You can spend $200 or more for a coffeemaker with interactive displays and the stainless construction you'd find on a pro-style range. But our latest tests of almost 90 models show that a consistently good cup of joe starts at as little as $40.
The most basic coffeemakers make at least a decent cup. But you might want more features than a simple on/off switch. A little more money buys you conveniences such as an automatic timer, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, and settings that allow you to adjust brew strength.
Our top conventional drip machines reached 195 degrees F to 205 degrees F for about five minutes, the industry standard for optimal brewing. If you're into self-serve, brew-and-dispense models let you fill your cup right from the machine, which keeps the coffee hot. When you're on the go, single-serve models, also known as pod machines, brew a cup at a time from sealed beverage packets--no fuss, no muss.
How many cups do you drink?
If one cup is enough to jump-start your day, choose a one- or two-cup drip model or single-serve pod machine. You'll probably use less coffee than you would with a full-size model. If you like multiple cups, choose a bigger machine. Most large models make 10 to 12 cups. Be wary of manufacturers' capacity claims. Most makers measure a cup as a scant 4 ounces.
Over how long between cups?
If you space your coffee-drinking throughout the day, consider a model with an insulated mug or carafe. Those keep coffee hot and fresh-tasting for hours. The warming plates that come with glass pots can cause coffee to taste stale and burnt if it sits around for too long.
Can't see straight in the morning?
For some people, even filling the coffee machine and turning it on is too much to handle in the a.m. If that's you, consider a unit with an automatic "on" switch. For the forgetful who rush out of the house in the morning, an automatic timed "off" feature is also important.
You'll want a clearly marked water reservoir so that you can see how much water you're putting in, a swing-out filter basket that's easy to use and clean, and simple, intuitive controls. Don't forget to factor in counter space. Some expensive models stick out a foot or more, but side-mounted controls mean that you can turn the machine sideways to occupy less space.
Espresso requires a special machine
Espresso is made by a different process--forcing hot water through packed, finely ground coffee--so your regular coffeemaker won't cut it. Espresso makers range from a simple two-chamber pot to fully automatic machines.
When shopping, you'll find several types of coffeemakers, including manual-drip systems, coffee presses, percolators, and "pod" coffeemakers that brew individual cups using ready-to-use packets of coffee. But consumers buy more automatic-drip coffeemakers than any other small kitchen appliance--about 14 million a year.
Automatic drip coffeemakers
By far the most popular type, automatic-drip machines have you fill a chamber with water, load coffee into a filter basket, and flick a switch to heat the water and drip it through the filter into the pot. Popular brand names include Mr. Coffee and Black & Decker.
A newer type of machine, these force water through a little coffee packet, called a "pod," that fits the machine's dispenser. There's no measuring and spilling of grounds. To operate the coffeemaker, you typically fill the reservoir, put the pod in and scrunch it down, and push a series of buttons to produce a cup of coffee. These are more expensive to buy and operate than other types because you must also buy special coffee refills.
Types of espresso makers include simple manual stovetop models (typically a two-tiered metal pot), steam machines (in which steam pressure pushes hot water through the ground coffee) and electric pump versions. Electric pump versions can range from completely manual, in which you control the full brewing cycle, to fully automatic, in which the machine grinds the beans, makes the espresso and collects the spent grounds in a bin. Some machines use capsules or pods; others can use either ground coffee or pods.
While even the most basic coffeemakers we tested made a good cup of coffee, some features make a machine easier and more convenient to use. Others you won't need. To decide which coffeemaker features you need, consider the list below.
These allow you to set the time the machine starts to brew, that's helpful if you need that coffee aroma to propel you out of bed. The settings are available on most full-size models.
Thermal carafe/thermal mug
An insulated carafe not only keeps coffee hot for hours but also prevents that "burnt" taste. Some one-cup coffeemakers come with thermal mugs you can take with you.
This adjusts water flow to prevent a too-weak brew when making one to four cups.
This mechanism diverts water past the coffee grounds to produce a weaker brew. It also slows water flow to produce a stronger brew.
Pause and serve
Impatient? Most machines let you pull away the carafe to fill a cup without spilling coffee all over the countertop. But if you pour after only a cup or two is in the pot, the coffee can be too strong.
Forgetful? This feature turns off the heating element automatically. Most machines shut off after a predetermined time span; others let you set the time.
Controls on the side
If you're short on counter space, consider a model that you can turn sideways on the counter so it juts out less.
Most machines come with a one-year warranty, but some are guaranteed for three years. (Conversely, some lower-priced machines might have only a six-month warranty).
If you're accident-prone, you might want a model that comes with an extra pot or carafe. A replacement pot can cost $10 to $15 if you buy it separately; thermal carafes go for $25 to $75. If you need a spare pot in which to serve decaffeinated coffee to guests, consider buying a generic thermal carafe at a kitchen store.
There's little need for a special cycle that holds the cleaning solution in the machine longer. Go with running a mix of water and white vinegar, it works just as effectively.
This is supposed to eliminate odors and odd-tasting coffee. But you need to replace the filter after a specified number of pots (at about $5 per filter) to prevent bacteria buildup. If you're worried about water quality, a whole-house or faucet filter might be a better choice.
This setting preheats the carafe before the coffee drips in. In theory, that helps keep the coffee warmer longer. But in practice, it doesn't make much difference.
These can be annoying to use and clean. The grounds tend to spill, and you might need to upend the machine to empty out the residue. If you like to buy whole beans, get a separate grinder.
You can set the temperature of some hot plates, from about 160 to 190 degrees. But we found that all plates keep coffee hot enough, about 175 degrees.
Mr. Coffee and Black & Decker are the two largest brands, along with well-known names such as Braun, Cuisinart, Delonghi, Krups, Melitta, and Proctor-Silex. Use this information to compare coffeemakers by brand.
Black & Decker
The second-largest brand of coffeemakers is now part of the new Applica Organization, which includes the Salton brands. Black & Decker offers a wide range of very affordable products through retailers such as Target, Walmart, department stores, and many online retailers. Prices range from $15 to $90.
This small-appliance manufacturer offers a several sizes of automatic drip coffeemakers including some with thermal carafes. It also makes a "hot beverage system" that makes various hot drinks one large cup at a time. Prices range from $20 to $250.
This German brand recently began selling in U.S. specialty and department stores. A fairly new brand to the American market, its products are geared towards the hi-end, and sold through department stores, Target and online retailers. Prices range from $100 to $130.
Cuisinart's products are high-end and are found in department stores, specialty stores, and home stores. Its coffeemaker offerings include most categories, ranging from single serve through To-Go and various capacity multiserve coffeemakers. Prices range from $30 to $200.
DeLonghi makes a variety of coffeemakers In the mid to upper price range. In addition to the familiar countertop coffeemakers, DeLonghi makes coffee urns for when you are serving coffee to a crowd. Their products are sold in department stores, Target, specialty stores, and online retailers. Prices range from $30 to $200.
The Gevalia coffeemaker is given as a promotion in exchange for ordering coffee from the manufacturer by mail order or online retailers. Prices range from $40 to $150.
Hamilton Beach is a major brand in small countertop appliances. Models include pods, single, and multiserve coffeemakers that are sold by almost all major retailers. This brand offers products from the lower to upper mid-price tier. Prices range from $15 to $180.
This Belgian brand also recently debuted in the US, and its contemporary designs are available through Target, Sam's Club, Bloomingdales, Amazon, and other online retailers. The brand offers models with and without grinders at various capacities (6 to 10 cups). Prices range from $25 to $270.
This company produces a selection of regular automatic-drip coffeemakers, espresso machines, and coffee grinders. It also offers some specialty machines, including a coffeemaker with two carafes and another machine that is a combination coffee-espresso maker. Products by this brand generally fall in the mid-to-upper price tier. Prices range from $50 to $300.
Melitta's familiar brand of coffee filters is available in most supermarkets. The company also makes coffeemakers ranging in size from single serving to multiple cups. Products are available from department stores, home stores and online retailers. Prices range from $25 to $100.
This familiar brand has the largest market share. Mr. Coffee offers an extremely wide range and variety of products, from single serve and grind-and-brew to various capacity drip models with glass and thermal carafes. Its coffeemakers are sold in almost all retail channels and range from lower to upper mid-priced categories. Prices range fro $15 to $200.
This company led development in carafes with the introduction of its ceramic thermal carafes, which it says are a lower-cost alternative to stainless steel. Prices range from $90 to $130.
The Bella Cucina coffeemaker made by Senseo offers a 12-cup drip model aimed at lower-priced competing products. Senseo is sold at many online and department store retailers. Most of their coffeemakers have stainless steel or brushed chrome accents and are reasonably priced. Prices range from $30 to $180.
This is Mr. Coffee's sister (and less expensive) brand that does not carry as wide a range of choices as Mr. Coffee. Products are available at online retailers, appliance stores, and the national mass market chains. Prices range from $10 to $50.