Coffee maker mistakes: a barista's guide for better brews

Our barista breaks down common coffee maker mistakes, so that you can make a better brew. You'll want the best beans, filtered water, and attention to detail.

A Moccamaster KGBV by Technivorm coffee maker illustrating coffee maker mistakes
(Image credit: Moccamaster)

Coffee is a daily staple.  a essential espresso can start the day right, but almost everyone makes some coffee maker mistakes when it comes to their cup of joe. Fortunately, our barista and other coffee experts have tips to make your coffee better rather than bitter. 

The average American drinks over two cups of coffee every day, so if you haven’t invested in a good coffee maker yet, I’d recommend that you do. Moving away from instant, towards café-quality brews will elevate your cup endlessly. 

Coffee makers are easy to use. This means that lots of people have a false sense of security with their machines. You might not buy the best quality beans on the market, you might not use filtered water, and you might not be cleaning as often as you should.

Combining all of these coffee maker mistakes can result in a less than impressive brew, which you force down for the caffeine content rather than anything else. With these simple, but effective, tips, you’ll be making the perfect cup in no time.

1. Buying the wrong coffee maker

casabrews 5700 pro alongside Breville and Wacaco espresso machines

Reviewing a range of espresso makers in our test kitchen

(Image credit: Future)

It's easy to get caught-up in coffee makers. The flashy, shiny ones with a steam wand and 60 different coffees might seem appealing, but if you only drink Americano coffees, you probably don't need one. As a quick guide: French presses are great if you like more acidic, full bodied coffee; pour-over machines are more delicate and make good filter coffee; drip coffee can cater can make lots of cups of coffee at once and often has a very mellow flavor profile; automatic coffee makers often tackle a range of coffees at the touch of a button, so they're an easy option; espresso machines are what baristas use. They're great for making a top-quality espresso, but they can be very hands-on. 

If you think about the coffee you like and what you'll need, you're much more likely spend money and save money where you need to. With that in mind, our team of experts tested a range of coffee makers on the market and the three below were their favorites.

2. Buying budget beans

A bag of coffee beans being sealed

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Every coffee starts with the beans, so, naturally, that’s where mistakes start too. Former barista and food scientist, Jennifer Pallain says that fresh, high-quality beans are essential for a great cup of coffee. She cautions against buying pre-ground beans or bags which have been sitting on the shelf. She says, ‘as they age, coffee beans lose their natural oils and aroma, leading to a stale and flat taste in your cup’. Check the packaging and if they were roasted between one and four weeks ago, they'll be brilliant. Jennifer recommends finding a local roastery and buying from there for guaranteed freshness. You also need a smart way to store your beans to stop them losing flavor.

Former barista and food scientist
A headshot of Jennifer Pallain
Former barista and food scientist
Jennifer Pallain

Jennifer is a food scientist, former barista, and coffee aficionado. With this behind her, she knows the technicalities for what makes a brilliant brew. She's also a recipe developer, so knows how to monitor taste profiles too.

3. Not matching your maker to your beans

A stainless steel moka pot on the stove with a tiled wall behind it

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Different roasts and origin beans suit different brewing styles. We asked expert coffee writer Rebecca Wessel, for her favorite combinations. 'A light roast does really well in a Chemex', she says, but it might not suit an espresso machine. Rebecca looks for medium to dark roasts for her drip coffee and espresso machines. You can look into flavor profiles of the beans you choose. Don’t be afraid to push the boat out, or to test a multi-pack of beans so that you can work out what you like best. Below are three of my favourite coffee makers, which can you can use with a range of beans.

4. Overstuffing your beans

A large vat being filled with coffee beans by two people

(Image credit: GettyImages)

There are a lot of mistakes that people make with their beans, especially related to storage. Once your bag of beans is open, it's exposed to sunlight, heat, and oxygen. Very quickly, the oils will break down and so your coffee will taste weak. If you fill your beans hopper to the top make sure that it's airtight, out of sunlight, and cool. You can follow a single dosing technique, where you only pour in the amount of beans that you'll use. This makes storage more reliable, but can be more hassle when you're making your coffee.

5. Forgetting your grind-sets

A coffee grinder full of coffee beans

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An underestimated but essential contributor to coffee flavors is the grind size. It affects the extraction, flavor profile, and intensity of your brew. Kelsey Waddle, a coffee expert from Roasty Coffee, said that ‘using the wrong grind size can lead to either under-extraction or over-extraction of flavors. For instance, a fine grind for a French press can result in a sludgy cup, whilst a coarse grind for an espresso machine may produce weak shots.’ The easy solution is to invest in a good grinder and think about which grind you’ll need. Lots of machines have adjustable settings. But if you use a French press, pour over, or espresso machine, you’ll likely be grinding yourself. French presses suit a really coarse grind, because it compliments the acidic flavor profiles. Espressos and moka pots need a fine grind for richer, sweeter notes. Below are some of the best grinders that we've tested, if you need a hand with your grind-set.

kelsey Waddell
Kelsey Waddle

Kelsey is a coffee expert. She writes for Roasty Coffee, a team of coffee connoisseurs who offer tips to at-home baristas. She's used a range of coffee machines, so knows the best tips and tricks for making the perfect cup.

6. Not getting your ratios right

A glass container showing milk being poured into a coffee

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Choosing the coffee to water ratio is a personal preference, within reason. I was always taught to follow a 1:16 coffee to water ratio and if you want to add milk, just take that off the water. If you want a more delicate, lighter brew you could change the ratio to 1:14, but I wouldn't go any lower. The same applies if you want a stronger brew. For espresso machines, you'll want to weigh 18 grams of coffee for 50 ml of water, so the ratio is closer to 1:2. If you change your ratios to the extremes, you'll spoil your brew, but it's worth playing with it a little.

7. Forgetting to let your beans bloom

Hot water being poured into a cup of coffee with a thick crema

(Image credit: GettyImages)

This is my last , but important, note on beans, because there's a lot more to the coffee making process.  If you add a little water to your grounds, in a French press or pour over machine, the coffee can bloom. This is how the CO2 is released from your coffee grounds, helping your coffee to taste sweeter, smoother, and less acidic. You don’t need more than 30 seconds, but it makes all the difference.  

8. Don’t use tap water

A hand holding a glass of water under the tap

(Image credit: GettyImages)

It’s tempting and easy to fill your carafe or reservoir with water from the tap. However, tap water contains impurities and minerals which will interact with your coffee, giving inconsistent results. If you use filtered water your coffee will have a more consistent taste. Kelsey from Roasty Coffee pointed out that ‘coffee is mostly water, and tap water with high mineral content or chlorine can negatively affect the taste'. Kelsey recommends using filtered water or using a water filtration system to ensure clean and pure water. 

9. Consider temperature

A coffee machine pouring out steam

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There’s a narrow temperature range at which coffee tastes best. When it is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit the beans won’t be burnt and bitter, but they also won’t be under extracted and weak. If you own an automatic coffee maker, this still applies to you. Kayla Stavridis, a barista and coffee expert, laughed over this mistake. It's one we are all guilty of doing. She told me ‘I remember once, when I was rushing to prepare for a morning meeting and I didn’t let my espresso machine heat up properly. The result was a lukewarm, under extracted espresso that tasted sour’. Some machines won’t let you use them unless they’re up to temperature, but make sure to check. 

10. Not keeping it clean

A hand wiping down the front of a stainless steel espresso machine

(Image credit: GettyImages)

We all know that keeping clean is important, but sometimes it can be hard to see on a coffee maker. Establish a cleaning routine and keep to it. Coffee left in your brew head or grinder can go stale, spoiling your entire cup. We’ve written guidance on how to keep your coffee machine clean, so make sure to follow the practice at least every week. Even better, you could do it after every use of the espresso machine.  

11. Not learning how to steam

A stainless steel jug with a steam wand frothing milk

(Image credit: GettyImages)

If your coffee machine has a steam wand, not only will you need to be meticulous in cleaning it, you’ll also want to practice with it too. If you can sort your steam techniques, you’ll be able to make a silky, smooth, and frothy coffee. Even better, you’ll be able to refine your latte art, which looks beautiful and can impress a guest. There are lots of barista videos online where you can watch how to perfectly steam milk. These machines are really good for steaming milk. 

Experiment, experiment, experiment

Four cups of coffee beans on hessian with beans scattered around them

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Coffee isn’t a one-size-fits-all drink. Don’t be afraid to try different grinds, settings, and beans. It’s all too easy to fall into a habit and routine, but coffee makers can do amazing things. If you have a French press, why not try a cold brew? If you have a coffee maker, select an unusual option. If you’re feeling bold, buy a different kind of bean and give it a whirl. 


What should I not do with a coffee maker?

There are lots of things not to do with a coffee maker. Leaving it plugged in will use unnecessary electricity; not cleaning it will prevent you making the perfect brew; and buying bad beans will stop you from having a flavorful cup. Make sure to read through our mistakes so that you don’t waste money, time, and coffee on your appliance. 

Is there a wrong way to make coffee?

The flavors of your coffee are shaped by your beans, grind, and brewing technique. These can be worlds apart and no method is right or wrong. As long as you end up with a smooth, balanced cup of coffee, your brewing is fine. There are best practice techniques to follow, which we’ve outlined in our mistakes above, so make sure to follow those guidelines. 

What happens if you put too much coffee in a coffee maker?

Nothing too disastrous. Hot water will extract a limited amount of coffee oils, so all you’ll be doing is wasting good beans. The best way to avoid putting too much coffee in your coffee maker is to use a scoop to measure out your coffee. 

Should you clean a coffee maker after every use?

Ideally, yes. If you’ve used a steam wand to froth milk, make sure to spray it and wipe it clean. That way, milk won’t dry in the spit. I use a brush to clear my brew head of excess grounds and always empty my drip tray after every use. Maintaining your machine like this will ensure that your coffee tastes better and that your machine will last longer too. 

How should I store coffee grounds?

Our Verdict

A range of different coffee beans in troughs and scoops

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There’s no need to panic, as you’ll have been doing lots of things right with your coffee maker. Everybody gets into bad habits, from it’s neglecting your cleaning routine or skimping on beans. However, these add up and can ruin a good cup of coffee. I’d make sure to correct any of your mistakes, but to really focus on experimenting. I always thought I liked darker roasts until I started trying some blonde roasts at a friend’s. Now I make sure to mix up my beans and to try different flavors when I can. Who knows what you'll find.  

Laura Honey
eCommerce Editor

Laura is our eCommerce editor. As a fully qualified barista, she's our expert in all things coffee and has tested over thirty of the best coffee makers on the market. She has also interviewed Q-Graders and world-leading experts in the coffee industry, so has an intimate knowledge of all things coffee. Before joining Homes & Gardens, she studied English at Oxford University. Whilst studying, she trained as a master perfumer and worked in the luxury fragrance industry for five years. Her collection of home fragrance is extensive and she's met and interviewed five of the world's finest perfumers (also known as 'noses'). As a result of this expansive fragrance knowledge, she always puts quality and style over quantity and fads. Laura looks for products which have been designed simply and with thoughtful finishes.