If you're not a morning person, having a convenient cup of coffee available can make or break your entire day. This article lays out a step-by-step decision guide to help you find the perfect coffee maker for your home. We then provide more detailed background information about the world of coffee and coffee makers. Our best coffee makers review focuses on traditional drip coffee makers and single-serving pod systems because they are the most popular for at-home use.
Choosing the Right Coffee Maker
Step 1: What Kind of Coffee Maker Do You Want?
Generally, there are two types of coffee drinkers: those that want a quick and hassle-free cup and those that treat coffee the way many approach wine, savoring each subtle flavor and reveling in the ritual of brewing the coffee. This review focuses on classic drip and single-serving pod machines, catering to the later type of coffee consumer.
If you're looking for a convenient way to prep your morning pick me up, move on to step 2. If you are into specialty coffee and look at brewing as more like a hobby, you may want to look at our other types of coffee makers section, which details brewing methods that focus more on the ritual of brewing rather than convenience.
We should also note that in the world of coffee makers, paying more often equates to greater convenience rather than better taste. 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 brewers. You may even get a better-tasting cup in the process. Plus, like pour-over, manual brews only take about three minutes to produce a single cup.
Step 2: How Much Coffee do You Make?
The first priority is to make sure your coffee maker can 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 you drink from throughout the day, you'll want to make sure that the pot is large enough (more on that in a bit). Most drip brewers make a minimum of four cups of coffee. If you only want to make a single cup of coffee at a time, then 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. Reusable pods like the Breworo Reusable K-Cups reduce plastic waste and allow you to use whatever coffee you choose. However, they require additional cleaning 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. 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 and then pull from it throughout the morning or even throughout the day. Most drip makers have a carafe on a hot plate to keep the coffee warm. Others have insulated carafes that function as thermoses to keep the coffee warm. We found that thermal carafes 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 taste.
Step 4: Do You Need a Programmable Model?
Are you useless until you've had your first cup of coffee? Programmable models allow you to schedule your coffee brewing. Add 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 have such features.
Step 5: Consider Brew Quality
Obviously, you want a maker that can produce a good-tasting brew. We assigned brew quality scores to our models through rigorous blind taste tests that included testers ranging from casual coffee drinkers to professional coffee roasters and baristas. We found that coffee makers can't quite match the complex flavor profile of a pour-over coffee, but if you're willing to spend a bit extra on a higher-end machine, you can get close.
Step 6: Consider Ease of Cleaning
Even the quickest, most convenient cup of coffee can be completely ruined if it requires an arduous cleanup process. Plus, the last thing you want to come home from work is the coffee 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 or, at best, is easy to clean.
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 settling for pre-ground coffee. Check out our review of the best coffee grinders 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
allow you to focus on tuning the brewing process to achieve the most flavorful coffee possible.
Pour over has recently become the go-to brewing method for those who are serious about their coffee. The brewing process involves placing coffee grounds into a filter and manually pouring hot water over the brew bed. The pouring technique is a bit of an art form, and it takes the water some time to seep evenly through the grinds, so this technique won't serve you well if you tend to be impatient. Pour-over coffee produces the cleanest cup that allows complex flavors to come through.
The Aeropress is produced by a toy company. Accordingly, it is an invention of adults who design toys: essentially a coffee squirt gun. It is a tube that uses a plunger to force water through coffee grinds at high pressure. This creates a strong and bold brew quickly and efficiently. Aeropress is compact and great for camping or road trips.
The french press is a classic coffee-making device that has been enjoying a recent uptick in popularity. It lets you make coffee in the same way you would make tea by letting the grinds and hot water sit together and steep to your preferences. A plunger with a mesh strainer keeps the grinds out when you're ready to pour a cup. The best french presses tend to create a stronger, more bold flavor.
The Moka Pot is an aluminum stovetop coffee maker that utilizes a two-chambered design. Water is heated in the bottom chamber, and as it starts to boil, it is forced up through coffee grinds and into the top chambers. This combination of heat and high pressure creates a very strong brew somewhere between espresso and normal coffee.