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A Guide to How Coffee Makers Work

Every morning, without even thinking twice, millions of people around the world have their first cup of coffee. Coffee has become a part of our way of life, and using the coffee maker has become second nature for many people. In fact, many will tell you that not only do they enjoy their morning coffee, they're actually dependent on it to start the day.

Your morning routine most likely starts out the same as everyone else's - make the coffee and get the paper (or check the news online along with your email if you're more high-tech). But what exactly happens after adding the coffee and water into your coffee maker? Coffee machines are no great mystery, but they're still an unknown for many people. Typically, no one bothers to learn more than the simple steps required to get a great cup of coffee. Read on if you're curious to know more about exactly how your drip coffeemaker works every morning, and how it's able to make such a quick cup of coffee.

Drip Coffee Makers 

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Your basic coffee maker, drip coffee makers are a staple home appliance across the globe. Automatic drip coffeemakers are the most popular coffee makers in the world, in fact. The modern drip coffee maker is really a simple device, and hasn't changed all that much over the past 30 years.

All drip coffee makers consist of:

  • A reservoir to hold the water
  • A basic heating element
  • Another smaller tube leading from the reservoir to the heating element
  • A white tube leading up to the reservoir base, connecting the water to the drip area
  • A shower head or similar drip area

The bottom of the coffee maker is home to the coffee machine's electrical equipment. This is also home to the heating element, which is typically composed of an aluminum extrusion with two parts: a resistive heating element and a tube through which water can flow. Normally, the heating element is simply a coiled wire, similar to the filament you'd find in a light bulb or the heating coils in a toaster.

The Coffee Making Process

And now for the important part - making coffee! You know how to add grounds and a filter, and then fill the reservoir with water. But here's where the magic comes into play with coffee makers:

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  1. After pouring water into the reservoir, it flows through the hole and into the aluminum tube in the heating element.
  2. Once you've hit the switch, the heating element heats the aluminum tube, eventually boiling the water
  3. The water bubbles, caused by it boiling, rise up into the second tube. Being smaller, this tube allows for some water to ride upwards on the boiling bubbles.
  4.  The boiling water flows up into the drip area, where it is spread out in order to drip evenly on coffee grounds.
  5. Hot water flows through the grounds, creating the wonderful coffee we all know and love, and then finishes its journey in the coffee pot.

One of the biggest advantages of a simple drip coffee maker is that the machines are designed to make a large amount of coffee at one time. Normally, these coffee machines can make as many as 12 cups of coffee in a single cycle. Additionally, drip coffeemakers allow for you to plan ahead. Since the coffee making system is closed, you can add water and set up the machine the night before without worrying about the water or the coffee beans being contaminated overnight. This way, you're a simple button push away from a great cup of coffee in the morning.

With no real mechanical pump and almost no moving parts at all, drip coffee makers are almost as simple as French press pots, and just as reliable. Some coffee machines have more advanced features, including programmable timers and strength controllers. These coffee machines still utilize the same basic process, however, ensuring they remain reliable and virtually maintenance-free.

Potential Coffee Maker Problems

Despite how reliable coffee makers are today, there are still a few potential issues that can arise over their lifetime. Some of the most common problems that occur in coffee machines include:

  • Issues with the power cord or switch. Like most electrical appliances, sometimes the power cord just quits on you. The same can happen with the switch, however it still is somewhat rare. If this happens, your best bet is to either let a pro check it out or go shopping for a new coffee maker.
  • Clogged valves. A simple problem to fix, occasionally the valve that works in conjunction with tube connecting the hot water to the drip area can become clogged. In this instance, excess debris causing the clog can usually be removed by hand.
  • Clogged tubes. In the case of clogged tubes within your coffee maker, excess calcium is usually the culprit. This can particularly be a problem with the tube on the heating element. As with other home appliances, usually just a simple run of vinegar through the machine can clean it out and dislodge any calcium buildups.
  • Heating element failure. Regardless of whether it's the switch in the heating element or the coil itself, this is a tough - though rare. In this case, your only real option is to start shopping for a new coffee machine.