What every best coffee maker has

  • Capacity: Most standard coffee makers can brew between four and 12 cups per batch, but some offer a small batch setting for the option to make less than a full pot. Others are geared to producing only a few cups; those are less expensive and best suited for offices, dorm rooms or families with only one coffee drinker.
  • Programming features: Many coffee makers can be programmed to brew at a certain time each day, great for those who need a cup of coffee ready for them when they wake up in the morning. However, some are geared to producing a cup of coffee more quickly, minimizing the need for programming, or are basic models with few features.
  • Pause and brew: If you have pushed the brew button, but just can't wait for your first cup of coffee in the morning, coffee makers with pause-and-brew functions allow you to sneak a cup mid-brew without making a mess.
  • Automatic shut-off: If your morning routine is hurried, it's easy to forget to turn off the coffee pot. Many coffee makers have automatic shut-off features, some after a fixed period of time, others a user-selected interval, typically between one and four hours after use.
  • Water filters: A number of coffee makers include carbon water filters, which reduce the amount of chlorine and other impurities in tap water. If your coffee maker doesn't have one, using filtered water could improve taste. These coffee makers also work just fine without the filter installed. Reusable filters eliminate the need to constantly purchase paper filters, but they require regular care to avoid residue buildup.
  • Warranty: Most coffee makers have a minimum one-year warranty, but some offer warranties up to three years.

Know before you go

Do you want a standard (drip) or thermal coffee maker? The main difference between thermal coffee makers and standard drip coffee makers is that thermal coffee makers brew directly into an insulated carafe instead of a glass carafe. These insulated carafes are designed to maintain hotter temperatures after coffee is brewed, thus eliminating the need for a warming plate.

Cook's Illustrated editors recommend thermal coffee makers in general over their standard counterparts, noting that the glass carafe and hot plate combination on most standard machines tends to quickly turn fresh-brewed coffee acidic, while thermal carafes maintain temperatures without producing an acidic flavor. However, standard coffee makers are generally less expensive -- sometimes substantially so -- and often draw good user reviews for value, durability and the quality of coffee they produce.

Do you prefer to grind your own beans? Coffee grinders are available as stand-alone units or as a built-in component of grinder-brewer combos. However, combo coffee makers -- such as the Krups Grinder and Brewer KM7000 (*Est. $160) or Cuisinart Grind and Brew DGB-550BK (*Est. $100) -- get mixed feedback for the quality of the grind, and some experts say stand-alone grinders do a better job of grinding beans to the right consistency.

Our report on coffee grinders covers the best models. Still, if you're looking for a simple solution and aren't terribly picky about obtaining a precise grind, a grinder-brewer combo can save valuable countertop real estate.

Measure your cabinets. Some coffee makers are taller, requiring more clearance between countertops and the bottom of your cabinets. If your coffee maker is too tall to fit, you'll need to determine where you'll store it when it's not in use.

Is a manual coffee maker right for you? If flavor is your top priority, and you don't mind taking extra time to produce the perfect cup of joe, you might consider a specialty coffee maker, like the Aerobie AeroPress (*Est. $30). LifeHacker.com says these manual coffee-press gadgets allow for the most control over each necessary variable to extract the most flavor from ground coffee beans.

Check for specific grind requirements. Certain types of coffee makers perform better with finer or coarser grinds than what's used in most automatic drip coffee makers.

Watch the video

To learn more, watch this About.com video on how to choose a coffee maker.

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