Ok I’ll admit it. I have a coffee blog titled “Brewing Coffee Manually” and I use my automatic drip coffeemaker at least three times a week.

I generally have a cup of coffee 2-3 times a day so granted that is a smaller percentage of my actual coffee consumed (less than 20%) but I wanted to get it off my chest. Sometimes I take the easy road and use the coffeemaker.

I generally use my coffeemaker when I have early morning shifts (we are talking before some McDonald’s are even open earliness). The automatic timer function ensures that I can get up at the last possible moment and everything that I do is essential to me getting to work on time (of course you will notice this means I pre-grind my coffee the night before… strike 2?).

The other day when I was driving to work and sipping on my automatic brew, a thought occurred to me. I have never actually directly compared a manually brewed cup of coffee to an autobrew.

Why not see exactly what I am actually missing out on?

The Coffeemaker

First, I’d like to get a little background on my coffeemaker. It isn’t a fancy Technivorm, Behmor Brazen, or Bonavita. It is a Cuisinart DCC-1200. Hence, I can not speak directly for the “elite” tier of electric coffee brewers.

It takes about ten minutes for a full pot of coffee to brew. My general process when I am using the coffeemaker is to fill up the reservoir up with water, grind an appropriate dosage of beans, and set the timer to start brewing the coffee ten minutes before I want to be walking out the door. The coffee is ready and no early morning brain power is needed.

A few other notes on my automatic coffeemaker:

  • I generally will buy less expensive* coffee to use in it, or if I roast a coffee I don’t like I will use it in my coffeemaker.
  • I use a little less coffee when I brew coffee in my automatic coffeemaker. For manual brewing, I use somewhere around a 17:1 water to coffee ratio. For automatic brewing, I use a little more than half that.
  • When my wife and I host gatherings at our house, I use the coffeemaker to make coffee in bulk.

The Results

Well, I will spare you some of the gory details of my little experiments. (If you don’t care about any of the boring minutiae that is my comparison tests, just skip to The Challenge.) Spoiler alert: the manually brewed coffee was better.

I tested my manual brew against my autobrew three separate times and I changed up the experiment a little bit every time based on my findings.

Test 1- Head to head with no handicap

The first time I did my comparison, I went with the dosage I typically use for manual brewing for the autobrew as well as my manually prepared cup. This was to remove any differences from the ratios alone. I was amazed at the sheer volume of grounds that went into the filter basket. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I use about half as much coffee when I use the electric coffeemaker.

The automatic coffee was, as could probably be expected, very unpleasant. The coffeemaker extracted an over abundance of the more bitter and astringent flavors. Next to the manually brewed cup, the autobrew was lacking in sweetness, balance and I very much preferred the manual cup.

Test 2- Head to head with everyone at their best

The second time I did my comparison, I decided that I should make my automatic brewed coffee with the dosage I am used to brewing with and the manually brewed coffee at the standard 17:1 dosage. This allowed me to compare each coffee “at it’s best.” (I also adjusted the grind to my standard settings for each method.)

The results were a little more evenly matched, but I still preferred the handmade cup. The manually brewed coffee was more balanced and had more pop. Still, the autobrew wasn’t terrible. This led me to wondering if I was being swayed by a preconceived bias.

Test 3- The blind taste test

The third time around, I did a blind taste test. With the help of my wife, I was able to try both brew methods without prior knowledge about which coffee was which. This was an effort to eliminate any preconceived bias.

The result of the blind tasting were the same as test 2. (I even had my wife do a blind tasting and select which one she prefers.) I must admit I had a little harder time choosing the one that I liked at first. As the coffees began to cool, the differences really started to emerge. The autobrew just didn’t have the same complexity and flavors. It was muddled and muted in comparison to the manual brew.

I prefer manually brewed coffee to autobrew. Phew?

I may seem a little silly to test such a widely affirmed truth but it is good to not take things for granted. Have you ever tried two brew methods side by side for the sake of comparison?

The Challenge

All this tasting and testing got me thinking. While my series of tests wasn’t the most scientific, it did reaffirm to me that I prefer manually brewed coffee to auto drip.

What if I simply discarded my automatic brewer for a month? I would get back .5 square feet of counter space, drink better coffee on my early morning commute and have a calming five minute pause to begin my hectic early morning days.

Could I manage without it? I think I could.

Effective immediately, I will be placing my automatic brewer into my basement for storage until at least a April 17, or I cry uncle and get it out early (I will definitely fess up if I do this).

If you have never brewed a cup of coffee manually, I want you to try it. You don’t have to do it everyday, but at least do it once. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to start out with. Get a five dollar Melitta dripper and my Manual Brewing 101 will get you up to speed. If you own a French press, which is quite common, start there. You can also check out my getting started page for additional resources and information.

Wouldn’t you rather have a handmade cup of coffee in the morning and enjoy the calming ritual of making it? Let me know about your manual brewing adventures (Manual Brewing March? Manual Brewing Madness?….)

As always you can contact me with questions, blog topic suggestions and just to say hello at john@brewingcoffeemanually.com. Cheers!

*My three very early morning shifts are unfortunately full of these sorts of compromises. Don’t judge me. Sometimes in those wee morning hours, I change from artisan coffee enthusiast to the addicted caffeine user.