One of the largest problems with the typical drip coffee maker is its weak wattage. You need a lot of electrical power to heat water up to its ideal brewing temperature. Otherwise, you lose out on many coffee flavors and aromas. Most hotel room coffee makers aren't up to the task, but I have three workarounds for you to follow (below).
CooksIllustrated.com, one of the best magazines out there, recently tested drip coffee makers. The editors pointed out that the typical machine's electrical juice is "divided among several different components, including burner plates and clocks and other electronic features, in addition to the heating element."
In other words, the devices can't brew your coffee at the perfect temperature, which is roughly between 195 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Specialty Coffee Association.
Is there anything you can do to overcome this handicap and brew decent coffee?
Here's my first tip: Do a "trial run" of your coffee maker—without coffee—to heat up the machine. Pour the heated water back into the device and brew your coffee as usual. While you won't get the water to a perfect level of hotness, you will get it pretty darned close.
A second problem with drip coffee makers is that they tend not to work fast enough, resulting in bitter coffee.
I'll quote again from Cook's Illustrated: To extract the desired degree of flavor compounds from the coffee grounds, brewing time should be no more than six minutes. Longer brewing times (especially more than nine minutes) can make coffee taste harsh.
But most hotel room coffee machines brew too long. What to do? Take the pot (or glass carafe) off the burner before the brewing cycle finishes. You obviously need to have a spare mug to put in place of the carafe while emptying it, or else coffee will splash out everywhere. Better to have a cup of coffee that's decent but only two-thirds full than a full cup with a harsh taste. And don't worry: A simple mug or cup can catch any excess coffee and prevent any splashing.
One more tip: Brewed coffee has a short life when it's left on an electrical burner. If you leave brewed coffee in a pot or glass carafe for 15 minutes or more, it will taste like liquid ashes when you drink it. Avoid the problem by pouring the coffee into a cup as soon as it's brewed.
[Thanks to Chris for suggesting a post on this topic.]
Feel free to share your own tips below.