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In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, business closures and lockdown measures motivated many DIY activities across the country, one of pushing shoppers to consider coffee makers, among other at-home niceties. Who could forget the flour shortage caused by the bread baking craze? With work from home continuing to be the norm for many, you may be missing your daily coffee shop stop on the way to the office. Access to your favorite coffee might have diminished in scope, but you've actually got many options at your fingertips to create a high quality — and delicious — cup of coffee at home.
It may be the right time to set up a proper coffee brewing situation in your space. It's certainly possible to brew an excellent cup of coffee from home and you might find that you'll save money in contrast to buying coffee at coffee shops. But what kind of coffee maker should you get and what are the best coffee makers out there? To help you get started with finding the best coffee maker for your taste and preferences and to help guide you on how to make coffee with a coffee maker, we consulted coffee experts for tips and recommendations.
Coffee makers starter guide: coffee maker basics
To start making coffee at home, you most likely want to get yourself a coffee maker or brewer of some sort — those come in many shapes and sizes and you can find them at many retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Wayfair, Home Depot, Macy's and more:
- Drip coffee makers heat water and disperse it evenly across a basket of coffee grounds
- Single-cup coffee makers brew one cup of coffee using a pod of coffee grounds (reusable or otherwise)
- Programmable coffee makers are typically drip-makers that allow you to schedule your brew and for increasingly smarter options.
- And manual coffee makers, the widest-ranging of the group, include several types: Some manual coffee makers require you to steep and then strain your coffee grounds, like the French press. Others rely on a vertical system that mimics a drip coffee maker — but you have to pour the hot water over the coffee grounds yourself.
A great brewer can’t fix a bad quality grind.
Scott Rao, Coffee Consultant and Author
So which coffee maker is right for you? And how should you even get started shopping for a coffee maker? According to coffee experts we consulted, the answer lies several steps ahead of brewing the coffee itself. A “good cup of coffee” from a home coffee brewer should be “flavorful, of the proper strength and non-astringent, or dry on the tongue,” said Scott Rao, a coffee consultant and author of “The Coffee Roasters Companion.”
“You may be surprised, but I would recommend investing more in a quality grinder than a brewer,” he told NBC News. “A great brewer can’t fix a bad quality grind.” Rao argued there are four descending qualities that “impact the quality of the final cup."
- The quality of the raw coffee beans
- Their roast quality
- The coffee beans' grind quality
- And, finally, the coffee maker's brew quality
Coffee makers and coffee beans
“As for coffee beans, like any food product, there is a range of quality out there,” said Jessica Easto, author of “Craft Coffee: A Manual,” adding that they directly impact your coffee, even from the best coffee maker. “Since coffee is only made of two ingredients (coffee and water), the ‘quality in’ is directly related to the ‘quality out.’” Even a skilled brewer can’t fix bad beans. Coffee is graded on a scale of 100. Specialty coffee beans, which she suggested you buy, must score an 80 or above on a quality scale set forth by the nonprofit Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCA).
Roasting is a complicated process but shopping for the best roast for you is not. Easto said that “the best roasters spend years perfecting their craft to learn how to evenly roast beans and unlock the flavors they want to unlock.” The level of roast comes down to personal preference. “With darker roasts, you are tasting more of the process of roasting coffee — those dark, smoky flavors associated with cooking,” she explained. But you may be trading strength of flavor for complexity.
Easto said that “lighter” roast profiles actually “allow the unique flavors of the bean itself to shine.” So choosing a lighter roast could open up your cup with a larger variety of flavors, which can range from “fruit flavors to nutty flavors to chocolate flavors, commonly served at craft coffee shops. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” Easto suggested, recommending you try new roasts and flavors. “After a while, you’ll get to know what you like.”
A coffee grinder might be just as important as your coffee maker
Rao considers the actual brewer, or coffee maker, last in his list of priorities when it comes to making the best coffee at home. The kind of grinder you opt for mostly depends on your price point and how much of the grinding work you want it to do for you. A burr grinder, for example, grinds a few beans at a time between two revolving abrasive surfaces and allows you to adjust your grind size. “I recommend a very coarse grind for French press, while a drip maker likely does better with a medium to medium-fine grind size,” Easto noted.
Do whole coffee beans go bad? Yes, Easto said, but average coffee drinkers may not notice. “If you're drinking a cup or two a day, you'll go through the bag in a week,” she explained, “which isn't long enough for an average palate to notice a big difference in quality.”
Rao and Easto both highly recommend investing in a coffee grinder. But if that’s out of your at-home coffee brewing budget, they argued that store-ground coffee is typically better from local roasters, whom you can ask to grind the coffee for you.
Best coffee grinders to shop
“It is a pricey purchase, but Baratza makes high-quality machines that last a long time,” Easto said of the brand that makes her favorite electric burr grinder. While it’s an entry-level coffee grinder in the brand’s inventory, she noted it’s still an excellent choice to level up your home coffee brewing. This coffee grinder comes with 40 different grind settings to get the right consistency for whichever brewing method you prefer. The combination of alloy steel burrs and a DC motor is meant to achieve an even grind. Choose your preferred setting, flip the ON switch and the grinder will do the rest.
Easto is also a fan of manual versions of burr grinders. “Yes, it takes some elbow grease but they are much cheaper and great for traveling,” she said. This mini will set you back less than $100, though it isn’t great for preparing large pots of coffee — unless you’re also looking for a workout. The Porlex Mini Coffee Grinder can hold up to 20 grams of coffee beans. The ceramic conical burrs provide a wide range of grinds, from coarse ground for French Press to a fine ground for Espresso.
If you’re looking for the best affordable buy for a grinder, it has to be something from the Hario line, Easto argued. These grinders are manual, like the one from Porlex, but are more affordable. It’s still not ideal for large batches of coffee, since it can only hold up to 35 grams, but might very well suit a solo Saturday morning cup. The Hario also features adjustable ceramic burrs to grind your coffee to the right, even consistency.
Yummy flavor compounds are quickly destroyed over a hot plate. To retain the taste of larger batches of coffee, it
Jessica Easto, Author of “Craft Coffee: A Manual"
Coffee maker types: automatic, manual, pour-over and immersion
You’ve likely seen coffee makers at coffee shops and offices, and might have one at home. Most coffee makers fall into one of a handful of categories: manual brewers, drip brewers, and single-cup brewers. Whether you go manual or choose an automatic drip machine is up to you.
When it comes to manual brewing, Easto noted that pour-over devices “require a bit more technique and some work best with special kettles, but there are tons to choose from at a bunch of different price points.” If you enjoy the ceremony and ritual of making coffee, a pour-over brewer might be your best choice. “Most pour-over devices are shaped like cones, which are set over a cup or carafe,” Easto explained. “You add a filter and the coffee, and then pour water over it — hence the name.”
People who drink both coffee and tea will be more familiar with the full immersion style. “Full immersion divisions let the coffee steep in the water for the whole brew cycle, like tea,” she explained, adding that the most popular example is the French press. “It's super easy and you don't really need special equipment to use it, so I always recommend it to people trying to dip their toe into manual coffee,” she said.
How to shop for the best coffee maker
Easto prioritizes three qualities to look for when shopping for coffee makers:
- It’s able to reach “proper brew temperature,” generally between 195 degrees and 205 degrees.
- It “sustains the brew temperature for the length of the brew cycle.”
- And it “ensures the water is in contact with the coffee for the right amount of time.”
“Generally speaking, a typical coffee maker brews too cool or hot, has wild temperature fluctuations throughout the brew cycle and doesn't have a long enough brew cycle,” she argued, noting most coffee makers fail to meet her qualifications. But that’s also a lot to look for, she admitted, and potentially a heavy load of research on the shopper. If you’re planning to shop for an automatic coffee maker, Easto suggested consulting those certified by the SCA, which tests a range of automatic home brewers. “Look for a machine that brews into an insulated carafe, as opposed to brewing into a carafe that is kept warm on a hot plate,” she advised, especially if you plan to brew large batches.
“Yummy flavor compounds are quickly destroyed over a hot plate,” Easto said. “To retain the taste of larger batches of coffee, it's better to never let the coffee cool in the first place.”
Best coffee makers
Here are Easto’s top picks for best coffee makers, as well as options for those who prefer manual or automatic brewing. They fall into a wide range of prices, though both experts agree the grinder is where you should invest more of your cash. And, of course, the best coffee maker for you depends on how you plan to use — and how often, given the investment.
Best automatic coffee makers and brewers
You can get this brewer from Breville with a glass carafe (the BDC400 model) or a stainless steel thermal carafe (the BDC450 model) — which is the one you want. It features a ‘gold cup’ preset mode that automatically adjusts the water temperature and brew times to meet the standards set by the SCA. When the carafe is not in place, the steep-and-release valve automatically holds the water in contact with the coffee for brewing a small cup.
Bonavita’s automatic coffee maker brews eight cups at a time and uses a thermal carafe, as well. This highly-rated coffee maker boasts it can brew those eight cups' worth of coffee in about six minutes. Its pre-infusion mode can mimic the pour-over approach to brewing but in the much easier machine form. The 1500-watt water heater helps maintain the optimal brewing temperature of 195 degrees to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. The showerhead design and flat-bottom filter basket are meant to provide uniform flavor extraction. The carafe lid, filter basket and showerhead are all dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up.
This Cuisinart Coffee Brewer is also meant to give you the pour-over approach in an easy-to-use machine. It does this by pre-wetting the grounds, allowing the coffee flavors to “bloom.” Choose between mild, medium and bold flavor strengths and hot or extra hot temperature control. The coffee maker also has a self-clean feature and can be programmed up to 24 hours in advance. The SCA has certified this coffee maker an exemplary home brewer.
This automatic drip coffee maker is on the pricey side, but it hits all the key points like proper brew temperature, sustained brewing temperature and thermal carafe. It sports a 9-hole spray arm that evenly disperses water over the entire grind, and the copper lining along the spray arm helps to keep the water temperature consistent. With just the press of a button, the Technivorm Moccamaster can brew 40 ounces in under six minutes. Easto uses one of these brewers in her own home and approves of anything from the Moccamaster line.
This automatic drip-brewer from kitchen-favorite brand OXO gets SCA’s stamp of approval. Thanks to the double-wall carafe, you can take your pot to the breakfast table to ensure your coffee stays hot for longer so that, as Easto explained, the compounds that give your coffee the flavor you love don’t get destroyed on the hot plate. If you’re brewing a cup just for yourself there is a single-serve function that makes enough for just one mug. The OXO model also features an intuitive LED interface that not only indicates the status of your brew but the freshness of the coffee as well.
Best manual coffee makers and brewers
Here is a simple set for those who are ready to try pour-over brewing at home. It comes with a 6-cup carafe, a pour-over cylinder, a coffee scoop and five coffee filters. Although you may need to invest in a special kettle to regulate your water temperature, this is one of the most affordable options for the serious coffee home brewer. The brand makes another set with a thermal carafe to keep coffee warm.
The Chemex has always been a solid choice for crafting pour-over coffee. There is a special art to wetting the filter — if you want to get really fancy — and the brand suggests buying their filters, which they claim are 20-30 percent thicker than the standard kind. The wood collar and leather tie serve as an insulated handle and can be removed to place the glass in the dishwasher for easy clean-up.
Easto counts the Hario V60 among her favorite pour-over coffee brewers for consistent results at an entry-level point price. The silicone band is cool to the touch for easy handling and can be removed for cleaning. The coffee decanter comes with the glass pot, dripper and a 40 count of filters. Hario recommends pouring the water quickly for a delicate body or slowly for a heavier flavor.
Bestselling coffee makers at Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, Wayfair and more
To give you an idea of the vast array of coffee makers out there, we checked into the bestselling models across major retailers.
Amazon bestselling coffee machine: Mr. Coffee
This model runs at just under $30 and sports a 4.5-star average rating from more than 19,200 reviewers on Amazon. You can program your brew up to 24 hours in advance and auto-shutoff will keep things safe. There is also an auto-pause feature that will stop the brew cycle if you need a cup sooner. The glass carafe that's included can hold up to 12 cups and is dishwasher-safe.
Wayfair bestselling coffee machine: Hamilton Beach
This flexible coffee maker can either help you brew Keurig's K-Cups or brew up to 12 cups of coffee into the included carafe. You can program the coffee maker to make your brew fresh in the morning and it also has an automatic shut-off feature to protect the machine. More than 2,000 Wayfair reviewers left FlexBrew a 4.7-star average rating.
Walmart bestselling coffee machine: Ninja
The Ninja Coffee Brewer allows you to choose between two custom brew strengths: Classic or Rich. It also has a 24-hour programmable delay so that you can wake up to a fresh cup of coffee already made. You can brew a full carafe but if you’re looking for a little less coffee use the small batch function to make sure your coffee is not diluted. The adjustable warming plate will keep your batch of coffee warm so you can enjoy an afternoon pick-me-up. The Ninja Coffee Brewer has a 4.4-star average rating from over 290 Walmart customers.