I’ve had a Cuisinart side-by-side coffee maker for since Christmas of 2010. It’s been a workhorse for me over the years too. For handful of years I used it daily for 6-8 cup carafes but I rarely made small pots of coffee with it, until I started working on this blog way back in 2013.
On occasion though I did make small batches of coffee, but never less than four cups. For those few times that I did make small pots of coffee I always pressed the 1-4 button because the coffee maker instructions told me to do so. I didn’t however really know why I was doing it.
After doing a little coffee research in the Spring of 2014 I came to learn why the button was there and how exactly it helps your coffee maker perform better during the brewing process on smaller pots of coffee.
Basically it’s a lot like the Strong button on coffee makers made popular by Keurig & Hamilton Beach. It brews those smaller pots of coffee with a slightly slower stream of water to help the coffee extract a more balanced flavor profile.
Take a look at this post describing the strong button for comparison.
You can also see this post to see some of the best coffee machines made today that include a strong, bold, or 1-4 setting.
What Happens When You Push Your Coffee Maker’s 1-4 Button
A normal coffee maker is designed to heat up roughly 10 cups of water at a time to brew a full pot of coffee, but when you only put two cups of water in the reservoir the drip cycle is too simply fast for a good brew.
When the water drips over the grind it passes through to quickly resulting in weak acidic coffee. The 1-4 button ensures the machine drips hot water over the coffee grind slower, giving it enough time for better extraction.
See this post for an explanation on how fast brewed coffee ends up acidic.
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 a slow pour-over technique.
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 for smaller portions so if your coffee maker doesn’t have one of these buttons then you should really consider getting one.
In fact one of the newest Keurig models will make either full pots of ground coffee or single cup portions k-cup style and both brewing methods have a slow-brew option labeled with the Strong button.
I highly recommend you take a close look at the Keurig K-Duo Plus for the small portion strength control and versatility in portion size.
Here are some more affordable options that do have a 1-4 button or a “strong” setting for small pots of coffee.
You can also see a comparison between the K-Duo, K-Duo Plus, and K-Duo Essentials machines here. Each of these were released in 2019.
Now, let’s get into more detail on how the 1-4 button actually works and what what to button does to strengthen and slow the brewing cycle.
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 5-10 minutes.
However, there’s no stopping manufacturers that are trying to improve their coffee maker models by either making them better or cheaper. They frequently do this by provide consumers with more features, more options, and more designs while altering the physical appearance and using different quality materials in the actual build.
Have you encountered a coffee maker feature that seems a bit too complicated? Probably.
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.
Of course you could also opt for a single serve machine instead of running small pots through a drip coffee maker. Those are much faster and tend to brew very good tasting coffee because they are almost always heated to the proper temperature before the first drip is released.
You can see this post for my reviews of the best small K-cup coffee makers on the market today.
The 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.
Related – Ever thought of hooking a water line into your coffee maker? It’s super awesome and way more convenient than you may realize.
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.