Water quality also plays a massive role in the way your coffee tastes. As we discovered in our review of the best water filters, water isn’t tasteless. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are what give “good tasting” water its sweetness — in fact, the SCAA recommends water with 150 milligrams per liter of TDS to brew coffee. (Want to check your water? A TDS reader is only about 15 bucks.)
Manual or semi-automatic machines offer more control of shot quality. Because when to cut the shot (brew time) is a critical variable, which is often adjusted shot-by-shot, semi-automatic machines are often preferred over automatics, though some machines are automatic. Manual machines are more popular in Europe, where it is more common to drink straight espresso.
CR’s take: Our highest-rated drip brewer with an insulated, thermal carafe, the Ninja Bar Brewer CF085 has plenty to recommend it. CR’s testers find that it offers superb brew performance and is very easy to use. In our member surveys, Ninja drip coffee makers received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. (We don’t yet have enough data to judge reliability.) This model has a full suite of features, including an unusual over-ice brew mode for making iced coffee. Ninja claims its thermal carafe will keep coffee hot for 2 hours, and the machine comes with a milk frother and a standalone French-press brewer. These features come at a price, of course; the Ninja Bar Brewer is the second most expensive model on this list.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.
Our top pick is the OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System. It’s a large machine – both in footprint and in capacity — but it earned the second-highest scores in our taste test, and is sleek both to look at and to operate. Convenient features like programmable auto-brewing, a removable water reservoir that doubles as a kettle, and a spigot that stops the brew mid-stream if you remove the carafe make this machine feel high tech without being high maintenance. For those who want to be a little more hands-on with the brewing process, its single-button dial also lets you adjust the water’s brewing temperature, giving you more access to experiment with extraction and flavor.
Coffeemakers or coffee machines are cooking appliances used to brew coffee. While there are many different types of coffeemakers using a number of different brewing principles, in the most common devices, coffee grounds are placed in a paper or metal filter inside a funnel, which is set over a glass or ceramic coffee pot, a cooking pot in the kettle family. Cold water is poured into a separate chamber, which is then heated up to the boiling point, and directed into the funnel. This is also called automatic drip-brew.
Hamilton Beach 49980A is made for occasional drinkers and caffeine aficionados alike, with the system fixed with all of the latest programs while still being relatively affordable. This low maintenance coffee maker can brew a basic cup of coffee or a premium roast in minutes, with the stainless steel chassis providing a single serving or 12 cups for a larger party.
An evenly tamped shot requires the tamp to fit into its portafilter basket precisely. Each machine comes with its own tamp, so we were surprised to find that not all of them fit. Some were too small, leaving behind a crescent moon of untouched coffee. It’s possible to try and compress in sections, but you’ll run the risk of re-tamping some of the grounds and producing an unpalatable shot.
In terms of maintenance, more complex machines tend to require more cleaning. Accessories like pumps, boiler setups, and thermostats usually forecast the amount of cleanup and maintenance that will be required over time. Buyers should be aware that machines with plastic outer coatings can crack with repeated use, leading to the need for expensive repairs or even replacement.
Instead, our main concern was how well the wand incorporated air and steam into the mix for velvety, frothy texture. In our testing with our coffee expert, he pointed out that inferior steamer wands made giant air bubbles that quickly popped and only pumped air into the milk, without incorporating foam consistently throughout. So, we looked for a steamer wand that made consistent, well-incorporated foam.
Programmable coffee makers exist to make the brewing process as painless as possible. Outside of maybe grinding your coffee beans, the drip coffee system will use optimal water temperatures of around 205 degrees Fahrenheit or 96.11 degrees Celsius for maximum extraction of the ground coffee beans. The best automatic coffee maker will seamlessly reach this temperature within minutes of the brewing process.
Certified by the SCAA and SCAE, this coffee maker exceeds the stringent quality control guidelines set forth by international coffee organizations. The inventor of this coffee maker, Gerard C. Smit has dedicated his life to creating coffee makers that do away with planned obsolescence, ensuring that this model – and every following model – is long-lasting, reliable, and energy-efficient.
“Self-identified coffee snob. Couldn’t be happier. Easy to operate, functions as advertised, instructions are clear. The metal filter included does what it needs to do. I recommend a relatively coarse grind (imagine the feel of cornmeal) with the metal filter to get the full flavor of the coffee. If you’re a bit of a coffee snowflake (no disrespect intended) and don’t like the ‘mud’ at the bottom of the cup, you should stick with the paper filter. Either way, the coffee maker itself does the job nicely.”
“This is the same coffee maker that I bought years ago. And it’s even the same price. Yep — they do still make things like they used to. And they last forever. It’s super simple, super reliable, compact, and cheap. There are a lot of places where we can spend money, but a simple cup of coffee doesn’t have to be one of them. Once you get the amount of water and coffee figured out to your taste — simply do that. No K-cup, nothing to recycle, fits the car cup holder. And the coffee stays hot in the mug.”
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.