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Make a great cup of joe with the latest makers

Try one of the newest coffee machines to brew the perfect pot. “Today” food editor Phil Lempert highlights his top picks, and shares his java tips.

Remember when you could go to a diner or coffee shop and pay 50 cents for a good tasting “bottomless” cup of coffee? That brew might still exist in some small cities and towns, but for most Americans the price of a cup of coffee easily tops two bucks. Want a latte or cappuccino and you'll most likely be paying with a five-dollar bill and have just enough change for the tip jar.

Starbuck's, Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s and other coffee retailers upped the coffee experience, and created an entirely new generation of coffee aficionados.

Coffee is big business with dollar sales at just under $3.5 billion, according to ACNielsen. The National Coffee Association of USA reports that the percentage of “gourmet coffee drinkers” has actually increased to over 15% of the total U.S. population — over 30 million drinkers.

It’s easy to go out and pay $4 for a good cup of coffee, but now you won’t have to! Supermarket shelves are jammed with over 460 different brands or varieties of coffees and with lots of innovations taking place in coffee and espresso machines you might want to save your money and make that perfect brew at home.

Today’s coffee machines are a lot more sophisticated and have more electronic controls to insure that each cup is perfectly brewed. Capsules and pods now proliferate, and while they make it easier to make one cup perfectly and clean-up a snap, keep in mind the machine you buy dictates the varieties (and brands) of coffee that you can use. They are also more expensive and raise the price of home-brewed coffee from less than a dime to, in some cases, over 50 cents a cup.

Here are my picks for the best new coffeemakers:
  Keurig B60Originally created for office use, Keurig now offers home models that are more stylish that allow you to regulate the size of the pour. One huge advantage of the K-cup system is the wide array of brands and blends, including Fair Trade Organic coffees and Celestial Seasoning Teas.

  • The standard water brewing temperature in the Keurig brewer is approximately 192 degrees.
  • The coffee in the K-cups is 100% Arabica specialty coffee, ground (no instant coffee).
  • The retail price of the B60 is $199.95. (There are other Keurig brewer models of the same quality, with fewer features, that sell for as low as $99.95).
  • Cost per K-cup: approx. $0.58; www.keurig.com

Tassimo
Similar to the Keurig concept, with a smaller variety of offerings, it uses “discs” for coffee, tea and even hot chocolate.

  • The actual water temperature used to brew each product is listed on the particular T-discs. The temperature can be set between 88oC and 94oC (190oF-204oF) and varies by beverage (for example, hot chocolate is made at a lower setting, while tea, cappuccino and latte use higher temperatures). 
  • It uses Gevalia Signature blend, made with 100% high quality Arabica beans from the East Africa, Central and South America. The espresso is also 100% Arabica coffee and is from Colombia and Central America. Retail price of the Tassimo is $169.
  • Cost per T-disc: approx. $0.50 for regular coffee. The T-discs are sold in packets of 10 or 18, depending on the beverage and they retail for between $6.79-$9.99; www.tassimo.com

Mr. Coffee AT13 Home Café Single ServeFrom the company that started it all comes another single serve machine, but unlike the K-cups or T-discs, their pods are just in a paper filter, and if not stored properly will lose flavor faster. The advantage, however, is that the price per cup is significantly lower, and they are available in practically every supermarket.

  • The water heats up to almost boiling to brew the coffee. The temperature of the finished beverage is 180 degrees.
  • The pods are filled with high quality roast and ground coffee. Some are blends of different beans from around the world and some are roasts of one specific type of bean.   
  • Retail price of The Home Café is $79.99.  
  • Cost per pod: average $0.25 each; www.mrcoffee.com  

NespressoRomeo This is my favorite machine! Not only does it look great and make the best cup of espresso, this latest generation machine actually self-cleans and stores the empty capsules. Nespresso offers a wide variety of coffee and their hermetically-sealed capsules keep the coffee the freshest. The crema (or froth) came out perfect every time.

  • The standard water brewing temperature in the Nespresso machine is approximately 186 degrees. Nespresso's hermetically-sealed capsules (12 coffee blends in all) contain premium ground coffee (not instant). The price for the top-of-the-line Nespresso Romeo machine is $799.
  • Cost per capsule: approx. $0.49; www.nespresso.com

ILLY Pasquini Livia 90 model Illy produces one of the best coffees in the world, and this machine lives up to the company’s reputation for quality. It is more versatile and uses both pods (although not hermetically-sealed) and ground coffee, for those who enjoy the hassle and clean-up.

  • The Illy temperature is adjustable from 190 degrees to a maximum of 205 degrees.  
  • The Pasquini Livia 90 model uses both ground coffee and coffee pods. The coffee in the pod is Illy’s “regular” ground coffee.
  • The retail price of Livia is $1350.
  • Cost per pod: approx. $0.55. A tin of pods retails for around $10. There are 18 pods to a tin. A can of Illy regular ground coffee retails for approx. $12/can; www.illyusa.com

Rancilio — Silvia ModelA great looking machine that also performs well and is less expensive.

  • Brewing temperature is 195-197 degrees F.
  • Uses ground espresso coffee beans. You can use pods with their portafilter (basket with handle where coffee is placed; price, $128), but the machine wasn’t really designed for it and we found it cumbersome and clumsy.
  • The retail price of the Silvia is $495; www.rancilio.com

The five things you need to know about coffee before you sip!
1.
There are over 20 species of coffee plants, but only two account for the majority of commercial coffee sold worldwide: Arabica and Robusta. Robusta coffee beans constitute the majority of low-quality, mass-produced, pre-ground coffee blends and freeze-dried coffee found in jars and cans, which tends to be bitter and bland. Arabica coffee beans are the world's most flavorful beans which you may know as: Costa Rican Tarrazu, Guatemalan Hueheutenango, Kenyan AA, Sumatra Mandheling and Tanzanian Peaberry, to name a few. Arabica coffee beans also contain only half the caffeine of Robusta.

2. Are you a drip coffee or an espresso drinker? If you've ever wondered exactly what the difference is, here's a little lesson in how each is brewed:

The main difference between the two is the fineness of the grind and the brewing time. For example, a shot of espresso is made by forcing about 1.5 ounces of nearly boiling water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. The brewing time is much shorter than that of coffee.

Drip coffee on the other hand starts with more coarsely ground coffee than espresso and is made by dripping boiling water over the ground coffee. The water filters through the coffee and falls into the pot. The brewing process is slower than espresso, and the hot water is in contact with the ground coffee for much longer. A cup of drip coffee actually has more caffeine than one shot of espresso.

3. Cold water should always be used to brew coffee because it tastes fresher. Hot water from a water heater loses oxygen, resulting in a flat taste. The choices for water are wide and wonderful these days: purifiers that fit on your kitchen sink faucet, bottled spring water delivered right to your door and “gourmet” spring waters available at your local grocer. Waters to avoid are: soft waters, regular tap water in most communities and distilled waters. Remember, the freshest-tasting cup relies on the water as well as the bean.

4. Numerous studies have suggested that coffee may be one of nature’s most plentiful sources for antioxidants. Polyphenolic compounds, called flavonoids, have antioxidant properties which are important for disease protection, and are found naturally in the raw coffee beans. Studies have also shown that during the coffee roasting process, these important antioxidants (primarily vitamin C and E) are not lost or damaged. In a Harvard study that analyzed 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, researchers found that drinking one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk (by single digits) as compared to those who do not partake in America's favorite morning drink.

5. Nothing can contaminate all your best efforts more than a dirty pot or cup. Residue from the oils and grinds does build up in mugs, filters and brewers, so take the time to clean your machine, filter, water tank and all other coffee tools regularly. Your coffee will definitely taste better, richer and fresher!

For more information about coffee, sign up for Phil’s free monthly e-newsletter “Coffee Chat News” at .

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at SuperMarketGuru.com.