Serious coffee lovers like to be able to control every step of the brewing process, allowing them to individualize every single cup they drink. For them, the answer is a pour over coffee maker. It takes longer to make a cup of coffee, and there's a certain amount of fussing involved, but the result is a rich, flavorful blend that can't otherwise be found outside your local specialty coffee house. Be aware: there is a learning curve when first trying to brew coffee manually. In particular, you'll need to experiment with different grinds -- fine, but not too fine is what most experts say. You will also decide whether or not to grind your own beans (if you do, see our report on coffee grinders) and how you're going to heat your water to be sure it's the optimal temperature.
If that level of customization is not your thing, and you'd just like a quick cup of coffee, see our discussions of large pod coffee makers and small one-cup coffee makers. If you'd like some level of customization and would like to be able to use both pods and ground coffee, we also discuss multi-use single serve coffee makers in this report.
The simplest incarnation of manual, pour over coffee makers is the cone technology. You place a cone-shaped device with a hole in the bottom over a mug, put a filter in the cone, add ground coffee, and pour hot water over the grounds. The hot water extracts the coffee from the grounds, and it drips into the mug below. Most cone coffee makers are made from plastic or ceramic materials. Some have proprietary technology to better disperse the hot water evenly over the coffee grounds to ensure that the maximum flavor is extracted, rather than just "dripping" over one spot. Others require that you do that work -- carefully pouring hot water evenly around the grounds. There are even dedicated kettles with special spouts available to do that properly
Other manual coffee makers use an immersion technology. The ground coffee is first "held" in the hot water to steep for a few minutes, usually 2 to 4, to extract the maximum flavor from the beans. Sometimes, the grounds are stirred or pressed during the steeping time, to further tweak the flavor, then the brew is released to drip into a waiting mug.
The appropriately named Clever Coffee Dripper (Est. $18 and up) is at the top of every list we saw for manual, pour over coffee drippers. Experienced manual coffee enthusiasts love it, but it's also the one that's most-often recommended for beginners to manual coffee making. It's a cone, but a clever cone that is a hybrid of dripper and immersion-style manual coffee makers. Unlike traditional cone coffee drippers, the Clever first holds the ground coffee, immersion-style, like a French press, to extract the maximum flavor from the beans. However, unlike a French press, it also includes a filter that extracts sediment. To brew, you just set it on a mug or other receptacle which releases a lever to start the drip.
The Clever comes in 10-ounce and 18-ounce sizes (Est. $22), and in three colors. Some include a cover, some do not, but covering the cone is part of the brewing process, so if you don't buy a cover, you'll need to use a small dish or something similar. The price doesn't seem to vary much regardless of which size or type you choose, but you'll save a couple of dollars if you just buy the small, basic model.
For a manual coffee dripper, it's super easy to use, say reviewers; in fact, the only complaints we saw about the Clever are from people who think it's too much of a hassle to make a cup of coffee and they just want something for a quick cup. In that case, a more appropriate choice might be either the Keurig K10 MINI Plus Brewing System (Est. $95) or the Black & Decker DCM18S Brew 'n Go Personal Coffeemaker with Travel Mug (Est. $20).
Even simpler and more basic than the Clever is the Melitta Ready Set Joe Single Cup Coffee Brewer (Est. $6). It's literally a plastic cone with a hole in the bottom, but users say it can turn out a great cup of coffee, especially if you're patient enough to carefully pour the hot water evenly over the grounds. Serious coffee aficionados prefer something with a bit more technology -- and they also prefer ceramic -- like the Hario VDC-02W V60 Ceramic Coffee Dripper (Est. $20), which has ridges inside the cone to create a vortex-like effect to help distribute water more evenly. However, experts say you have to pay attention to what you're doing and pour the water slowly, or you get a too-fast brew.
It was our Best Reviewed in this category in our last report, and the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker (Est. $25) is still an extremely popular option; in fact, it's the #1 Best Seller in Coffee Presses at Amazon.com. It's an immersion-style coffee maker, rather than a drip. Reviewers say it's easy to use: Simply insert a disc-shaped paper filter in the plastic tube, add coffee grounds, place the tube over a cup, pour in hot water, let it steep, and press the plunger down. Owners say it's easy to control the strength of coffee or espresso by adjusting the amount of coffee grounds used and the length of time the coffee is immersed. It's made of tough, BPA-free plastic and is highly portable, making it popular for travel.
The classically designed Chemex CM-1C 3-Cup Classic Series Glass Coffeemaker (Est. $55) has been around since 1941. It has the same variable control as other manual coffee makers, but the design causes the water to flow through the grounds more slowly for the best flavor extraction. Its glass styling makes it attractive enough to leave it sitting out on a counter; however, that also makes it more fragile.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Single Cup Coffee Makers: The five best single cup coffee makers, as identified by expert reviews, user reviews, and our own analysis.
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.
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.