Choosing a Coffee Maker
About two-thirds of American adults drink coffee every day, according to a 2018 survey by the National Coffee Association. Many get their coffee from a local coffee shop, but that can get pricey over the long run — and it also doesn't help them get going in the morning before leaving the house. That's where a good, reliable coffee maker comes in. A full-featured, programmable coffee maker can be had for less than the price of a week's worth of Starbucks. And you don't have to stand in line.
There is a vast array of coffee makers out there, from pour-over cones to French presses to espresso machines. In this report, we cover drip coffee makers — both with and without a removable carafe — and single-serve coffee makers in a range of sizes to fit any kitchen or lifestyle. All our picks are highly affordable and get props from experts and/or users in online reviews.
Pricey vs. Cheap Drip Coffee MakersUnless you're really into coffee — or high-end appliances (which is A-OK!) — there's no reason to buy an expensive drip coffee maker. You can buy a highly rated model for $25 to $100. Even welcome convenience features don't necessarily add to the price: Virtually all drip coffee makers have, at the very least, brew pause and automatic shut-off. Most have a programmable timer, although the very cheapest coffee makers have only an on/off switch. Thermal carafes are generally more expensive than glass carafes, but even they have come down in price in recent years.
What does add to the price is technology that precisely heats and distributes the water. Some coffee makers time the gradual release of the water, or trap the water for a specified period of time to allow the grounds to "bloom" and extract maximum flavor. The most expensive coffee maker in this report, the $200 Oxo 9-Cup Coffee Maker, features a trademarked Rainmaker "shower head" that evenly disperses the water over the grounds. This and other high-end models also heat the water to the temperature recommended by the Specialty Coffee Association of America — between 197.6 and 207.8 — for four to eight minutes. The question is: Does all that expensive technology work? On the one hand, the pricey Oxo coffee maker earns no higher ratings from users than the $25 Hamilton Beach 46205. But you might notice a difference if you have an especially discerning palate.
Single-Serve Coffee MakersAs their name implies, single-cup coffee makers brew one cup of coffee at a time. Some use single-serve pods, most notably Keurig coffee makers, which originated the concept. Others use ground coffee that you put in a small, reusable filter. There are also machines that do both, and many Keurig machines also come with a reusable filter, or you can purchase one as an optional accessory. Most single-serve coffee makers also dispense hot water for tea, hot cereal, or instant soup. There are some legitimate environmental concerns with pods. Many are not recyclable, but many are, and Keurig has pledged to make all its pods recyclable by 2020. Pods also cost a lot more per cup than ground coffee does, so they are not a budget-conscious choice unless you drink coffee only occasionally. They also provide a variety of options for guests or a shared space like an office.
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Coffee Maker Reviews: What We Considered
Most of the coffee makers in this report have at least one expert recommendation from sites such as Consumer Reports, Wirecutter, Good Housekeeping, Top Ten Reviews, and Epicurious. We also evaluated reviews from customers on retail sites such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond to see how the products work with "real world" use.
Coffee maker reviews are some of the most difficult to evaluate, because they are among the most subjective. That's always an issue where taste is involved. Many of the lower ratings are related to the perceived flavor or strength of the brewed coffee, but one person's too-strong sludge is another person's too-watery slop. Experts sometimes conduct taste tests as part of their roundups, but those results are usually mixed as well. That's why we focused instead on features, ease of use, and durability. These are more objective, quantifiable metrics that can separate a consistent coffee maker from the rest of the pack. If you're picky about taste, we suggest buying a coffee maker with as many brew-strength settings as you can find, so you can tweak it to your heart's content.
SizeHow much coffee maker you need depends on how much coffee you drink on a regular basis. A large coffee maker is convenient for a family, frequent guests, or people who just drink a lot of coffee, but it's probably overkill for one light coffee drinker. Moreover, making only one or two cups in a large coffee maker often produces weak coffee, experts say, unless the machine has a special "1-4 cup" or small-batch setting. This function adjusts flow of the water so it spends the proper amount of time in contact with the grounds, producing an optimal pot when you need only a few cups. Also, keep in mind that a "cup" in coffee speak is not an 8-ounce mug; it's more like 4 to 6 ounces. We read plenty of reviews from unhappy buyers claiming that a "four-cup" coffee maker really makes only two cups.
Cup count isn't the only size to think about. Height and footprint are also considerations, because coffee makers generally need to fit under kitchen cabinets, and most have a lid that lifts up to provide access to the water reservoir. A common complaint about most coffee makers is that they have to be moved out from under a cabinet to be filled. Be sure to measure the available space where you want to put the appliance.
CarafeMost drip coffee makers have some type of carafe that holds four to 14 cups of coffee. Beyond size, the biggest choice to make is between a glass and a thermal carafe. Glass carafes sit on a warming plate that keeps the coffee hot — some for up to 4 hours. Thermal carafes keep coffee hot with various layering technologies, usually for about 2 hours. Some people feel that coffee in a glass carafe on a hot plate continues to "cook," which can alter the taste of the fresh coffee, especially toward the end of the pot. Some say thermal carafes don't keep the coffee hot enough or keep it hot for long enough. But one nice benefit of a thermal carafe is that it doesn't have to stay with the coffee maker; you can take it to the table, or outside, or wherever you happen to be coffee-ing.
Some coffee makers don't have carafes at all. These self-serve coffee makers are still drip coffee makers, but instead of brewing into a carafe, they brew into an integrated tank. The tank holds the coffee, keeping it hot with various warming technologies. With this "on demand" system, you put your cup under a spout and fill it with the desired amount of coffee. Fans of these coffee makers say the coffee tastes fresher; others complain that it doesn't stay as hot. Self-serve coffee makers often aren't as easy to use and seem to brew more slowly than traditional drip coffee machines, so they're not as popular.