Once the province of just a few high-end manufacturers, thermal coffee makers are becoming a staple in the product line even of companies more closely associated with budget brewers. A thermal coffee maker works very much like a traditional drip coffee maker. However, instead of brewing into a glass carafe that sits on a heated element to keep the coffee hot, it brews the coffee into a specially constructed thermal carafe. Coffee experts say this maintains the initial flavor of the coffee, keeping it from further cooking and acquiring a "burnt" flavor. The thermal pot keeps the coffee warm for two hours or more, the same amount of time as a more traditional glass carafe set up. In addition, you can take the carafe with you to the table or outdoors -- it doesn't need to stay with the coffee maker to stay warm.
The Bonavita BV 1900TS (Est. $150) is one popular thermal coffee maker that gets a lot of love from both experts and owners. Coffee lovers say that this is the brewer they've been waiting for (or pretty close to it, anyway) and give it rave reviews for brewing a high-quality cup of coffee and keeping it hot and flavorful for hours. The BV 1900TS brews in in the ideal temperature range of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit and features a "showerhead" style spray, to more fully extract flavor from the ground coffee beans. This Bonavita also has a feature that allows you to pre-infuse the coffee grounds so they can de-gas before brewing begins. Some love that features, saying it makes for a more full-bodied, mellow cup of coffee. Others say they simply can't taste the difference and that the pre-infusion setting can be confusing.
While it makes an excellent cup of coffee, the Bonavita BV 1900TS is a bare-bones unit. It has no brew pause feature so you have to wait until it's completely done before grabbing your first cup. The good news is you won't have to wait long: It brews a full batch of coffee in seven minutes or less. Most agree that the electronic bells and whistles that this brewer lacks aren't really missed; many add that they are just one more thing to malfunction and that no one needs another appliance clock to blink after a power outage. The carafe is reported as very effective at keep the coffee warm for at least two hours, and we even saw a few comments from people who found their coffee was still hot after eight hours.
A new coffee maker drawing interest this year is the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker (Est. $200). It took the top spot in testing at TheSweethome.com, edging out the Bonavita by a hair due to being easier and more convenient to use. Owners like it too, saying it's a simple machine that makes a great cup of coffee. What keeps it out of our top spot is the relative dearth of professional reviews -- we only saw expert testing at TheSweethome.com -- and its higher price. Still, the OXO has something the Bonavita lacks: a programmable timer, something that's a must-have for those too bleary-eyed in the morning to deal with coffee making. And if you forget, no worries, it brews a full pot of coffee in about 7 minutes.
Other features on the OXO On 9-Cup are a freshness timer, so you know how long your coffee has been sitting in the carafe, and a dial to choose your cup size, 2 to 4 or 5 to 9. It's also pretty cool-looking, with a modern vibe that owners say looks sleek on the counter. The OXO also automatically pre-infuses the coffee grounds for maximum flavor.
The Technivorm Moccamaster KBGT (Est. $325) has long been acknowledged as the gold standard in thermal coffee makers and consistently lands at or near the top of most expert roundups. However, at more than twice the price of the Bonavita BV 1900TS, and with the Bonavita getting comparable reviews for performance, the Bonavita will be the logical choice for most people.
Still, the Technivorm is the one you want if you're looking for a truly high end, brag-worthy thermal coffee maker. It gets top marks in one professional test for its "smooth," "velvety" brew, and they say it meets time and temperature guidelines with utter consistency. While it's technically a drip coffee maker, it is engineered to heat the water to the ideal brewing temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and then spray and saturate the grounds, holding them until they have reached the optimal temperature for extracting maximum flavor.
The Moccamaster KBGT brews a full pot of 10 cups in about six minutes and the thermal carafe on the Moccamaster keeps coffee hot for two hours. In one professional test it lost a bit of heat in that time, but at two hours it still measured 150 degrees. It's also rated as very easy to use, although the carafe is often panned for not having a dedicated spout to funnel coffee; rather, the entire lip of the carafe is uniform. Most people don't mind this, but others say you have to be careful when pouring a cup of coffee.
While the Bonavita and the Technivorm are both undoubtedly great thermal carafe coffee makers, at around $150 even the Bonavita isn't what we'd call a great budget choice. Fortunately, we found one that is, the Mr. Coffee BVMC-PSTX91 Thermal Coffeemaker (Est. $60). While this 10-cup coffee maker is not included in any professional reviews, thousands of owners rave about how much improvement there is in overall coffee flavor from the first cup to the last with a thermal pot over a traditional hot plate. They also love that it makes very hot coffee, brewing at temperatures of up to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike the more expensive choices in this category, the Mr. Coffee also has some convenience features that many people say are must haves, such as a delay brew timer and auto pause for grabbing a cup mid-brew.
The Mr. Coffee BVMC-PSTX91 also gets high praise for being very easy to use. We read quite a few comments about how nice the removable water filter and side fill design are. Those who hate having to pull out their entire coffee maker from under the counter to make a pot of coffee particularly like this design. Of course, there are some who say this Mr. Coffee simply doesn't hit the performance sweet spot of higher-end thermal coffee makers, but most coffee lovers are completely pleased, saying this is one of the best brewers they've ever owned.
There are many people who will always associate the coffee-drinking experience with the unique bubbling sound of the electric percolator. And many say percolators make the best coffee, too, even if some experts may not agree. If you are among those who like the traditional coffee vibe that percolators provide, owners highly recommend the Presto 12-cup Stainless Steel Coffee Maker (Est. $40).
With its classic, stainless steel construction and straightforward operation, this Presto percolator gets raves from thousands of reviewers who say it makes an excellent cup of coffee. It's particularly popular with those who like their coffee very hot and very strong. Many say they went back to a percolator after using a drip system for years and are impressed with how well this coffee percolator performs; quite a few say they and their coffee-drinking relatives see this system as a big improvement. It's also very easy to use and clean.