Once the province of 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 is stored 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.
The gold standard in thermal coffee makers and the top choice of experts and coffee aficionados alike is the Technivorm Moccamaster KBGT 741 (Est. $300). 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 texture for extracting maximum flavor. All that and it brews a full pot of 10 cups in about six minutes.
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.
At first glance, owner reviews for the Moccamaster KBGC 741 appear mixed, but a careful examination explains why. Serious coffee enthusiasts love this coffee maker because their whole focus is on a premium taste experience and they're willing to put a few more minutes into the preparation, or to wait a bit longer for their first morning cup. The complaints we saw were things like a lack of a delay timer so the coffee's already brewed in the morning, and no automatic shut off.
This is a basic machine that has one purpose -- to make a delicious cup of coffee. Those who buy it with that expectation are thrilled with their purchase. In fact, we saw several reviews where the owner was leery of using what seemed to be a very low-tech machine after relying on the bells and whistles of more common drip coffee makers, but came back after several months to revisit their review and praise the Technivorm's performance. It's certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America
It's about half the price of the Technivorm, but the Bonavita BV 1800TH (Est. $160) is ranked right up there with the pricier Moccamaster in several professional tests and expert reviews. The thermal sister to our Best Reviewed Drip Coffee Maker, the Bonavita BV 1800 (Est. $130), it gets equally good reviews for brewing a high-quality cup of coffee and keeping it hot and flavorful for hours. Owners love its minimalist vibe, saying it feels like they're making a very customized cup of coffee, without the coffee bar price. Most agree that it's quiet, fast and easy to use. We found a number of reviewers who particularly like the clearly marked reservoir. The carafe is reported as very effective at keep the coffee warm for at least two hours, and one reviewer says his stays hot overnight.
Like its glass carafe sibling, the 1800TH 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 about seven minutes. Most agree that the electronic bells and whistles they gave up are just one more thing to malfunction and that no one needs another appliance clock to blink after a power outage.
Bunn also makes a popular line of thermal coffee machines, but they have recently discontinued the Bunn HT, which was included in several professional tests we reviewed. However, the Bunn Velocity Brew BT (Est. $130) is still available and gets better owner reviews in general than the Technivorm. Users say it's a workhorse that will consistently brew one great pot of coffee after the other -- often for years. It has the same type of heat, spray and hold technology that Technivorm uses and that experts say makes the optimal cup of coffee. One notable pro: Bunn's customer service gets high praise for responsiveness. A number of owners said their unit broke after several years and Bunn sent them a brand new coffee maker with no questions asked. Bunn coffee makers have a three-year warranty.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Coffee Makers
The five best coffee makers you can buy, as identified by expert reviews, user reviews, and our own analysis
Drip coffee makers
This is the most common type of coffee maker, but don't settle for common performance.
Grind and brew coffee makers
These handy 2-in-1 machines give you the freshest coffee in the shortest time.
Want to avoid buyer's remorse tomorrow morning? Our Buying Guide explains what to look for in a coffee maker.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top coffee makers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.