Your morning coffee run might provide the pick-me-up you need, but its daily assault on your wallet? Weighing you down, big time. The good news is, you can make coffee that’s just as good (maybe even better!) right from the comfort of your own home, and at a fraction of the price.
Not sure what type of coffee maker is right for you? Well, that really depends on your “coffee personality.” Do you consider coffee brewing more of an art or a necessity? How much time do you want to spend making it? How many people do you normally need to serve? Answer these questions and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect coffee maker. Whether you’re looking for yourself or as a gift, we’ll help guide you through it.
To grind or not to grind?
For some types of coffee (instant or pre-measured K-Cups), grinding doesn’t come into play. But for the rest, there’s no question: whole coffee beans hold their flavor for longer than the pre-ground variety. So for optimal flavor, it’s best to grind the beans as close to brewing time as possible. Of course, not everyone has time for that. And some are willing to sacrifice a little bit of flavor for a lot of convenience. Just know that there are plenty of inexpensive, easy-to-use coffee grinders on the market. Doing it yourself might be simpler than you think.
Now that that’s settled, decide whether your coffee consumption is mostly practical, or if you’re more into the experience of it all.
Coffee as a practical necessity
Sometimes, you just need your caffeine fix. The coffee makers—and consumers—in this category are all about getting out the door (or serving guests) quickly and efficiently. Speed is as important as flavor, and fussing with complicated equipment is not an option. Here, we break down the most practical coffee-making options based on who you are, coffee-wise and otherwise.
The efficiency aficionado: K-cup coffee
There are never enough hours in the day, so you make each one count. From your job to running errands, and even in your hobbies, there’s nothing you hate more than wasted time and effort. You want your coffee to be fast, simple, and always fresh—and with minimal cleanup.
Buy or gift: K-Cup coffee maker.
It doesn’t get any easier than this. K-Cup coffee makers use pre-measured pods (K-Cups) to brew up a single serving of coffee. There’s almost no mess, and you don’t need to deal with filters or measuring out your grounds. The cups also come in variety of flavors, including non-coffee options like hot chocolate and tea.
What else you’ll need: Lots of K-Cups (and a place to store them).
Best for: 1–2 people, especially when each has a different coffee preference.
The balanced barista: single-serve coffee
Your life is all about balance: balancing work with play, old with new, efficiency with quality. You prefer the experience of fresh, loose coffee grounds instead of the instant or pre-packaged variety, but you still want something simple and fast.
Buy or gift: Single-serve machine, loose grounds.
The technology in single-serve coffee makers is similar to the K-Cup brewers, except instead of using pods, you fill the mini-filter basket with loose, finely ground coffee. Yes, you’ll have to fill and then clean the filter each time, but with no K-Cups to discard, it’s less waste and more earth-friendly. Plus, you can use any coffee you like, so you’re not limited to the K-Cup selection of brews. Most machines will make up to 16oz (or 2 cups), so you can fill your traveler and go, and some machines will even grind beans for you for added convenience and freshness.
What else you’ll need: Coffee, measuring scoop.
Best for: 1–2 people who like to use special grounds.
The purist: drip coffee
You take a straightforward, no-frills approach to most everything in life. You’re nostalgic for simpler times (even if you never lived through them yourself!). Forget trends, you stick with what’s tried-and-true. You like your coffee black, or with just a splash of milk and a dash of sugar.
Buy or gift: Drip coffee maker.
It works just like your parents’ coffee maker, because it sort-of is. You just drop in the paper filter, add ground coffee and water, and push a button. Unlike your parents’ machine, though, many of today’s drip coffee makers have a built-in grinder and smart features like a timer and programmable strength control. Most brew up to 12 cups, so if you’re making coffee for the entire family, this type of machine is a must.
What else you’ll need: Coffee, measuring scoop, paper filters.
Best for: serving a group, and programming the night before to make mornings easier.
Mr./Ms. Easygoing: instant coffee
You’re about as laid back as they come, which means you’re super fun and easy to be around. But it also means you sometimes leave things to the last minute. As much as you love coffee, you know yourself well enough to know you’re never going to set aside extra time to brew it. For you, speed and ease are Number One—and of course, you still want it to taste great.
Buy or gift: Instant coffee.
Made from freeze-drying brewed coffee, instant coffee is the fastest, simplest way to enjoy a cup o’ joe. And it’s come a long way since its inception, with some varieties tasting just like—or at least very close to—brewed coffee. Simply spoon in the desired amount and add hot water. That’s it.
What else you’ll need: Coffee, kettle, measuring scoop (or you can just eyeball it).
Best for: skipping the fuss of machines entirely or having on-hand in case you run out of coffee.
Coffee as an art
For some coffee lovers, it’s the experience that’s important—from scooping the beans to holding the mug, and every careful step in the brewing process. Slow is okay. After all, the anticipation is almost as enjoyable as the first sip. But there’s no one-size-fits-all method for the coffee-as-an-art consumer. So we’ve broken it down even further.
The weekend warrior: French press
During the week, it’s go go go. On the weekends? You like to enjoy a long, relaxing brunch with friends. You love the ritual of making coffee, and you don’t mind taking your time to brew up the perfect cup.
Buy or gift: French press.
Popular throughout Europe, the French press brews up coffee that’s similar to drip coffee, with a richer, more earthy flavor. You scoop your medium-ground beans into a glass carafe, fill the carafe with almost boiling water, and cover with the plunger. Five minutes later, you carefully press the plunger all the way down. Et voila! And since it makes about four cups, it can be enjoyed by a group or on your own, depending on how much coffee you drink in one sitting. The only downside? The press can be a tricky to clean.
What else you’ll need: Coffee, kettle, measuring scoop.
Best for: enjoying over the course of a meal or sharing the art of coffee with friends.
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The patient perfectionist: pour-over coffee
You like things to be done a certain way, and you don’t mind spending a little extra time to get them right. Your coffee is no exception!
Buy or gift: Pour-over.
Since this method allows you to control the speed of the pour, you get to make exactly the coffee you want every single time. Like a richer, more flavorful brew? Pour your water in a little at a time. Prefer something lighter? Pour it in all at once. You can play around with ground level too, with finer coffee resulting in a slower flow, and coarse grounds doing the opposite. The basic mechanism of the pour over is simple: you place a rinsed filter into your pour-over container, fill it with ground coffee and pour boiling water over it at the desired speed. It brews one cup at a time, so there’s never any waste.
What else you’ll need: Kettle, measuring scoop, paper cones/filters, coffee beans, coffee grinder (this method really is best when you use freshly ground beans).
Best for: maximum control over your cuppa.
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The maverick: iced coffee
Doing things the way they’ve always been done? Not your style. You do what you want, when you want, even if it raises a few eyebrows. Seasons be darned, you’ll proudly wear white after Labor Day, and you prefer your coffee on the rocks all year round.
Buy or gift: Cold brew or iced coffee maker.
If cold coffee’s your thing, you’ve got two options: an iced coffee maker or a cold brewing system. Iced coffee makers typically brew hot coffee and then pour it over ice. They’re quick, and tend to produce a lighter brew. If you’re super serious about iced coffee, stick with a cold brewer. It’ll take hours for a batch to be ready, but then you can refrigerate and enjoy for up to a week. For cold brewers, use coarse grounds. For iced coffee makers, use medium grounds. Yield size varies by machine.
What else you’ll need: Coffee, measuring scoop. And if you go the iced coffee route, you might need paper filters.
Best for: coffee as refreshment, and making in advance to enjoy throughout the week.
The classy connoisseur: espresso
You enjoy the finer things in life. Even if you didn’t spend a fortune on your clothes, shoes or home decor, somehow it always looks like you did. Your idea of the perfect Saturday is people-watching from the patio of your favorite cafe.
Buy or gift: Espresso machine.
Rich, dark, and smooth, espresso is so decadent, it’s hard to believe you can make it yourself. But you can! Espresso machines force hot water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. When it’s done right, coffee comes out dark brown with a small amount of crema (a type of coffee foam) at the top. Some machines also have a built-in milk frother, which comes in handy if you love fancier coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.
What else you’ll need: Espresso beans.
Best for: 1–2 people who enjoy specialty drinks.
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