The SCAA home brewer certification is awarded by the Specialty Coffee Association of America for drip coffee makers that brew according to the association’s best practices for making drip coffee.
In other words, drip coffee makers that are SCAA certified are far more likely to make excellent-tasting drip coffee than those not.
Here we are going to go through the following:
- What are SCAA’s certification requirements for drip coffee makers?
- How does the association tests drip coffee makers when awarding their certification?
- Does SCAA certification guarantee that a drip coffee maker will be high quality?
- Which drip coffee machines are SCAA certified?
- Are there any drip coffee makers that are not SCAA certified but still of high quality?
What are the Requirements for A Drip Coffee Maker to be SCAA Certified?
The SCAA has seven criteria that drip coffee makers must meet to be certified.
A drip coffee maker needs to meet all seven criteria to become certified.
Here are the criteria:
Brew Basket Volume (Brew Ratio)
A drip coffee maker needs to have a brew basket large enough to brew at its capacity and still maintain a brew ratio of 55 grams of ground coffee to every litre of water used.
A drip coffee maker needs a brew basket large enough to allow it to brew at the ideal brew ratio.
The SCAA has determined this to be 55 grams of ground coffee for every litre of water brewed or a ratio of 1:18 ground coffee to water.
A drip coffee maker needs to be able to brew at its full capacity to this ratio without coffee grounds spilling out of its brew basket in order to be eligible for certification.
Having too small a brew basket is particularly problematic among drip coffee makers with built-in grinders. This is why I generally do not recommend you purchase such a machine (with the exception of the Gevi 4-in-1 which does not have this problem).
A drip coffee maker should brew your coffee at between 90-96 Celsius (194-205 Fahrenheit). This temperature should be maintained throughout the entire brewing process.
The SCAA recommends that drip coffee should be brewed at between 194-205 Fahrenheit because this is the temperature at which the desirable flavorful compounds in coffee are most efficiently extracted into your brewing water.
Coffee brewed under this temperature will be bland tasting. Coffee brewed over this temperature will be very harsh, as undesirable bitter compounds will extract into your water.
The consistency of your brewing temperature is just as important as the temperature itself.
While almost all drip coffee makers heat your water to 194 Fahrenheit, most only get to this temperature at the end of brewing. This means that your brewing water is below the temperature for the majority of your brew.
Heating your brewing water up at the start of the brewing temperature takes a relatively sophisticated (read: expensive) heating mechanism.
Therefore the inability to brew at a consistent brewing temperature is by far the most common reason why a coffee maker will miss out on SCAA certification.
A coffee maker should brew coffee with an extraction of 1.15% – 1.5%.
This means that the liquid coffee that the machine pours out (and which you eventually drink) should be between 1.15% and 1.5% dissolved coffee compounds.
The rest of the drink is water.
A drip coffee maker’s extraction rate is dependent on three variables. They are:
- A coffee maker’s ability to maintain a consistent brewing temperature (dips in brewing temperature will decrease your water’s ability to extract and vice versa).
- A coffee maker’s ability to cover a ground coffee bed evenly with water (uneven coverage will cause over-extraction in the parts of the coffee bed that have excess water and under-extraction in parts that see little water).
- A coffee maker’s ability to “agitate” the bed of coffee. More agitation (meaning the pressure that the brewing water exerts on the bed of coffee as it makes contact with it) increases the rate of extraction so you don’t want too much or too little agitation.
Underextracted coffee tends to be bland or sharp tasting, with over-extracted coffee being unpleasantly bitter.
1.15% – 1.5% extraction should be the sweet spot (quite literally) between these two extremes, creating a balanced final drink.
Uniformity of Extraction
Coffee must have an extraction uniformity of at least 60%. This means that the least extracted part of the coffee bed (usually the outside edges of the coffee bed) is at least 60% as extracted as the most extracted part of the coffee bed (usually the middle of it).
Uneven extraction can really spoil a coffee’s flavor, with under-extracted parts of the coffee bed leeching sharp notes into your drink and over-extracted parts leeching harsh, bitter notes.
While it’s impossible to achieve a perfectly uniform extraction, the SCAA has determined that 60% uniformity (meaning the least extracted part of the coffee bed is 60% as extracted as the most extracted part) should have a negligible negative effect on your coffee’s flavor.
Insulativeness of Coffee Holding Receptacle
The coffee holding receptacle (usually a carafe) must be able to keep your coffee at least 80 degrees Celsius (176 Fahrenheit) for half an hour.
If a machine uses a glass carafe with a hot plate, then it will be tested with the hot plate switched on and set to its default auto-off setting.
Uniformity Across Units and Brews
The machine must brew according to these SCAA guidelines across 3 different units and for five brews per unit.
The SCAA did not make it clear how long they left between each brew before testing a machine again.
Thoroughness of Machine’s Instructions
The machine’s instructions should specify an ideal coffee grind size, a brew ratio of 55g/kilogram (1:18), a recommended filter and cleaning instructions.
These instructions will be adhered to when testing a machine, and testers will check whether:
- The instructions are conducive to making excellent-tasting coffee (the coffee is taste tested).
- The instructions allow a machine to meet all the other SCAA requirements outlined above.
How Does the SCAA Test Drip Coffee Makers Against its Criteria?
I’m now going to break down exactly how the SCAA tests coffee makers against each one of its criteria.
This information was taken from the SCAA’s PDF on their testing methodology, published in 2021 as well as my own personal correspondence with the association.
All tests are conducted with the machines brewing at their maximum specified capacity. Machines that can brew more than one litre of coffee at a time will also be tested brewing 1 litre of coffee as well as their maximum specified capacity.
Brew Basket Volume
Each coffee maker is fed enough ground coffee in its brew basket to brew at its specified capacity at a 1:18 ground coffee to water ratio.
For a coffee maker to pass this test, it needs to hold this required amount of ground coffee without any of it overflowing.
If the brew basket has a lid then this needs to be able to close properly without spilling any ground coffee – any spilt coffee will either make a mess or go into your drink.
Three temperature probes are inserted into the centre and two outside points of the coffee bed.
The temperature of these probes needs to be held at between 194-205 Fahrenheit from the second that one-third of the machine’s brewing water has entered the coffee bed to the end of the brewing process.
A machine’s final coffee extraction is measured using an instrument called a coffee refractometer.
This measures extraction by seeing how much light can pass through a drop of coffee. The less light that passes through, the more extracted the coffee is.
If a machine has multiple extraction settings then it just needs to achieve the 1.15% – 1.5% extraction rate on one of these extraction settings.
Uniformity of Extraction
This is by far the most complicated measurement. I will do my best to summarize it here, but if you want a proper explanation please consult pages 8 and 9 of the SCAA’s 2021 PDF on their testing methodology (there is a link to it earlier on in this article).
A coffee maker’s uniformity of extraction is tested by:
- Brewing one litre of coffee (or to the machine’s capacity, whichever is lower).
- Drying out the coffee bed in an oven at 101-105 Celsius (214-221 Fahrenheit).
- Taking out four samples of two grams each from the coffee bed, two in the middle of the bed and two on the bed’s periphery (these should be equally spaced apart from each other).
- Steeping each of these samples in 15 grams of room temperature water for 12 hours.
- Measuring these samples of steeped water with a coffee refractometer.
The sample with the lowest extraction should be at least 60% as extracted as the most extracted sample for a coffee maker to pass this test.
Insulativeness of Coffee Holding Receptacle
The temperature of liquid coffee inside a machine’s carafe (or other coffee-holding receptacles) is measured 30 minutes after brewing.
This temperature has to be above 80 Celsius (176 Fahrenheit) to pass this test.
If the machine has a hot plate then this hot plate is turned on for this test. If its hot plate has an auto-off then this is set to its default setting.
Uniformity Across Units and Brews
Three units of each model are tested, and each machine is tested for five brews.
Each machine and unit does not have to brew in the exact same way to pass this test, they just need to pass every test to get certified.
For example, if a unit brews one cup at a brewing temperature of 196 Fahrenheit and a second cup at a temperature of 201 Fahrenheit it will still pass as both of these are within the SCAA’s specified temperature range of 194-205 Fahrenheit.
Thoroughness of a Machine’s Instructions
This test has two parts:
- Firstly, testers check whether a machine actually has instructions that address the required pieces of information as set out by the SCAA.
- Testers run each coffee maker according to its instructions and check whether the machine brews according to SCAA guidelines when these instructions are followed.
Both online and hard copy instructions count in this test. Therefore machines with only digital instructions can still be eligible for SCAA certification.
Does SCAA Certification Guarantee that a Drip Coffee Maker is Worth Buying?
SCAA certification pretty much guarantees that a drip coffee maker will make very good drip coffee.
The important factor that the SCAA glosses over during its testing of drip coffee makers is to do with its durability and ability to maintain its performance brew after brew.
Although the SCAA does test each unit on five brews, this is a drop in the ocean compared to how often you are going to use your coffee maker at home.
I’d therefore recommend combining the SCAA’s findings with your own research of users’ experiences with each coffee maker before you buy one. Look at negative reviews of a machine on Amazon and Reddit, and look out for any technical issues that crop up over and over again.
These technical issues, especially ones that only start occurring months into a machine’s lifespan, will often not be revealed by SCAA’s testing.
I should also add that just because a drip coffee maker is not SCAA certified, it does not mean that it is a bad machine.
For example, there may well be excellent single-serve drip coffee makers that do not have a well-insulated carafe. Single-serve machines do not need a well-insulated carafe because they only make one serving of coffee at a time.
These machines will not pass SCAA certification despite there being anything wrong with them other than lacking an insulated carafe.
Which Drip Coffee Makers are SCAA Certified?
As of February 2023, the following coffee makers are SCAA certified:
Breville Precision Brewer: Both versions with glass and thermal carafe.
Bonavita 5 Cup and Bonavita 8 Cup: For more information on these machines please see my Bonavita coffee maker review.
Braun Multiserve Coffee Maker: Multiple models are SCAA certified including both plumed machines and machines with water tanks.
Cuisinart Pure Precision 8 Cup: Both versions of the machine with a glass and thermal carafe is SCAA certified. This is the only Cuisinart coffee maker that is certified.
GE Café Specialty Drip Coffee
Oxo 8 Cup Coffee Maker & Oxo 9 Cup Coffee Maker: The Oxo 9 Cup features in my roundup of the best 4-cup coffee makers.
Ratio 6: The Ratio 6 features in my roundup of the best 5-cup coffee makers.
Technivorm Moccamster: Pretty much every model of Technivorm Moccamaster is SCAA certified.
Are there any drip coffee makers that are not SCAA certified but are still of high quality?
There is one drip coffee maker that is not SCAA certified but which still makes drip coffee that can compete with any machine, and that’s the Gevi 4-in-1.
The Gevi 4-in-1 only misses out on SCAA certification because its carafe is not insulative enough to pass the insulations of holding receptacle test.
As the machine is designed to primarily make single servings of coffee, this lack of carafe insulation does not greatly affect the usability of the machine.
SCAA certification is awarded to drip coffee makers that brew according to the SCAA’s guidelines on making as good-tasting drip coffee as possible.
It’s therefore little surprise that almost all the best drip coffee machines are SCAA certified.
SCAA certification does not cover things like the durability or longevity of a coffee machine, so I’d advise that you do some independent research into these things before you buy a machine.
If you would like to find out more about what drip coffee makers are available to you, please see my list of drip coffee machine reviews.