Best Single Serve Coffee Maker of 2021
If you're seeking a bean-squeezing machine that'll knock your socks off, the Nespresso by De'Longhi is an obvious winner. Easy to use and requiring little clean-up, this machine produces a wide range of great-tasting coffee. Are you trying to streamline your morning coffee routine? The Smart Single Serve Coffee Maker automatically detects the type of pod and brews the correct size and strength of coffee. The controls are intuitive and have sleek interface. Whether you want a 14-ounce Alto or a single espresso, the Nespresso by De'Longhi 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. It features a self-cleaning function that takes three minutes and requires almost no effort on the part of the user, which we love.
While the Nespresso by De'Longhi is a little above average in cost compared to other machines, its pods cost double that of a Keurig pod. The upside is the recyclable aluminum pods don't leave a plastic aftertaste that seems almost universal in the Keurig pod options. It's unfortunately on the large side, but it does hold enough water that it could produce up to 17 drinks without the need for extra attention.
The Keurig K-Slim is the new and improved version of the long-time consumer favorite, the Keurig K-Classic. The most notable difference, and we'd say upgrade, is the profile of the machine. The old K-Classic was squat and round, taking up considerable counter space, while the new K-Slim is long, rectangular, and as the name implies, slim. This frees up counter space and makes for much easier storage, and we also found the new design to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing in our entire test fleet. This machine functions much like all other pod machines and gives users the options for three different size brews: eight, ten, and 12 ounce pours. This machine was one of the fastest brewing options in our lineup.
The K-Slim lacks some of the extra features of the K-Elite, but is much more affordable and produces a similar tasting cup of coffee. The water reservoir has a somewhat limited capacity of 46 ounces, so if you plan on using this in an office setting, expect to be refilling the reservoir frequently. All in all, this is an affordable and convenient option that doesn't take up a ton of space.
The Aeropress, an immersion brewer, is closer to more traditional brew methods than any of the other single-serve options we tested. It doesn't quite offer the convenience of some of the other single-serve brewers, but the coffee it produces puts it in a league of its own. If excellent flavor is what you're after, the Aeropress 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 about 1.5 to two minutes, followed by plunging the espresso-style coffee into a mug. Plunging the contraption is a bit precarious for the uninitiated but relatively intuitive. The chamber holds about 16-grams of coffee per serving and produces a rich cup of coffee that stands up to milk well.
After brewing, the Aeropress has three pieces that need to be washed, making it considerably less convenient than Keurig K-Elite. That said, all you have to do is push out the waste in one easy step. For camping, it's hard to beat. All things considered, this is a fantastic option for anyone seeking a delicious cup of joe on a shoestring budget.
The Breville Nespresso Pixie's ability to rapidly produce quality espresso with minimal effort quickly made it one of our testers' favorite machines. While the machine is limited to making 2.7-ounce espressos and five-ounce lungos, 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. Yum! The tiny machine hides on most countertops and holds enough water and spent pods that it can make eight espressos. The Pixie features a handy cubby underneath for cord management, leaving only the required amount of cord exposed, keeping your counters clutter-free.
While the Breville Nespresso Pixie is at the higher end of our cost range, the gourmet coffee it produces makes it feel like a good deal, even when 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.
The Keurig K-Elite is a feature-packed single-serve coffee maker that's incredibly user-friendly. It can brew 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12-ounce coffees from K pods or reusable aftermarket pods. The machine features a cold brew setting that brews 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 filter doesn't rid the coffee of a plasticky taste given off by the plastic pods, 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 are downsides, but fortunately, it only needs that cleaning once or twice a year, and it mostly involves being a little attentive and just adding water.
The Hamilton Beach Scoop has a simple approach to brewing and a 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 is superior to that coming from the Keurig K-Mini, and the brewing process produces no waste aside from spent grounds. We enjoyed the cost-effective pods and the quality stainless steel design.
The only buttons on the machine allow you to choose between regular and a bold brew, which determines the amount of water you add. 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.
The Keurig K-Mini is simple, compact, and easy to use. The no-frills brewer could be the perfect dorm room caffeine machine. Its narrow profile and small footprint allow it to hide many places that other single-serve 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. It requires six to twelve ounces of water to be added each time you brew. We also appreciate that you can determine the strength of each cup (even though we hardly used this feature). 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 like about this machine, the taste of the coffee to a trained tongue is pretty unlikable. The chemical taste from the Keurig pods is accentuated by this machine, making for a chemical-infused tasting cup of joe. Even when using higher quality grounds through a reusable cup, the taste left a sting that none of our testers would recommend to their friends.
Why You Should Trust Us
Buck Yedor started sneaking sips of his mom's coffee when he was just a little kid. From there, his love for coffee blossomed into a lifelong and daily ritual. Having lived with and received training from some of the preeminent Specialty Coffee Trainers in the country, Buck has honed his abilities to make and taste coffee. While he prefers a good pour-over to just about anything else, he recognizes and appreciates the convenience of single-serve coffee makers, especially on busy work mornings or for a quick pick-me-up at the office.
To ensure that we recommend the best possible single-serve coffee maker for your needs, we purchased all of these 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 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 are relevant to home users 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. 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 for 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 flipping the on switch 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 four 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; in reality, since you're using the same amount of grounds, you're really just getting a small strong coffee or a large, weaker 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 straightforward? 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 require sitting down with the manual to understand but delivers an eight-ounce coffee with little fanfare. The Aeropress requires the most rigmarole, including assembling the device and heating your water in a separate vessel. The extra steps can be daunting before your first coffee of the day.
The Nespresso Pixie is as simple as it gets and could be operated while half asleep. All you have to do is select a color-coded pod and pop it into the machine. Some of the machines needed water each use and had fill doors that were conducive to counter spills. 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 minimal daily cleaning, but they needed to be descaled every three to six 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 like the Hamilton Beach Scoop required a fair bit of cleaning with each use as well as periodic descaling.
Taste was an incredibly important metric to us; it 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. When evaluating taste, we controlled as many variables as we could by regulating the ambient temperature, using filtered water, and the same style of mug.
We carefully measured the quantity and grind of coffees used and evaluated the taste of their strength, body, and sourness. We brewed the same coffee in six of seven machines at the same time for a side-by-side comparison; the other two machines exclusively used 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 purchased the top models and spent a week exhausting their functions. We found an inexpensive option produced some of the best-tasting coffee and the most expensive option was the least versatile. We discovered an appreciation for the Nespresso pods, and despite our best efforts, the Keurig machines just could not produce a taste we were entirely 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.
— Buck Yedor