In our quest to find the best, we pitted 10 highly regarded coffee makers against each other. These are the machines that regularly make it on best-of lists, earn accolades, and/or are recommendations from the coffee experts we talked to over the course of this review. We aimed for multi-cup carafes — no single serves — and drip machines only. (We didn’t want to muddy the results with French press, pour-over, or espresso. Those are for other reviews.)
Percolators began to be developed from the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, James H. Mason of Massachusetts patented an early percolator design in 1865. An Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich is generally credited with patenting the modern percolator. Goodrich's patent was granted on August 16, 1889, and his patent description varies little from the stovetop percolators sold today. With the percolator design, water is heated in a boiling pot with a removable lid, until the heated water is forced through a metal tube into a brew basket containing coffee. The extracted liquid drains from the brew basket, where it drips back into the pot. This process is continually repeated during the brewing cycle until the liquid passing repeatedly through the grounds is sufficiently steeped. A clear sight chamber in the form of a transparent knob on the lid of the percolator enables the user to judge when the coffee has reached the proper color and strength.
If you’re ready to drop serious money on a high-quality espresso machine that produces smooth, complex shots, our pick is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine. The machine lets you cycle quickly between steaming milk and pulling espresso: It uses a heat exchanger, rather than the more typical thermoblock, which means that the Rocket’s boiler heats all the way up to milk-steaming temperatures when you first turn it on. When you’re ready to pull shots, the heat-exchanger sends a burst of cool water through a copper tube in the boiler, bringing the temperature briefly back to espresso-friendly levels before heating back up.
These organizations consider how long it takes you to brew the coffee, the social impact of the coffee maker, as well as the roasting ability of the coffee maker. The best coffee maker will be BPA free and certified. An SCAA certified coffee maker, for example, will be able to deliver water at optimum temperatures throughout the whole brewing process, without compromising the integrity of the coffee at any point.
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.
Making the perfect espresso can be a labor of love, but not everyone who wants to drink espresso wants to do all that labor. Pod-based machines make it easier, but then you have fewer type of coffee to choose from. This machine solves both of those problems since it has adapters for most of the popular pods, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, K-Fee, or Verismo by Starbucks, and you can also use your own fresh ground coffee.
The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot. Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
If your busy life keeps you from making coffee by hand, you can also consider a capsule machine such as a Nespresso coffee maker. These machines use small capsules or pods of coffee, so you don’t have to worry about measuring grounds and adding them to your device. Simply add a capsule, fill up the reservoir and press the On button. If you’re more of a traditionalist, a stovetop espresso maker might be the right option for you. This type of maker uses your stove to heat up water, which then steams up and passes through a capsule of grounds above the reservoir. The steamy espresso then collects in an upper reservoir at the top of the maker. These espresso makers are very popular in Europe and require no electricity to function.
The first machine for making espresso was built and patented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, who demonstrated a working example at the Turin General Exposition of 1884. He was granted patent no. 33/256 dated 16 May 1884 (according to the "Bollettino delle privative industriali del Regno d'Italia", 2nd Series, Volume 15, Year 1884, pages 635 – 655). A certificate of industrial title was awarded to Mr. Moriondo Angelo, of Turin, for an invention called "New steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage, method 'A. Moriondo', Plate CXL".
We wanted to find the best espresso machine available to home brewers for less than $1,000. At this comparatively low price point, we hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not as high-quality as one served at a prized Italian cafe or as high-dollar as a Brooklyn coffee shop's—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness.
CR’s take: If you’re an aficionado of fresh ground coffee, this Black+Decker is the brewer to buy. As the name suggests, the Mill & Brew goes that extra mile, grinding whole coffee beans just before brewing. As a result, the machine is capable of making a great pot of coffee. Made of plastic with stainless steel accents, this model is easy to use and to clean, earning a Very Good rating in our convenience tests. It allows you to adjust brew strength, and it’s programmable, so you can set it to grind and brew just before you wake up.