Single-cup coffee makers allow variety and customization
There's a lot to love about single-cup coffee makers. Each cup is brewed when it's wanted, so every cup is a fresh cup of coffee. They also give you endless options for different varieties of coffee -- maybe start your morning with a jolt of a bold blend, then make your second cup something a bit mellower. Even better, most one-cup coffee makers can also make hot cocoa, tea, or even instant soups and hot cereals, which makes them very versatile.
Types of one-cup coffee makers
Pod-style coffee makers are the simplest to use. You just purchase boxes of "pods" that are pre-filled with coffee grounds. Keurig was the first type of pod coffee maker and their K-cups are still wildly popular and can be used in a number of other pod-style coffee makers as well. The pods are inserted into a holder that, when closed, pierces the pod with needles. Hot water then flows through the K-Cup, brewing the coffee into a cup placed under the spout. Some pod coffee makers have a reservoir so you can brew multiple cups before refilling; others need water added before each cup is brewed. K-cups come in hundreds of varieties, including cocoas, teas and fruity drinks -- some are intended to be served iced. Pod coffee makers also dispense plain hot water for making instant soups or hot cereals. Some customization is available by adjusting the water quantity, but not with the pods themselves. There are two downsides to pod coffee makers. The first is that the cost per cup of coffee is higher than with ground coffee. The second is the environmental impact -- K-cup pods are not recyclable or biodegradable, others, such as those made by other coffee companies, are partially biodegradable. Keurig has pledged to make all of its pods recyclable by 2020.
Some pod-style coffee makers are more versatile than pod-only machines and can both brew ground coffee and accept K-Cups. There are even a few drip-style, single-cup coffee makers around; the most popular of these are smaller machines that brew directly into a thermal travel mug for to-go convenience. These types of one-cup coffee makers are not as common as pod-style, single-serve coffee makers, but people who want the convenience of a one-cup coffee maker, yet don't want to be tied only to pods like these machines. They tend to cost less, overall, than pod-style coffee makers, but they don't get as good of reviews in general for performance, with more complaints of leakage and messes than with pod coffee makers.
French press is a hands on experience. For the true coffee lover who has the patience to wait a few minutes, a manual coffee maker -- like a press pot for making French press-style coffee, an immersion system for espresso, or a coffee dripper for pour-over -- are absolute must-haves.
Of these types of manual coffee makers, the French press is one of the most popular. Technically, French press isn't just a single serve coffee maker. Many French presses will make multiple cups, although a "cup" is actually only about four ounces, not our American eight, so keep that in mind when shopping for a French press. We cover French press in this report because this is where manual coffee makers are the best fit. Other manual coffee makers, like immersion or pour-over style, usually make only one cup at a time -- two if you don't mind a small cup. All manual coffee makers are fairly simple to use and instructions for using them are as close as a Google search away.
The downside to manual coffee makers is that they require some work. You have to boil water, measure grounds -- and grind your own first, if that's your thing -- pour carefully, and wait several minutes. Sometimes you also have to stir or press or both. People who just want a quick cup of coffee don't think it's worth the hassle, but these simple coffee makers are becoming increasingly popular with coffee enthusiasts both at home and in coffee shops because they really do make an excellent brew, and many love the almost meditative process of customizing each cup.
If you're that into making your own coffee, you're probably grinding your own beans as well. In that case, you'll want to see our report on coffee grinders. However, if you still just like brewing a full pot of coffee and having it immediately available for your family -- or just for you -- see our report on coffee makers. There, we cover traditional drip coffee makers of all styles and at many sizes and price points.
Finding the best coffee makers
Single-cup coffee makers get a lot of coverage from both expert and owner reviewers, so narrowing down our top picks was pretty easy to do. We pored over the results of professional tests from ConsumerReports.org, Cook's Illustrated, Good Housekeeping and CNET. We also found some roundups that were a bit more casual, but were obviously written by those who know and love their coffee. There are also plenty of in-depth, single reviews, especially of manual coffee makers, and they were very helpful in evaluating performance and ease of use. Last, but definitely not least, we evaluated thousands of owner reviews to see how the experts' choices performed and held up over time in real kitchens. The results are our picks for the best single-cup coffee makers, so grab a cup of your favorite joe and enjoy.