If this isn't the most helpful review you've read on the Cuisinart® 12-Cup Programmable Thermal Coffeemaker anywhere on the web, you can have your money back! (Fine Print: Because this is a free service of Epinions and its volunteer contributors, don't count on taking that to the bank!)
Recommend this product?
Okay, now that I've got your attention, here's what I have to say:
When I stumbled across this 12-cup thermal Cuisinart automatic drip coffeemaker locally on closeout — the sharp looking white/stainless color combo designated by the model DTC-975N — I at first ignored it. Weeks later, I succumbed to its stately good looks when the store marked it down again. You see, I'm not a fan of black appliances and more and more manufacturers of the "better brands" these days are dropping the white trim I prefer in a kitchen electric. In my tortoise-like pursuit of a kitchen that boasts matching appliances this felt like a case of "Get it while you still can." Am I'm glad I made that choice? Yes and no.
• Limited 3-year warranty;
• Brews 12 (5 oz each) cups;
• Double-wall insulated, stainless-steel carafe keeps coffee hot for 12 hours;
• Brew-through and pour-through lid for easy brewing and serving;
• Fully automatic with 24-hour programmability; brew-pause feature; auto shut-off;
• Ready signal at end of brew cycle;
• Includes #4 paper filter starter kit and owner's guide;
• User guide PDF and replacement parts available at: http://www.cuisinart.com/products/coffee_bar/dtc-975bkn.html
• Measures 7-1/2 by 11-1/4 by 16 inches.
Post purchase, a tinge of buyer's remorse set in: This model has attracted a sizeable number of overflow complaints, and reviewers saying things like "I never thought it would happen to me but it did," being typical. This realization, however, has not put me off because that's what many a web reviewer said about my Mr. Coffee FTX series coffeemaker a few years back, which I decided to chance anyhow because it was a mere $30 at Costco. To my pleasant surprise, no such brew-to-countertop issue materialized on that Mr. Coffee nor my present one, the MRX35 heritage edition, which I've also reviewed on behalf of Epinions. Consequently, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the same luck with respect to the Cuisinart DTC-975.
First off, the stainless thermal carafe doesn't get hot to the touch even though the coffee inside is. This is a sign of a good design as it is not leaking heat. Moreover, it is recommended, but not absolutely critical in my experience, to preheat the thermal carafe with hot water before brewing. Many thermal type coffeemakers have eliminated the warming plate and the glass decanter for the sake of not "baking" the coffee, but not all of them are as effective in eliminating the need for a warming plate as one might imagine. My research indicates that it is not uncommon to hear complaints that the coffee in a supposed thermal carafe does not remain hot for more than an hour or two and that if one fails to preheat the carafe with hot water, freshly brewed coffee, even, may be downright lukewarm. Not so the Cuisinart DTC-975. In my initial test, without any prior preheating, the coffee in my mug was ~175°F degrees immediately post brew, ~200°F in the basket, and amazingly, roughly 12 hours later, heat retention inside the carafe itself was still ~140°F, with a mostly-full pot. In comparison, when I took the unit's temp inside a 3/4 full carafe instead of a cold coffee cup, it hit 186°F with no preheating. And while the owner's guide doesn't qualify its claims about how long the advertised results should last, it would appear a full pot yields longer heat-retention outcomes than a partial one because more of the "dead air" is displaced in a full pot vs. a partial one. More importantly, these results are more than adequate to forestall the need to zap one's coffee in the microwave for a good chunk of the day.
Second, the thermal carafe is less likely to break when compared to the glass variety. By some miracle I've never broken a glass coffee carafe, but knowing that there is no glass to shatter affords additional peace of mind. For the same reason, it allows the carafe be taken into other rooms or outdoors as a server, much like those sold separately for this purpose.
Third, the spout on the carafe is essentially spill proof. That is, in part, thanks to the fact that the rate of flow-through is very slow (and admittedly annoyingly so, particularly if you fail to completely screw on the lid). The dribble-like pour rate is a "necessary evil", as it were. If the stainless steel carafe allowed a larger amount of coffee to flow through the spout without removing the lid — as some of these types require — that would also, in turn, introduce a larger area for the heat to escape. To keep coffee hot for as many hours as this model can and does, the rate of coffee flow must be modest, at best. The advantage is that the wide spout is designed in such a way that it won't dribble quite as much as the glass variety are apt to do.
Fourth, there is no blinding backlight on the LCD as is the case, for instance, with many Mr. Coffee models in recent years. I personally wouldn't mind a lighted display because it looks a bit more high end than an unlit monochrome LCD. Nevertheless, I recognize that to many coffeemaker owners bright lights on their kitchen electrics are an annoyance, so I'll list the absence of a lit display panel as a plus. (There is an "on" indicator light, but that's it.)
Fifth, although tall the profile is narrow. It's easy to squeeze this coffeemaker in alongside my other appliances.
Sixth, a series of five beeps indicate when the brew cycle is complete. To my knowledge it isn't possible to deactivate it. But since I am already accustomed to a similar audible alert tone on my Mr. Coffee — and don't begrudge that feature anymore than I would a microwave signal — it doesn't bother me. Claims that this signal is as loud as a utility truck backing up are exaggerations. I can hear it in other rooms of the house but it's not like a bullhorn, and I personally wouldn't give the matter too much concern unless there were swing shift workers or sleeping babies in the house. To the contrary, I imagine that this feature is helpful for those who are of low vision and cannot visually determine whether the brew is still dribbling into the carafe. The ready tone does not start until the dribbling from the basket is complete. This amounts to a ~1-minute delay from the point where you can no longer hear the brewing. And speaking of huffing and puffing, the sound of this coffeemaker brewing this isn't as loud as some of the Krups I've used but not as quiet as my Mr. Coffee. This Cuisinart lands somewhat in between and is what I would describe as about average. It's not obnoxious sounding by my standards. (To the contrary, I associate automatic drip coffeemakers that don't emit heating noises or steam as potentially underheating and under-extracting the coffee grinds. The drip machines that are the noisiest and/or require pulling away from nearby cupboards to avoid condensation and steam damage seemingly brew the fastest and best tasting coffee.)
Seventh, the attractive thermal carafe is particularly valuable when entertaining. It is possible to keep a full pot of coffee hot and relatively fresh without finding it sitting on a cold plate that has shut off long before the guests have gone home.
Of course, there are also tradeoffs.
First off, take note of the dimensions, listed above under "Key Features". As many owners have noted this is a tall design, particularly once the lid is opened. It is not likely to fit well under low-slung cupboards because it will need ~23.5 inches of clearance with the water reservoir access lid open. Before you take out your wallet, get out your yardstick!
Second, there are troubling reports scattered among the web reviews that some owners had the control buttons and/or the entire coffeemaker fail within 1-3 years post purchase. I hope those are just flukes and not predictions of an expensive, premature demise in store. This coffeemaker has been on the market for over 5 years so hopefully whatever failures presented early on have been corrected by the manufacturer.
Third, the water reservoir indicator is on the left side. It does not face out so it may be necessary to turn it to get a good look while filling it. Moreover, the water-level indicator is of the type with a floating red ball inside a see-through plastic tube. These are notorious for eventually gumming up. On some of the Krups with this type of water-level indicator you can pull the tube off and clean it out with a pipe cleaner or one of those bottle brushes that come with a turkey baster. I haven't verified that it is possible to do so on this Cuisinart without breaking it, however. Do so at your own risk.
Fourth, the fit and finish of the upper housing where the brew basket and the lid come down tend to look like they are not in place even when they are because of gaps that run vertically between the brew basket and the top portion of the housing. The entire look of this machine is quite graceful and clean looking until you get to the top. I can see why it would be easy to get the alignment off — because even when everything is "clicked" into place it still gives the impression of the lid/basket junctures being ever so slightly askew. That also means that it isn't so self-evident when things that should be snapped into place are not. (For instance, the lip of the top lid fits inside rather than over the basket.)
Fifth is not really a complaint but just a fact of life when owning a thermal carafe coffeemaker: There are no indicators in the stainless steel decanter to show how much coffee is left in the pot. Because it is not see-through, it is helpful to swish it around for a rough idea as to how much remains.
Sixth, I have never really liked the look of Cuisinart's programmable control panel on any of their coffeemakers. I have 20/20 vision but I find the LCD screen, which is not lit, far too small, and it bears too much of a resemblance to an inexpensive digital watch face. The buttons are not all that ergonomic, either. Furthermore, I find the position of the controls beneath the carafe questionable. It is too easy to whack and scratch them while pulling a full pot of coffee on/off, drip water into it while cleaning or to have an overflow of the coffee, in the event that one should occur, short out the panel. The Cuisinart DTC-975 is a narrow machine that saves horizontal space on the counter, but if you have any vision problems or would appreciate a model that makes it easier to program and/or has a lit display on it, Cuisinart is not your best bet. Mr. Coffee has the Cuisinart line of coffeemakers beat in this regard.
Seventh, there is no water filter to remove chlorine and improve the coffee's taste. Personally, this is no big deal because I use filtered water from my refrigerator door dispenser. But for the price, one might expect to find a charcoal filter on this model. There isn't one. (On the other hand, that's one less thing to purchase/replace.)
Eighth, the "Brew Pause" mechanism mounted at the bottom of the removable plastic cone coffee filter holder is puny and fragile looking compared to the heavy gauge wire in my Mr Coffee MRX35. So far the Brew Pause seems to be working but I can see how it would be easy to damage or clog if the grounds were to escape the filter or the white plastic "washer" on the inside of the filter basket holder that fastens it into place were to break off. This isn't something you want to wash in the dishwasher or crush beneath a load of dirty dishes in your sink. (If by chance you break it, Cuisinart sells replacements online.) It should also be noted that Cuisinart does not recommend dishwashing the carafe, either. These parts are best HAND WASHED.
Nineth, there is no indicator light or special cleaning cycle to remind users to descale it. Those who have been spoiled by other coffeemakers that remind you when a cleaning cycle is necessary won't have that benefit here, which is odd considering the list price.
Tenth and more serious of the drawbacks mentioned thus far, the DTC-975's thermal carafe has a narrow ~2" opening that no adult hand will fit into. And even though there is no warming plate on the machine to bake the coffee into the carafe, it will require more than baking soda, vinegar, dish soap or dishwasher detergent to get it clean, in my experience. A bottle brush will help, but be forewarned: There is something about stainless steel that absorbs odors. With as little as a single use it is my experience having briefly previously owned a thermal Krups and now this Cuisinart DTC-975 that NO AMOUNT OF CLEANING will get the stale coffee odor out. My search for better ways to deodorize this stainless steel carafe continues, and if I find an effective method I will update this review to pass along the secret. [UPDATE: I didn't want to resort to potentially toxic cleaners but that was my only remaining choice. I tried Oxiclean Free, the unscented powder, and was happy to find that it will remove a good chunk of the stains if left to soak in the pot in a solution of hot water. It won't remove the coffee odors quite as well as the stains, but it is the best product I have tried thus far. In between Oxiclean I use vinegar and baking soda with a foam bottle brush to clean it out. This process must be repeated religiously with each and every use of the carafe to keep the flavor-tainting effects of rancid coffee at bay. I have yet to try it, but I also gather that Urmex and Dip-It are good choices, albeit more expensive than a tub of Oxiclean Free.]
Thermal Carafe Coffeemaker Limitations
I suspect that in time the coffee brewed in this type of machine may begin to take on the off flavor of aging coffee residues and this is by far my biggest gripe with respect to insulated carafe coffeemakers in general. By contrast, my old glass Mr. Coffee carafes, no matter how old they are, don't reek of old coffee once they are washed. Only the plastic lids/parts seem to retain the odors/stains whereas glass is less reactive and easier to deodorize when compared to the stainless steel variety.
In the long run, the thermal carafe trend that has gripped the coffeemaker market over the past handful of years may be recognized for what I suspect it is: Not entirely deserving of its own hype. Sure the coffee may stay hot for hours without stewing over a warming plate, but if it tastes poorly due to the accumulation of stale odors, that benefit won't be of much practical use unless flavor is of secondary importance to the end user. [UPDATE: When comparing the stainless steel interior of the Cuisinart carafe to that of my Presto Percolator it is apparent that a poorly crafted finish is responsible for trapping more than its share of coffee odors and stains. If this were constructed of a higher-grade 18/80 SS, the coffee would have few crevices and pores to adhere to. The manufacturer saved the nicer stainless steel for the exterior trim, whereas low-grade production/foundry work is responsible for its sponge-like properties on the interior. Unfortunately, I also suspect that Cuisinart's stainless steel decanter is far from unique in this regard.]
What's more, even though the power-hungry hot plate has been eliminated from the design, the heat that an effectively insulated stainless steel carafe traps inside conceivably may go right on cooking the coffee from within, achieving the same result via a different route, albeit a slower rate. So even though the coffee remains hot inside a stainless steel thermal decanter and owners of this type of machine are undoubtedly saving some electricity — not to mention the risk that the auto-shutoff will fail or that pets or small children will burn themselves — the same old rule about not drinking coffee that has been sitting too long applies. Finally, while I understand the appeal of an all-metal decanter is also that it won't break as easily as the glass variety, emphasizing "unbreakable" over flavor is, I feel, a mistake on manufacturers' parts. If preventing one's fresh-brewed coffee from taking on rancid odors/flavors were the goal, the decanter would be lined with glass just like an air pot or the vacuum insulated coffee carafes that are sold separately. At the very least, the interior of the carafe would be milled to a smoother more stain-resistant finish.
Time Out for Flavor
Eleventh and most negative of all the things I can say about the Cuisinart DTC-975 coffeemaker is that there is no way to tailor the flavor to the extent one might expect. The most drastic flavor-saving improvements are to be had by resorting to the old standby of adding a pinch of salt to the grinds in order to lesson the bitterness of the brew, to slightly tamp down the grinds in the cone to facilitate even extraction, and to stir the contents of the carafe thoroughly prior to pouring the first cup. [UPDATE: The trickling rate at which the coffee enters the carafe and the lack of the warming plate means that there is little to agitate the coffee as it brews, and a considerable amount of stratification in the carafe results. Essentially, the coffee at the bottom of the pot will be considerably darker/stronger than the first few cups poured off the top, which will be significantly weaker and more bitter in taste. The upshot is that tamping the grinds in the basket prior to brewing and stirring the coffee after it is finished may be optional in other coffeemakers, but it is critical for acceptable flavor in this one.]
True, there are those who have praised the Cuisinart DTC-975 for its great coffee, and it is, indeed, piping hot (especially if you preheat the carafe). But for lack of a better way to describe it, the flavor of my freshly-ground, medium roast arabica coffee tends to taste somewhat lifeless in this pot. Perhaps a "strong brew" similar to some of the Mr. Coffee models on the market or a 1-4 cup selector as offered on other Cuisinart coffeemakers would have remedied this problem. Another flavor improvement would have been the inclusion of a shower head dispersion instead of a single incoming jet of hot water.
To be absolutely certain I wasn't being overly harsh in my assessment of the Cuisinart DTC-975, I recently compared fresh-brewed flavor using the same grind/amount brewed into a Krups Crystal Arome Plus Time, model 467, a popular but discontinued unit that also uses a #4 cone filter. The aforementioned Krups was donated toward a yard sale I once had but I kept it for myself as a backup even though the LCD is no longer completely functional — only later to appreciate that it produces better-than-average tasting java. In my quasi-scientific blind taste test between the two coffee pots using my significant other as my "cupper" one recent Saturday morning, there was no question that the Krups produced fuller bodied coffee. By no means does this thermal Cuisinart coffeemaker brew the worst tasting coffee I've had, but sadly its not among the best, either. By the time I add my creamer I don't feel I am missing a whole lot, but if I liked my coffee black this might have been a deal breaker.
If I had to hazard a guess, I suspect that the comparative ease of obtaining flat and/or harsh flavor from the DTC-975 may have some bearing on how hot Cuisinart has designed this pot to brew in order to get the stainless steel thermal carafe warm in the event that the user neglects that task, as would be expected when setting it to auto brew. Unlike other automatic drip coffeemakers on the market, this machine gets up to temp very fast and early in the brew cycle — and this may explain the somewhat over-extracted taste it acquires by the end. Ironically, this outcome is precisely because the Cuisinart DTC-975 coffeemaker approaches the "ideal" brewing specs coffee snobs & geeks seek out.
So what is the problem? Many people fail to account for the fact that if you run ~6-12 cups/MINUTES worth of water through a machine of this type at full extraction temps, the last few cups worth will be running over spent grinds that have been in contact with those brewing temps too long. A ~195-207F extraction range is fine for ~3-4 minutes/cups — someone timing a small batch, say, through a French press — but running that hot through the grinds for a full pot start-to-finish conceivably spends those grounds fast and early. This is why, I suspect, other coffeemaker manufacturers intentionally average the extraction characteristics by starting off low and heating up to full extraction ranges — if at all — only later in the brewing cycle. This suggests that the first half of the pot from your average automatic drip machine may be under-extracted, whereas that tradeoff is somewhat compensated — as best I can surmise without being an engineer — later in the brew cycle, when extraction temps are briefly "correct" for the last 1-3 cups worth.
Coaxing your Coffeemaker into Brewing Good Coffee
In at least one respect, the clear advantage to this Cuisinart coffeemaker is that it brews noticeably hotter than what is freshly dispensed, say, from my Mr Coffee makers. On the two Mr. Coffees I own, a pot of coffee in the carafe falls into the ~164-173F range. (And as low as 150F if the mug is cold enough and/or you fail to brew more than 6 cups.) The disadvantage is that a hefty percentage of the DTC-975's brew time may, in fact, be over-extracting one's coffee grinds — unlike other pots that do just the opposite. In fact, seemingly it is even possible to watch the process take place by noting the drastic color change of the brew from dark and rich for the first few minutes to increasingly pale, thin and likely bitter as the cycle progresses. (I had read so many cautionary tales about this coffeemaker overflowing that I watched the machine like a hawk the first couple of times I used it, and that's when I made the connection between what the color of the coffee brew might indicate about the taste, notable in my mind only because that same "color clue" holds true when pulling shots of espresso.) Consequently, depending on how much one chooses to brew in the Cuisinart DTC-975 coffeemaker, this observation may also explain why some people love the coffee their DTC-975 makes, whereas others claim that it is downright nasty.
The irony is that the good news/bad news about this coffeemaker is the same: The Cuisinart DTC-975 turns the apparent gradual-heat-and-brew industry "norm" on its head because it seemingly heats up faster and hotter than your average coffeemaker. This is notable because Cooks Illustrated reported in their 2008 coffeemaker comparison that most of the automatic drip makes/models they tested took their sweet time reaching the "correct" brewing temperature. (To be clear, this model wasn't tested but other Cuisinart coffeemakers were.) Assuming what we all thought was evidence of a "cheap" coffeemaker is an intentional step on the part of manufacturers attempting to straddle their slow heat/under- vs. fast heat/over-extracted design options, I now comprehend why this supposed "design flaw" is so commonplace. Ironically, this lesser-of-two-evils strategy was not an explanation that seemingly occurred to the Cooks Illustrated test kitchen editors, however.
I can't speak for anyone else, but the aforementioned realization was a "light bulb" coffee making moment for me, and just might account for complaints that a lot of automatic drip machines on the market brew lukewarm or sub par coffee due to inadequate extraction. If so, a workaround for the average coffeemaker may be 1) "priming" the unit by running plain water through about 20 minutes prior to brewing a pot of coffee; 2) brewing to full capacity rather than partial pots; 3) descaling the machine more frequently to improve heating speed/performance; 4) purchasing a smaller capacity coffeemaker to better match one's actual usage. (Incidentally, this last one is a reason single-serve machines are popular. Coffee pods aren't expected to "stretch" over multiple cups for long brewing timeframes. Hence, single-serve coffeemakers are a more costly way of enjoying coffee, but a potentially tastier one too.)
Flawed brewing methodology or not, flavor is a matter of personal preference. In fact, some people will appreciate "hot" even more so than optimal taste. Personally, I'm a latte-loving Starbucks convert. Prior to the advent of a Starbucks on every street corner, I didn't drink coffee at all because I was put off by the acidity and bitterness that I associated with the canned variety my Swing-generation parents drank. For those whose primary complaint in a coffeemaker is that it isn't hot enough, Cuisinart will provide that piping hot cup, especially if you preheat and/or brew full-capacity pots. However, the shower head dispersion method that appears on competing models, such as the aforementioned Mr. Coffees and the Krups Crystal Arome, is absent here. Therefore, it is quite possible that the extraction brought about by a single incoming stream of hot water is also suffering uneven dispersion. This appeared to be the case, in particular, when I used a generic #4 permanent gold-tone filter. Turns out the permanent filter I began to use wasn't a good fit for the filter basket even though it appeared to fit securely. Consequently, not only did I open the lid after brewing 10 TBSPs worth of coffee to find grounds blasted all over the interior of the coffeemaker — a near miss for an overflow — but that wasn't all I noticed. The center of the grinds had a depression, suggestive of water boring a hole through the grinds and over-extracting the center relative to the outer edges. This, in turn, brings up a vitally important point.
Under normal circumstances, less-than-ideal flavor from an automatic drip machine can be remedied by brewing a full pot and/or switching to a slightly different grind, using a gold-tone permanent filter instead of the aroma-absorbing/dampening paper variety and/or adding more grinds to the filter to minimize the odds of a watery brew. But in this case, Cuisinart does not include a permanent gold-tone filter on this model, perhaps with good reason. In a gaping editorial oversight, the user manual doesn't address the issue of paper vs. permanent filter on this machine — or even state what size of paper filter their included samples are — yet the parts sheet in the package lists the GTF filter as compatible, whereas the same item on the Cuisinart website does not mention the DTC-975 series coffeemaker as a compatible product. Translation: Use a generic permanent filter at your own risk!
In summary, some aspects of the brew method on this coffeemaker — and perhaps the stainless steel carafe itself (see below) — makes for a less than optimal, albeit acceptable, flavor outcome. Because this realization will likely inspire new owners to tinker with the amount and grind of the coffee, achieving the right balance in this pot calls for yet another warning:
Using a 5 oz measure for a cup, as many coffeemaker manufacturers do, means that Cusinart recommends one level tablespoon per cup in the owner's manual. The "more" to suit taste is to be taken with a grain of salt because at 15+ TBSPs, the owner's guide warns that an overflow may result — particularly if the grinds are overly fine.
In fairness, this is a common point of confusion because coffee roasters and how-to websites will often recommend the "official" 2 TBSP per 6 oz cup ratio of grinds to water — with little to no mention that the amount should be adjusted for the average automatic drip machine coffee carafe that holds only 50-60oz total (10- vs. 12-cup pots @ 5 oz per cup). So not only is this a "flaw" of the DTC-975's grinds-to-brew capacity, but no doubt a drawback to many models using a #4 cone filter paired to a 12-cup, 5 oz carafe. And that is why it is necessary to turn our attention now to…
In this segment I'm just going to throw out a laundry list of possible overflow culprits for those who are attempting to answer this burning question. Some of these FYIs pertain to this model specifically, whereas others are more general because overflow reports are a common denominator amongst many coffeemaker ownership experiences gone bad:
• Countertop: If it's not level, particularly with this thermal coffee maker, the "path" into the carafe isn't quite concave enough to function like funnel for the incoming coffee (IMO). It resembles a shallow plate perched at the highest point on the carafe/lid assembly without much of a lip around the edge to contain a lopsided flow of incoming brew. Consequently, not being on the level could produce an overflow situation;
• On coffeemakers with a stainless carafe, a faulty lid may account for situations where overflows are consistent as opposed to intermittent. The heat retention design on the DTC-975 entails a valve (ball bearing) mechanism to "lock in" the heat. Without this funky lid design, it would be necessary to remove the lid every single time one wishes to pour from the carafe — as is the case with some thermal coffeemaker competitors — which adds both inconvenience and cool air to the pot.
• Unlike some reports, the DTC-975's carafe lid, in my experience, should not be difficult to thread correctly. If you feel/hear an overt ratcheting sound it may be cross threading. If it remains difficult to line up the "pour" mark over the spout, something is most likely wrong with your lid and you should replace that part — not the whole decanter but the lid itself. In any event, there is no need to spend ~$40 on a replacement carafe as some have done (or to improperly dispose of your coffeemaker in the local landfill as others have reported). Cuisinart makes a replacement lid for under $12, available on the Cuisinart website as of this writing;
• A faulty or gummed up pause mechanism. If the "Brew Pause" sticks from coffee grounds that have escaped the filter and/or the thin wire spring mechanism under the plastic cone is bent or otherwise damaged it will overflow the TOP of the brew basket because it can't go more than 30 seconds with the Brew Pause engaged. From personal experience, I note that one way to trip the Brew Pause without trying and to make a mess of the grinds inside the pot and possibly over your countertops is to use an incompatible permanent filter that will prevent the spring-loaded plastic Brew Pause "stopper" from moving up into the "flow" position when you set the carafe on the machine. This is because the hard plastic tip of a permanent cone filter blocks the retraction spring from the inside of the basket so the coffee brews slower, extracts more so than it should because it is not exiting to the pot at the correct speed, and ultimately begins backing up;
• Misalignment is also a frequent culprit in overflows, especially with the carafe not being pushed in all the way and thereby "tricking" the coffee maker, once again, into thinking the Brew Pause is active. In my experience, for example, it is possible for the 12-cup thermal carafe on the DTC-975 to appear properly seated, yet by pushing the very bottom of the carafe with a fingertip it will seat in a shallow depression that it otherwise tends to ride a bit. Similarly, the swing-arm filter basket not "clicked" into place can yield disastrous results too. Incidentally, this is a good reason to avoid buying cone-shaped, swing-out basket coffeemaker designs if you're the type who doesn't want to fuss with alignments. (Operating ANY coffeemaker with a hinged cone seeimingly introduces greater margin for error);
• Over-full with grinds or fine grind not suited for automatic drip machines. Fine grind may clog the pores in the filter (especially the permanent type), while adding in excess of 15 TBSP simply will not fit safely in a #4 cone filter. Use medium as instructed by the owner's guide;
• Failure to account when filling the water reservoir that a "cup" in coffee parlance is 5 oz on this model, among many other makes on the market. Either way, a coffee cup in an automatic drip machine is never a standard 8 oz size (refer to user manual for info.). Hence, it is not possible to obtain 12 "real" cups out of any coffeemaker, but if that's how many coffee mugs worth of water you were to add to the holding tank an overflow would result. (To prevent this, many coffeemakers have a weep hole on the back of the reservoir so that the excess water escapes to your countertop right away vs. later as coffee brew.);
• Accidentally doubling the paper filter, using the wrong size filter, not folding a paper filter as the Melitta #4 filter box instructs to stand upright while in use, not aligning the paper filter seam with the plastic center-line on the DTC-975's plastic cone. Another possibility: A lopsided paper filter that collapses in on itself while brewing may cause the coffee brew to overflow the top of the basket. Sometimes changing filter brands will help. Moreover, if you use a permanent filter, take care not to use both a paper and the permanent filter simultaneously;
• Infrequent cleaning of ALL removable parts. With the mechanics of the DTC-975's thermal carafe lid being more complex than the glass carafe variety, it may be helpful to descale the lid to keep the ball bearings from becoming entrapped. (One problem with the lid on the DTC-975, however, is that it traps so much air that you can't soak it in dish soap or vinegar properly unless you pin it down with a weight of some sort.) Regardless, a diluted vinegar cleaning once per month with regular use is essential to the life of the coffeemaker as a whole.
FYI: A classic indication that a coffee machine has not been descaled frequently enough is that the coffee takes too long to brew. It shouldn't take longer than 1 minute per cup — about 12 minutes to brew an entire pot of coffee — when an automatic drip coffeemaker is working properly. If it takes longer than that, the coffee will begin to taste bad, and eventually the heating element will burn out completely.
TO OWN OR NOT TO OWN
So who is the Cuisinart DTC-975 right for? That depends. My personal take is this: Don't buy the Cuisinart DTC-975 thermal coffeemaker for use in an office/community/communal/church/retreat setting because it does involve a learning curve to operate successfully. Reading the love vs. hate reviews for this model elsewhere on the web makes this much clear: This is a finicky coffeemaker and those who are reporting problems are not imagining them.
The DTC-975 would appear to be one of those designs that is best suited either for A) those with prior experience with a thermal coffeemaker and the quirks of how they preheat, pour and seal in that heat, B) Someone who just wants their coffee HOT, and C) a "designated user", preferably someone with little to no history of brewing their coffee to the countertop while using prior coffee machines.
As to who that ideal DTC-975 owner/operator might be, here's a clue: We all knew the type growing up who still had all the parts to their toys long after they outgrew them, and we all knew the type who broke, lost or damaged things before the gift wrap hit the waste paper basket. In an office setting or anywhere else where you have multiple users of a coffeemaker it is not always easy to appreciate who is of the "TLC/baby it" mindset vs. the use & abuse It's-just-a-dang-cofeemaker!!! types vs. your well-meaning but absent minded/distractible/forgetful/accident-prone I'm-a-zombie-without-my-coffee operators. Haphazard/hurried coffee drinkers will undoubtedly form a poorer impression of this machine than the methodical/fastidious/detail oriented types who purchase a Cuisinart DTC-975 coffeemaker.
The issues that have resulted in negative reviews, while certainly possible defects, are not what I would consider "design flaws". There is a price that must be paid to engineer a thermal carafe that actually keeps the coffee hot for hours on end without an electric warming plate. Therein lies the source of much of the problems/complaints. To provide a larger opening for faster pouring, for instance, the tradeoff would likely involve sacrificing the amount of time the unit will keep the coffee hot — and that just might defeat the point of buying a stainless steel thermal coffeemaker in the first place!
In answer to consumer wishes to "have it both ways", Cuisinart offers another thermal design in their coffeemaker lineup that looks more like a conventional coffeemaker insofar as it features a squat decanter with a wide-mouth opening of the type users may be able to get their hand into for easier cleaning. I can't speak from experience because I haven't compared them, but I suspect — and the reviews online would seem to confirm — that the heat retention properties are not quite so long lived in comparison to the DTC-975's narrowed carafe design with its "over engineered" patented lid.
In conclusion, the benefit to competing stainless steel thermal carafe coffeemakers may be an ownership experience more in keeping with a conventional glass carafe/hot plate automatic drip coffeemaker. If, however, in exchange for piping hot coffee for hours on end you are willing to deal with the reality that this design is not foolproof and that the stainless steel carafe may not be as "flavor neutral" as the glass variety, the DTC-975 may be just the coffeemaker you need/want.
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