In this article we lay out a step-by-step decision guide that will help you find the perfect coffee maker for your home. We then provide some more detailed background information about the world of coffee and coffee makers. Our review focuses on traditional drip coffee makers and single serving pod systems, as those are the most popular styles for quick and convenient brewing at home.
Choosing the Right Coffee Maker
Step 1: What Kind of Coffee Maker Do You Want?
There are generally two types of coffee drinkers: those that just want a quick and hassle free cup that tastes decent, and those that treat coffee the way many people treat wine, savoring each subtle flavor and reveling in the in the ritual of actually making the coffee. This review focuses on classic drip and single serving pod machines, both of which cater to the former category. If you're looking for a convenient way to prep your morning pick me up, move on to step 2. If you want your coffee to be part beverage and part hobby, you may want to look at out other types of coffee makers section, which details brewing methods that focus more on the ritual of making coffee rather than convenience.
We should also note that here that in the world of coffee makers paying more often equates to greater convenience, rather than better taste. If fact, many coffee aficionados consider relatively inexpensive brewing methods like pour over to produce the best taste. Therefore if you don't mind sacrificing some convenience to save some money, you might want to venture outside the world of drip makers. You may even get a better tasting cup in the process. Plus, manual brews like pour over only take about three minutes to brew a single cup, though making multiple cups can be a hassle.
Step 2: How Much Coffee do You Make?
The first priority is to make sure you coffee maker has the right capacity to fit your needs. If you have a family of coffee drinkers you'll want something large enough to give everybody a cup or two in the morning. Likewise, if you like to make one pot that you drink from throughout the day you'll want to make sure that pot is large enough (more on that in a bit). Most drip makers make a minimum of four cups of coffee. If you only want to make a single cup of coffee at a time than a pod style machine may be your best bet. However, those machines come with some additional considerations…
Aren't Those Pod Machines Wasteful?
The short answer is yes. All of those plastic pods add up to a large amount of waste, and most are not recyclable. Even the inventor of the Keurig K-Cup regrets inventing them because of the waste they produce.
There are some ways around this. Namely reusable pods like the Breworo Reusable K-Cups reduce plastic waste and allow you to use whatever coffee you choose. However, they require an additional cleaning step, and can take away the super convenient luster of these machines. Nespresso does have a free recycling service for its pods, but there is some criticism concerning the effectiveness of that service. Bottom line, if you're concerned about sustainability, you'll probably want to steer clear of pod systems.
Step 3: Do You Like to Brew and Drink Later?
Many people like to brew a pot first thing and then drink from it throughout the morning, or even throughout the day. Most drip makers have a carafe that sits on some sort of hot plate to keep the coffee warm. Others have insulate carafes that function as thermoses to keep the coffee warm. We found that thermal carafe better retain the taste of the coffee, but tend to only be at a drinkable temperature for two hours or less. Hot plates can keep coffee warm indefinitely, but the longer it sits the more burnt the coffee will end up tasting.
Step 4: Do You Need a Programmable Model?
Are you absolutely useless until you've had your first caffeine boost? Programmable models allow you to schedule your coffee making. So just throw in some water and ground the night before, and the coffee maker will kick on at whatever time you set, allowing you to wake up to the smell of freshly made coffee. Today even budget models like the BLACK+DECKER 12-cup Programmable offer this feature, so if it sounds at all useful to you there isn't really a reason to go without it.
Step 5: Consider Taste
Obviously you'll want a maker that can produce a good tasting brew. We assigned taste scores to our models through rigorous blind taste tests that included testers ranging from casual coffee drinkers to professional coffee roasters, so they provide a good guide for taste quality. We found that coffee makers can't quite match the complex flavor that has made many fall in love with pour over brews, but if you're willing to spend a bit extra on a high end machine you can get close.
Step 6: Consider Ease of Cleaning
Even the quickest, most convenient cup of coffee can be completely sullied if it requires an arduous cleanup process. Plus, the last thing you want to come home from work to is the coffee maker mess you neglected to deal with in the morning. Our ease of cleaning scores can guide you to a machine that won't create too much of a mess.
Step 7: Don't Forget a Grinder
Buying whole coffee beans and grinding them fresh will improve taste no matter what machine or brewing style you use. Grinding beans yourself also lets you dial in the perfect grind size for your machine, rather than having to settle for the grind size that Starbucks uses (or Dunks for all you east coasters). Check out our coffee grinder review for more information.
Other Types of Coffee Makers
Methods for brewing coffee are almost as diverse as the coffee beans themselves. While drip and pod machines are incredibly convenient for getting your morning started, there are many other brewing styles that get you more involved in the actual coffee making process, and thus let you fine tune the flavor. Many coffee drinkers will use the convenience of a drip machine to get them going in the morning. Then in the afternoon, when they're more awake and able to better appreciate and experiment with flavor, they'll use one of the brewing methods listed below.