What the best one-cup coffee makers have

  • Serving size: A compact coffee maker can be a solid buy if you're strapped for counter space -- but its brewing capability should be an equally important consideration. Blogger Tony Martinez points out that beverage sizes vary among machines; some brew less than enough joe to fill a small mug, while others dispense enough coffee to fill a larger container.
  • Programmable: Because some coffee makers stay powered on to maintain water temperature, they can consume a lot of electricity. Programmable models, however, can be set to turn on, heat up and brew at a certain time.
  • Water tank size: One-cup coffee makers with a larger water tank are capable of brewing more consecutive cups without needing a tank refill and the corresponding wait time for the water to heat up, according to SingleServeCoffee.com.
  • Pod compatibility: One of the biggest downsides to pod-style coffee machines is the need to use expensive proprietary pods or discs. However, CoffeeWiz.com offers a useful compatibility chart covering major single-serve coffee manufacturers.
  • Price per pod: Before purchasing a one-cup coffee maker, consider how much each pod will cost on average. Some pods, such as Nespresso capsules, are more expensive per pod than Keurig K-Cups. Editors of CoffeeDetective.com note that automatic drip coffee makers are the most economical solution.
  • Flexibility: If you want make hot tea or cocoa in addition to coffee, a pod coffee maker is probably the best choice. Brands such as Keurig come with a wide selection of pods, including cider, teas and cocoas, for users with varying tastes. CoffeeDetective.com points out that the options are limitless with automatic drip coffee makers, however.
  • Warranty: Choose a one-cup coffee maker with a considerable warranty, especially if you're going with a higher-priced model. If you're spending $150 or more, you'll want it to last more than just a few months.
  • Price: One-cup coffee makers vary significantly in price, ranging from $25 for standard one-cup drip brewers or some manual models, while pod machines can easily cost upward of $100.
  • Cost of ownership: If you choose a pod coffee maker, the ongoing cost of pods will contribute to the overall cost of ownership. Check to see what other items will need to be purchased on a regular basis, such as proprietary filters.

Know before you go

Do you want manual control over brew strength? Although the strength of a brewed cup is largely dependent on the coffee itself, some models do allow users to manually adjust the strength of each cup. Total manual operation, however, means you'll need to babysit the brewing process.

Is temperature control important? Not everyone has the same opinion about how hot coffee should be, so having the ability to adjust temperature is an important feature for some consumers. Additionally, coffee drinkers who add refrigerated creamer or milk to their joe may need to start with a hotter brew. Home-Barista.com points out that manual models offer more precise control over variables such as temperature, since users preheat the water.

Will your machine live on the counter? For most coffee drinkers, their brewer is an appliance that sees daily use. That said the machine is usually kept out on the counter for easy access. You'll want to be sure it will fit under your kitchen cabinets, so measure before you shop. Bryan Gardiner for Wired magazine says some one-cup units are "counter hogs," despite their single-cup function. If it's too tall to fit, you'll need to decide where to store it when it's not in use. Manual coffee makers, such as the Mypressi Twist V2, are easily stored in drawers.

What are the necessary accessories? Both manual and automatic drip one-cup coffee makers need coffee grounds and a filter. As Good Housekeeping magazine's Sharon Franke points out, manual coffee makers also require preheated water, so you'll need access to a pan and a stove; manual machines therefore aren't the best choice for office use.

Do you want to go eco-friendly? Pod coffee containers packaged in biodegradable paper filters are more environmentally friendly than plastic or aluminum packets, especially if you brew multiple cups a day. However, in Slate magazine, Jacob Leibenluft notes that pod coffee makers also generate more waste than automatic-drip machines.

Buying tactics and strategies

One of the biggest downsides noted for one-cup pod coffee makers is the ongoing expense of purchasing pods, which tend to cost more per cup than grinding beans or purchasing pre-ground coffee for an automatic drip machine. However, users can save by purchasing bulk coffee pods from online vendors, such as CoffeeforLess.com. Bulk orders are also available through Green Mountain Coffee directly; the company carries the majority of K-Cup products for Keurig brewers.

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