup espresso
Knockout box

Small, inexpensive espresso makers are for the occasional espresso drinker; someone who is going to keep it up on a shelf out of the way until they have company over. With this category, you’re going to plan on spending anywhere from $40-$80 on a machine. Krups used to be my go-to brand, but since their outsourcing I’m not as confident recommending them anymore and quite honestly, the store I worked at looked away from the small machines because so many people try to buy these when they really needed something stronger. I would recommend reading recent reviews and sticking with the solid brand names. Capresso hasn’t changed the design of their 4-cup model much over the years and customers always said it was a very solid little machine.

Espresso tamp (2-sided; 2 sizes)

A lot of people are now fascinated with the easier-to-use cup machines like Keurig and Nespresso. Traditional espresso machines generally require you to have a coffee grinder, a tamper to press it into the filter, and if you want to be very fancy, a knockout box to knock the grounds into after brewing. The cup style machines just ask that you buy the little pre-packaged cups, pop them in, and hit brew.

Jura Capresso Z7…my personal favorite (go big or go home, right?!?)

And on the farthest end, you can pay quite a bit to get an electric machine that brews several varieties of coffee drinks and requires very little cleanup. The ones I worked most extensively with were the Jura Capresso machines, and they are AMAZING. These guys just require you keep water in their tank (of which you have size selection, so you could buy something quite large and rarely need to refill it) and beans in the bean hopper. They have so many settings that you can personalize, it’s hard not to love how simple it can be to use! You only have to manually change the grind if you and your housemates disagree on that, the rest is automatic, unless you want to be more manual with them. They now even make them to have thermal milk carafes you can attach to them and it will pull the milk into your beverage and steam or foam it. These do take up quite a bit more counter space and have a heftier price tag, so I can see why the cup machines are selling so well.

Keurig single-serve coffee machine

So to compare the cup machines! Keurig is obviously the lower pricetag and easier to obtain the special cups required to use it. They’ve also finally started to make machines that can take a special cup you can fill with your own coffee grounds, bypassing their cups if you wanted to. The only downside to these machines is that I’ve never met anyone who’s owned one for more than 2-3 years. (If you have, PLEASE write to me and let me know!) I guess the price tag isn’t too terrible that folks don’t mind replacing them every few years, but to me that is a bit of cash that I’d like to last. I’d also heard lots of bad stories about their customer service when the machines do break down from customers coming to the store I worked at looking to upgrade to the Nespresso machine. Also, technically, the Keurig is a single-serve coffee maker, not really an espresso machine, which is a huge difference to the end user, but when consumers are comparing machines, this is where they are trying to find the difference, usually.

Keurig news alert! In researching this, I discovered that Keurig has a new brewer that takes a different kind of cup. Why? Because they lost their patent on the k-cups! That is why so many other manufacturers are making them now and also how they can be so inexpensive. My bet is Keurig will stop making the original brewers and focus on these new Vue brewers. Don’t fret! Mr. Coffee and Cuisinart both make k-cup brewers now, and I’m sure lots of other manufacturers will follow suit.

Nespresso Citiz

The Nespresso is different from Keurig in a few ways. First off, they only make real coffee, not all these fluffy flavors like “frosted donut” and whatnot that you can find for the Keurig (ok, I just looked and they do now have 3 lightly flavored espresso blends, but basic flavors!) Different beans and blends of some very nice coffees. Their customer service is top-notch and I’ve heard nothing but amazingly nice stories about having to deal with them. And they only allow their cups to be sold at Nespresso outlets or online. They used to sell them at kitchen stores but Williams-Sonoma wasn’t watching shelf dates and actually sold some expired cups to customers. Nespresso is meticulous about their coffee and want to ensure you have the best cup, so they pulled them from the stores to control inventory themselves. The cups have a shelf life of one year, so you can order a lot at once and store them. They charge one flat rate to ship as many as you want, and also offer rush delivery. The store I worked at used to give pods to customers if they needed a few to get them through the weekend or wanted to sample a different blend, so always ask these questions!

Nespresso Aeroccino

Nespresso machines also have 19 bars of pressure, versus Keurig’s 15 to push the espresso shot out. Everything I’ve researched online varies on what number is actually standard, but from what I have always heard from the various manufacturers I used to sell is that 18 bars is the standard with electric machines. Some of the Jura Capresso’s are lower, but that is because they have thermo-blocking technology which somehow affects that (don’t ask me how! Science! Magic!). Nespresso also has a catch tray for the used pods so you don’t have to discard them immediately like you do with the Keurig (and they are HOT!). Reviews also say that Keurig is one of the slowest single-serve coffee maker on the market, clocking in at 3.5 minutes because of how long it takes to warm up. Nespresso also sells a couple of milk frothers that froth both warm and cold! You can even find it attached to some of their espresso machine models.

The Nespresso machines also very rarely need descaling, but will tell you when it’s time. Unlike a regular drip coffee maker or other types of espresso machines, there are no internal tubes for the water to run through and buildup in. I hear Keurig users descale theirs a bit more often. And one of the bigger comparisons, wastefulness. K-cups are cheap plastic that’s not recyclable. Nespresso pods are in aluminum foil, so you can peel them open, compost the grounds, and recycle the pod. Alternately, Sur la Table participates in a TerraCycle upcycling program, so you can take your empty pods in to Sur la Table and they will send them in to be upcycled into something new. Alternately, you could potentially register with TerraCycle yourself (or encourage your local kitchen retailer to join for your community!), and they pay for the shipping to turn the pods in.

TerraCycle upcycles the Nespresso pods into new products and composts the coffee grounds.

Also, I can’t not add that George Clooney is the spokesperson for Nespresso. Classy. I’m serious; Google image search “Nespresso” and Mr. Clooney’s serious espresso-drinking face will be all over your screen. 😛

Nespresso. What else would George Clooney drink? 😉

With both the Keurig and Nespresso machines, it is good to keep in mind that these machines will end up costing you a lot of money in the long run if you are a big coffee drinker. These machines are meant for the occasional drinker who drinks maybe 1-2 cups per day. Any more than that and your coffee bill for the year is going to be a lot larger than with a larger scale machine like the Juras or a regular drip machine. Yes, they are convenient to use, but if you are using them that heavily, you’re going to have to descale that much more often, which also puts a damper on the whole “easier to use” bit.

Coffee Grinder Information
Coffee Maker Basics

Coffee Grinders

Coffee grinders are a pretty easy topic to discuss because it’s pretty straightforward as to what the differences are and most brands are good. What you need to know as the end user is whether or not these things are actually grinding your beans or just hacking at them.

You pay a lot for whole beans, usually. If you’re one of those folks after the perfect cup, you want the best grinder for your expensive beans. If you’re just after a fresher grind, it might not matter as much, just as long as you’ve got a cup of coffee.

Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder

 Basic grinders tend to run about $20-40 a piece. These grinders aren’t actually grinders at all, but mini choppers. A lot of people actually purchase these to grind spices. Cuisinart now makes one specifically for grinding spices because of consumer complaints with regards to utilizing coffee grinders (they aren’t technically for spices, people! Haha). I would take a look at the blades and if at least one has an end piece pointing downwards, it’s probably decent for spices. The Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder is nicer because it’s larger, the blades cut lower into the cup, and the cup is removable so it’s easy to clean.

Krups Fast Touch coffee grinder

As for actually using a basic grinder for coffee, it’s just kind of hacking at your beans until you stop hacking. The more you hack, the more you reduce the flavor you’re going to get out of the beans. So if you’re spending a lot on beans, you might want to consider a burr grinder instead. Krups, Kitchen Aid, and Cuisinart all make decent basic coffee grinders, however. You put the beans in the container, put the lid on which usually also doubles as the power button on most basic grinders, and power the grinder until the beans are ground to your desired consistency. Remove the lid and dump the grounds out. The container doesn’t come apart for cleaning, which can make it difficult to switch between beans and spices.

Burr grinders are great because they actually grind. You should be able to pull the burrs out for cleaning, so you can actually see how they align based on the grind settings you choose on the machine, making them closer or further apart from each other. These types of grinders are definitely preferred if you need a specific type of grind for something like French press or stovetop espresso, because you have actual settings to make it coarse or fine. You place the beans in the hopper at the top, and select your grind. A lot of burr grinders also have a selection for how many cups of coffee you’re brewing and will only grind that many beans for you.

These are the metal burrs.

There’s a slight downside to burr grinders, in that sometimes the beans can get clogged up because they all fall into the same spot while the machine is running. What you see more of on the market now are conical burr grinders. This is still the same burr grinder, but there’s a cone above the burrs to help the beans spread out as they fall downward into them. I think almost all grind and brew machines now come with conical burr grinders at this point, and it’s pretty difficult to find a stand-alone grinder that’s not conical, as well.

Capresso Infinity conical burr grinder

Capresso makes the most highly rated conical burr grinder and I can’t begin to tell you how many of these I’ve sold. The cup at the base that catches the grounds is anti-static, helping to keep them from sticking to the cup. It has a plethora of size settings and is a pretty reasonable price next to its competitors. Breville is also a good grinder, I’ve heard.

Empty so you can see the plastic cone in the hopper  

Coffee bean storage tip! Do NOT freeze your beans! This does nothing to help keep them fresh and actually makes the grounds staticky when you grind them. All of the experts will tell you this.

Another word of caution: I mention this in my drip coffee maker blog, but beware of grind and brew coffee makers. If the grinder is housed in the same area as the water tank, there’s higher potential for the grounds to get wet and the grinder to become clogged. Getting a machine where these components are separated is recommended, although the warm, moist air can still make its way over to the grinding unit sometimes.

Capresso CoffeeTeam grind and brew machine

Coffee Maker Basics

Coffee Maker Basics

I originally started this blog out saying that I don’t recommend any one brand over another because (this part didn’t change) they aren’t built to last so you’re going to have to plan on buying a new one every five years (give or take a few). I originally stated that you should spend around $30 on a Mr. Coffee, Sunbeam, Proctor-Silex, or Delonghi. These guys are really starting to step up their game (price-wise, at least!) and it’s kind of hard to find a cheaper coffee maker! I still don’t trust that any one of these is better than another, and it’s such an inexpensive item that manufacturers kind of realize at this point most people won’t bother to return them, so they just keep churning out new models telling you it’s better than the last one so you’ll buy a new not-so-great one.

I used to have several favorites back when I first started working in housewares, but drip coffee makers have really gone down in quality over the years and it’s become increasingly difficult to find one not made in China. I could be wrong, but the only manufacturer I can still find that is made in the USA is Bunn, which of course are the restaurant industry’s standard machine. They do make home models and I hear great things, so those are probably the only gourmet machines worth that kind of money.

Cuisinart Brew Central – Top Pick!

If you have a good old machine, keep it until it dies! There’s no reason to replace a machine that works with the poor quality of drip machines these days. The old Krups machines were great and always highly rated; they started outsourcing almost a decade ago and we got almost every single coffee maker and electric kettle we sold returned to us–to the point that we stopped selling all Krups products completely.

Cuisinart is generally a good price range and their appliances are usually good. Every now and then they’ll miss with something, but otherwise a solid brand name and if you fill out the warranty card (I recommend doing this with all of your appliances!!), they at least console with a three-year guarantee. In the world of small electrics, one year is standard. The one I specifically link to above, the Brew Central*, is their best-selling model and the only one they’ve kept manufacturing. (They continue to put out other new models, but this one is the tried-and-true!) You will actually see this model used as a prop in tons of TV shows and movies, interestingly enough!

My old Capresso  

Capresso used to be a really great gourmet brand, but they started outsourcing a few years back and the quality eventually started to decline*. I think they are better now, but not for the money they cost! Breville is generally a good appliance maker, but unfortunately I don’t have much experience with them. I’ve only really heard good things about their small electrics, however they haven’t been on the market long enough for folks to say they’ve had their machine for a number of years to prove their staying power as of yet.

The one thing that people have the biggest issues with is that their drip machine “leaks water”. The issue is in the name—drip machines drip! Obviously if it’s pouring water out of the water tank you have a concern, but for the most part your machine is going to leak a little.

Thermal carafes are always going to be a pain to pour out of because of the way they have to design the lids to seal the carafe. No matter how much money you spend, a thermal carafe is always going to be an annoyance. A great trick with these guys is to, even if you’re preparing the night before, rinse the carafe with hot/warm water then seal the lid. This will trap heat in the carafe, causing your coffee to stay warmer even longer!

You want to be extremely careful with grind and brew machines. In that respect I would lean towards spending a tad more on a Capresso like this one (or something similar) that has the grinder in a completely separate compartment than the water tank. (Capresso actually makes both so be careful!) You are always going to run the risk of your grounds getting moist from the steam the machine produces, but if they are in separate compartments, that risk is minimalized. We will discuss coffee grinders in a separate blog, don’t worry!

Now, on to some of the less simple ways to prepare your coffee…(that being said, I’m skipping over the really basic stuff, but let me know if you want to know more about those methods, too! These are just the more common ones requested.)

Moccamaster by Technivorm

The one drip machine that actually stands out and will produce a quality cup of coffee (so say the coffee connoisseurs of the world, anyway!) is the Moccamaster by Technivorm. This is because the Moccamaster makes coffee more like a French press, which is supposed to be the ideal method to brewing the perfect cup of java. This machine’s heating element actually gets the water up to 212°F, which is the ideal water temperature for brewing. It is guaranteed to be this hot because if it doesn’t reach this temperature, the mechanism will not force the water upward into the machine to brew. Science! The water drips out showerhead-style and you can actually “stop” the brewing and let it steep for a little bit in the filter cone area if you want to be more hands-on with your coffee.

The Moccamaster is not usually even rated against other drip machines because it’s not programmable and requires a lot more effort than regular coffee makers, something the majority of consumers don’t care to do! You can’t even put water in the machine overnight to be ready in the morning because it will slowly leak out of the bottom throughout the night. Technivorm actually didn’t want to make a thermal carafe, either (for the reasons I listed above), but since people demand them, the one they created is probably the best experience I’ve personally had utilizing a thermal carafe from a drip machine. It’s the reason why it’s shaped the way it is, but it pours pretty darn well! To me, that proves even further that they put a lot of care into their product.

These have actually been around forever (made in Sweden, all Swedish parts except the heating mechanism, which is German), just not as popular in the United States until recent years. I met a woman who told me a fabulous story about how her granddaughter once said, “Grandma, your no-name coffee maker makes the best coffee I’ve ever tasted!” and how she just laughed because little did she know the cost of her no-name machine! But amazingly enough, she’d already had it for over 20 years!

Toddy cold brew system

If you need to have less-acidic coffee, you would want to consider a cold brew system like the Toddy. This method requires you to prepare the coffee up to 24 hours in advance by letting the grounds sit and steep with cold water and a filter. What you get afterwards is a very strong coffee concentrate that needs to be diluted with water or milk in a 1-3 ratio (1 part coffee, 2 parts water or milk). This is also the ideal way to make iced coffee because what people often do is dump hot coffee on ice cubes, which affects the taste of the coffee in a negative way. You can actually utilize a French press the same way as the Toddy and just let it steep overnight versus a few minutes.

Bodum Chambord French Press

Ok, so I’ve mentioned French press a few times now. Like I said, true coffee aficionados say this is the best method to produce a superior cup. This is because you let the grounds steep for several minutes and you utilize boiling hot water, which is ideal. How does it work? You put coarse grounds in the carafe, pour the hot water over the grounds, and let it steep for 3-4 minutes. Most people have the lid on while it’s steeping to keep the heat in, but keep the plunger, which is attached, up with the lid. When ready, you press the plunger down, keeping the grounds in the carafe, but allowing you to pour the coffee out. You can steep the coffee as long as you like, and the longer you do the stronger it becomes. You can use a French press to make loose leaf tea, too, but you cannot use the same carafe for both as the coffee taste will remain in the mechanisms. You can now buy all sorts of varieties of French presses, but I would steer clear of the travel mugs unless you are a very fast drinker. The coffee just keep steeping until you finish drinking it, so it can start to get bitter! Bodum is probably the most well-known French press manufacturer.

A stovetop espresso maker would be another way to make a stronger cup of coffee than a drip machine. These originated in Italy, with Bialetti being the most famous brand name. These work like mini percolators. You put water in the base to just below the “fill line” which is a little screw and nut. You place the filter in this base piece and fill it with more finely ground coffee—do NOT pack it in like an electric espresso machine (tamping would be the proper term)!! With a stovetop espresso you want the grounds to be loose so the water can perk up through them. Put the stove burner on a low heat and let it perk for a few minutes. That’s it!

A family of sizes! Bialetti original stovetop espresso maker

As you can see you’ve got a lot of options to make yourself a cup of coffee. For now, electric espresso makers are a whole other ballpark that we will discuss in a separate blog. Let me know if there’s a brewing method you’re curious about!

Electric Espresso Machines
Coffee Grinders

*Jura Capresso, the heavy-duty electric espresso machines, are still proudly manufactured in Switzerland and are of the highest quality! As I mention in they Electric Espresso Machines blog, this is my top-rated dream machine!!

**Favorite story about selling one of these: An older couple is shopping for a new coffee maker and the wife already has this one written down as one that was rated highly in a magazine. I show it off, show them the other brands and choices, but repeatedly tell her that, “Yes, this is a really good one!” The wife keeps asking me, “What else does it do?” so I have gone over every single specific detail after a certain point. The husband finally steps in and saves me by saying, “What else do you want it to do? Make you toast, too?” and tells me they’ll take it.  🙂