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A Buyer's Guide to Choosing the Right Coffee Maker
Nothing beats the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. And if you’re like me, you probably cringe at the idea of spending $4 a day on a tall “cuppa” from your local coffee shop (or that big-name chain we all love).
Investing in a good coffee maker will save you money, time and allow you to brew coffeehouse-style drinks right in your own kitchen. But finding the right machine isn’t easy (I know). That’s why I created this guide to help you find the best coffee maker for your needs and budget. First thing’s first, let’s take a look at what types of coffee machines are available.
Understand the Different Types of Coffee Makers
At one time, drip coffee makers were the only real option for home coffee drinkers. But today, you’ll find numerous types of machines on store shelves, including:
Pod or K-Cup Machines
These use pre-packaged pods (or K-Cups if you’re using a Keurig brand machine) to brew coffee. Just put the pod into the machine, press a button and hot water is sent through the cup to your mug.
Pod machines are sometimes called “single cup” coffee makers because each pod only contains enough grounds for one cup. Some manufacturers do sell carafes, so you can brew multiple cups at a time. You’ll also find some coffee makers offering larger pods for multi-cup pots.
Pump Espresso Maker
Pump espresso machines are what you’ll find in your local coffee shop. They brew up a mean cup of espresso at just the right temperature. That’s because the machine uses a temperature-controlled boiler that first heats up the water to the optimal temperature for coffee brewing (between 185f and 197f). Once the water reaches the right temperature, water passes through the coffee grounds at just the right bar pressure.
While these machines can be a little pricey, I’ve found that they’re the best coffee maker for espresso. And most come with a steaming attachment, so you can make lattes and cappuccinos right in your own kitchen.
Your grandparents probably used a stove-top percolator to brew coffee every morning. Percolators have two chambers: one for water, and one for ground coffee. The coffee chamber is just above the water chamber. Once the water starts boiling, it’s forced up into a tube, down through the coffee and into a special compartment.
Today, you can buy stove-top percolators, or electric pots that have their own heating element.
Many people confuse percolators and moka pots. They’re similar, but not exactly the same. Moka pots come with three components: a boiler, metal coffee filter and an upper chamber. The boiler is filled with water, the metal filter is filled with ground coffee and the top chamber screws onto the boiler base.
The design of the pot forces boiling water up through a funnel and the metal filter and into the upper chamber. Moka pots are commonly used in Latin America and Europe. They’re a great alternative to a pump espresso machine and come at a very affordable price.
Drip or Filter Machines
Drip coffee makers are what most people are familiar with. Cold water is poured into the top of the machine and ground coffee is placed in a filter. The heating element inside the machine warms the water, which drips through the coffee and into the carafe below. A warming plate keeps the carafe warm.
Drip machines are great for brewing large pots of coffee, and the warming plate can keep your pot hot all day long if you want it to.
The French press is a more like a teapot than a coffee maker, but it’s used all throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Here’s how it works:
- Place freshly ground, coarse coffee into the press.
- Fill the press with water.
- Pull the plunger up and wait 3-4 minutes.
- Push the plunger down and let the pot sit for a few minutes to let the sediment settle.
- Pour and enjoy!
A French press will extract the most flavor from your coffee beans, creating a rich and robust “cup of joe”.
Knowing what types of machines are available is a great start, but your coffee-drinking habits can help you pick the right machine for your needs.
What Kind Of Coffee Drinker Are You?
It’s easy to spend hundreds (even thousands!) of dollars on a coffee machine with all the bells and whistles – digital displays, touchscreen functionality and automatic programming. But if you only drink coffee occasionally, these machines may be a little over-the-top for you.
So, before you even start looking at machines, ask yourself: what type of coffee drinker am I?
Do you drink a lot of coffee? If you’re the type who only needs one cup of coffee to kick-start your day, a single-cup brewer (or pod machine) may be your best option. If you need two or three cups (like me) or you have more than one coffee-drinker at home, you may want to opt for a bigger machine.
What type of coffee do you drink? Do you prefer a shot of espresso, or a big mug of Caffè Americano (a.k.a. American-style coffee)? If you drink espresso, cappuccinos or lattes, you’ll need a specialty coffee machine. A moka pot or pump espresso maker will be your best option.
How often do you drink coffee? I drink three cups per day, but they’re spread out throughout the morning and afternoon. If you’re like me, a coffee maker with an insulated carafe or mug is a great option. These are commonly found with drip coffee makers, but some pod machines have them as well. Warming plates are great too (they come with just about every drip coffee machine), but they can cause the coffee to taste stale or burnt after a while.
Once you know what your coffee drinking habits are, you can decide what type of machine is right for you and finally start shopping for your new coffee maker.
Read My Coffee Maker Reviews
There are hundreds of coffee makers on the market today. Finding the right one can be a challenging task. Who has time to research all of the models out there?
I’ve done all the hard work for you and reviewed some of the best machines you can buy. From the best espresso machine to the top-selling coffee makers, I’ve covered it all.
I base my reviews on five important criteria: Build Quality, Price, Design/Features, Maintenance/Cleaning and Durability/Longevity. Some machines I’ve owned. Others I’ve tested personally. In either case, I share my honest experience and thoughts on each machine I review to help you save time and money.
Final Thoughts & Considerations Before You Buy
There are a few final things I should mention here. One important thing is coffee grinders. If you plan on buying a machine that doesn’t come with an integrated grinder, I highly recommend buying one. Freshly ground coffee produces the best-tasting, most flavorful cup of coffee. Plus, a grinder gives you more control over the strength and taste of your coffee.
Other features that you may want to consider are:
- Programmable settings: Automatically starts your coffee machine in the morning, after work or whenever you want.
- Self-clean: Let’s face it – no one likes cleaning their coffee maker (I know I don’t). A self-cleaning machine is a great option for those who are always on-the-go and don’t have time to clean their machine.
- Brew strength: Some machines allow you to brew stronger or weaker pots of coffee, so you can choose just the right setting for your taste.