We researched the 40 best single serve coffee makers of 2020, then bought and tested the 8 top-ranked machines to brew and evaluate so that your next cup can be as tasty and convenient as possible. We extensively tested and compared the brewing methods, input required, and quality of coffee produced by these machines. There are an overwhelming number of methods for brewing and extracting a cup of joe; fortunately, we make it easy to find a machine that suits your needs and budget and show you what's to gain by spending a bit more or less. Our experts brewed and tasted a truly astounding amount of coffee in search of the best machines for different lifestyles and coffee preferences.
The Best Single-Serve Coffee Makers of 2020
The Nespresso by De'Longhi was a winner in almost all of our metrics and an obvious winner of our Editors' Choice Award. It conveniently produced a wide range of great-tasting coffee and required very little input or cleaning. The Smart Coffee Maker automatically detects the type of pod and brews the correct size and strength of coffee. We were impressed with the sleek interface and intuitive controls. Whether you want a 14 ounce Alto or a single espresso, the Nespresso by De'Longhi single serve coffee maker will have you sipping in less than two minutes. Additionally, the machine produces a rich crema that is absent on all but the Nespresso Pixie. The machine features a self-cleaning function that takes three minutes and requires almost no effort on the part of the user.
While the Nespresso by De'Longhi was a little above average in cost compared to other machines, its pods cost approximately double what Keurig pods cost. The recyclable aluminum pods, however, don't leave a plastic aftertaste that seems almost universal to the Keurig pods. We didn't care for how large the machine was but it did hold enough water and spent pods that it could produce up to 17 drinks without the need for extra attention.
The Aeropress doesn't offer the convenience of many of the machines tested but the coffee it produces puts it in a league of its own. If excellent flavor is what you're looking for then getting the right extraction is key and the Aeropress process won't let you down. This single serve coffee maker itself consists of the main chamber, plunger, and filter cap that uses small paper disc filters. After heating water in a separate vessel, brewing takes a brief 10 seconds followed by plunging the espresso-style coffee into a mug, adding hot water creates a traditional coffee. Plunging the contraption is a bit precarious for the uninitiated but fairly intuitive. The chamber holds about 16 grams of coffee per serving and users can choose to add cold water for a cold brew or frothed milk for a latte.
After brewing, the Aeropress has three pieces that need to be washed which makes it considerably less convenient than Keurig K Elite. All things considered, we find this a fantastic option for anyone looking for amazing coffee taste on a shoestring budget.
The Nespresso Pixie quickly became a tester favorite with its ability to quickly dispense a delicious espresso. While the machine is limited to making 2.7 oz. espressos and 5 oz lungos, we found its size, convenience, and quality of the product more than made up for its lack of versatility. Simply drop in a Nespresso pod, select the size of pour you'd prefer, and 37 seconds later you've got a steaming hot java topped with a rich crema. The tiny machine hides on most countertops and holds enough water and spent pods that it can make 8 espressos before needing any attention. The Pixie also features a clever cubby underneath for cord management, leaving only the required amount of cord exposed.
While the Breville-Nespresso Pixie was at the higher end of our cost range, the gourmet coffee it produced made it feel like a good deal, even considering the price of its recyclable aluminum pods. Unlike the Keurig Classic, single serve coffee maker, there was no discernible foul taste of the pod itself.
Best K Cup Coffee Maker
The Keurig K Elite is a feature-packed single serve coffee maker that's incredibly user friendly. This machine can brew 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12-ounce coffees from K pods or reusable aftermarket pods. A cold brew setting and strong setting seem to do the same thing, brewing a stronger cup to help alleviate the watered-down taste you get when pouring hot coffee over ice. The machine includes a charcoal filter that you install in the water tank and while it helps to have filtered water, the taste of the plastic pods isn't absent with this machine, even with the reusable cups. The drip tray can be removed to accommodate a 7.2-inch travel mug or can hold a full accidental brew if left in place. The K Elite features a high altitude setting that lowers the brew temperature and an auto-on setting that readies the coffee maker for you in the morning. If you can live without a few of the fancy features you can save almost a hundred dollars by getting the Keurig K Classic. Specifically, you'll lose the high altitude setting, morning timer, charcoal filter, strong/iced setting, and a couple of drink sizes.
The Keurig machines can brew coffee, tea, and hot cocoa to keep up with a household's worth of demands. While the coffee didn't ace our taste test, the machine's versatility makes it a solid choice for those who find themselves less discerning about coffee taste. The machine's large footprint and one-hour descaling process were downsides but fortunately, it only needs that cleaning once or twice a year and it mostly involves being attentive and adding water.
Best Value Keurig
The Keurig K Classic delivers solid performance for a pod machine and offers enough versatility for most pod coffee drinkers. This machine is essentially the Keurig K Elite without some of the fancy features. Notably, this machine doesn't have an automatic waking feature, a strong/iced coffee setting, or a built-in water filter. It also lacks a high altitude setting or the ability to pour 4 and 12-ounce beverages. The coffee taste between the two was indistinguishable when using filtered water but the K Elite's water filter proved beneficial when using tap water. Regardless of the water or type of pod used, the coffee coming from all of the Keurigs tested had a bit of a plastic taste. If you've had Keurig coffee before and didn't mind or notice the taste you'll be able to appreciate the simple value that this machine offers.
The K Classic doesn't have some of the fancy features found on the Keurig K Elite but unfortunately, it's every bit as large. This machine is priced considerably less than the K Elite and we feel it's a great value for people who find those fancy features to be of negligible importance.
Best Grounds Only Brewer
Hamilton Beach The Scoop
The Hamilton Beach Scoop has a simple approach to brewing and sleek, compact design. The stainless steel scoop and brew-basket holds 13 to 25 grams of ground coffee and neatly fits into a secondary filter that prevents grounds from ending up in your coffee. The coffee taste was superior to that coming from the Keurig K Mini or Sboly Single Serve Coffee Maker and the brewing process produces no waste aside from spent grounds.
The only buttons on the machine allow you to choose between regular and bold brews and coffee volume is determined by the amount of water you add, up to 14 ounces. The brewing tray flips upside down for a small mug or allows for a seven inch travel mug in standard orientation. The Scoop isn't quite as fast as advertised but could reliably produce eight ounces of coffee in two and a half minutes. It's compact, priced well, and easily beats out the Keurig K Mini in a taste test. Our main gripe with this machine is that three separate pieces needed to be cleaned after each brewing, which takes about the same amount of time as cleaning the Aeropress which produces better-tasting coffee.
Versatile but Hard to Recommend
Sboly Single Serve for K-Cup and Ground
The Sboly Single Serve Coffee Maker offers the versatility of brewing pods or grounds in a compact and convenient design. We found it to be user friendly but lackluster in most of our testing metrics. It wasn't particularly fast, the coffee taste wasn't great and despite its self-cleaning feature, it required a bit more effort than other makers in the test to actually clean. It features a clever lid for its brew basket that prevents grounds from overflowing into your coffee and a handy insulated tumbler.
We controlled our ambient and input water temperatures but the Sboly didn't brew to a consistent temperature which affects coffee flavor. It's priced in the middle of our range but given its performance, it doesn't feel like a good value. Despite those its features, it's not a coffee maker we'd recommend for anyone serious about coffee or convenience.
Same Keurig Taste, Half the Space
The Keurig K Mini is simple, compact, and easy to use. The no-frills brewer could be the perfect dorm room caffeine machine if you're not overly concerned about taste. Its narrow profile and small footprint allow it to hide many places that other coffee makers simply wouldn't fit. The brewer features a retractable cord, large volume drip tray and allows for up to a six inch travel mug, or seven inch mug with drip tray removed. Six to twelve ounces of water need to be added each time you want to brew and while we found that mildly inconvenient it allows you to determine the strength of each cup. The machine requires very little in terms of daily cleaning but Keurig recommends descaling every three to six months.
While there were many things we liked about this machine, it made the worst tasting coffee in our test. Something about this machine seemed to accentuate the already present chemical taste from the Keurig pods. Even brewing higher quality grounds through the reusable K cups yielded an unsatisfactory taste.
Why You Should Trust Us
Joshua Hutchens has been sipping bean juice for the better part of three decades. Having experience as a professional and home roaster as well as a barista, he's honed his appreciation for the finest beans, roasts, and methods of extraction. A fan of the African fruit bombs and third wave coffees, Joshua prefers his craft coffee made one cup at a time. We specifically rated and scored their convenience, ease of operation, versatility, amount of time required to brew, ease of cleaning, and the quality of coffee they produced. We'll show you the fastest, easiest, and best tasting single-serve machines you can currently buy.
To ensure that we can recommend the best possible coffee maker for your needs we researched the top 40 makers on the market and purchased 8 of the best-rated machines for exhaustive side by side comparison. We spent the better part of five days brewing coffee of several varieties in each machine. We dug into the manuals, cleaned and disassembled the machines, measured coffee temps, and brew times. We used pods in the pod machines as well as reusable pods loaded with light and dark roasts in the machines that would accept them. We used filtered water, freshly ground coffee, and maintained a constant indoor temperature to ensure that our data was as consistent as possible.
Analysis and Test Results
We drew up testing metrics that matter and devised a ranking system to evaluate the machines based on their convenience, versatility, ease of use, ease of cleaning, and most importantly the taste of the coffee coming from these machines.
Convenience is the most heavily weighted metric in our test. In order to evaluate the convenience of the machines, we lined the countertops and brewed cup after cup with all of the machines, side by side. We kept notes about heating times, how often they needed to be refilled, messes created, and how much effort went into each cup. Leading the pack in convenience was the Nespresso Pixie followed by the Nespresso Vertuo. The Nespresso Pixie holds enough water for several coffees, stores its own spent pods, and goes from non-powered to espresso in hand in 37 seconds. While the Nespresso Vertuo also stores several cups of water and holds its own spent pods, the amount of time required to dispense a coffee was almost three times longer. The least convenient device we tested was the Aeropress due to the fact that you had to heat water in an alternate vessel, grind and measure coffee and then wash three separate pieces after each use.
When considering versatility we looked at what each machine or device was capable of and how well it delivered on each task. The Nespresso Vertuo was not only the most versatile machine in the test but achieved that versatility without user input. The Vertuo line of Nespresso capsules come in 4 sizes, the machine automatically detects which capsule is being used and dispenses an espresso, gran lungo, mug (coffee), or alto (tall coffee).
In second place was the Keurig K Elite with its ability to pour 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12-ounce coffees from the same pod, while we found these choices exciting, they use the same amount of grounds, so you're really just getting a small strong coffee or a large weak coffee. The Keurig K Elite features a strong and iced setting which both create a slightly richer flavored coffee by slowing the brewing process. Enhancing the versatility of the Keurig machines is the ability to make tea or hot cocoa using specified pods. The least versatile machine was the Nespresso Pixie as its functions are limited to making espressos and lungos.
Ease of Use
Were the brewers simple and straight forward? Not always. What we were looking for in this metric is how easily we could just walk up and get a cup of coffee. The Keurig K Elite has a bevy of settings that really require sitting down with the manual to understand but delivers an 8-ounce coffee with little fanfare. The Aeropress requires assembly that can be daunting before your first coffee of the day and also separate water heating.
The Nespresso Pixie is as simple as selecting a color-coded pod and could be operated while half asleep. Some of the machines needed water each use and had fill doors that were conducive to counter spills. Others, like the Sboly required multiple steps getting grounds and water into the machine and getting it brewing.
The ease of use metric favored the Nespresso machines due to how simple the inputs were and how quickly we had coffee.
Ease of Cleaning
We evaluated the ease of cleaning by measuring the time spent cleaning after each use and also the long term cleaning needs of the machines. The Keurig and Nespresso machines required very little daily cleaning but they needed to be descaled every 3 to 6 months. The Keurig descaling sequence took about an hour for the big machines while the Nespresso machines required less than 15 minutes. By contrast, the Aeropress, with no water heating element, required cleaning of three pieces with each brewing but it had no long term service needs. Makers such as the Hamilton Beach Scoop and Sboly required a fair bit of cleaning with each use as well as periodic descaling.
Taste was an incredibly important metric to us, it really doesn't matter how convenient, versatile, or easy to clean your coffee maker is if it doesn't make great tasting coffee. We were looking for efficient and flavorful extraction without souring that happens when the grounds are under-extracted. We regulated the ambient temperature, used filtered water, and the same style of mug in evaluating each machine.
We carefully measured the quantity and grind of coffees used and evaluated the taste of its strength, body, and sourness. We brewed the same coffee in six of eight machines at the same time for a side by side comparison, the other two machines used exclusively Nespresso pods and couldn't be compared as equivalently. We brewed light roasts and dark roasts, filled pods with gourmet grounds, and cut Keurig pods open to weigh and test the coffee through every filter that would accept it. We brewed Nespresso pods of the same coffee on the capsule machines and evaluated them against each other as well as the other machines. We found a wide variety of brew temperatures and durations and noted how they affected the taste.
We researched dozens of single serve coffee makers, purchased the top models, and spent a week exhausting their functions. We found the least expensive option to produce the best-tasting coffee and the most expensive option to be the least versatile. We discovered an appreciation for the Nespresso pods and despite our best efforts couldn't make the Keurig machines produce a taste we were happy with. Whether you're in search of the most flavorful extraction, the fastest cup, or the machine that best fits your space and lifestyle, we hope that our laborious research helps make your decision a bit easier.
— Joshua Hutchens