Coffee is one of the few guilt-free addictions we have left in this world. But while a great cup of coffee can set your day off right, a bad cup can make you feel like you've just bought a one-way ticket to percolator purgatory.
That's why we at BestReviews felt the urgency to find the best coffee maker on the market and share it with the world. We want to turn that universal frown upside down.
Some people get endlessly fussy about the best ways to brew coffee—from French Press to vacuum extraction. In this roundup, we look strictly at the most popular automatic coffee maker options.
Coffee is chemistry. Water temperature, mineral content, coffee grind, water-to-coffee ratio — all of these factors influence the brew. The job of an automatic brewer is to help you forget these details so you can enjoy a tasty cup of happiness, every time.
We relied heavily on the brewing guidelines set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) during testing. According to the SCAA, coffee is best brewed when you use 55 grams of ground coffee per liter of water and the water reaches a temperature of 197.6 degrees Fahrenheit (92 degrees Celsius).
Each coffee maker we tested received this ideal ratio of coffee and room-temperature bottled water.
The bottled water we used — Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water — had the "soft mineral" status recommended by the SCAA. It may seem a silly extravagance, but it removed our local tap water taste from the equation. (The SCAA does not recommend using distilled water.)
We obtained a fresh, two-pound bag of medium-grind House Blend from our local Peet's Coffee & Tea for testing. Medium grind is ideal for automatic coffee makers. We also picked up some coffee pods at Peet's in order to test our Keurig pod machine. We were not able to determine the freshness of the coffee in these pods.
In an effort to remove the fresh-from-the-factory taste that plagues most new machines, we flushed each coffee maker with water twice and brewed a “warm-up” batch of coffee.
We measured how long it took each of our machines to brew one liter of coffee. (In the case of the Keurig single-cup system, we brewed multiple cups at the largest setting until we hit the one-liter mark.) Most machines took about 10 minutes at their default setting.
(Several of these machines include a “bold” or “strong” setting which extends the brew time. We never engaged these settings during testing, but we note their inclusion or absence in each description.)
We wanted to see how close each brewer could get to 197.6 degrees Fahrenheit (as recommended by the SCAA), so we placed a cooking thermometer in the brew basket to monitor temperature. (The Keurig was the only exception here. Because of its closed design, we checked its temperature as the coffee left the basket.)
In most cases, water temperature was significantly lower at the beginning of the brewing process and reached its peak near the end. However, the BUNN and Keurig brought their water up to a peak temperature before introducing it to the brewing basket.
We also measured each brew's temperature in the carafe to see how well it kept the coffee hot.
Because each machine has its own unique set of bells and whistles, we used our best judgment to rate each of them on a scale of 1-3.
To evaluate taste, we held a little coffee party and asked our guests to participate in a blind taste test. Our testers received a four-ounce cup of coffee from each machine. The guests rated each cup on a 1-3 scale (3 being best) and wrote down their impressions. We combined their scores to arrive at a final tally.
Finally, we considered the price of each coffee maker and made a value judgment on its overall cost, features, and taste.
Susan Sano Tuveson has been cooking for people for five decades. Educated in music, law, and languages, she left her legal practice to establish Cacao Chocolates in Kittery, Maine. A three-time Best of Seacoast New England winner, the shop was popular for its high-quality artisanal truffles flavored with unusual local ingredients.
The Good: Programmable with multiple settings, this BPA-Free product offers many great features: charcoal water filter, reusable coffee filter, 14-cup volume, cleaning mode.
The Bad: Water filter needs changing every 60 days. Basket volume is not ideal for brewing 14 full cups.
The Bottom Line: A feature-rich coffee maker that produces good-tasting coffee, and lots of it.
Though fairly pricey, the Cuisinart DCC-3200 makes you feel spoiled with its luxurious 14-cup brew volume (the largest tested here), reusable gold-tone coffee filter, and charcoal water filter system (identical to the one used on the Keurig).
By numbers, the Cuisinart’s maximum brewing temperature got quite close to the golden zone prescribed by the SCAA. By taste, the Cuisinart took second place, just barely losing out to the underdog Mr. Coffee.
Like all the machines we researched, we found a number of consumer reports about faulty products that had to be returned. A common design complaint centers around the fact that the removable carafe lid isn't hinged, making it somewhat awkward to fill (though arguably easier to place in a dishwasher rack). For the most part, though, the Cuisinart is regarded highly by its owners.
Because the $76 Cuisinart is such a close match to the Mr. Coffee in taste — but far less fickle in terms of its water filter and brew temperature — we find it a more compelling choice overall if money is not a top consideration.
Plus, with the Cuisinart's extra carafe volume, BPA-free plastic construction, cleaning mode, carafe temperature adjustment, and reusable permanent filter, it's just a more thoughtful product.
The Good: Brews quickly. K-Cups system provides uniformity and removes guesswork. Supports reusable cups. Easy to clean. Includes charcoal filter pods.
The Bad: Tedious for brewing large batches of coffee. Not programmable. Filter needs changing every 60 days.
The Bottom Line: A foolproof, consistent option for people who rarely brew more than 1-2 cups at once. Coffee taste is rather unremarkable.
Keurig’s coffee maker line is so simple, in fact, that many of their brewers feature only two buttons—one for power and one for brewing. The K55 includes a comparably decadent five buttons, three of which define how much coffee to brew (small, medium, or large cup). The other two address power and auto-off functions.
You won't find features on the K55 such as a programmable timer or brew strength selection. That's the cost of keeping things simple. We were tempted to say this is our lowest-ranking product in terms of features, but Keurig's inclusion of a replaceable water filtration cartridge system keeps it at least in the middle of the pack.
Part of the Keurig's appeal is its compatibility with pre-packaged "K-Cup" coffee pods. Notably, the system can also take reusable cups filled with whichever type of ground coffee you like. This flexibility can help bridge the divide in a household with varying degrees of coffee snobbery.
Keurig devotees have overwhelmingly positive things to say about the system. Most of their praise centers around the convenience of single-cup brewing and the flexibility of using K-Cups to accommodate a range of tastes in one house or office (dark, light, decaf, tea, cocoa).
Critics point out that its closed design makes it difficult to diagnose and repair problems when they inevitably crop up.
During our consumer research, we found an unusually large number of customers who have replaced this coffee maker several times, expressing both a love and loyalty to Keurig and a frustration with the clogs and malfunctions that have sent their machines to early retirement.
During testing, the Keurig had the lowest brew temperature. (Due to the closed design of the brewing chamber, we measured this directly from the spout.) This would indicate an under-extraction of flavors from the grounds and explain the underwhelming taste of Keurig coffee.
Because the coffee brews right in your cup with no heating element to keep it toasty, the Keurig also ranked last in terms of carafe temperature. The upshot of this relatively low brew temperature and non-existent hot plate is the fact that your coffee is at a nearly drinkable temperature right out of the gate.
The Keurig system is not the least expensive way to get a decent cup of coffee, but you can't beat the convenience, and many people agree. This $73 product sells extremely well.
The Good: Programmable and versatile. Reusable filter basket. Compatible with pods for coffee or tea. Includes “bold” option for longer brew time.
The Bad: No water filtration. Big.
The Bottom Line: This brewer makes good (not great) coffee and offers the flexibility to brew either a single cup or a full pot.
The Hamilton Beach is a standard drip coffee maker with a twist. With the flip of a big, obvious switch on the front, you can either brew a carafe of coffee or a single serving right into your mug. There are separate brew baskets for both options. And, for those who want it, the single-serve basket includes a removable insert that can hold those flat, disk-style coffee pods.
This dual-brew system is an attractive proposition for those who prefer to make a single cup most days but also want the option of brewing larger batches for weekends or when company comes over.
The carafe side of the coffee maker holds 12 cups of coffee and uses a basket coffee filter. The basket can be removed for easy cleaning, but for brewing purposes, it does require a paper filter or a separately purchased reusable mesh filter.
The single-cup side of the machine also features a removable brew basket and includes a reusable mesh filter.
Adding up features such as the dual-brew system, reusable single-cup filter, programmability, brew strength control, and pod-compatibility, we awarded the Hamilton Beach the highest feature rating of the pack.
During testing, we noted that the coffee maker reached a peak brew temperature of 192 degrees F. This was in the ballpark of the 197.6-degree ideal. And though the Hamilton Beach was not the top winner in terms of taste, its 3rd place ranking, combined with a high feature score, make it easy to recommend.
Most negative reviews for this product are concerned with machines that stopped working sooner than expected. That's actually a common complaint with all of the automatic coffee makers reviewed here. Several consumers have also complained that the travel mug pictured on the box is not included with the machine
What customers absolutely love about this $52 coffee maker is the dual brew system and the ability to use Senseo-style coffee pods or tea bags in the single-brew basket.
The Good: Insulated carafe. Fast brewing. Cleaning tools included.
The Bad: Not programmable. "Quick brew” requires 15-minute warm-up time. No water filter or measurement markings. Unexpected setup steps. Big footprint.
The Bottom Line: Good choice for an office or environment where large volumes of coffee are brewed regularly and speed matters.
For better and worse, the BUNN is a unique product. It’s huge, standing 13 inches tall and extending 11 inches from the wall. It needs this extra room because it essentially manages two reservoirs of water: one that you introduce just before brewing and one that’s kept constantly hot and ready to brew.
Having hot water ready to go at a moment’s notice gives the BUNN the superpower to brew a full 10-cup pot of coffee in four minutes. The other coffee makers tested here took an average of 10 minutes to brew the same volume.
In scenarios where there’s a constant demand for fresh pots of coffee, such as an office or church, the BUNN’s speedy brew time and sturdy construction could be a perfect fit. But as a personal machine for the home, it comes up short in some key areas:
It’s definitely a non-intuitive coffee maker, and if you buy one, you’d probably have to explain its idiosyncrasies to anyone tasked with using it — unless they have a BUNN, too.
During testing, we were happily surprised to see that the BUNN practically nailed the SCAA’s ideal brewing temperature. Unfortunately, because the water shoots out with such force, we’re not sure that it steeps on the grounds long enough to make a difference. After brewing a pot of coffee, the inside of the brew basket looks like a bomb went off.
Several customers also noted their surprise at the force of the spray head, which can reportedly blast finely ground coffee right out of the filter. An optional “reduced velocity” spray head can be purchased and swapped out, reigning in the spray force and adding only an additional 60-90 seconds to the brew time.
As for programmable brewing timers, strength controls, water filters, and other low-grade wizardry featured by other coffee makers here, the BUNN isn’t having any of it. It’s great that the manufacturer includes a solid, insulated carafe, but to give the BUNN anything more than our lowest score on features just wouldn’t be fair.
As for taste, the BUNN scores dead last in that category, too. The coffee doesn't taste bad, per se, but it's flat and unexciting. For what it’s worth, the BUNN did an excellent job keeping its unremarkable coffee hot in the included thermal carafe.
Customers echo many of our mixed feelings about the $99 BUNN, loving the machine for its quick brew time and thermal carafe but finding its always-on boiler and tall design to be overkill for home use. We’re also concerned by the number of customers who attribute a strong, burning plastic smell to the BUNN's always-on boiler. Another common complaint is the design of the carafe spout, which apparently dribbles and leaks with age. (But don’t we all?)
The Good: Programmable. Includes cord storage, a charcoal water filtration disk, a setting for “strong” brew, and a freshness indicator.
The Bad: Reusable coffee filter not included. Water filter requires a monthly change. Filter’s placement, post-boil, may impart taste.
The Bottom Line: An incredibly low-priced model with features to spare, this product is capable of great-tasting coffee.
We have to admit that we approached this machine with some unflattering preconceptions. As the value-leader in the coffee maker world, Mr. Coffee is often found in places where people have little money or concern for making quality java. (Read: college dormitories.) For us, just the sight of the company logo is enough to trigger nightmares about sleeping through the final exam.
But it’s time for us to stop blaming Mr. Coffee for our adolescent brewing crimes. In our blind taste test, our testers ranked the Mr. Coffee at the top of the list. At half the price of the next most expensive brewer, we were all a bit shocked that the coffee turned out so well.
That isn’t to say that the Mr. Coffee is flawless. During our test, the boiler reached a scorching 205.8 degrees F—well past the ideal temperature zone. This heat could lead to over-extraction of the coffee grounds, which is a far greater sin in our book than under-extraction. Without enough grounds in the basket (or poor-quality coffee), the Mr. Coffee could be a one-way ticket on the Bitter Bus all the way to Bitter City. You don’t want to go there.
If you purchase this one, we recommend that you toss out the included flimsy water filter disk system. Unlike other systems we tested that place the charcoal filter in the reservoir section of the machine, Mr. Coffee's filter hangs right over the brew basket. The batch of coffee we made with the filter in place had an awful, ashy taste. Whether you could attribute this to the charcoal filter, leaching from the cheap plastic ring that contains it, or the fact that it was a fluke batch, we're not sure. But we brewed the following batch without the filter, and it tasted great.
Aside from its pleasant taste, some other features we like about the Mr. Coffee are its programmable timer, extra brew strength button (which really just draws out the brew time), and a freshness timer that shows how many minutes have elapsed since the pot was made. We wish that the machine’s LCD was backlit for easier viewing and programming, but we still found the LCD-dependent features to be useful.
The brew basket is flat and pops out for easy cleaning. As we mentioned, the filter disk meant to be placed above the basket is also removable, making it easy to replace (or discard entirely, as we recommend).
Customers are divided as to whether the Mr. Coffee is the best value around or a complete waste of money. During our consumer research, we noticed an above-average number of complaints about a "plastic" taste in the coffee. (Some did say that the plastic taste goes away after a few days of use.) And there were some people who complained that their machine stopped working after a few months.
Ultimately, the low price of this machine ($29) comes at the cost of quality control and reliability. Unless you’re on a shoestring budget, it just doesn’t seem worth the gamble.
That said, if you decide to go with this model, know that you could spend a bit more on the thermal carafe compatible with this model and keep your coffee hotter longer.
While the Cuisinart came in just a hair behind the Mr. Coffee in the taste test, it was the clear winner in the features department.
You get the extra-large carafe volume, permanent gold-tone coffee filter, programmability, water filtration, bold setting, and hot plate adjustment. Not to mention the 1-4 cup brew setting for a quick cup on the go!
The Cuisinart is fully loaded, and the taste holds its own against the competition. It's our pick for the Best of the Best designation.
While the Mr. Coffee brewed a mean, cheap cup of coffee, reviews of the machine are simply too inconsistent for us to recommend it in good conscience. Instead, we feel that the still-quite-affordable Hamilton Beach coffee maker/2-way brew system delivers value beyond its price and is less likely to fizzle out on you when you need your morning fix.
Granted, its brew quality took third place in our taste test. But with its two brewing methods (single serve or carafe) in addition to its coffee pod compatibility, you get more flexibility from this machine than arguably any other on this list.