While coffee snobs might shake their heads, the single-serve coffee maker has a barista seal of approval, thanks to its convenience.
Patrick Main, senior beverage innovator for Peet's Coffee, celebrates the machine for its simplicity. "It doesn’t get much more convenient than choosing a coffee pod, touching a button, and a minute later having a fresh brewed cup of coffee," he says. "The cup you get out of a [single-serve] machine is very clean—more similar to that of a drip brewer with paper filter than to a French press, whose stainless steel mesh filter allows more coffee oils and fine sediment into the cup."
That being said, not all single-serve coffee makers are created equally. Even I can tell the difference between a quality cup of joe compared to what is effectively bean water. On the other hand, it can be intimidating to suss through all the bells-and-whistles brands like Keurig, Nespresso, and Ninja seem to offer, making the first, affordable coffee machine we see a tempting choice.
Rather than settling for the budget, Keurig knock-off, pump the brakes—it's worth investing in a solid, single-serve coffee maker. Main has some suggestions for features to look for, so the next time you're on the market for a new instant coffee machine, you know what's going to give you the best brew, every single time.
3 features to consider in your next single-serve coffee maker
1. Temperature range
First things first—look for a brewer that gets really hot. Temperature is key for brew strength and consistency, so much so that it's on the top of Main's list of essentials to look for in a single-serve coffee maker. "Look for a good temperature range," said Main. "The newest Keurig machines can brew a lot hotter than the older models, and that can make a big difference in the resulting brew."
According to the National Coffee Association, 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit is the range for for optimal brewing. Anything colder, and your drink will be flat and bland (with the exception of cold brew, but that's a completely different science). For a perfect cup of coffee, invest in a model that gives you control over the temperature settings. Most advanced models, like the Keurig Elite Series or the Cuisinart Premium Single Serve Brewer ($150) come with heat adjustment settings that fall within, or close, to that brewing range, making them a sure bet.
2. Water flow and reservoir size
Water flow and reservoir size are two other features to look out for in your coffee machine. The reservoir size is more so for convenience (smaller ones obviously require you to refill more often.) As for the water flow and how the machine actually brews the cups? Main says that can affect the quality and consistency of your coffee.
"I'm a huge fan of the Keurig K-Supreme Plus Smart Coffee Maker," he says. "It has five water-dispensing needles to pierce the top of the K-Cup versus just one in a traditional Keurig. So right off the bat the distribution of water through the coffee grounds is much better." With this machine, Main says users can choose from five different strength settings which control the flow rate. In addition to the temperature settings, this is what makes the brew stronger or weaker.
Be on the lookout for how your machine takes up water. Does it use a single needle, or does it use multiple? Does it come with strength adjustment settings, or is there only one type of boldness to make? All of these should factor in to your purchasing decision.
3. Cup compatibility
"With most pod brewers, you're limited in your selection to the coffees that have been packed into the format, so you can’t just run down to your local specialty coffee store and find all of their coffees in K-Cups," says Main. If you're a brand loyalist, keep the pods in mind before you buy. For example, most big-name brands, like Dunkin', Starbucks, and Peet's (which is launching new flavored pods later this month) all make Keurig-compatible K-cups that might make it worth investing in a Keurig.
Otherwise, try the eco-friendlier alternative of buying a reusable pod (this one has over 16,000 5-star reviews and it's affordable) that matches your machine. While some pre-packaged pods and cups are recyclable (if you peel off the metal lid and empty the grounds) it can be more earth-friendly to go with a reusable pod.
Main also recommends looking at the cup weight themselves. Fun fact: pre-made pods don't all come with the same amount of coffee in them. "You can see the net weight printed on the box," he says. "If you like a stronger cup, choose a K-Cup with a higher average net weight."
5 single-serve coffee makers that will give you a quality cup every single time
Main’s pick is a premiere choice for the at-home barista. “This is a great machine for people who are serious about a great cup of coffee but also want convenience,” he says. It has the high-tech temperature control and water flow settings needed to customize your ultimate cup.
Plus, it uses a “BrewID” technology to automatically recognize K-cups and their brewing preferences. “Every K-Cup comes with a QR code that tells the K-Supreme Plus the ideal brewing cycle for the coffee within,” Main says. “For those who don’t feel like tweaking all of the settings and contemplating the effect of water temperature and flow rate on coffee extraction, roasters like Peet’s and others in the format have done that work already.”
Nestle’s Nespresso Vertuo is another solid bet for at-home beverage making. Like the Keurig Smart model, it uses barcode scanning technology to perfect your pour while adding a decadent creamy topping to your finished cup. It’s also a sustainable option, as it’s manufactured using 54 percent recycled materials and is compatible with most recyclable cups.
Just note, it does not have a temperature control range, so if you like to customize your heat settings, go with a different model.
As mentioned above, the Cuisinart Premium Single Serve Brewer harnesses the temperature adjustment technology Main recommends. Featuring a 2-liter water reservoir, five different cup settings, and a rinse feature that automatically cleans the brew chamber, it’s great pick that’s compatible with all brands of single cup pods.
You know Ninja for its blenders, but the brand also makes a fancy schmancy coffee maker, too. While the other models use pods, Ninja’s model is technically a drip machine that uses grounds to brew anything from a single cup to a full carafe. It comes with a 10-cup carafe in case you do want to make a larger batch, a gold-tone filter, coffee scoop, plus a folding frother that attaches to the machine for instant barista-worthy drinks.
This touchscreen single-serve coffee machine brews cups of coffee at 200 degrees Fahreinheit in about a minute—talk about efficiency. With a 90-ounce water reservoir, you won’t have to refill it often if you’re only drinking a cup at a time. If you want a larger serving size, however, there are eight options to choose from, ranging from 6 ounces to a full carafe. It’s compatible with all K-cups and includes a reusable pod, too.
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