What the best single cup coffee makers have

  • Easy to use controls. If your top priority in a one-cup coffee maker is convenience and speed, look for intuitive controls that require littler more than loading a pod and pushing a button.
  • Customizable options. If you like to be able to customize each cup, you'll want either a multi-use coffee maker that allows you to use coffee grounds, or a manual, pour over model that enables you to control every step of the brewing process.
  • Variable serving sizes. It's very handy to have a coffee maker that gives you a choice of serving sizes. Most have three sizes, although some smaller coffee makers have only one -- although you can usually adjust that by adding less water.
  • Programming options. 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.
  • A water reservoir. One-cup coffee makers with a larger water tank are capable of brewing several cups before needing a tank refill. Not everyone likes this feature, but if you do, be sure you look for a coffee maker with a low sensor, so it doesn't start alerting you to refills before it actually needs water.
  • Pod compatibility. One of the biggest downsides to pod-style coffee machines is that many of them require proprietary pods or discs. Some are compatible with a variety of pods, though, making them more versatile.
  • Flexibility. Some brewers use pods only, others have filers for brewing a single cup of coffee from grounds. Others can accept both pods and ground coffee. Many one-cup coffee makers also dispense a -cup of hot water quickly, so they can make tea, cocoa, soups and hot cereals. Pod-style coffee makers have hundreds of choices in flavors that include teas and other hot and cold drinks.

Know before you go

Do you want manual control over brew strength? Although the strength of a brewed cup is largely dependent on the available settings as well as the coffee itself (especially with pods), some models do allow users to manually adjust the strength of each cup. Total manual operation, however, means you'll want to consider a pour over coffee makers.

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 people. 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, so it usually sits on the counter. Some pod coffee makers are big -- especially those with large reservoirs -- and take up a lot of real estate. Others are tall, even taller when the top is opened to add water or coffee. You may want to measure counter space and cabinet height before you shop.

What are the necessary accessories? Both manual and automatic drip one-cup coffee makers need coffee grounds and a filter. Manual coffee makers also require preheated water, so you'll need access to a pan and a stove or an electric kettle or microwave.

How much will it really cost you? 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. Also, consider how much each pod will cost on average.

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, regardless of what type of pod you use, pod coffee makers generate more waste than automatic-drip machines.

What's to come

The big question mark in the world of coffee makers is the future direction of Keurig brewers. As we discussed in depth in our section on large pod-style coffee makers, the Vue brewing system is being phased out entirely and several of the most popular K-Cup brewers have been discontinued. Meanwhile, the new Keurig 2.0 Brewing System is getting terrible reviews from both experts and users because its technology is so limiting. It allows you to brew only from special, branded K-Cups -- it won't work with anything else, not even older K-Cups. Keurig has been so dominant in this category for so long, it will be interesting to see how its future shapes up.

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