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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs includes five tiers of requirements humans need in order to thrive. Typically illustrated by a pyramid shape, the hierarchy includes a baseline of physiological needs: food, water, warmth, etc. Those are all fine—but what about coffee? The Apartment Therapy staff seems to run mainly on caffeine, and therefore we take coffee very seriously, from the flavor to the variety to the brewing process. And we’re obviously not the only ones: Few things seem to be as sacred as one’s coffee-making ritual, and a huge part of that is the machine used to make it all happen. We polled the Apartment Therapy team to find the best coffee makers of all varieties.
What to Consider Before Buying a Coffee Maker
If you’re new to the coffee world, you might be flabbergasted by all the different types of coffee makers out there. When starting your search, deciding what type of machine you want is the biggest step—everything after that is secondary. So, let’s first dive into the most common types of coffee makers and the pros and cons of each:
Drip: Automatic drip coffee makers are incredibly popular and widely available, and you can find both straightforward, no-frills models and more advanced, professional options. Some can prep enough coffee for as many as 14 people, making them ideal for families. Automatic drip machines work by placing water in a reservoir and ground coffee beans in a filter—the water heats up and passes through the grounds, before dispensing piping-hot coffee into a carafe.
Manual: There are several different types of manual coffee makers, so this is a very broad category. French press, AeroPress, and pour-over coffee makers all fall under “manual,” and they all have their differences—but all of them give you more control and result in more robust flavors.
Pour over: While pour over coffee makers fall under the “manual” category, we gave them a separate section because of their popularity. They work exactly how they sound: You simply pour boiling water over the filter in waves, with the brew filtering into a carafe.
Single-serve: Highly convenient and easy to operate, single-serve coffee makers use measured pod capsules to brew a consistently perfect cup. Once you’re done, you just throw the pod away, leaving no mess to clean up. It’s foolproof and fast, but buying pods can get expensive—not to mention wasteful.
Cold brew: While iced coffee is made simply by adding ice to regularly brewed coffee, cold brew is entirely different. No heat is used at all, creating a more rich, distinctive brew. Making your own cold brew takes time no matter what (at least 24 hours), but can be kept for up to two weeks in the fridge.
Stovetop: For a strong brew, consider a stovetop coffee maker. Similar to espresso, coffee from the stovetop method has a deep flavor that might not appeal to everyone. It works by adding water to the bottom container and ground coffee to the top container, then heating it over the stove so the steam from the water brews the grounds.
Espresso: Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee drink typically served in one or two “shots.” There are several ways to make espresso—like regular coffee, you can make it manually or by using automatic machines. Another popular method is to use a capsule machine, which is the most low-effort route.
Once you’ve decided which coffee maker you prefer, it’s time to think about brew size. If you go for a single-serve machine or an AeroPress, you already know you’re getting something that’ll make one cup at a time. Most other machines give you options—for instance, the Chemex and Moka Pot comes in different sizes, depending what you’re looking for. If you have a large family, an automatic drip machine is probably your best bet for something easy that’ll brew several cups of coffee at once.
Are you looking for something you can pre-program so it’ll be ready as soon as you wake up, or do you want total control over the brewing process? Do you want a cup of coffee in under a minute, or are you fine with waiting a bit while you make breakfast? These are questions to ask yourself—manual coffee makers typically take longer than automatic models, and single-serve machines take no time at all compared to 12-cup makers.
What We Look For in a Coffee Maker
We tested a wide range of coffee makers to find the best, judging them on the following criteria:
It feels a bit impossible to declare any coffee maker the “best overall,” but the Moccamaster comes the closest. It’s an automatic drip machine that’s certified by the ECBC and the SCA for superior coffee brewing, plus comes with a longer warranty than most machines. It also features a manual drip-stop that lets you adjust brewing, so you can make a half pot, full pot, or just one cup on the go. Finally, there are two heating elements: a copper lining on the spray arm ensures consistent water temperature throughout the brewing process, while an energy-efficient hot plate keeps brewed coffee at an ideal temperature.
AT’s Director of Development Andrew Berry has the Moccamaster, and says: “I love how easy and consistent it is. I get a great cup of coffee every time, and it works just as well when I make a small or big batch. It’s quick too.” That sums up the main benefit of the Moccamaster: consistency. With a 5-year warranty and a reliable brewing process, this is a machine you’ll have (and enjoy) for a long time. It’s definitely on the expensive end but worth it for the durability and long-term consistency.
Who It’s Good For: Those who want the convenience of an automatic drip machine; those who want to invest in a machine that will last a long time.
Good to Know: It’s available in three colors.
If budget is your primary concern, meet the humble Mr. Coffee. Recommended by several AT staffers, Mr. Coffee is incredibly straightforward, with zero extra features and a small footprint. It’s so simple, in fact, that it has just an on/off switch—although you can pause the brewing cycle before it’s done if you need a cup ASAP. Other features include easy-to-read fill lines so you never have to worry about overflowing and a removable filter basket for easy cleaning.
“I’ve had this thing since I got my first apartment eight years ago,” says Home Projects Editor Megan Baker. “In that time, I’ve tried a couple other coffee makers that were given to me as gifts that actually broke before this one did! It’s extremely minimal and won’t make you the BEST cup of coffee of your life, but it will make a darn good one, and that’s really all I need on rushed mornings. The pot has a warmer that keeps coffee from getting cold, and the pot is dishwasher safe. So easy! You can set a timer to delay brew for a specific time but I never do, since it’s easy enough to start it up in the morning. It’s also the perfect height—I have lived in a couple different apartments and never had an issue tucking this under the upper cabinets.”
Who It’s Best For: Those who want something easy and straightforward; those who live with other coffee drinkers; those sticking to a budget.
Good to Know: It’s also available in white.
Not only is this drip coffee maker easy to use, but it’s also super compact, stylish, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, either. The water tank is removable for easy filling, and the filter cone sits inside the carafe, resulting in a smaller footprint and super straightforward functionality. The main draw, though, is the slim design, which is perfect for small apartments—plus, the smaller size makes it easy to handle when moving.
This coffee maker is a favorite of Real Estate Editor Madeline Bilis, who says, “It’s really compact (and sleek!), so I’ve been able to bring it along to several tiny apartments. It’s also held up for the past five years or so, which is impressive for a little coffee maker like this. But the design is pretty unique—you take out the water tank to fill it up, then put a filter and grounds right in the pot itself. It took a while to get used to making it that way, but it’s become super easy.” She also likes that each line is labelled on the carafe, so she never gets confused. As Madeline puts it: “Pre-coffee division is cruel, in my opinion.” We have to agree.
Who It’s Good For: Those who live in small spaces; those who live alone or with one person; those who want something straightforward.
Good to Know: It comes with a charcoal filter that will last up to two years.
Keurig is without a doubt the go-to brand for single-serve coffee makers, as they pioneered the single-use pod capsules that have taken over the coffee world. The K-Select model is a bit slimmer than other Keurig machines, and benefits from simple button controls that make it as easy as possible to get your perfect brew. Although it’s single-serve, the 52-oz. water reservoir is large enough that you can make five cups of coffee without having to refill it, and there are four cup sizes available so you can get the perfect amount whether you’re using a cup or travel mug.
This is the coffee maker my roommate and I used for two years. The convenience is truly unbeatable—you just put in a pod, and within one minute you have a cup of coffee ready to go. The variety of Keurig pods is fun to sample, but the environmental impact is a very serious con. Keurig has taken notice and is on track to have 100 percent recyclable K-Cup pods by the end of 2020.
Who It’s Good For: Those who need something fast and convenient; those who live alone; those who want plenty of coffee options.
Good to Know: It’s available in six different colors.
There’s a lot to love about the AeroPress: It’s small, inexpensive, and brews some incredibly smooth coffee without any bitterness or acidity. Here’s how it works: You place the chamber over your mug, with the filter cap covering the bottom of the chamber. Then, you scoop your coffee grounds into the chamber, add boiling water, stir, insert the plunger, and press until it reaches the grounds. The result of that immersion brewing is a rich flavor that you just can’t get with other methods.
Production Manager Karis Danish is a major proponent of the AeroPress, saying that it “makes the best-tasting coffee” she’s tried. “It’s excellent for me, a single lady, because I like to make coffee one cup at a time,” she says. “When I have guests over it is slightly annoying to go through the single-cup process multiple times, but it’s not really that annoying because it’s honestly very fast and streamlined to use. Plus it takes about 30 seconds to clean up and put away, and you use less coffee overall AND get a better tasting cup.”
Who It’s Best For: Those who want something with basically zero footprint; those who want a strong brew; those who want something they can travel with.
Good to Know: It comes with 350 microfilters that remove all the grit from your coffee.
Part of the manual coffee maker family, the Chemex is the go-to when it comes to the pour over method. All you have to do is place the coffee grounds in the filter at the top and slowly pour hot water in (the first pour should just make the grounds wet, allowing them to “bloom”). The result is a “pure” blend that’s free of bitterness or any sediment. In terms of appearance, you really can’t beat the Chemex. The elegant design, complete with wood collar and small size, actually elevates your counter space rather than clutters it.
The Chemex is popular in the AT office, thanks to its functionality, design, and low cost. “It’s suuuuper simply designed, which I dig!” says Grace McCaffrey, Director of Brand Partnerships. “I also like that the glass makes it transparent, and it has a lovely Scandi vibe to it that looks très chic in my kitchen.”
Who It’s Good For: Those who like control over the brewing process; those who want something stylish.
Good to Know: It’s dishwasher-safe.
Unlike iced coffee, cold brew is never heated—it’s made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for around 24 hours, resulting in a smoother flavor that’s also easier on the stomach. If you’re a cold brew convert, you’ll love this budget-friendly machine. All you do is add coffee grounds to the infuser, fill the pitcher with water, place the infuser inside the pitcher, then store it in the fridge until it’s ready. It’s also dishwasher safe, which is a huge plus when it comes to coffee makers.
AT’s Operations & Legal Affairs Manager Michael Kuhn uses this model, and recommends it because “it’s simple and effective.” According to Michael, “It’s extremely easy to use and clean up, and holds a lot of coffee.” As is common with cold brew, Michael says that “some people might think it makes a strong brew, but you can just dilute with water if it’s too much for you.” The coffee maker also features a fine mesh filter that keeps coffee grounds out of your brew—and the pitcher can withstand both boiling and freezing temperatures.
Who It’s Best For: Those sticking to a budget; those looking for something compact.
Good to Know: Once brewed, the cold brew can stay in your fridge up to two weeks.
If authenticity is important to you, you’re probably familiar with the Bialetti Moka pot. Designed and made in Italy, the Moka produces seriously strong coffee in under five minutes. The 6-cup model doesn’t actually produce 6 cups of coffee—it’s more like one mug, with a little left over. To use, just pour water into the lower chamber, insert the funnel, and fill it with ground coffee, place on your stovetop, and wait until the top compartment is full of hot coffee. You might need to do some trial and error with your stovetop to get the heat level right—and beware that you shouldn’t let the flames touch the sides of the Moka.
Commerce Director Mark Marino wrote a love letter to the Moka pot, which he discovered while traveling in Italy. According to him, this model “makes strong, piping-hot espresso in minutes, and the method couldn’t be simpler.” Not only that, but it reminds him of his favorite travel destination—”and seriously, though, it’s really quite a looker, no?” We couldn’t agree more.
Who It’s Good For: Those who want a strong brew; those who want something small and inconspicuous; those who want something traditional.
Good to Know: It’s also available in red.
Investing in an espresso machine is a real “treat yo self” moment, so you want to make sure you’re getting something worth your while. While there are plenty of super fancy, professional-looking machines, they tend to be pretty large, not to mention expensive. Therefore, we recommend this Nespresso, which is compact, easy to use, and, though not exactly budget-friendly, can usually be found on sale. It’s a single-serve machine that can brew everything from a single espresso shot to a 14-oz. cup of coffee, plus it comes with an Aeroccino for expert milk frothing.
To operate, pop in a Nespresso capsule, and within a few seconds you’ll have your caffeine fix. Used capsules are automatically ejected and moved to a built-in container—once that’s full, you can mail them back to Nespresso to recycle them. We have this Nespresso machine in the AT office, and, as you can probably imagine, it gets a whole lot of action. Not only does it have a small footprint, but it can also brew a variety of coffee drinks, making this an ultra versatile machine that’s worth the higher price.
Who It’s Good For: Those who want a streamlined machine; those looking for something versatile.
Good to Know: It comes with 12 Nespresso VertuoLine premium capsules.