Coffee Maker Buying Guide

For many of us, the daily grind can’t begin until we’ve had a cup of piping hot coffee. But that coffee is only as good as our brewer.

If you're shopping for a new coffee maker, you'll notice there's a wide range of prices. You can spend $200 or more for a coffee maker with interactive displays and the kind of stainless steel detailing you’d find on pro-style ranges. But our tests show that a consistently good cup of joe can be had for half that.

Still, you might want to go beyond the simple on/off switch: A little more money buys conveniences such as programmability, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, settings that let you adjust brew strength, and more.

Latest Trends

The newest and most innovative coffee makers are all about bringing barista-quality beverages and versatility to your kitchen. (A welcome thing, considering that through much of the pandemic we hit the coffee shop on the way to the office with far less frequency.)

The renaissance began in 2015 with the Ninja Coffee Bar, which made it easier to brew lattes and iced coffees at home, thanks to its brew-over-ice and specialty coffee modes, as well as its ability to brew into both carafes and mugs. Today, Ninja, Keurig, and other brands offer all-in-one machines with even more features, such as built-in milk frothers, coffee grinders, and even cold-brew modes. To see the top models from our tests, check out our guide to the best combination coffee makers.

Speaking of cold brew, the richer, less acidic brew that was once found only in independent cafés is now a staple at major coffee chains. And there are a number of dedicated cold-brew coffee makers on the market for home kitchens, including a handful of automatic models (they plug into an outlet) that speed up the hourslong brewing process, shortening it to as little as 4 minutes.

Last but not least, many coffee maker designers are upping their style game to match the aesthetic of today's kitchens. New machines often feature more stainless steel accents and curvier designs that place greater emphasis on the glass or thermal carafe. Many models also come in white or lighter hues to match brighter kitchen color palettes. 

How Do You Take Your Coffee?

Hot or Cold?
Some people prefer iced coffee or cold brew over hot coffee, especially during the summer months. Certain drip and pod models offer “brew over ice” modes and cold-brew modes. You could also consider a cold-brew coffee maker if you’re a fan of the concentrated brew.

Number of Cups?
If one cup is enough to jump-start your day, a 1- or 2-cup drip model or a single-serve machine may be the right fit. Drink more? Choose a larger automatic drip machine with a carafe or a self-serve reservoir. Most large models brew 10 to 12 cups, although typically a “cup” is really only 5 to 6 ounces, not 8.

How Often Do You Need a Fix?
If you space out your coffee drinking throughout the day, consider buying a model with an insulated mug or carafe. These units keep coffee hot and fresh-tasting for hours. But thermal carafes are not perfect. Our testers say they tend to dribble and can sometimes be difficult to handle.

Can’t See Straight in the Morning?
For some people, filling the coffee machine and turning it on is too much to handle in the morning. If that sounds like you, consider a unit with programming that can automatically brew each morning. (You set up everything the night before.) And for the forgetful who rush out of the house in the morning, an automatic shutoff feature is important.

Size and Height Considerations
Factor in counter space when choosing your model. All of the coffee machines in CR’s tests can fit beneath upper cabinets, but you’ll still need to pull out most when it’s time to fill the reservoir.

Coffee Maker Video Buying Guide

Watch our video below for more details on drip coffee makers, self-serve coffee makers, grind-and-brew coffee makers, and more.

How We Test Coffee Makers

For drip coffee makers: We conduct a brew-performance test to measure the brew temperature and contact time (how long water stays within the sweet spot of 195° F to 205° F for brewing). We also measure the concentration of the brewed coffee to make sure it’s not too weak or too strong. (See our list of the best drip coffee makers.)

For single-serve pod coffee makers: Our engineers evaluate the temperature and size consistency of individual cups of coffee, as well as the brewing speed. Then our expert coffee taste tester weighs in. (See our list of the best pod coffee makers.)

For cold-brew coffee makers: Our engineers judge ease of cleaning, and our expert taste tester evaluates the quality of each brew. (See our list of the best cold-brew coffee makers.)

All three types of coffee makers undergo convenience tests to evaluate how easy it is to set timers, fill the reservoir, and generally use the machine.

For the drip and pod models, the Overall Score incorporates brand-level data on predicted reliability and owner satisfaction from our annual survey of CR members. You’ll find all this in our coffee maker ratings of more than 150 models.

Match Your Coffee Maker to Your Habits

You'll find several varieties of coffee makers at retail, including manual-drip systems, cold-brew coffee makers, and single-serve pod coffee makers that brew individual cups using ready-to-use pods or packets of coffee. Below are the most common types.

A drip coffee maker.

Drip Coffee Makers

With automatic drip machines you fill a chamber with water, load coffee into a filter basket, and flick a switch to heat the water and run it through the grounds and into the pot. Some models feature built-in coffee grinders for whole beans, while others brew into a self-serve reservoir with a tap for filling multiple mugs. Our top conventional drip machines reach 195° F to 205° F for 5 to 6 minutes, the industry standard for optimal brewing.

Drip Coffee Makers Ratings
A single-serve coffee maker.

Single-Serve Pod Coffee Makers

These force water through a small packet, either a hard-shelled capsule (also called a pod) or a soft packet resembling a tea bag. Some accept an adapter that takes your favorite loose grounds. Pod machines tend to be more expensive to operate than other types because the pods cost more than most ground coffee or whole beans. With plastic pods, there is also a lot of waste that ends up in landfills. There are a few types of pods you can recycle.

Single-Serve Coffee Makers Ratings
An cold brew coffee maker.

Cold-Brew Coffee Makers

These machines use cold or room-temperature water and brew a concentrated coffee that you then dilute with cold water and/or ice (or dilute with hot water for hot coffee). Manual models are simpler and brew either in your fridge or on your kitchen counter for 12 to 24 hours. Automatic models, which sit on your counter and plug into an outlet, use a variety of methods to cut down brew time to between 4 and 45 minutes, depending on the model.

Cold-Brew Coffee Makers Ratings
A 1- to 2-mug to-go coffee maker.

1- to 2-Mug Drip Coffee Makers

These are designed to produce smaller quantities and come as either drip or pod models, the latter using an adapter to hold grounds. They sometimes brew directly into an insulated mug that’s ready to take with you in the car or on the train. Others accommodate your “World’s Best Dad” mug.

Drip Coffee Makers Ratings
A CR tester in our coffee maker test lab.
In the lab, CR's test engineers evaluate a variety of types of coffee makers to see how they stack up.

The Lowdown on Features

Though some coffee maker features can make a machine easier and more convenient to use, there are several you don’t really need but may be nice to have. To decide which coffee maker features are right for you, consider the list below.

Shopping Tips

Once you know the type of coffee maker and the features you want, it’s time to start shopping. But don’t run out to the store or start scrolling through online sales just yet. There are hundreds of coffee makers on the market, which can make it daunting to comb through all the options.

A better strategy is to start with some manufacturer websites, such as those for Cuisinart and Mr. Coffee, to see whether they have any particular models that meet your needs. If you’re unsure which brands to consider, see our guide to the most and least reliable coffee maker brands, which uses predicted reliability and owner satisfaction data collected from thousands of CR members to show you the brands that last and are well-liked. Another option: Narrow down your choices to the models that offer the best performance and reliability by checking out our in-depth coffee maker ratings of more than 150 models.

Once you have a particular model in mind, check its price at a handful of major retailers, such as Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and Walmart. If the coffee maker is available in a physical store near you, you might want to evaluate it in person to see whether you like how it looks and whether there are special in-store discounts. And if your purchase isn’t urgent, you may want to wait and see whether the coffee maker is discounted even further around the holidays.

Check out our weekly Best Home and Kitchen Deals roundup to see whether there are current sales on coffee makers that perform well in our tests.

Looking for an inexpensive model and don't want to wait for a sale? See our list of the best coffee makers under $50

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