Best Cheap Coffee Makers
Published on By Elizabeth Sheer
Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip Review
(From $40.00 Best)
The Capresso brand is marketed by a Swiss manufacturer of fairly high-end personal and professional coffee and espresso brewers. In the Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip (starting at $40; available on Amazon), consumers get a compact, affordable coffee maker made with an eye to functionality and the quality of more expensive machines.
The Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip serves just a few mugs of coffee at a time, something people with small households appreciate. It doesn’t have a lot of special features -- just the standard add-ons that most cheap coffee makers have -- but Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip reviews from Bed Bath & Beyond and Abt point out that it is well designed. The stylish little coffee maker is simple to use, easy to fill, and made with optimal ergonomics in mind. Bad carafe design is endemic in cheap coffee makers, making it difficult to pour coffee without spilling it all over the place, but the Capresso Mini Drip, with its specially configured handle and pour spout, seems to have no problem there.
Another issue with cheap coffee makers is that the water often runs through the grounds at a sluggish pace, leaving behind a bitter brew. Capresso machines are designed to achieve a quick end result with ideal extraction, taking about one minute per cup to brew. Users generally say their taste buds are satisfied and the coffee comes out hot. One Amazon customer actually measured the temperature of the water as it came into the basket at 190 degrees, only just short of the 195-to-205-degree range that experts suggest.
The Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip comes with a permanent gold-tone mesh filter that eliminates the need to buy paper filters. While some people use them anyway, to save on cleanup, others like the fact that the mesh lets through some of the coffee sediment and provides a more flavorful brew. This coffee maker is programmable, with a 24-hour timer, although a few customers find it a little cumbersome to use.
So far, reports of premature demise are hard to find, and there is a one-year warranty on the Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip.
Where to buy
Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra 48465
(From $42.00 Best)
Ditching the carafe altogether is a dream for many coffee lovers who would rather have their coffee dispensed directly into a mug. Enter the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra 48465 (starting at $42, Amazon), which makes 12 cups of coffee and stores it in an internal thermal tank, leaving a one-handed dispenser to fill whatever cup or travel container is preferred.
Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra reviews on Amazon say it produces coffee that’s always hot and stays at the right temperature, because it doesn’t rely on a hot plate. The coffee in the thermally insulated tank is heated until the automatic shutoff kicks in. Several users reviewing the coffee maker at Bed Bath & Beyond admire the ability to extend the "keep warm" time up to 4 hours.
The BrewStation Summit Ultra has a brew strength selector that allows for a bolder brew, which is appreciated by many, and it also makes iced coffee, a benefit mentioned in reviews on Wayfair. In addition, there is a “small batch” setting for those who want to make only a few cups.
This Hamilton Beach model uses a basket filter and has a reservoir that must be filled just like ordinary coffee makers do. At more than 15 inches high, it's the tallest model we researched. Many users say they have to move it out from under cabinets to lift the lid and fill the reservoir, making it a bit awkward to complete the task. Another potential downside to the machine is that it seems it can clog up easily, which can make it start to leak.
Many consumers who have posted online reviews are repeat buyers of Hamilton Beach BrewStation machines. Some say the new version is an improvement over older models. Regardless, most users agree the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra makes good coffee.
Mr. Coffee CG13
(From $15.00 Good)
The opposite of the coffee connoisseur is the person who is busy in the morning and just wants a good, fresh, hot cup of coffee. The Mr. Coffee CG13 (starting at $15; available on Amazon) is a 12-cup coffee maker with no special attributes, other than a pause-and-serve feature that stops the machine so you can pour a cup while the coffee is still brewing. It’s as cheap as can be and as easy as pouring water into the pot. The machine has only one button, to turn it on and off, and a light (and apparently a clicking noise at times) that indicates that the machine is operating. There is also a white model, the CG12.
The Mr. Coffee CG13 has a water window to show where the water level is as you pour it into the machine. And, lest users get overzealous with pouring, there are two overflow holes at the back, so the pot cannot be overfilled. There is a hot plate underneath the carafe, but it does not shut off automatically, so if the machine is not turned off manually, the coffee can get scorched after a while. This bothers some users who have left Mr. Coffee CG13 reviews on the manufacturer’s site, but most people don’t mind it; they simply remember to turn the coffee maker off as soon as the brew cycle has finished. The Mr. Coffee CG13 uses ordinary paper basket filters, although a permanent filter is available separately.
Many Mr. Coffee CG13 adherents posting reviews at Walmart.com say they simply love the machine, and many of them re-purchase it -- which they might have to do fairly often. Although some users own machines that have been going for years, many others report that the coffee maker died after a few months or even started smoking. But for people who want a simple, non-fancy machine that makes a good pot of coffee for a low price, the Mr. Coffee CG13 is a winner.
Black & Decker DLX1050 Review
(From $22.00 Good)
For a very low price, the Black & Decker DLX1050 (starting at $22; available on Amazon) offers the same features as any other low-price coffee maker. It comes in simple black (DLX1050B) and white (DLX1050W) and doesn’t have any extras -- but adherents insist it doesn’t really need any. Most important, it makes a decent cup of coffee quickly at a fairly good temperature.
Coffee drinkers who like to program the Black & Decker DLX1050 ahead of time say it’s a snap to accomplish. The simple functionality is easily one of the machine's best features, and several people claim that they never needed to use the instructions. There is also a mid-brew pause-and-serve feature for a quick first cup. Most Black & Decker DLX1050 reviews on Amazon say it works well, although others claim that it causes coffee to spill all over the place.
The Black & Decker DLX1050 takes standard basket filters. The manufacturer touts this coffee maker's Easy-View water window, but that’s a misnomer -- one of the biggest complaints about this machine is that it’s hard to see the water level once you’ve filled the reservoir. Still, that's not a deal breaker for consumers used to measuring the water before pouring it in.
People who drink their coffee over the course of the day agree that the hot plate actually does keep the coffee hot enough, and they like that it automatically shuts off after two hours. Some purchasers would rather have a longer window, though.
Despite many reports of a brief lifespan for the Black & Decker DLX1050, particularly on the manufacturer’s site, some reviewers posting on Viewpoints have been using theirs for years and say they would never switch; one refused to let his wife replace it. There is a two-year limited warranty.
Mr. Coffee JWTX85 Review
(From $38.00 Think Twice)
A low-priced coffee maker with a thermal carafe that can keep coffee warm without scorching it on a heating plate is a real find. Unfortunately, most reviewers suggest that the coffee produced by the Mr. Coffee JWTX85 (starting at $38; available on Amazon) isn’t worth keeping around.
The Mr. Coffee JWTX85 is an 8-cup programmable coffee maker with a stainless steel thermal carafe intended to keep the brew at the same temperature for a few hours. Many Mr. Coffee JWTX85 reviews on the manufacturer’s site and at Walmart complain about cold coffee, however, saying the carafe does not work as intended.
To be fair, there are some reviewers, such as this one on Amazon, who consider the coffee flavorful, rich, and warm enough. There are also some people who say they don’t like very hot coffee. Several others insist that if you carefully follow the instructions, and fill the carafe with hot water to warm it prior to brewing, the coffee will be hot. Of course, filling the carafe with hot water first is not an option if you’re programming it the night before the coffee gets made. For the most part, disappointment with the carafe -- which includes frustration associated with opening, closing, and cleaning it -- and the tepid coffee are reviewers' primary reasons for panning the machine.
There are other features on the Mr. Coffee JWTX85 that do improve the coffee experience, reviewers say. A brew-strength selector pumps up the volume for a stronger cup of coffee, and Grab-A-Cup Auto Pause lets users sneak in for that immediate mug when necessary. The machine automatically shuts off after two hours as a boon to the forgetful. It also has a cleaning cycle.
All in all, there are good pots with thermal carafes to be had out there, but not for this price, and not this model.
Where to buy
Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker 103744 Review
(From $40.00 Think Twice)
That the manufacturer advertises a “precision pour carafe with a plastic lip for a dripless pour” would make many buyers of the Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker sneer. Every time a cup is poured, some reviewers claim, the coffee goes everywhere, no matter how they try to maneuver the pot.
As one reviewer puts it on Amazon, one cup gets filled for every two that get on the counter. Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker reviews at Walmart, for which the Farberware 103744 is exclusively made, say the water also leaks out of the vents on the reservoir if it gets filled to capacity. Nonetheless, a product testing site recommends the Farberware 103744 (starting at $40, Amazon) for its convenience, ease of use, and setup, although, like most cheap coffee makers, this one does not get up to the optimal water temperature or brew time.
These issues aside, the Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker has a lot of features admired by users who actually like the machine. Programming is easy, reviewers say, and they appreciate that the brew strength can be adjusted to taste. There are four brew settings: strong, gourmet, bold, and normal. The distinctions among these settings are a bit unclear, but adherents like the fact that this machine can make a stronger cup. There is a charcoal filter to remove most of the chlorine from tap water, although it needs to be replaced every few months. Some people find it difficult to locate replacements, but Walmart sells six for less than $5. The hot plate shuts off automatically after two hours, but that can be extended to four hours. Note: We saw at least one report of the coating wearing off this hot plate relatively quickly and sticking to the bottom of the carafe.
The Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker 103744 comes with a two-year limited warranty.
A coffee maker is a staple in many households. If you rely on that hot, caffeinated cup to get your day rolling -- and sometimes keep you in overdrive -- it may be tempting to spend more than necessary on a coffee maker. Most of the models reviewed by consumer product experts exceed the $50 ceiling we set for a cheap coffee maker. We looked instead to coffee maker reviews on retail sites, where we found that buyers who can barely open their eyes without a cup of coffee in the morning consider the best cheap coffee makers perfectly decent delivery systems.
Cheap Coffee Makers Buying Guide
Brands such as Hamilton Beach, Black & Decker, and Mr. Coffee dominate the market for low-priced coffee makers. While the choices are wide-ranging, most consumers seem to be looking for a machine that will quickly get a hot mug in hand without a lot of fuss and muss, and keep the remaining coffee warm for a quick top-off as needed.
At the top of our list is the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra 48465 (starting at $42), a 12-cup automatic-drip model that doesn’t require a carafe. Also right up there is the Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip (starting at $40), which is just big enough for a few mugs and looks chic instead of cheap in the minds of many users.
The Black & Decker DLX1050 (starting at $22), a 12-cup machine that comes in black (DLX1050B) or white (DLX1050W), is a favorite among consumers for making a fast pot and keeping it warm. Another 12-cup coffee maker, the Mr. Coffee CG13 (starting at $15) is not programmable and short on extras, but its simplicity is what devotees like about it.
Based on our research, two models did not measure up to the standards of the best cheap coffee makers. The thermal carafe on the Mr. Coffee JWTX85 (starting at $38) is a huge selling point because it keeps coffee warm without constantly heating it, but the coffee that initially comes out is faulted with being fairly tepid already. The Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker 103744, a Walmart exclusive (starting at $40), makes perfectly fine coffee, reviewers say, but too much of it gets all over the pot, the countertop, and anywhere but in the cup.
Single-Cup Coffee Makers.In many consumers' minds, nothing beats the convenience of pod coffee makers. With coffee in pre-portioned pods, no carafe, and no filter basket, there's no measuring and very little cleanup. Brewing just one cup at a time also keeps you from winding up with a pot of lukewarm or stale coffee. Single-serve coffee makers are ideal in households where everyone prefers a different kind of coffee and for people who make only one cup a day.
But there are more than a few negatives to these machines. Some reviewers complain that pod coffee makers are noisy due to the pressure needed to fire the coffee through the grounds to serve up a cup in less than a minute. And such a short brew time is unlikely to produce rich coffeehouse taste. Disposable pods also raise the hackles of environmentally conscious consumers.
But perhaps the biggest drawback of all is the price. Popular Keurig brewers generally cost more than $100, with some models running closer to $200. And that's only the beginning: Even the inventor of coffee pods, as quoted in The Atlantic, doesn't have one because they’re too expensive to use. How expensive? A pound of coffee from pods, according to the same article, costs about $40 -- close to three times as much as even premium ground coffee.
Still, single-cup units have gotten to be big business, and most coffee maker manufacturers are getting on the bandwagon -- with or without pods. For consumers who want the convenience of small-batch, grab-and-go caffeination without the added expense and environmental waste of those costly little plastic pods, there are single-serve models that use ground coffee instead. While many of these single-serve machines still fall outside the Cheapism range, there are at least three good choices under $50: the Black & Decker Brew ‘n Go DCM18 (starting at $18), Hamilton Beach The Scoop Single-Serve Coffee Maker (starting at $35), and Capresso On-the-Go Personal Coffee Maker (starting at $40).
Users often tout the economic and environmental advantages of these single-cup coffee makers. They like that they can use whatever coffee they prefer instead of proprietary pods. On the other hand, because ground coffee has to be measured into the filter and then dumped after the coffee has been made, these models are not quite as convenient as pod brewers. Still, some are hybrids; that is, they can use either ground coffee or soft coffee pods. The Capresso and Black & Decker single-serve coffee makers both offer this choice. They also come with travel mugs.
Manual vs. Drip.While this guide focuses on automatic coffee makers, some coffee purists and budget shoppers swear that a manual coffee maker such as the Melitta 10-Cup Pour-Over Coffee Brewer (starting at $13) or a French press such as the Bodum Chambord (starting at $31) is the way to go. They tout the advantage of being able to boil the water to ensure it's hot enough when it comes in contact with the coffee.
The manual pour-over method may take more time and labor, but it allows the coffee to "bloom," according to the food site Serious Eats, resulting in a tastier brew. Experts at Long Beach Coffee Roasters say coffee made using the French press method is more densely flavored than automatic-drip coffee, partly because the grounds stay in contact with the water and also because there's no paper filter to trap essential oils. These alternatives to a cheap automatic coffee maker have the added benefit of not taking up valuable counter space.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For
Carafes.Carafe size and design come up often in user reviews. Most of our picks are 12-cup coffee makers. Keep in mind that a "cup" in coffee speak is not an 8-ounce mug; it's more like 4 to 6 ounces. Any new coffee maker requires some trial and error with your favorite mug. Owning a 12-cup coffee maker is a boon when guests come over but probably overkill for one coffee drinker. Also, experts say that making only one or two cups in a large coffee maker often produces weak coffee, unless the machine has a special "small batch" setting. This function adjusts the water flow so it spends the proper amount of time in contact with the grounds, producing an optimal pot when you need only a few cups. The feature is usually confined to higher-end models but is available on one of the best cheap coffee makers, the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra 48465. The Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip is also a top pick for consumers who drink only one or two mugs a day.
The carafes on budget coffee makers are typically made of glass. While breakage doesn't come up that often in reviews, coffee inside a glass carafe requires a warming plate underneath to stay heated. The result some hours later is that the brew has become bitter. The Mr. Coffee JWTX85 comes with an unbreakable thermal carafe. However, the instructions say to preheat the 8-cup carafe with boiling water for five minutes before brewing, suggesting that the machine relies on the water as much as the pot to keep the coffee warm. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that a major disgruntlement with the JWTX85 is that it doesn't brew hot coffee.
Some coffee makers dispense with the carafe altogether. That's what many users like most about the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra, which is a carafe-less 12-cup coffee maker that dispenses directly into a mug. That's its best feature, according to user reviews at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Filters.Experts agree that cone-shaped filters are best at draining water and extracting flavor. Most low-end drip coffee makers, including our picks, use flat-bottomed, basket-type filters, which experts say are more prone to clogs and overflow. But this is the shape best suited to more coarsely ground supermarket coffee -- the inexpensive kind that comes in a can.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America touts permanent mesh filters made of gold or nylon. These yield an earthier, more complex brew, because they let some sediment through. The initial investment is about $7 to $10 -- more than a box of paper filters -- but you save money over the life of the coffee maker by not continually buying filters. That's not to mention the environmental benefit. Lifting out and throwing away a paper filter is a bit neater, however. The Capresso 5-Cup Mini comes with a gold-tone permanent filter, as do the single-serve coffee makers mentioned above.
Programmable Coffee Makers.Enthusiasts who insist on freshly grinding their coffee while boiling the water for an individually crafted cup might scoff at the idea of an automatic coffee maker that can be set the night before. But many people enjoy waking up to a pot that's already being brewed. Programmable coffee makers are by no means confined to the high end of the market. (In fact, some of the most expensive machines don't offer this option.) All the budget models on our list except the ultra-cheap Mr. Coffee CG13 are programmable. Consumers may fear that programming a coffee maker will be about as confusing as programming a DVD player, but based on our reading of reviews, that does not seem to be the case.
Pause and Serve.If you don't want to wait for a full pot to finish brewing, an automatic "pause and serve" option suspends brewing to let you pour a cup before the entire cycle is finished. Almost every automatic coffee maker comes with this feature, including all our top picks.
Automatic Shut-Off.Most automatic coffee makers shut off on their own after two hours, a boon for users likely to run out the door and leave the appliance on. Some, such as the Farberware 103744, have a “keep warm” extension that heats the plate for four hours. The Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra has a warming heater inside the tank to keep coffee warm for up to four hours. The no-frills Mr. Coffee CG13 is the only one of our picks that requires the user to remember to switch off the machine.
Experts agree that coffee begins to lose its flavor within 15 minutes of brewing, and coffee kept on a hot plate for an extended period can taste burnt and acrid. They recommend immediately transferring coffee from a glass carafe to an insulated pot (this is why some people prefer a thermal carafe).
What We Ignored
Water Filters.Water quality is crucial to producing a good cup of coffee. The Farberware 103744 comes with a charcoal chlorine filter, which can improve the end product in locales with hard or poor-tasting tap water. But the downside of a built-in water filter is having to buy replacement filters and change them out every two to three months. People often forget about this added maintenance and cost, which, while relatively low, adds up over time. Consumers who already have a water filter on the tap or in a pitcher can use the filtered water for their coffee and get similar results.
Coffee Maker Reviews
Experts and consumers posting coffee maker reviews range from those who revere an artisanal brew to those just in it for the caffeine rush, and their expectations vary accordingly. America's Test Kitchen concludes that no truly inexpensive model brews a perfect cup, a finding that's backed up by consumers and other experts. However, coffee maker reviews also indicate that most frugal consumers just want a decent, hot cup of coffee. More than subtle and fully extracted flavor, they simply want to avoid buying a coffee maker that suddenly doesn’t work, leaks like a broken dam, or requires fiddling to get it to function properly. And overall our picks deliver.
Brewing Time.A common complaint in coffee maker reviews is that budget models brew too slowly. Fast brewing isn't only a matter of convenience; it also prevents coffee from becoming too bitter. However, a brewing time that's too short can result in weak, watered-down coffee. The best drip coffee makers strike a balance. Experts at the National Coffee Association suggest that, in a drip coffee maker, the coffee and water should be in contact for about five minutes. Larger low-cost machines in particular don't hit that mark, and frequently have brew times as long as 10 minutes or more. Capresso coffee makers, normally out of the Cheapism range, have a brew time of no more than one minute per cup to prevent over-extraction, and the 5-Cup Mini Drip is no exception.
Brewing Temperature.Coffee aficionados know that a rich, flavorful cup starts with freshly ground beans, and the quality of the beans should not be underestimated. However, just like the brew time, the temperature of the water is also a huge factor. The water that filters through the pot should be between 195 and 205 degrees, according to the NCA. Cheap coffee makers generally struggle to meet this criterion, some by a long shot. The Black & Decker DLX1050, for example, touts “signature elements” to provide ideal brewing temps, yet in consumer product testing, it falls short of meeting the recommended standard. Several users reviewing the coffee maker on Amazon claim they measured the temperature of the coffee coming out of the machine at about 170 degrees. Nevertheless, many say that the final product tastes great and measures up to coffee produced by more expensive machines.
To a certain extent, the temperature of the coffee that actually ends up in the cup is a matter of personal preference, but lukewarm coffee is a definite knock against the Mr. Coffee JWTX85, with numerous complaints about the temperature of the brew in its thermal carafe. On the other hand, more than a few reviewers on Amazon say the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra keeps the coffee stored inside the machine near boiling, so it is plenty hot when it's dispensed. This is seen as a plus by some and a minus by others.
Single-serve coffee makers also seem to brew coffee hotter than their bigger brethren. Experts at Seattle Coffee Gear tested the temperature of a cup produced by the Capresso On-the-Go Personal at 190 degrees and warn users to be careful of burning their fingers on the appliance itself. The ultra-cheap Mr. Coffee CG13 surprisingly seems to hit that "just right" mark with a majority of reviewers. Mr. Coffee models similar to the CG13 have performed very well in consumer product testing when it comes to yielding a hot cup, and countless reviews of this machine on Amazon suggest that it delivers. It also stays on indefinitely to keep the coffee warm -- just remember to turn the machine off when the pot is finally empty.
Design.Given that most coffee makers have permanent homes on kitchen counters, design factors into many consumers' buying decisions. Counter appeal is a big draw for the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra and the Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip. Many users who have posted reviews on Amazon like that the Hamilton Beach model matches their stainless steel appliances, and a Crate & Barrel customer says the Capresso machine "looks very expensive.” The Farberware 12-Cup Coffee Maker also sports stainless steel styling, but reviews from consumers who purchased it at Walmart complain about this coffee maker’s design overall. Many say the machine leaks and the carafe is liable to spill water and coffee everywhere.
Height and footprint are also considerations, because coffee makers generally need to fit under cabinets, and most have a lid that lifts up to provide access to the water reservoir. A common complaint about budget coffee makers is that users have to move the machine out from under a cabinet to fill it. At more than 15 inches high, the Hamilton Beach BrewStation Summit Ultra comes in for particular criticism. Aside from difficulties adding water to the reservoir, there are complaints on Amazon that the spout on this model is too far back to center a mug underneath and dispense coffee without spilling. However, many others say they've had no problems with the design or with leakage.
A one-cup brewer may be the best choice for a cramped kitchen. The single-serving Black & Decker Brew 'n Go is small enough that several users writing on Amazon say they store it in a cupboard.
Durability.Some consumers posting coffee maker reviews suggest that the average lifespan of a budget model is about as long as the typical one-year warranty, although some cheap coffee pots don’t last even that long. The Mr. Coffee CG13, for example, is apparently plagued by malfunctions, although many users insist that the coffee maker is a great value and has lasted them more than three years. Given the incredibly low price, many say they were more than happy to replace the coffee maker when it did give out.
Consumers are not quite as forgiving with the Black & Decker DLX1050. There is more than a little grumbling in reviews about breakdowns of this otherwise positively reviewed, easy-to-program, and easy-to-clean coffee maker. The two-year limited warranty on this model may come in handy.
Keep in mind that maintenance plays an important role in making a coffee maker last. Consumers tend to see sluggishness in the brew time as a sign that it's time for a replacement -- and sometimes it is -- but the machine may simply need to be decalcified. Experts recommend using white vinegar and water or a commercial decalcifier every three months, and more often if using hard water. Try this before spending money on a new coffee maker.
Additional Products We Considered
Black & Decker Brew 'n Go Personal DCM18S Review
(From $18.00 )
For its very low price, many reviewers opine you can’t go wrong with the compact, fast, and easy-to-use Black & Decker Brew ‘n Go (starting at $18; available on Amazon). Pour water into the reservoir, put the filter in the basket, and add coffee. The appliance then brews directly into a 15-ounce thermal travel mug. (If that's more than you typically drink, you can always make less by cutting down the amounts of ground coffee and water.)
Black & Decker claims that the Brew ‘n Go DCM18 brews at the optimal temperature, although the manufacturer doesn’t say what that temperature is. In reviews, many users report that the resulting coffee is quite hot enough, and others find it necessary to use hot water in the machine for that ideal temperature to be reached.
While some users appreciate the permanent filter that comes with the unit, others use paper cone filters for easier cleanup and to ensure that no grounds get through or clog the machine. Some reviewers, including one posting on Amazon, also maintain that paper filters help slow down the brewing process and produce a stronger cup of coffee. If even that is too much work, the Brew ‘n Go takes soft coffee pods (the kind that are meant for non-pressurized pod brewers, such as Senseo brewing systems). It also doubles as a hot water dispenser for tea, oatmeal, or instant soup.
Cleanup is simple: Only the filter and filter basket need to be cleaned. The machine is less than 7 inches wide and a bit more than 10 inches high, a size ideal for apartment kitchens, say reviewers on Overstock. Many reviewers posting on the manufacturer's website say they've had Black & Decker Brew ‘n Go coffee makers last for years, but others say their machines failed to outlive the one-year warranty.
Melitta 10-Cup Pour-Over Coffee Maker Review
(From $13.00 )
It may be less convenient than an automatic pot, but unlike almost all drip coffee makers, the super cheap Melitta 10-Cup Pour-Over Coffee Brewer (starting at $13, Amazon) has almost perfect ratings in consumer reviews.
It comes with a large plastic cone for holding paper filters, which is placed over a glass carafe -- bare-bones and efficient. This model is simple to use, it's durable, and the enthusiasts at CoffeeGeek say it simply makes some of the best coffee you can drink. As users repeat in reviews, the key to the Melitta’s success is that it offers control over the coffee-making process. Java Jenius explains that pouring all the water through the filter at once makes a weaker but smoother coffee. Pouring carefully and slowly yields a stronger brew. This method of using just-boiled water and saturating the grounds ensures that the flavor is fully extracted from the coffee, says an expert writing at Serious Eats.
Many Melitta adherents came to this model after becoming disgusted with the death rate of automatic drip machines. One Amazon reviewer, for instance, claims to have gone through one every two years. Another did a back-to-back taste test with an expensive automatic drip machine and found that the taste of the coffee from this little low-tech device was less bitter, smoother, and far superior. On the Walmart website, a reviewer notes that it’s useful to have around during a power failure.
There are some drawbacks, of course, to using a pour-over model. For one, it's labor intensive. You have to boil water and stand over the brew cone to pour the water, whether you stir it or not. Also, there is no heated plate on which the carafe can sit -- although coffee could be brewed directly into an insulated pot instead. Finally, canned coffee bought at the supermarket will not turn out that well with the cone-shaped Melitta, which requires more finely ground coffee.
These drawbacks aside, you can’t buy a better coffee maker for the money -- or even for a lot more money.
Bodum Chambord 8-Cup French Press Review
(From $31.00 )
If you are a coffee purist who grinds or even roasts your own coffee, then a cheap automatic drip pot will almost assuredly not be for you. For a distinctive cup from carefully nurtured beans, a Bodum Chambord 8-Cup French Press (starting at $31, Amazon) is for many coffee lovers the best means to the perfect brew. The coffee gurus at Java Jenius say the reason coffee from a French press is so incredibly flavorful is that both the amount of coffee and the steeping time can be individually determined.
Unlike automatic drip machines, the procedure for making French press coffee is a bit complicated. The coffee enthusiasts at CoffeeGeek suggest pouring almost-boiling water over coarsely ground coffee in the pot, stirring the resulting mix with a chopstick about six times, putting in the filter assembly, steeping for 3 to 4 minutes, and then pressing down the plunger. Why are people willing to go through all this just for a cup of coffee? The coffee geeks say it delivers a richer cup of coffee than any other method, and hundreds of consumer reviewers agree.
The Bodum Chambord French Press is the original design, consisting of a glass carafe surrounded by a chrome-plated steel frame and locking lid with a plunger that has a mesh filter. This is not like the paper filters that go in automatic coffee makers -- it allows sediment into the coffee. But Serious Eats asserts that this highlights the aromas and makes coffee-drinking a full sensory experience. Bodum Chambord reviews from Starbucks stress that the French press is easy to use and to clean. And it always works, unlike automatic pots. The 34-ounce size (which makes about 8 4-ounce cups) is just under 10 inches tall.
While many users wax rhapsodic about the Bodum Chambord French Press, there are a few downsides to it. The first is that coffee sitting in the pot will continue to steep and get stronger, so it's best to move whatever coffee you’re not drinking into an insulated carafe to keep it hot. In addition, there will be some sediment when you get down to the last cup.
That said, there are legions of people who say they will never go back to a drip coffee maker once they have tasted coffee made in a French press.
Black & Decker CM1650B Review
(From $50.00 )
This stylish, programmable coffee maker boasts myriad features rare in the budget price range. One advantage it has over similar 12-cup pots is a specific setting for brewing only one or two mugs of coffee. Black & Decker CM1650B reviews say this turns out a better, more robust brew than a conventional 12-cup cycle if you're making a small batch. Other features include a charcoal filter that purifies the water and a brew-strength selector that makes a stronger cup without requiring the user to add more coffee -- a money-saving perk that also keeps the coffee from turning out too bitter. The machine comes with a permanent (basket) filter, although some users posting reviews at Walmart actually prefer to use paper filters for easier cleanup.
Admirers of the Black & Decker CM1650B (starting at $50, Amazon) say it's easy to use and turns out good, hot coffee. Some like the looks of the clock, saying they can see it from across the room, but others report that it's stopped working -- an unforgivable sin in the eyes of those who count on a programmable pot to have coffee ready when they wake up.
Still, this coffee maker wins over many consumers posting Black & Decker CM1650B reviews at Amazon with its convenient features. These include Sneak-A-Cup, which stops the brewing process long enough for coffee drinkers to pour out their first cup. Like other coffee makers with glass carafes, this one has a heating plate to keep the coffee warm. Unlike most other budget pots, however, it lets users adjust the length of time that the heater stays on, to between one and four hours.
While a few consumers have found that the so-called Perfect Pour carafe can get pretty messy, we found far fewer complaints about dripping in Black & Decker CM1650B reviews than for others in its price range. Few consumers posting reviews seem to have owned the coffee maker long enough to report on its durability, although at least one user comments on its sturdiness at a consumer products testing site.
With its remarkable batch of features, the Black & Decker CM1650B seems a good value for the price.
Where to buy
Hamilton Beach The Scoop Single-Serve Coffee Maker 49981 Review
(From $35.00 )
This single-serve coffee maker (starting at $35; available on Amazon) is called The Scoop because users fill an included scoop with their choice of ground coffee rather than inserting a pod. Users measure out coffee grounds with the mesh scoop filter and place it directly in the coffee maker. The next step is to pour water into the reservoir from any 8- to 14-ounce mug, select regular or bold, and wait less than two and a half minutes for a cup to brew. A little platform turns upside down to raise smaller mugs closer to the pouring apparatus.
The bold setting should be used, says the manufacturer, when filling the scoop with premium coffee with a finer grind. The water will sit in the grounds somewhat longer, extracting more of the flavor. Even on this setting, though, some users say too much coffee is needed to make a strong cup. In reviews on Target.com, users say the coffee comes out plenty hot.
Cleanup is a snap, according to reviews. There are just three moving parts: the scoop, the second filter, and the filter holder. All these rinse out very quickly under the tap, or can be put in the dishwasher. One user notes in a review on Walmart.com that it's important to clean this machine after every use, as the mesh on the steel filters can easily become clogged with coffee residue. Hamilton Beach suggests using a vinegar and water solution once a month, and then running a few cycles of plain water. Some reviewers warn that a fine grind of coffee sometimes leaves grounds in the cup after brewing. Adding a paper filter can fix this problem.
This is a simple machine that shuts off automatically after a cup is made. Its main advantage, as far as users are concerned, is that it takes ground coffee -- no pods -- so it's not wasteful or expensive. At just 8.67 inches high and 6.7 inches wide, The Scoop Single-Serve Coffee Maker also has a smaller-than-average footprint that its adherents appreciate. It comes with a one-year limited warranty.
Capresso On-the-Go Personal Coffee Maker Review
(From $40.00 )
It’s difficult to find a single-serve coffee maker that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and yet provides a hot, rich-tasting brew. The many fans of the Capresso On-the-Go Personal Coffee Maker (starting at $40; available on Amazon) believe they have had this seemingly unattainable wish fulfilled.
The Capresso On-the-Go Personal Coffee Maker has a permanent filter that fits into a small basket, and getting the coffee brewing is as simple as measuring a few tablespoons of coffee and using the included stainless steel travel mug to fill the water reservoir. The cycle is complete in less than four minutes, fast enough to satisfy coffee lovers in a hurry, but long enough to gain some strength from the coffee grounds. Users appreciate that they can add their own coffee, ground the way they prefer it, and in an amount that will procure the perfect cup. An Amazon reviewer was so amazed by the flavor that it inspired the purchase of a coffee grinder and gourmet beans, and a whole new world of coffee drinking opened up.
It is also possible to use soft pods with this machine, but in general, reviewers say the resulting coffee isn't as good as they get with grounds. Indeed, the experts at Seattle Coffee Gear recommend using freshly ground beans, which worked best in their testing.
The movable parts (mug, filter, and filter basket) are all dishwasher-safe and need to be cleaned after each use. One downside, which no reviewers cited as a deal breaker, is that some condensation drips out of the coffee maker after the brew cycle is finished. And some grounds find their way into the mug, users complain, particularly when using a fine grind.
A few people lament on Amazon that the Capresso On-the-Go was short-lived, but many reviewers, both on that site and Bed Bath & Beyond, praise the machine for being well worth the money. They contend it performed as well as, if not better than, much higher-priced and more popular single-serve models. Others are also happy with the small footprint, which is just a little bigger than the mug that comes with it.