The coffee maker that suits you best depends on how much coffee you brew, how fast you want it, and whether you’d like to adjust the strength. You can spend more on a coffee maker with lots of special features but some of the most basic coffee makers we’ve tested still make a decent cup of coffee. You’ll see a variety of machines when you shop: automatic drip systems, grind and brew, single serve pod machines, and some specialty coffee makers.
Drip coffee makers have been around for decades. They slowly release hot water over the grounds making coffee that drips into a carafe. We tested drip machines ranging from $20 to $350 and found you can get one that scores very good for as little as $40. Upping your budget can get you a thermal carafe that keeps your coffee warm without scorching on a burner like a glass one can, programmable brew strength, or a self-clean feature. Some drip machines can serve up Java for a crowd, making up to 14 cups. It’s worth noting that in the real world, a cup measures 8 ounces, but for coffee machines, a cup is typically 5 to 6 ounces. In fact, your favorite mug probably holds 10 to 12 ounces.
You’ll want a machine that brings the water to the optimal temperature to make the best brew. We immerse temperature sensors in the grounds to see if the water reaches between 195 and 205 degrees and maintains it for 5 to 6 minutes and you don’t want a machine that’s hard to fill or use. When you’re desperate for that first cup, make sure your machine has a pause and serve feature so that this doesn’t happen. We assess whether the controls are confusing and if the carafe is hard to handle and include that in our ratings.
Self-serve models store the coffee in a heated tank rather than a carafe. You dispense a cup at a time and keep the rest hot. They hold 5 to 12 cups of coffee and cost $60 to $100. Self-serve machines are convenient, but our tests found that, like all coffee makers, some couldn’t reach or hold the optimum brewing temperature.
If you consider yourself a connoisseur and want the quickest time between real beans and hot coffee, get a grind and brew machine. Pour the beans in top, add water, grind, and brew. Take a look at the components before you buy. Some of these machines have many parts and can be time-consuming to clean. We tested machines priced from $100 to $300.
Single serve pod coffee makers are becoming more and more popular. You simply add water to the reservoir and pop in a pod. These machines are super convenient. You can even brew directly into your go cup. Single serve coffee machines can be as little as $50 and go up to $450 for a model that looks great on the counter and offers dozens of flavor options. But many pods are neither recyclable nor biodegradable so factor that in if you choose a pod system. We test single serve machines for the time it takes to brew.
Our tests found some can take as long as four minutes to get a hot cup. Testers also note whether the same amount of coffee comes out each time with a consistent temperature from cup to cup. Some models have a little basket allowing you to use your own coffee in a reusable pod, but as a rule, you’ll have to buy the coffee pods that go with the machine. Our taste tests find that pods usually don’t deliver on flavor as much as they do convenience. As for cleaning, just like drip coffee makers, you have to clean the single serve machines and some may require you to use their special solution.
Some coffee makers fall outside the regular drip and single serve category because water doesn’t simply pass through the coffee grounds. Instead, in order to extract more of the flavors from the ground beans, the water and grounds are combined for a period of time before dispensing the coffee, like a jazzed up French press.
Some models suspend and stir the grounds. This one allows you to control how long and how actively the coffee is stirred. This one uses pressure to force the coffee into a carafe providing a little entertainment on the countertop. You can spend over $500 for a specialty machine. If a cup of joe isn’t for everyone in your household, there are combination machines serving up coffee and espresso or coffee and hot water for tea. This machine serves up espresso, cappuccino, or drip coffee. Depending on the configuration and features, you’ll pay from $50 to over $500 for a combination machine.
The most basic coffee makers can make a decent cup of coffee but there are many features to choose from depending on your needs. Like to wake up to the smell of fresh brewed coffee? Select one with a timer. Add water and coffee, set it, and go to bed. Whether you’re brewing a pot or a single cup, some machines come with an insulated carafe or cup to keep your coffee warm at home or on-the-go. A bulky carafe that doesn’t easily pour out that last drop can be a downer so give it a lift before you buy. Height adjustable drip trays can accommodate small cups or tall mugs, and with a touch of a bulb button, you can pump up your cup of joe from weak to strong.