Coffe Maker Buying Guide
What the best Coffee Maker has
- Versatile capacity. While there are a few small coffee makers that have a 4-cup capacity, most standard coffee makers can brew between eight and 12 cups per batch. However, even those larger brewers usually offer a small batch setting for the option to make less than a full pot.
- Programming features. Many coffee makers can be programmed to brew at a certain time each day, great for those who need a cup of coffee ready for them when they wake up in the morning. However, some are geared to producing a cup of coffee more quickly, minimizing the need for programming, or are basic models with few features. One alternative is to buy a basic coffee maker and plug it into a separate wall timer -- just make sure your timer is rated to handle the coffee maker's current draw.
- Pause and brew. If you've pushed the brew button, but just can't wait for a cup of coffee, coffee makers with pause-and-brew functions allow you to sneak a cup mid-brew without making a mess.
- Automatic shut-off. If your morning routine is hurried, it's easy to forget to turn off the coffee pot. Many coffee makers have automatic shut-off features, some after a fixed period of time, others at a user-selected interval, typically between one and four hours after brewing.
- Water filters. A number of coffee makers include carbon water filters, which reduce the amount of chlorine and other impurities in tap water. If your coffee maker doesn't have one, using filtered water could improve taste. These coffee makers also work just fine without the filter installed. Reusable filters eliminate the need to constantly purchase paper filters, but they require regular care to avoid residue buildup.
- A long warranty: Most coffee makers have a minimum one-year warranty, but some offer warranties up to three years. If you're buying a higher-end, expensive coffee pot, expect a three- to five-year warranty.
Know before you go
Do you want a hot plate or thermal coffee maker? The main difference between thermal coffee makers and glass carafe coffee makers is that thermal coffee makers brew directly into an insulated carafe instead of a glass carafe that has to sit on a hot plate to stay warm. Insulated carafes are designed to keep the coffee at brewing temperature for an hour or more (two is most common), thus eliminating the need for a warming plate and the continual cooking that a heating element causes. Thermal coffee pots get slightly better reviews for flavor, but glass carafe coffee makers are generally less expensive -- sometimes substantially so -- and often draw good user reviews for value, durability and the quality of coffee they produce.
Do you prefer to grind your own beans? Coffee grinders, which we cover in their own report, are available as stand-alone units or as a built-in component of grinder-brewer combos. The latter are more convenient, and take up less storage space, but coffee purists often prefer the control that a separate grinder offers them
Measure your countertop clearance. Some coffee makers are taller, requiring more space between your countertop and the bottom of your cabinets. Also, if you're looking at a coffee maker with the reservoir is on top, be sure to add in the clearance it needs to open properly. If your coffee maker is too tall to fit, you'll need to determine where you'll store it when it's not in use.
Is a manual coffee maker right for you? If flavor is your top priority, and you don't mind taking extra time to produce the perfect cup of Joe, you might consider a specialty one-cup coffee maker, which we cover in their own report. Many coffee devotees say these manual coffee-press gadgets allow for the most control over each necessary variable to extract the most flavor from ground coffee beans.
Check for specific grind requirements. Certain types of coffee makers perform better with finer or coarser grinds than what's used in most automatic drip coffee makers.