For all the debate over whether the best coffee comes from a Chemex or a French press or an AeroPress (even Nespresso), sometimes you just want to turn on a machine and let it do the work. We asked ten coffee drinkers — food-industry professionals and just plain coffee snobs — what’s the coffee machine that’ll get you a simple at-home brew without all the fuss?
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.)
“Small things CAN bring you joy. My recent purchase of this Zojirushi coffee maker has made me very happy. Sounds like a commercial, but consider this … Last year, I bought a more expensive coffee maker that made terrible coffee! Instead of using the machine, I started making pour-overs. Something I hate to do … A year and a bunch of customer reviews later, I ordered this new baby, and I am so happy, I am writing about it here. I don’t know if it’s the water filter that water passes through or the fact that the water is introduced to the coffee a little bit differently, but the result is what I consider a perfect cup of coffee.”
All the machines we tested came with either insulated carafes or glass pots with built-in warmers. Both have pros and cons. Glass pots are typically easier to clean because they tend to have wider mouths, and the lack of internal insulation means that glass pots will have a greater interior volume relative to its exterior volume — basically, it’s easier to get your hand or dish sponge into a glass pot. On the other hand, glass pots are more fragile and have to be heated from a base plate. In our tests, those base plates could even raise the temperature of the coffee, like with the CuisinArt, which can make coffee taste burnt.
The gist: The Litchi Portable is similar to the Cisco in that it's very simple to use. Rather than Nespresso pods, use the measuring scooping to add ground coffee to the two-filter basket. Then, add hot water to the chamber and manually push the pressure pump until the coffee comes out. Soon you'll be brewin' the good stuff into the little included cup (even add a little milk if you want to go the cappuccino route.)
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.
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:
The dishwasher-safe, BPA free model from Takeya can brew up to a quart of concentrated cold brew coffee. It not only yielded one of the best tasting brews, it also aced our usability tests. The brewer is easy to set up, offers a durable build, and is simple to clean and store for later use. It is also the only brewer that is air-tight while it brews, allowing you to easily store the brewer on its side in a packed fridge.
This machine is extremely consistent and it brews an excellent espresso or cup of coffee. It also looks like Darth Vader manifested as a coffee machine: it's sleek and black and is definitely what our coffee makers will look like when we're all living on the moon. If your kitchen aesthetic is Space Chic, this machine is for you. It takes the joy and skill out of brewing your own espresso, but it works extremely well and is great for making an almost cafe-quality cup of coffee at home in no time and with very little effort.
The bottom chamber contains the water. The middle chamber is a filter-basket holding the ground coffee and sits within the bottom chamber. The top chamber, with a metal filter, screws onto the bottom chamber. When the pot is heated on a stove, the pressure from the steam in the bottom chamber forces the water through a tube into the filter-basket, through the ground coffee, the metal filter, and it then funnels into the top chamber where the coffee is then ready to serve. They are commonly found in Italy, Spain and Portugal. They are also known as a macchinetta, Italian for little machine or caffettiera, Italian for coffee maker.
"Having worked in a coffee shop I was familiar with espresso and milk steaming machines. While this product is not intended for commercial use, it is perfect for the home. The machine itself has an amazingly small footprint, and puts out adequate pressure for brewing single/double espresso shots and for properly steaming milk. The inclusion of different sized "inserts" which allow switching depth of the coffee filter attachment is a novel idea and well executed. Bought this item as a gift for my wife who loves it, but I use it myself frequently as well. Keep it clean and it should serve you for an extended period of time. For the price, I don't believe this item can be beat.
CR’s take: Like the model above, the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew takes whole coffee beans and grinds them fresh for each pot. It features programming, brew-strength control, a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. This model earns a great rating for carafe handling. The stainless steel finish and glass carafe certainly elevate the experience of using it. Cuisinart brewers also received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. But the performance and finish come at a premium—this machine costs significantly more than the Black+Decker Mill & Brew.