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Coffee Carafes

Carafe size and design come up often in user reviews. Popular sizes range from 4- to 12-cup coffee makers.

Keep in mind that a "cup" in coffee speak is not an 8-ounce mug; it's more like 4 to 6 ounces. Any new coffee maker requires some trial and error with your favorite mug. Most of our picks are 12-cup coffee makers. If you drink only one mug a day, opt for the Black & Decker Brew 'n Go Personal DCM18S. Owning a 12-cup coffee maker is a boon when guests come over but probably overkill for you. Experts say that making only one or two cups in a large coffee maker often produces weak coffee, unless the machine has a special "small batch" setting (more on that later).

Carafes that pour everywhere but in the cup are a leading cause of complaint among buyers of cheap 12-cup coffee makers. Some reviewers appreciate that the Mr. Coffee JWX27 doesn't spill coffee all over, but one user notes in a review at Sears that you have to pour carefully. Other users posting reviews at Amazon have found that dripping is commonplace with Mr. Coffee machines. Owners of the Hamilton Beach Ensemble 43254, on the other hand, almost uniformly report on Amazon that the carafe pours neatly and doesn't drip.

While the carafes on budget coffee makers are typically made of glass, the Mr. Coffee TFTX85 comes with an unbreakable thermal carafe. However, the instructions say to preheat the 8-cup carafe with boiling water for five minutes before brewing, suggesting that the machine relies on the pot rather than the water to do much of the heating. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that a major disgruntlement with the TFTX85 is that it doesn't brew hot coffee.

The carafe on the 4-cup Cuisinart DCC-450 is stainless steel but not insulated, and one user warns on Amazon that it gets extremely hot. Other unhappy owners note that the spout on the carafe is flat, making it virtually impossible to keep coffee from spilling unless you pour extremely slowly.

Some coffee makers dispense with the carafe altogether. That's what many users like most about the Black & Decker Brew 'n Go, which comes with a stainless-steel travel mug. A few users posting on Amazon say the inside of the mug imparts a distinct "plastic-y" taste to the coffee. Others point out that you can always use a ceramic mug instead. The stainless-steel mug does keep coffee hot, according to several users posting reviews at Walmart. The Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit 48464 is a carafe-less 12-cup coffee maker that dispenses directly into a mug. That's its best feature, according to some users commenting at Best Buy.

Coffee Filters.

These come in two shapes -- cone and basket -- and experts agree that the former is best at draining water and extracting flavor. A few budget coffee makers, including the Cuisinart DCC-450 and the Black & Decker CM1650B 12-cup coffee maker (starting at $50), use cone-shaped filters. Most other low-end drip coffee makers use flat-bottomed, basket-type filters, which experts say are more prone to clogs and overflow. They are most appropriate for coarsely ground supermarket coffee -- the kind that comes in a can.

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The Specialty Coffee Association of America touts permanent mesh filters made of gold or nylon. These yield an earthier, more complex brew, because they let some sediment through. The initial investment is about $7 to $10 -- more than a box of paper filters -- but you save money over the life of the coffee maker by not continually buying filters. That's not to mention the environmental benefit. Lifting out and throwing away a paper filter is a bit neater, however. The Black & Decker Brew 'n Go and CM1650B 12-cup coffee maker have permanent filters that require rinsing after every use. The Brew 'n Go filter is dishwasher-safe, but that doesn't do any good in an office or anywhere without a dishwasher.

Water Filters.

Water quality is crucial to producing a good cup of coffee. In locales with hard or poor-tasting tap water, a built-in water filter can improve the end product. The Mr. Coffee JWX27 comes with a filter designed to eliminate 97% of the chlorine in water. The Hamilton Beach Ensemble has a removable charcoal filter, as does the Black & Decker CM1650B.

The downside of a filtration system is having to spend about $10 for a new filter every two to three months. People often forget about this added maintenance. If you already have a water filter on your tap or in a pitcher, you can use the filtered water for your coffee and get similar results. (Bottled water also works, but why spend the money?)

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