It can take a little while to get to know the ins and outs of a new coffee maker. In CR’s labs, each drip coffee maker we test brews roughly 65 cups by the time our engineers are through with it. And brewing is just one of many aspects we look at. We test for handling and convenience, too, so you can choose a model that helps you sail through morning madness.
“Strength, blend, decaf, cream, or sugar, there are many options when it comes to a cup of coffee. It seems every person has his or her own unique preferences to get them that perfect cup of joe. However, one factor that was often out of the home-coffee fan’s control was temperature. You either drank it at the temperature it came out of the coffee maker or you let it cool somewhat before sipping began. Cuisinart has aimed to turn that limitation on its head. This Cuisinart DCC-3650 adds a temperature control. It actually brews the coffee at one of three different user-defined temperatures. Impressive.”
The simplicity starts with its design: a single button with a scrolling dial underneath an LED interface. That button is the only one on the entire machine. With it, you set the time, set the water temperature, set how many cups you want brewed, and when you want the brewing to start. It takes a second to get the hang of it, but we were impressed with how intuitive it is — a stark contrast to a machine like the Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Coffee Brewer, which had so many extra pieces, it required constant consultation of the instruction manual.
Clean the inside of your machine by running water through it. Each machine will have a slightly different process, and some manufacturers provide tips and suggestions in user manuals. CoffeeLounge and other suggest mixing 2 oz. of vinegar in 20 oz. of water every now and then to clean out the machine even more thoroughly. After you use vinegar, though, be sure to rinse it three times with water to avoid any lingering vinegar taste in your next espresso.
The Moccamaster isn't for everyone. Handmade in the Netherlands, it costs around $300—and would never win an award for value. It lacks a programmable timer, and it was also bit more difficult to set up than the rest of the coffee makers—in fact most were ready to go right out of the box. But a quick look at the instruction diagram should clear up any confusion, and the end result is well worth the effort.
"A rare example of the meeting of form and function. This machine is both beautiful to look at and makes wonderful delicious espresso and cappuccino. I was hesitant to spend this much on a "coffee maker", but took into consideration what it costs to get a decent cappuccino from a cafe or Starbucks and finally gave in. Boy am I glad I did. All it takes to get me out of bed in the morning is the happy thought of pulling yet another delicious shot from this wonderful machine."
The Gaggia Classic is a stylish old-school Italian espresso maker. It can pull a really delicious, creamy shot of espresso, but the machine does not have a PID—therefore its results aren't very consistent. While the machine is pretty, it doesn't have the well-thought design features of the Breville, like a sensor drip tray and a space for the tamper, nor does it come with a milk pitcher. Its plastic tamper is flimsy and won't effectively press down the espresso grounds. The Gaggia's steamer wand also doesn't consistently incorporate foam, and instead produces large bubbles on top.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
The best part about this machine is that it comes with everything you need (except the beans). You don't have to spend an extra $100+ on a good grinder or $25-$100 on a milk frothing pitcher and tamper. You will pay a bit more for it than other machines on this list, but it's well worth it — especially now that this machine costs $548.96 instead of $999.99.
“I am a coffee snob, and one of my favorite things about traveling to Europe is their espresso and cappuccinos. A couple years ago, I bought a Nespresso Aeroccino machine for making froth and a stovetop Moka pot for making espresso; the system has worked fine, but the espresso can take awhile to make (around 5-8 minutes) and there’s definitely a learning curve to making good coffee with it. … [How] does this machine do [in comparison]? Stellar. Absolutely stellar. Once the water is in and it heats up, you flip up a lever, drop in the pod, and press the size button (espresso or lungo). Off it goes! Brewing is super quick and the espresso always comes out with a beautiful crema on top. My first drink was a cappuccino, and it was so much better than the ones I’ve been making with my Moka pot! …
There’s also no way to adjust the temperature of the water on the Bonavita, or tinker with any of the other variables some of our other top picks gave access to. And that’s the other downside to this excellent machine: What you get is what you get, and if you do want to experiment with the flavor of your coffee, it will depend entirely on the beans you buy and the size you grind them to. Good thing the coffee it brews right out of the box is so dang good.
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.
“I grind the beans in a Hario hand grinder gifted from my brother to me when he upgraded to a fancy electric one. Using the hand grinder is meditative. It feels like you’re ‘earning’ your morning coffee a little bit more. At home, I use a Muji porcelain pour-over, but when I’m at my family’s house in metro Detroit, I love using their Bonavita BV1800SS. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own, but seriously, you can’t fuck it up. Super-easy and delicious every single time.” — Kimberly Chou, co-director of Food Book Fair
We tested 12 models by making shots of espresso and lattes on each machine. We enlisted the help of an expert from Students of Coffee, a group of coffee educators and roasters at New York University, to judge for quality. The majority of the models we tested were semi-automatic, meaning brewers still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semi-automatic espresso machines heat the water for you, and then pump it through the grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the machine. The semi-automatic models we tester were:
For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and the amount of espresso. The user manual walks you through every step of the brewing process, and altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Our shots were beautifully layered and gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
The KitchenAid 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker, in onyx black, features a removable water tank that is easily accessible and includes printed water level indicators that make it easy to fill. The dishwasher-safe glass carafe features a dripless pouring spout and a comfortable soft-grip handle. The refined brew process includes a combination of the shower heads and a flat-bottom brew basket to evenly saturate the coffee grounds for uniform extraction and maximum flavor. The 1 to 4 cup brew...
"This machine has turned me into a bonafide coffee snob. While it took some time to tweak all of the essential dimensions (water temp, grind size, coffee amount, draw time, basket type, etc.), I now make the most delectable coffee on earth because of this gorgeous contraption. It's the first thing I think about when my eyes open in the morning. I've ditched all of the other coffee-making paraphernalia in my kitchen (french press, grinders, baskets, pour-over devices, and others . . .) because they pale (literally) in comparison to the gold that comes out of this happy faucet. If my apartment goes up in flames and I have to escape quickly down the fire escape, my espresso machine is coming with me."
The well-designed Braun BrewSense came closer to the gold standard for water brewing temperature than almost any other drip coffee maker in our testing, and delivered a rich, bold and hot cup of coffee. It has settings to program the coffee to brew ahead of time and you can adjust the brew strength and the temperature of the warming plate. Also available in black.