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.
There are a few basic 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. The pods are inserted into a holder that, when closed, pierces the pod with needles. Hot water then flows through the pod, 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; some need water added before each cup is brewed. Pods 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 -- many pods are not recyclable, others only partially so.
There are a few drip-style, single-cup coffee makers. These 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 use 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. They also seem to be more plagued with durability issues and there are more complaints of leakage and messes than with pod coffee makers.
Multi-use coffee makers are the most versatile. If you don't want to be tied to pods, but would like the option of using them if you so choose, the single-serve, multi-use coffee maker is worth a look. It can brew coffee drip-style from grounds, or brew from pods, allowing for an even greater variety in coffee flavors. They also enable a higher degree of customization as you can adjust brew strength by using more or fewer grounds, as well as varying the amount of water. These can also make tea, soups and hot cereals.
Many pod coffee makers have the option of purchasing a separate filter for using ground coffee, but, in general, they are widely panned for performance when not using pods.
Manual, pour over coffee drippers are highly customizable. For the true coffee lover who has the patience to wait a few minutes, a pour over coffee dripper is a must-have. They're very low-tech, just pour hot water into a filter and allow it to drip into the cup below. There may be some steeping and pressing involved as well, that's where the customization comes in, but they're really not very hard to use and get raves for making the best coffee -- tastier than a French press, reviewers say, and without the grit. The downside is that its hands on. You have to boil water, measure grounds -- and grind your own, if that's your thing -- pour carefully, and wait several minutes. Sometimes you also have to press or stir. 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.
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 pot of coffee and having it immediately available to 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.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Large Pod Coffee Makers: Super convenient and wildly popular, this type of coffee maker can keep you in java all day or brew individual cups of Joe for a crowd, and there are hundreds of pod varieties available.
Best Small One-Cup Coffee Makers: Some are pod-style, some are traditional drip coffee makers that use ground coffee, but all are convenient and easy to use.
Best Multi-Use, Single-Serve Coffee Makers: Versatile, customizable and convenient, multi-use coffee makers allow you to use either pods or ground coffee. You can even make tea, soup and hot cereals.
Best Pour Over Coffee Drippers: For the ultimate cup of coffee, manual, pour over coffee makers allow you to control every step of the brewing process
Buying Guide: Want to avoid buyer's remorse tomorrow morning? Our Buying Guide explains what to look for in a single cup coffee maker.
Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top one-cup coffee makers, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.