Pod coffee makers are beloved for their convenience, just pop in a pre-loaded K-Cup, press a button (or two) and you have coffee in a minute or less. With small pod coffee makers you have to pour water in before every cup; larger pod coffee makers have a reservoir to allow you to make several cups in a row, or just have coffee-on-demand all day long.
However, some people do not like the idea of a reservoir at all, preferring to use fresh water for each cup. If that's you, we also cover small one-cup coffee makers in this report. If you like to control every facet of the brewing process for the ultimate cup of coffee, you won' want to miss our discussion of French press coffee makers, where we also cover other types of manual coffee makers.
Keurig is THE name in pod coffee makers but their consumer brewer offerings have been in flux for a couple of years now. The original Keurig technology is a pod called the K-Cup. This invention revolutionized the coffee industry, according to experts, and the Keurig brewers that use K-Cups have been the most popular single-serve coffee makers for quite some time. However, when the original K-Cup patent expired in 2012, it led to a spate of lower-cost K-Cup knockoffs that undercut Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' (Keurig's parent company) K-Cup monopoly.
That's when the company introduced the Keurig Vue, which used proprietary Vue Packs instead of K-Cups. However, the Vue wasn't popular with consumers and has since been discontinued. Green Mountain then introduced the Keurig 2.0, which brews a single cup of coffee from K-Cups as well as a four-cup carafe using a new product called the K-Carafe. There currently are four models of Keurig 2.0 brewers manufactured for consumer use.
At this time, the only non-2.0 Keurig brewer the company manufactures is the Keurig K10 Mini Plus (Est. $95), covered in our discussion of best small one-cup coffee makers. In addition, the popular Keurig K45 that uses the original K-Cups can still be found at retail, although it had been discontinued. When we spoke to Keurig's corporate representative, we learned that the company plans to again start manufacturing the Keurig K45 and it will be on the market in time for Black Friday. However, the K45 brewer is being updated to use 2.0 technology.
When we were compiling this report last year, the Keurig 2.0 had not been on the market long, and was widely panned by both experts and owners because the 2.0 machines would not work with the original Keurig K-Cups, or with any unauthorized third-party K-Cup knockoffs and, unlike the original Keurig K-Cup system, the 2.0 system would not let you use a filter and your own grounds to brew coffee. Since then, quite a few hacks have been developed that can "trick" a Keurig 2.0 into reading any type of K-Cup and several manufacturers have developed generic, refillable K-Cups and K-Carafes that will work with a 2.0 brewer. In addition, Keurig has announced that a reusable My-Cup that can be used with a 2.0 brewer will be back on the market by the holidays. If you're interested in reading more about the drama that ensued after the introduction of the 2.0 series, this excellent article from The Verge offers a detailed overview.
Regardless of the oft-confusing state of the Keurig brewer product line, there's no reason not to buy a machine that uses any type of K-Cups because they will always be around and pod-style coffee makers are still very popular for their convenience factor. That's why we're keeping our Best Reviewed choice from our last report, the Cuisinart SS-700 (Est. $165). Made by Keurig for Cuisinart, it uses the original K-Cups, which means you have the option of hundreds of different types of coffee, tea, cocoa and even fruit-flavored drinks meant to be served cold. It also includes a reusable K-Cup filter for ground coffee. This brewer is a particularly great choice if you have a large family, a lot of company, want coffee for a small office, or if you just don't want to have to add water any more than necessary. The reservoir holds 80 ounces, enough for 10, 8-ounce cups of coffee.
The Cuisinart SS-700 gets top marks in several professional tests for performance, speed and ease of use. More importantly, they say, it makes a great cup of coffee. The temperature can be set to between 169 and 175 degrees, which one professional test organization says results in a smooth brew with good extraction and dissolved solids. Owners like how customizable it is, saying they can program the strength of their coffee using the five cup sizes. Overall, it gets very good reviews for ease of use, with one expert source calling its controls "intuitive." It has a self-cleaning feature that users appreciate, but the coffeemaker still needs to be descaled every few months or so.
The one complaint we saw with the SS-700 is durability. It almost fell out of our top spot because of reports of the pump failing within a short time frame; however, those complaints seem to be an issue with some older machines, we don't see many recent complaints. And, quite frankly, pod coffee makers tend to have a shorter lifespan than their simpler, drip-style cousins. This Cuisinart coffee maker comes with a three-year warranty and customer service is generally described as responsive.
Even though it's been discontinued by the manufacturer (but, as we noted above, will be reintroduced later this year), the Keurig B45 (Est. $140) is still one of the most popular and best-reviewed pod coffee makers -- and it is still widely available at retail sites. It has three cup sizes and brews a cup of coffee in a minute or less. It's also very simple to use, with intuitive, easy to read controls. It has a removable, 48-ounce water reservoir and the drip tray is removable to accommodate taller travel mugs. Again, as noted, the version still on the market uses the original K-Cup Technology while the new version will use 2.0 pods.
In general, the Keurig 2.0 machines don't get much love from either experts or owners, the exception being the Keurig K200 (Est. $80) which gets a very good 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon.com and comes in a variety of bright colors, which owners love. They also say this brewer makes a fast, hot and tasty cup of coffee. The K200 has a removable, 40-ounce water reservoir and a coffee strength adjustment feature. Most say the variety of K-Cups available for this coffee maker is more than sufficient, but there are complaints from others that it does not accept K-Cups from other makers.
Although Keurig dominates the pod-style coffee maker market, there are a couple of other choices out there that do well in expert roundups, but get lackluster reviews from owners. One is the Starbucks Verismo 600 Brewer (Est. $150). It's one of only a couple of coffee makers earning "Recommended" status by one professional testing organization. Editors there rate it as "excellent" for speed and for size consistency, very good for convenience and temperature consistency, and good for brewing range and taste. (In this test of quite a few pod-style coffee makers, none get higher than a "good" rating for taste.) The Verismo pods produce a 7.1-ounce cup of coffee, and this brewer features a one liter (33.8 ounce) storage tank.
However, owners aren't as enthused as the experts over the Verismo. At Starbucks.com, which is the main distributor of this coffee maker, owners pan it for durability issues, as well as for coffee that doesn't taste anything like the Starbucks they buy at their local coffee shop.
Another top coffee maker in that same professional roundup, the DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio (Est. $120) is rated as "excellent" for speed and for size consistency, very good for convenience, brewing range and temperature consistency, and good for taste. The DeLonghi's customer satisfaction rating based upon the reviews we saw is higher than the Verismo's, but doesn't approach that of the Keurig machines. Many love the Gusto Genio, saying it makes wonderful espressos and other specialty coffees. However there are many durability complaints. In addition, it uses proprietary Nescafé Dolce Gusto pods and we saw quite a few comments regarding the difficulty of finding various types of coffee for this machine.
There are plenty of people who don't want to be tied to pod coffee makers, but also love the idea of using pods if they so choose -- mostly because of the convenience. This is where a multi-use coffee maker comes in. These can accept a wide variety of pods, or use ground coffee so that you can get maximum versatility in one machine. They also offer more customizing options for brewing any kind of coffee
It's no contest in this category: the BUNN My Café MCU (Est. $160) gets some of the best reviews of any coffee maker we saw. It can brew from K-Cups, generic soft pods, tea bags and ground coffee. Two professional testing organizations make it their top pick, and owners agree, giving it high ratings at retail review sites.
The BUNN MCU is not just convenient, reviewers say, it also makes an excellent cup of coffee no matter what type of medium you use. It came out on top in CNET's reviews of coffee makers, and was their top pick in terms of taste. Experts and owners like its options for customizing your brew, by tweaking either the amount of coffee or the quantity of water. It's fast too, brewing a cup of coffee in about 42 seconds.
There is a bit of a learning curve with the BUNN MCU, but most reviewers say it's not too bad. It has a four "drawer" system; one for K-Cups, one for soft pods and tea bags, one for ground coffee and one for hot water. These drawers are literally small drawers of various configurations that you insert in the brewer. The MCU does not have a reservoir, so you have to add the appropriate amount of water each time. That gets a few complaints, but the majority of owners say they don't like reservoirs anyway -- they prefer a fresh cup of water each time. Because of the lack of a reservoir, it has a small footprint, but you need to have a place to store the four drawers.
Elsewhere in this report: