I’ve had a Cuisinart coffee maker for since Christmas of 2010. It’s been a workhorse for me in that time. For years I used it daily but I rarely made small pots of coffee with it, until I started this blog way back in 2013.
On occasion I did make small batches of coffee but never less than four cups. For those few times I made small pots of coffee I always pressed the 1-4 button because the coffee maker instructions told me to do so but I didn’t really know why I was doing it.
After doing a little coffee research over the past few months I’ve come to learn why the button is there and how exactly it helps your coffee maker perform better during the brewing process.
What Happens When You Push Your Coffee Maker’s 1-4 Button
A coffee maker is designed to heat up roughly 10 cups of water to brew a full pot of coffee but when you only put two cups of water in the reservoir the drip cycle is too fast. When the water drips over the grind it passes through to quickly resulting in weak coffee. The 1-4 button ensures the machine drips hot water over the coffee grind slower, giving it enough time for better extraction.
In some models the water is paused during the short cycle as a way of extending the brewing process and reheated before finishing the brewing cycle ensuring a slower brew at the correct temperature so that the final batch of coffee tastes it’s best.
If you have a K-cup coffee maker with a Bold or Strong setting they operate exactly the same way. They pause or slow down the brew cycle to ensure better extraction from the grind.
This is also similar to making pour over coffee or french press coffee where you initially wet the grind (create bloom) before fully brewing your coffee.
With pour over coffee the post-bloom water is poured slowly over the grind in two to three pours to ensure the coffee is not brewed too fast and to enhance flavor extraction. With the french press you bloom the grind in the carafe and then after breaking the crust you add the remaining hot water for the full 3 1/2 to 4 minute steeping.
If you think the 1 to 4 button on your coffee maker helps your smaller pots of coffee taste stronger (better) then you are not alone. The vast majority of people use this feature so if your coffee maker doesn’t have one of these buttons then you should really consider getting one.
Here are some affordable options that do have a 1-4 button or a “strong” setting for small pots of coffee.
Now let’s get into more detail on how the button works and what what to button does.
How the 1-4 Button Works
Coffee makers are fairly easy to operate. You add the grounds in the filter, fill the water container up to the desired level, and hit the button. Wait until the brewing process finishes. Voila! You have brewed coffee in less than 5 minutes.
However, there’s no stopping manufacturers to improve their coffee maker models and provide consumers with more features, more options and more designs.
Have you encountered a coffee maker feature that seems a bit complicated?
First of all a drip coffee maker relies on a heat source to heat up the water to an ideal brewing temperature, preferably before dripping the water over the coffee grounds.
The 1-4 button function is common to all coffee makers. But definitions of its use and function seem to vary, depending on the model and type of coffee maker. Still, there are some consensus among long-time users.
One user of Cuisinart DC – 1200 coffee maker asked the question in a coffee forum. But he also did his own research by using the machine and learning the use of the button by experience.
What does it do? The instructions say it “double heats” the water, whatever that means. In actuality, it appears to slow down the output of water to about half, however, the temperature of the water is no hotter. So I guess this would be useful for 4 cups so that it doesn’t brew too fast, but it does nothing to make the water hotter.
In that same thread, another user shared their experience with a similar unit.
I have a similar Cuisinart, but with a built in grinder, and found that the “1 to 4” cup button made the coffee too weak. This was using approximately 40 grams of coffee beans for 20 ounces of water poured in. A better result, with the least amount of coffee and water used, was 60 grams of coffee beans with 32 ounces of water poured in, and just hitting the regular “on” button to brew.
There is also an interesting reply by an expert coffee maker user in Quora, discussing the same inquiry on the function of the 1-4 button.
Most better large coffee makers have this setting. What it does is to slow down the brewing, often by pausing for a short time after the grounds are initially wet. You see, the machine will be designed for a cycle when full or nearly full, where the hot water flows at a particular rate, and so the coffee grounds are being extracted for a particular amount of time which is optimal for good coffee. Problem is, if it’s a 10-cup coffee maker, and you are only brewing 2 cups, you’d get weak coffee that’s only partly extracted. So, the solution is to add in a button that will keep the coffee brewing longer, to give it a chance to extract the full flavor from the grounds.
Most of the answers to the question share three important elements: temperature, coffee taste and number of cups. Therefore, the 1-4 button in the coffee maker helps maintain the right temperature to get a consistent coffee taste and flavor even if you are brewing 1 to 4 cups of coffee.
From my own experimentation the 1-4 button tells the coffee maker to slow down so as to ensure the water in the reservoir is fully heated before showering it over the coffee grind.
The slower speed also helps ensure the coffee is not brewed too fast resulting in a weak cup of Joe.
For small batch of coffee (4 cups or less) the brew time is typically extended but not enough to really be very noticeable, a couple of extra minutes at most.
Why Put a 1-4 Option Anyway?
Most large coffee makers are designed to brew 10 to 12 cups of coffee at a time. What if you want to brew just 2 or 3 cups of coffee? The large coffee maker is designed for a full cycle. If you put just a bit of water, it does not read the amount of water you put in and it heats it differently.
The mechanism will just hose up the water, heat it, and drip it through the coffee grounds before it’s ready.
As a result, the brewed coffee has a lesser taste and a bit lukewarm.
To ensure that you get the same kind of brewed coffee even if you are not using the coffee maker for a full cycle, the 1-4 button is added to your convenience and benefit.
Most Efficient Process of Brewing Coffee
Here is a step-by-step guide to make the perfect brewed coffee using a coffee maker, particularly the Cuisinart models with 1-4 button.
- Fill the water container with the number of cups you need to brew. Most new Cuisinart coffeemaker models have an easy-to-read fill gauge that helps you see the water level as you fill it. The water to coffee ratio is always important so you can maintain the rich coffee taste and avoid diluting the coffee into water.
- Most coffeemakers have a 1-4 cup button to press if you are brewing a smaller pot.
- Add a paper filter to the coffee grounds basket or use a gold-tone reusable filter.
- Measure and place the ground coffee directly into the basket if you have ground coffee, or place the whole beans into the hopper if you are using a grind & brew coffeemaker. The general rule is one level tablespoon per cup you are brewing, but more on that below. For automatic grind & brew coffeemakers, be sure there are enough beans in the hopper before brewing.
- Turn the coffeemaker on and be sure it’s plugged in. Turn the knob to brew and press start. This will vary according to the coffeemaker. The machine will beep once the coffee has completed brewing.
Now, you are ready to serve a delicious coffee with just the right temperature to enjoy its aroma and bittersweet goodness.
One Other Thing to Keep in Mind
Your coffee maker will brew better coffee no matter if you use the 1-4 button or not if you put hot water into the water reservoir before brewing.
Even in the best coffee makers it’s difficult to bring cold water (or even tap) to 190 degrees or more. By pre-warming your water or running a water cycle only through the coffee maker first the brew will be at a much better temperature resulting in better taste.