For many people, drippers are the be all and end all of coffee making. Although you can expect hipsters to turn up their noses. But serve anyone the brew from a top performer like the Moccamaster and they’ll all agree dripper coffee is awesome.
Some friends of mine recently tried to give away their super-automatic espresso machine. Yes, I said “give away,” as in for free. Believe it or not, none of their friends wanted their espresso machine. One common response they heard from their friends was that they already had a French press, a manual pour-over dripper or – blech! – a Keurig K-cup machine. An even more common response was: “We already have a coffee machine!”
Of all the ways to make coffee these days, there is one device that somehow managed to get a worse reputation than the rest: a drip coffee machine with a paper filter. At the same time, though, many people love their coffee machines and swear by them. This is true for people regardless of age, income level or other differences that one might expect to find among coffee aficionados.
Truth be told, even the most inexperienced coffee drinker knows that these machines can make at best only an average cup of coffee. There are just too many ways for things to go wrong and too many compromises made along the way.
However, it seems that these very compromises are exactly what many people consider to be the Ultimate Coffee Experience. As long as the coffee is hot, as long as it is automatic, and as long as there’s lots of it, many consumers don’t seem to care about the other details. As long as they can keep filling their coffee machines with bags of coffee from the supermarket, they (unfortunately) feel that they don’t have anything to complain about.
Perhaps a touch of nostalgia can explain the dominance of coffee machines. After all, even I can fall into the nostalgia trap when I hear a coffee machine percolating away. Memories will bubble to my mind as I recall drinking coffee with mom, dad and the whole rest of the clan.
Otherwise, maybe – just maybe – coffee machines aren’t actually as bad as their reputation? Could it be that – God help me – they can make coffee that is actually better than mediocre?
Nevertheless, coffee experts can’t completely avoid talking about these humble machines, especially since so many of you have asked about our recommendations for good coffee machines.
However, is that even a thing? A “good coffee machine”? Are there any models out there that can overcome their technical limitations and somehow make tasty coffee? If so, how do they do it?
These questions, as well as many others, played a starring role in my 2018 Coffee Machine Tests and Reviews. What was my overall reaction? I was positively surprised by the results of some of these machines. There were even some that I would consider firing up if I had guests sitting around my coffee table.
I also have to admit that, yes, all this testing changed my view of automatic coffee machines and helped me re-evaluate my previous assumptions about their poor reputation.
However, one of my previous opinions remains steadfast: Coffee machines are an easy compromise for lazy people. Now, don’t get me wrong – I like being lazy. Just not with coffee. Therefore, the underlying question throughout this whole buyers’ guide is:
Which models can actually push us to look beyond supermarket coffee and automatic functions so we try out something new (and good)? Let’s find out.
It’s certainly exciting, and even a bit surprising.
Every coffee machine uses the same basic concept. They start by heating up the water from below, then pushing the hot water up through a narrow tube. There’s also a one-way valve to ensure that the hot water goes in only one direction. Once the water is at the top of the machine, gravity does the rest of the work. The hot water showers down and seeps through the ground coffee in a paper filter, then eventually drips down into the carafe in the form of coffee.
In other words, the water always goes from the bottom to the top, with the exception of the Philips HD5407/60 Café Gourmet. This machine removes a step by putting the water tank above the filter. Later on, we will take a closer look at why that is actually a pretty good idea.
It’s really cool that this Philips machine does all the work without any kind of pump, even though many of us might think that a pump is an indispensable feature.
Coffee machines only need one thing to work – pressure – which they make by quickly heating cold water. That’s why you can get a cheap, plastic model for about $10 because the most “expensive” parts are the heating coil and the carafe.
What about that typical “coffee machine noise” that you can likely call to mind? Well, what you hear is simply the result of – bit by bit – the coils heating up the water, the water rising, the valve opening and closing, and the water dripping onto the ground coffee.
At first, that “bit by bit” part might lure us into thinking that it is a gentle or exact coffee-making process. After all, when we use a manual dripper and pour the water by hand, we give the hot water a chance to spread throughout the grounds before we pour in more.
However, by simply using a coffee machine, we have to make some sacrifices. This is true in more than one way.
The Original Sins of Coffee Machine Technology
The first problem with coffee machines is fundamental: They use pressure.
Just think about it. If you use a manual dripper, you don’t use a spray bottle to shoot the hot water onto the coffee. Yet that is essentially what many coffee machines do. A coffee machine spews hot water all over the ground coffee, as if it had been told something shocking while taking a sip of… well, coffee. This “spitting” action makes some grounds get wetter than others, which means the extraction isn’t as uniform as it would be if poured carefully by hand.
What’s more, the machine doesn’t heat the water uniformly, but instead in little bursts. That’s not good because it is important to maintain a consistent temperature when brewing.
On this front, the Philips HD5407/60 Café Gourmet gets a lot of the basics right. Specifically, it boils the water completely before the machine starts brewing.
The third problem with most coffee machines is that the water temperature isn’t consistent within the machine or over time. In order to have the water vapor build up enough pressure, we need to heat the water to nearly boiling point – 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). It’s not uncommon for these machines to brew coffee at this temperature. However, that’s too hot to make good coffee, regardless of your brewing method. The optimal temperature for making good coffee with a manual dripper is actually about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius).
Unfortunately, the problem is that coffee machines tend to go to extremes. It can brew coffee with too-hot water, but then the water often quickly cools down as it moves through the filter and into the carafe. That means that your carafe will be full of cold (and poorly extracted) coffee that is reminiscent of old dishwater – especially if you only make a little bit of coffee.
This factor played a big role in my 2018 Coffee Machine Tests and Reviews. After all, if you decide to get a coffee machine, you surely want hot coffee in your mug, even if you only make a little bit, right?
As an aside, if there is one symbol that can sum up all of the problems inherent in coffee machines, it’s that cursed obligatory warming plate. Hear ye now my ruling on this matter:
The only thing a warming plate does is to continue cooking coffee that you’ve already brewed. That means a bitter brew with absolutely no aroma. Boo! Hiss! Nasty!
Of course, this is also when many of us shoot ourselves in the foot. Many of us switch on the coffee machine and, without even thinking about it, make more cups of coffee than we actually need. You know, just in case we need a warm-up. Maybe there’s an unspoken office rule about making a full carafe. Perhaps the machine led us into temptation and made us do it.
In the end, the very nature of a coffee machine means that we hardly have to think about portioning, grind coarseness or the quality of the filters.
When it comes to determining how much coffee to put into the filter, most people seem to go by the motto of “one scoop per cup, plus one extra scoop for the machine.”
This motto seems to be well-established, and because it’s so popular, I decided to use it in my tests.
However, it’s not a coincidence that baristas and coffee fans like to use kitchen scales with their coffee machine setups. Choosing the right amount of ground coffee is actually a kind of science in and of itself. The standard is about 1 ounce (30 grams) of coffee per cup if you’re using a normal Hario V60 filter.
If you’re using a coffee machine, you usually don’t have to worry about the coarseness of your ground coffee. I would also assume that hardly anyone who uses a coffee machine will worry about making the extra effort to freshly grind their beans before using them in the machine. That’s just not the kind of thing most coffee machine owners do.
Coffee machines with built-in grinders can at least solve this age-old problem. However, the results I got with models that have this feature were only fair to moderate, and very few convinced me that they had the goods. One of the few exceptions was the Philips HD7766/00.
With regards to my thoughts on paper coffee filters, I’ve already said more than enough in a separate article. The fact that such a guide even exists shows that with even the lowly filter, you can find all kinds of fine-tuned differences, most of which probably don’t matter to coffee machine owners.
Alright, let’s have a quick summary of all the challenges that coffee machines, by their very nature, need to overcome:
Instead of pouring the water gently by hand, they spray the water onto the ground coffee.
They don’t heat the water evenly.
The water temperature isn’t usually too hot for brewing coffee.
When passing through the filter into the carafe, the water (the coffee) gets cold quickly.
The coffee beans are normally not freshly ground.
Users normally eyeball portion sizes, instead of measuring them.
People normally make more coffee than they need.
If a coffee machine is going to do a halfway decent job at making coffee, then it needs to do everything it can to overcome these problems – or at least make them less problematic. Yes, that is in fact possible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.
What Should I Pay Attention to When Looking for a Coffee Machine?
Before I go into more detail and describe all the features of these coffee machines, I would like to make one fundamental thing clear right from the get-go.
If a coffee machine only costs about $30, don’t waste your time or money. That goes double if it is even cheaper!
However, if you only care about finding a cheap gadget that can automatically make a caffeinated brew in huge quantities – with no thought given to taste – then you wouldn’t be here. Right?
Models like the Melitta Easy are nothing more than a filter connected to an electrical cord, and it still manages to do everything wrong.
On the other hand, that also doesn’t mean that you will have to drop more than $100 for a sensationally good machine, like the Moccamaster.
Machines that are truly usable start at around $60. For about $75, you will probably get something quite good. Now let’s have a closer look at what we mean by “quite good.”
The Carafe: Thermos or Glass?
If you’re an Average Joe looking to buy a coffee machine, before you worry about any other features, first look at what the carafe is made of. This goes for whether you have the cheapest or the most expensive model: Is it made of glass or insulated stainless steel?
Both options can make sense. Glass won’t affect the taste of your coffee, and it can retain heat fairly well as long as – here’s a Pro Tip! – you rinse the carafe out with hot water before you start brewing. Unfortunately, most people don’t do this.
Therefore, insulated stainless steel is probably a better option. Insulation maintains the coffee temperature for a longer time without you needing to reheat it. It also means that you don’t need to mess with a warming plate, and you can put the thermos right on the table.
By the way, you should pre-warm your insulated thermos before brewing. Insulation is good at keeping things cold, so if you put hot coffee into a cold thermos carafe, the thermos will actively cool it down.
What’s more, an insulated carafe can also help with another problem: too-cool coffee because you only make a small amount. Even the manufacturers note that if you’re using their models with a glass carafe, it’s best to make a larger quantity. Otherwise, the coffee cools down quickly.
For example, models with an insulated carafe, like the Philips HD7697/90 Café Intense, did quite well in my tests. The carafe had quite a bit to do with that.
If you have your eye on a model that offers either a glass carafe or an insulated one, I would advise you to get the insulated carafe. It might cost a bit more than a glass one, and you might think it looks less fancy or elegant, but you will probably get better results.
Cooking Up Something Good: How the Brewing Stage Works
With most coffee machines, you normally can’t see this stage of preparation. That’s why brewing plays such an important role when testing coffee machines. An important factor when brewing is how gently and evenly the water comes into contact with the ground coffee. The less it spits and sputters, the better.
This is another area where the unique design of the Philips HD5407/60 Café Gourmet comes into play. The coffee machine doesn’t need to pump the water upward because the tank is already above the filter. Instead, it first boils the water completely and then uses gravity to let the water drip onto the coffee, making the whole process more gentle. You will definitely notice this when you note the aroma with this machine.
However, even models that work in the usual way can still gain a few points by including components, such as valves or a special spray head. A good example of this is the WMF Bueno coffee machine, which brews very gently.
In a perfect world, a coffee machine would also do a so-called “pre-infusion.” When using a manual drip coffee, we do the same thing, only we call it “blooming.” You just pour a bit of water onto the ground coffee so that it wells up, a bit like a flower blooming, which allows for an even coffee extraction. Only after this does the actual brewing process begin.
None of the machines that we tested do this step, per se, but some of the higher-quality coffee machines do have a function that works somewhat similarly.
Philips and Melitta, two companies that are true coffee machine experts, offer an “aroma” feature on many of their midrange or top-of-the-line machines.
When using this feature, you need to choose a number of beans on a “bean scale” to indicate how intense you want your coffee – at least in theory. In reality, though, you’re just fiddling with settings that determine how quickly or slowly the water comes into contact with the ground coffee and flows through.
The quicker the water passes through, the weaker the extraction will be, leading to a milder (weaker) cup of coffee. The opposite is also true: the slower, the stronger.
At first, this whole thing may seem a bit pointless. However, if you at least attempt to simulate a pre-infusion, it can actually help you get the best results from your specific kind of coffee.
The “Aroma” feature is really just a mechanical control lever that you can adjust during the brewing process. If you practice a bit and learn how to slow down the water at the start, then later in the brewing process change it to your desired speed, you can make a big difference in the resulting coffee.
As an example, I was happy to use this feature on machines like the Melitta ENJOY Top Therm coffee machine.
However, don’t let all these secondary features lead you astray. There’s still one factor that carries more weight than everything else when evaluating a coffee machine: the quality of the coffee.
(Automatic) Coffee Quality
Now, let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty. Setting aside all the extra features, my question comes down to is this: Can these automatic coffee machines overcome all the hurdles we’ve already mentioned and prove they can ultimately make a good cup of coffee?
For my 2018 Coffee Machine Tests and Reviews, I always used the same coffee beans and the same “dosage” (aka “Mom’s One Scoop Per Cup, Plus One” rule). Yet I ended up with a different cup of coffee every time.
One way or another, all of the good machines were able to magically conjure a different element of the coffee aroma from the beans. Some were more abundant, others were more elegant. However, they all managed to tease out different notes of the aroma.
As for the bad machines, they all simply made “coffee”: a hot and coffee-like drink that lacked any discernible characteristics.
For me, one of my biggest surprises from all these tests was precisely this huge variation in aroma. I had always thought that there was no nuance at all to automatic-machine coffee, and that it certainly wouldn’t be able to compensate for any human inaccuracies.
They worked, though. The WMF and Bueno machines gave me a well-rounded, very nicely oil-toned cup of coffee. The Philips Intense pleasantly dealt with the coffee’s acidity, and the coffee from the Philips Gourmet did, in fact, taste like a very elegant, gourmet coffee.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that these machines will suddenly make great coffee if you use bad beans. These aren’t Rumpelstiltskin Coffee Machines that will magically turn crappy beans into black gold. However, you can at least be sure that if you use good beans in a good machine, your efforts won’t be in vain.
On the contrary!
If you freshly grind the beans every time you make coffee – which I did, of course! – it actually doesn’t really matter if you don’t get the proportions exactly right. That, my friends, is a clear advantage of coffee machines, and it’s an element that I hadn’t really considered.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell if a machine is good just by looking at it. You have to test it out.
This category lumps together all the elements and features that make it substantially easier for you to fill up and use a coffee machine. This includes things like:
A removable water tank
A tank you can fill one-handed
An easily readable water level indicator, with small division marks
A removable filter holder
In terms of one-handed filling, I’m talking about a carafe with a lid that you can flip open with the same hand you’re using to hold the carafe. That’s because most of us fill up the carafe by holding the carafe in one hand and operating the water faucet with the other hand. Any extra step you need to do, such as unscrewing the lid, is therefore annoying.
The water level gauge should be fairly obvious. It should go up or down to indicate the amount of water in the tank. The more individual cups that are marked on the water level gauge, the easier it is to make the right amount of coffee. Finally, the location of the gauge is also important, especially if you have a small kitchen.
A removable filter holder doesn’t just make it easier to throw away a used paper filter. It’s also an important way to help you get better coffee from your machine.
Here’s how: Simply remove the filter holder (with the filter inside!) and gently dampen it under running water. Believe me, doing this easy step makes a huge difference in your final coffee.
This category includes several elements that played an important role in my tests, but aren’t always readily apparent. They include:
The coffee temperature, both when making the minimum and maximum amounts
This is where most machines flunked out, especially when making the minimum amount, for reasons that we have already seen. You can’t really do anything to prevent this, though, besides making more coffee. Remember, the heating plate is a no-go!
The drip time while brewing
The general idea here is that a longer brew time is better than a shorter one (based on the amount of coffee being made). If the machine takes its time at the beginning of the brewing process, it can avoid many problems later on, such as uneven extraction and incorrect brewing temperature.
The minimum water level
The lower the minimum fill level, the better. Making less coffee can prevent waste and let you avoid dealing with nasty leftovers.
Some of the minimum levels on the machines I tested made my life a bit difficult (see “Comparison”). At the same time, though, it’s an indicator that different machines will offer different things to different people.
Additionally, the maximum fill level, which is usually around 40 ounces (1.2 liters or 1 quart), can also have an impact. An exception is the Severin KA 5828 Duo coffee machine, which is actually two machines in one.
This point is less about how much electricity a coffee machine needs to brew a pot (although that’s also important). Instead, I included it because I was surprised about how many of the machines continually used electricity even when they were switched off – for no reason at all!
I can understand that with some products, like the Melitta Optima Timer, which has a clock, or the Melitta Aroma Elegance coffee machine. However, I can’t understand why one like the Krups ProAroma continuously uses power. It’s especially dumb and ridiculous since most of us probably leave our coffee machines plugged in, as opposed to unplugging them after every use.
I only mention this because, these days, an automatic shutoff is basically a must-have feature for any useful coffee machine. If you forget to do it, a good model will generally shut off by itself after a certain number of minutes or hours – the timeframes can vary. Models with insulated carafes generally shut off sooner than ones with glass carafes, which makes sense.
One advantage of automatic coffee machines is that the inner parts of the machine don’t actually come into contact with coffee. That makes the care and upkeep significantly easier than when dealing with something like a super-automatic espresso machine.
However, coffee machines still aren’t immune to calcium deposits and other crud. Therefore, the more pieces you can take apart and put in the dishwasher, the better.
It’s best not to put insulated carafes in the dishwasher, though. Instead, you should gently wash it by hand. This means that it should have a removable lid and a big enough opening that it’s not uncomfortable to clean. This is rarely a problem for glass carafes, which generally have lids that attach to the top.
The water tank is generally somewhere toward the back of the machine. Since a damp environment can eventually attempt to form its own ecosystem, it’s more hygienic if the tank is removable. Otherwise, you will need to clean it out in a different way. Later on, we will go into more detail about how to clean and decalcify coffee machines.
A Short Digression: Coffee Machines with Timers and Grinders
If it’s true that coffee machines enable our inner sloth (and they do), then a coffee machine with a timer enables a whole herd of sloths. The alarm rings at 7 o’clock, and your coffee is ready at 7 o’clock – and nobody even had to get out of bed. It sounds pretty great – and, actually, it is pretty great.
However, you can only have this greatness if you are willing to pay another 30 or 40 bucks to get a machine with a timer – although this doesn’t necessarily mean that the machine itself is worth your hard-earned money. In the end, a timer doesn’t really have much to do with the actual process of making coffee.
If you do use a timer feature, you will need to make sure everything is ready to go the night before, so that the machine can start toiling away the following morning. However, remember that, while you’re sleeping, the water will just be sitting in the tank and the coffee will release some of its aroma, and all the while the machine will be using electricity.
You can avoid the (however slight) loss of aroma by freshly grinding your coffee, as opposed to buying pre-ground. I’ve reviewed loads of easy-to-use coffee grinders that can help you get the job done.
However, put your hand on your heart and tell me: Would you actually grind the beans the night before? It still seems to me that even this step might be too much of a hassle for many coffee machine users.
It’s because of this that I eventually moved away from testing coffee machines with timers, and instead got more into coffee machines with built-in grinders. The good news is that a good many of these machines can also be programmed beforehand to always freshly grind your coffee when you want it.
I’m even convinced that the market for these kinds of machines will become more important in the coming years. After all, it’s like the love child of a sloth coffee machine and a sloth super-automatic espresso machine. It’s a sexy, new, lazy machine species that can brew you fresh coffee in mass quantities.
The 2018 Coffee Machine Tests and Reviews – An Overview
As usual, I put some thought into what key criteria I would use when testing these machines. I also always tested them in the same way so that the machines are easier to compare. Still, Coffeeness has been talking about coffee machines for several years now, and a few things have changed over time.
For one thing, we’ve had to do the tests a bit differently. Some machines that we’ve reviewed earlier have become outdated, or they have been surpassed by newer, updated models. Others are simply not available anymore. In some cases, machines that won previous reviews have fallen a bit in the rankings.
That’s not a problem, though, since we are always careful to ensure that we continually bring in new candidates for testing, so you always have up-to-date reviews.
The basic test is always based on one fundamental question: How easy is it to make good coffee with this machine? Of course, the answer to that question is always influenced by other sub-questions and test criteria, such as:
What’s the minimum and maximum water level?
How long does brewing take when using the machine’s minimum and maximum levels?
What temperature is the coffee when using the minimum and maximum levels?
How much electricity does it use?
In the past, I used to include the electricity use in actual dollar amounts, but I’ve stopped doing that because electricity costs can vary a lot. That’s why the newer tests will instead include electricity use in kilowatt hours.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that after 30 minutes, I check the temperature of the coffee – without the heating plate! The gist: Non-insulated carafes basically always lose here. I mean “lose” literally, since they lose a significant amount of heat, with the temperature usually dropping by double digits.
Otherwise, the “sideshow” questions of these tests have hardly changed:
Is it a high-quality machine?
How does it “look”?
How does it get the water to the ground coffee?
Are there any exceptional or strange smells?
How easy is it to clean?
Are there any features that are confusing or hard to use?
If the answer to that last question is “yes,” it almost always puts a machine out of the running. After all, a coffee machine should be the easiest thing to use in the world. The ones in our test pool are easy to use, so I only need to consider this last question if a feature does something really different or weird.
An Overview of the Test Winners
If you don’t have time to read each individual review – or if you just don’t want to – you will find the most important results from the 2018 Coffee Machine Tests and Reviews summarized here. However, if you want to make a more informed choice, be sure to take a closer look at the reports.
Coffee Machine Test Winners: The Old Classics and Perennial Winners
In this section, I gathered all the best-performing machines that I tested at least three years ago that are still available to buy. These machines haven’t lost any element of their positive rating, and for one reason or another, they are all top-of-the-line.
It doesn’t matter what coffee machine I’m testing. No other machine comes close to the Moccamaster. However, it still costs around $300. That price probably won’t leave a very good taste in your mouth if you’re a typical coffee machine buyer. However, the coffee, people, the coffee!!
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
This retro-looking model doesn’t actually show up in my reviews anymore. However, it’s still a true classic because it only makes two cups of coffee at a time. That’s it. That’s also why it’s still available on Amazon and why it’s so beloved!
Of course, if you are going to make just two cups of coffee, you might find yourself wondering if it wouldn’t be better and more economical to simply use a manual coffee machine instead. However, at least there’s no waste with this machine.
This sleek, stylish coffee machine with an insulated carafe and a stainless-steel look won me over back in 2016, and it’s still available now.
I especially liked how the Philips HD7546 could keep the coffee warm for a long time. However, though there are also other newer models that can do similarly well.
As I mentioned before, I’m kind of over this category. That’s because I think the next evolutionary step in coffee machine tech is to have a built-in grinder. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that that you can get really good results from machines with timers, like the Melitta Optima Timer or the Melitta Look Therm DeLuxe.
In the end, a timer is essentially just a gimmick. The machines must first and foremost prove that they can deliver the goods when it comes to coffee quality.
Both of these machines did, in fact, prove it. They are both very popular on Amazon and both made similar quality coffee. However, I’d give the Melitta Optima a slight edge due to its lower price.
Test Winners – Coffee Machines With Very High Capacity
This category just barely exists because, so far, I’ve only reviewed one machine that fits into it: the Severin KA 5828 Dual Coffee Machine. It has two separate brewing units that you can use at the same time. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Amazon in the U.S., but you might be able to buy it from a different seller, like Amazon.co.uk.
I still wanted to mention it, though, since I thought this machine was actually a pretty clever solution that might fulfill some users’ needs.
You can make up to two liters of coffee at once, which can satisfy a whole group. Normally, you can only make that amount of coffee with larger machines or percolators, and those use different filters and portioning requirements. However, the Severin brews with common household coffee filters and the same portioning trick that you can use with any other machine.
The fact that the Severin’s two insulated carafes are separate means that this dual machine can be a great option for places where people drink a ton of coffee. Additionally, the whole thing is reasonably priced at less than $100.
Unfortunately, the Dueling Carafes won’t win a beauty contest or earn any prizes for aroma nuances. Nevertheless, the machine is so terribly practical and logical that it still managed to perform very well in my test.
We have already established that when I talk about “inexpensive” coffee machines, I’m talking about the price range of around $40 to $60. Anything less than that – at least if you want any aroma – is simply pointless.
I did, in fact, get good aroma results within this inexpensive range. For proof, look no further than the WMF Bueno Coffee Machine. Indeed, the WMF is simple and inexpensive, without any frills. This sleek coffee machine makes really tasty coffee, even with inexact portioning, and costs less than $50. However, as a tradeoff, you’ll have to deal with a glass carafe that quickly cools down, as well as the fact that the machine continually uses electricity.
To deal with the first point, the only solution is to make as much coffee as you need. As for the second point, you will have to unplug the machine. It’s a bit of a hassle, but for such a cheap price, it’s (almost!) forgivable.
The Melitta Enjoy Top Therm costs $15 more, but it’s the best purchase in terms of price and performance. It has an insulated carafe and a rather precise Aroma feature. It can make a really tasty coffee on the cheap.
What’s more, with the Melitta, you won’t have to worry about a fragile glass carafe – the whole thing seems quite robust and durable.
Test Winners – Coffee Machines for Less Than $125
For some people, this category may seem strange. After all, who would spend so much money on a coffee machine? The fact of the matter is, though, for less than $100, the Philips HD7697/90 Café Intense does everything that a machine in this category should do – and does it well.
The coffee tastes excellent and stays warm for a long time. Plus, the machine looks good, and it’s super easy to use. If you mess up a bit when setting things up, it still does a good job.
Another machine in a similar class is the Melitta Look Therm DeLuxe, although I didn’t find its coffee to be as good as the Philips. However, you may have a completely different opinion.
Test Winners – Coffee Machines for More Than $125
If “Coffee Machines for Less Than $125” sounds strange, then surely “Coffee Machines for More Than $125” must sound ludicrous. However, if you like fresh coffee but don’t want to do any work to get it, then it really might be worth it to pay this much for a coffee machine.
Other contenders, such as the Philips HD 5407/60 Café Gourmet, with its unusual stacked design, simply don’t come close. Of course, that machine makes great, thoroughly elegant coffee. However, its stacked design also makes handling and cleaning it a bit awkward. That’s not at all the case with the Moccamaster.
Overall Test Winners
Even after years of testing, no other (cheaper) coffee machine has managed to knock the Moccamaster out of the top spot. Believe me, I tried. I also think that $300 is a pretty huge pile of money to pay for an automatic coffee machine.
However, if we’re being a bit more reasonable about this whole thing, then the Philips HD7697/90 Café Intense should also have a place on the winners’ podium. This is an overall great machine that won me over, and I even drank all of the test coffee I made with it.
The Losers – Steer Clear!
There are two machines that I would especially advise against buying, for different reasons. It’s probably no surprise to learn that the cheapest machines in the test were declared “losers.”
The Melitta Easy is an ultra-light plastic thingamajig that roughs up your coffee while also managing to quickly lose temperature. Therefore, the test results reflected its poor build quality.
It was a similar case with the Krups ProAroma. It actually did what it was supposed to do, but the quality was just miles off of where it should be.
Bonus Test: Coffee Machines vs. Manual Filters – A Head-to-Head Cage Match
From the very beginning of my coffee machine odyssey, one thing was clear to me: I would absolutely have to do a head-to-head comparison of mechanical and manually filtered brewing methods. In fact, I did make this comparison.
Many of you often ask me whether there’s actually a difference in taste between these methods. Some of you even helpfully comment that maybe I should get down off my Coffee-Nerd High Horse.
The contender I used to represent the machines was the Philips HD7546. As you remember, it was one of the earlier perennial test winners. I chose this one instead of the Moccamaster because I wanted to use a “simple” machine that’s more likely to be in a typical kitchen.
In general, I predicted that there wouldn’t be much difference in taste. Boy, was I wrong! In order to make the duel between electricity and my hands as fair as possible, I was careful to always keep the most important parameters the same. I used:
Freshly ground beans, with the same coarseness
Exactly the same amount of coffee (I weighed it!)
The same kind of coffee
Exactly the same amount of water
Water from a Brita filter
The exact same cups
For my test coffee, I used a Yirgacheffe. It’s the perfect choice because the Ethiopian bean is a paragon of floral aromas, which come out especially well when used with a drip filter. You can find out why by reading our guide to drip coffee. However, suffice to say that the filter holds back all the fats and oils, making room for the more delicate notes to come through — and the Yirgacheffe has tons of them. You can find more suggestions in my coffee bean reviews.
In proper cupping fashion, we marked the bottom of the cups and had neutral third parties (aka “buddies”) give them to us so we could do a blind test.
The results were as exciting as they were illuminating:
Citrus elements really came through with the coffee machine.
The manual pour-over gave more widespread fruitiness in our cup.
The machine coffee seemed significantly oilier — but you can also call that “full-bodied.”
Once the coffee cooled down, the machine coffee became acidic. The manually filtered coffee, on the other hand, turned into a fruit bomb!
In other words, even though we used the exact same roasted beans, we got two completely different coffees! Both were quite good, though. Still, a machine can’t bring out the fine notes that you will get if you are an experienced home barista using a manual pour-over.
You could grind the beans differently to make the grounds somewhat coarser for the machine and finer for the manual pour-over, which would make them more similar. However, I don’t think that’s necessary.
Above all, the test showed that even though there are similarities between the two different methods, the two approaches still led to different cups of coffee.
The machine is by nature more direct, and it works especially well with very present aromas. More oils in the coffee can suppress some of the fine nuances. If you want them, then a manual pour-over is the ideal method.
The fact that machine coffee becomes acidic instead of fruity when it cools down also clearly shows its limits. When compromise and standardization are the order of the day, coffee quickly turns into a generic product lacking in many characteristics. One of these characteristics: Cold coffee should be just as tasty as hot coffee.
Nevertheless, if you pay a bit more attention to how you use your coffee machine, then it can also score points for making good coffee with its own character. In the next section, I’ll tell you what you should pay attention to.
Coffee Machine Tips, Tricks and Know-How
If you really want to get elegant results from your coffee machine, you will have to remove the filter unit and place it on a glass carafe and switch to doing things manually. However, if you have a coffee machine, you will probably want it to work like a coffee machine does — simply. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that some of its basic functions can’t be improved.
Sure, I know that this sounds like the kind of hassle you wanted to avoid by buying a coffee machine. You should know by now, though, that if you’re in my little coffee school, you won’t be sitting around.
I’ll promise you one thing, though: If you take my tips to heart, you will discover a whole new side of your coffee machine. The tips aren’t even that difficult!
Optimize the Raw Materials
Everything depends on the ingredients that you use with your machine. That includes not only the coffee and water but also the filter. You can improve these three essential elements for every machine — no matter how good or bad it is. Heed my call:
Use good coffee!
If I were feeling philosophical, I would say this is a categorical imperative. You will only get good coffee in your cup if you use good coffee in the machine. That’s why a filter method, with its subtractive nature, can be rather versatile if you use a suitable roast.
If you like it lighter and more flowery, you can get it here. When using a dark roast with a filter method, you can pull out some delicate nuances that might be hidden at first. Now, here’s our second yet equally important categorical imperative:
Always freshly grind the beans!
There’s really no way around this one. If you use pre-ground your coffee beans, the aroma goes away before you know it. That’s why most supermarket coffee tastes the same, regardless of what machine you use. It’s because the coffee has long been reduced to its basic building blocks. Admittedly, there weren’t many blocks left after it came pouring out of the industrial roasting drum. However, that’s a quibble that I’ll have to sit down and really pick apart some other time.
Optimize the Water Quality
My sermons in favor of tap water and against bottled water seem to have earned me several angry emails. This just shows me that cold water (even for coffee) is a hot topic.
Of course, you don’t have to absolutely start filling up your coffee machines with pre-filtered water. However, it should definitely be fresh!
If any water is still in the tank (which actually goes against its basic functional principle), then pour it out and rinse out the tank.
Put the tap on cold. (Really cold!)
Let the water run for a few moments before you fill up the tank.
These three steps will ensure that you get oxygen-rich water for your brewing. The individual components of the coffee aroma should be more noticeable when you use water with high oxygen content. That’s also one of the advantages of using a machine with a removable water tank.
If the tank isn’t removable, your best bet is to use a filling container that is always clean and used just for filling the coffee machine. Don’t use the carafe. It can contain coffee residue that you won’t want to get back into the brewing cycle — and certainly not into the machine itself.
Optimize the Filter
This tip might get me into hot water, but I’m generally not a big fan of Melitta paper filters.
This is despite the fact that their shape and size are more or less the standard for all machines. The fibers used in Melitta paper filters are certainly clean but, based on my experience, they don’t filter as well as some of their competitors from Japan.
What’s more, Melitta paper filters seem to always smell a bit like wood. If a filter smells like that, it will also pass that scent on to the coffee. This can get really bad if you use the cheapo brands (some supermarket brands take the cake here in terms of grossness).
Whether you use alternatives like Hario, Kalita or another brand, highly pure filters are simply better. Yes, you have to cut some of them to size. Boo hoo. It’s also almost become a question of faith as to whether the bottom should be folded, formed into a cup or tapered to a point.
Personally, I’m a fan of filters that fold under, but flattened ones simply work better with normal coffee machines. Once you’ve found the right filter, there’s an even more important step:
Always rinse the filter — in the filter holder — before brewing!
This step will rinse any manufacturing dust or residue from the fibers, and will also open the pores to do their real job. If the fibers have already been soaked with water, they can focus instead on letting the right stuff through during the brewing cycle.
Optimize the Brewing Process
Now we come to a point that even I think is a bit nerdy. Anyone who feels the need to mess around with a standardized brewing process on a simple machine must be really crazy. Fortunately, that describes me.
The previous steps laid out several changes you can make to ensure that your coffee will be better than it was before. Better extraction means fresh water, a better-prepared filter, and better and fresher ground coffee.
The nice thing about many coffee machines is that they have a lid that you can lift during brewing, making it easy to see (and touch) the filter and the water outlet.
When you check under the hood, if you notice the water is only reaching a certain part of the filter while ignoring another part, then it can help to stir the grounds when the filter is completely full of water. You should do that toward the beginning of the cycle, though, and it’s best to do it just once.
The grind coarseness is another important area where you can make some adjustments to optimize the flow of water and thereby optimize the brewing process. Using different “aroma” features is also helpful, of course, but changing the grind coarseness is more significant.
If the ground coffee is fine, the water will move through it more slowly, regardless of how quickly it flowed from the outlet. Just be careful that the coffee isn’t ground too fine, otherwise the filter can quickly overflow.
As I’ve said before, you shouldn’t prevent anyone from adjusting the machine’s settings before brewing a pot of coffee. All of these changes require a bit of fiddling around. Simply doing this step can be great fun for coffee nerds.
Optimize the Coffee Temperature
Now we finally come to the Original Sin of coffee machines. Even though we brew the coffee hot, it quickly becomes cold in the carafe. With or without a warming plate. The best thing you can do to keep your coffee from getting cold — regardless of the carafe material — is to rinse the carafe with hot water before you start brewing, and then quickly dry it out.
That’s because, just like the coffee aroma changes when coffee is left to keep cooking on the warming plate, it also changes when it gets cold too quickly. Plus, that’s just the aroma — the taste can also change completely.
Bonus: Using Drip Coffee to Make Coffee Drinks with Milk
If you’re a latte fiend, you have likely noticed that coffee machines don’t have a cappuccino button. Indeed, these humble machines generally aren’t able to foam milk.
However, I’ve tested enough automatic milk frothers to know that, in terms of laziness and automation, they’re a perfect match for coffee machines. My recommendation for a compact frother has been and still is the Philips Senseo Milk Twister, which makes great milk foam and is hardly noticeable next to a coffee machine.
What magic can we conjure up with these devices? Café au lait, mon amour! That will add a bit of glamour to even your humble cup of breakfast coffee from the coffee machine.
Decalcifying and Cleaning Coffee Machines
Making coffee is lovely, but now we must also come to a less exciting — yet unavoidable — part of the whole process: cleaning. Although it may seem like your coffee machine couldn’t care less, you still need to clean it!
When the comfy, cozy gurgling of your machine turns into a rickety sputter, it’s a good sign that you need to decalcify (aka descale) your machine. Another sign that the tubes are probably becoming clogged is when the liquid you get in the carafe is less than what you poured into the tank.
Some people may be tempted to just throw away a $40 machine instead of cleaning it, but I completely disagree. Our throwaway society is not something to be proud of.
In any case, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about tap water, as well as the calcium that comes with it. It’s just part of cleaning super-automatic espresso machines or testing electric water kettles. Also, the water filter question also keeps popping up.
The fact is, coffee machines are significantly more resistant to calcification than a complicated automatic espresso machine. However, an automatic espresso machine will tell you when it needs to be decalcified, but most coffee machines won’t let you know when the time has come.
On the other hand, it’s also significantly easier to clean a coffee machine than an espresso machine, simply because the parts that deal with the water don’t come into contact with coffee. Also, the inner workings of a coffee machine are extremely straightforward.
If you know approximately (or exactly) how hard your tap water is, you will have a rule of thumb about how often you need to decalcify your machine. Once again, my trusty table can help us out here:
Degree of Hardness
Millimoles of Calcium Carbonate per Liter
German Hardness (dH) Degrees
How Often Should I Decalcify?
Fewer than 1.5
Fewer than 8.4 °dH
1.5 to 2.5
8.4 to 14 °dH
More than 2.5
More than 14 °dH
Using a Brita filter can reduce the water hardness from level 2 or 3 to level 1. Just one note: I always mention Brita filters because I’ve used them in my own kitchen for years, but there are also other, cheaper brands that work based on the same principle.
Which Cleaner Should I Use for a Coffee Machine?
Although I always intensely debate the merits of the proper cleaner with super-automatic espresso machines, when it comes to coffee machines, I’d advise you to use simple household cleaning products. Spare yourself the expensive frills and simply run a full tank of water mixed with lemon juice through the system. Afterward, do another flush of the system. You will have solved the two-headed problem that plagues coffee machines — calcium plus water residue.
Chemically or organically, there’s also nothing wrong with using vinegar. However, vinegar attacks the machine’s important valves and rubber parts, and always leaves behind a slight smell that manages to stay in your olfactory memory even long after it’s gone from the machine.
A quick pro tip: If you want to play it safe, after you run the first cycle with the water-lemon juice mix, pour the same mix back into the machine for a second cycle. The mix will already be warm then, which will help it remove the rest of the calcium from the coffee machine.
Cleaning Glass and Insulated Carafes
Because all the coffee residue in the machine eventually makes its way to the carafe, you will have to clean it a bit more thoroughly and frequently. Residues can accumulate especially inside insulated carafes, leaving a tough, unsightly film.
However, even a very smooth glass surface isn’t immune to that film. It also becomes increasingly difficult to remove it as the calcium level in your tap water increases. Calcium-magnesium compounds dry out as strong crystals and give the coffee residue more stability.
You can solve the calcium-in-the-carafe problem the same way as in the machine: with the water-lemon mixture. If you still have coffee residue after that, simply go to a drugstore and get some denture tablets. They have a few advantages over other options, like dishwasher tabs.
Dissolve more quickly in lukewarm water and are effervescent
Extremely gentle and non-abrasive, yet very effective
Cheaper, even if you use generic ones
Components aren’t as environmentally damaging as dishwasher tabs
Nevertheless, I always plead that you don’t let things get so out of hand that you need to use any kind of complicated or pricey cleaning products. If you simply wash and rinse out your glass or insulated carafe after every use, no residues will accumulate in the first place.
Also, if you completely ignore the warming plate and only make as much coffee as you need, then it won’t be able to “bake” coffee or calcium deposits into the carafe. It’s as simple as that.
Is It Worth It to Buy Replacement Parts for a Coffee Machine?
When testing every machine, I also checked to see if replacement parts were available. You might imagine that more expensive models would be more likely to have a market for replacement parts, but price actually doesn’t have anything to do with it.
It’s no problem finding replacement parts on Amazon for the cheap Krups ProAroma coffee machine. However, I wasn’t able to find any parts for the similarly priced WMF Bueno. There wasn’t anything available for the Philips Intense, but there was for the Philips Gourmet. Even (a few) models with insulated carafes offer replacements parts.
Offering replacement glass carafes would seem to be a logical idea because they are relatively inexpensive compared to replacing a whole machine — after all, they also help avoid waste. However, this only works in theory.
Let’s take a closer look: The Krups ProAroma costs around $40. The replacement carafe will cost you a tidy $25 or so. Considering the quality of the machine (and its carafe), that’s breathtakingly bold.
Would you be willing to part with $65, all told, if you could instead use that same amount of money to buy a significantly sturdier machine with an insulated carafe — which would also give you better coffee?
A replacement carafe for a machine like the Café Gourmet is easier to justify. At about $25, it’s more reasonably priced, considering that the machine itself costs around $160 — and also considering that the machine’s price is for the most part also justifiable.
A replacement carafe for the WMF Bueno or the Krups ProAroma will end up being almost as expensive as the machine itself. In the end, it doesn’t do anything more than heat water and open a valve, but buying one would nearly double the cost of the machine. If you’re doing that, you might just as well buy a new machine.
Just look at the Melitta Enjoy TopTherm with an insulated carafe. It costs around $70, while a replacement carafe goes for about $50, adding up to about $125 in total if you need to replace the carafe. Just show me someone who plays this little numbers game and doesn’t decide to simply buy a new machine.
Although everything inside me revolts at saying this sentence, I have to do it. In most cases, it’s not worth it to buy replacement parts for a coffee machine. That’s not because they’re bad in principle, but because the manufacturers are basically trying to swindle us.
The sometimes laughable price difference between a carafe and a machine are almost a kind of dare to simply toss the whole thing in the trash and to hand over another stack of cash to buy a new machine.
Coffee Machine or Automatic Espresso Machine? A Few Ideas to Help Guide Your Decision
If you’ve managed to make it this far in my rather long-winded tour of the world of coffee machines, then I’ll assume you’ve already wondered if it would be better to buy a super-automatic espresso machine instead of a new coffee machine.
After all, don’t forget: Espresso machine = fame, Coffee machine = lame.
However, after making thousands of liters of drip coffee with our test machines, I no longer subscribe to that statement, at least not in such general terms. Therefore, I’d like to include some tips and advice to help you determine which type of machine is better for you.
What does your coffee consumption look like?
A sub-question: Do you only enjoy a few small cups of coffee per day, or is your first move every morning to whip out the giant thermos? Purely in terms of its ability to produce large quantities of coffee, a coffee machine definitely has an advantage. With just the push of a button, you can give everybody in the office their fix.
If just one or two cups of coffee are enough for you, I’d actually suggest an entirely different approach: Check out French presses. As long as you’re OK with their parameters, French presses are quicker and more efficient than coffee machines.
French presses don’t give many options for drink variety, though. If mom is always jonesing for a latte, but dad would rather get his fix with a lungo or an americano, then a super-automatic espresso machine is a better choice.
If you want a coffee machine because it’s cheaper, you’ll just end up taking that “saved” money and instead invest it into the chain coffee shop around the corner, just to fulfill a craving.
Since I began using an automatic espresso machine, the only two reasons I drink “specialty coffee drinks” away from home is out of professional curiosity or when I’m traveling. However, I don’t do it because I’m bored of the mediocre drip coffee dripping out of my coffee machine.
What’s more, it’s not enough to argue that you can’t make good milk foam at home. There are also high-quality milk frothers available.
How much does price matter?
In terms of price, even an expensive drip coffee machine is positioned significantly better than an espresso machine. Plus, cheap coffee machines can often do quite well. When it comes to automatic espresso machines, things only start to get really interesting once you get into the upper echelons. On top of that, you need to add in costs for cleaning, water and — obviously — the coffee itself.
Surprisingly an automatic espresso machine actually uses more coffee because the extraction, grind coarseness and preparation methods of both machines are so different. Sure, a standard coffee puck in an espresso machine weighs about 7 grams when dry, while a full filter in a coffee machine will hold about 56 grams. However, the coffee machine can easily get you 10 cups of finished coffee from 56 grams, while an espresso machine will need about 70 grams of coffee, since each 7-gram puck will yield one cup.
This comparison might seem a bit apples-to-oranges, but for many buyers, it’s not an insignificant issue. The fact is, an espresso machine will be satisfying only if you’re willing to deal with its costs and limitations. Otherwise, it will just gather dust in the corner.
How set are you in your ways?
Earlier in this article, I went on a major tangent about how you can pimp your drip coffee. That obviously shows that it’s possible to make some changes to a standard machine but, nevertheless, coffee machines are and will remain objects that people get used to and then stick with.
If you’re a fan of routine — you’ve found a good brand of coffee that you like, and any variation, such as throwing a coffee grinder into the mix, messes up your usual rhythm — then a coffee machine is the choice for you.
However, if you always like to try out new things, and if you always like discovering new coffee varieties and even enjoy switching up your coffee beans, then I’d suggest you get a super-automatic espresso machine. They let you keep your routine, but at the same time offers you loads of variations at the push of a button. In fact, you’ll probably want to take a much closer look at coffee machines that have built-in grinders.
Another way to look at it is this: How many of the possible features on an automatic espresso machine will you actually use? Any feature that you don’t actively use is just wasted money.
Instead of a Summary: Guidance about Coffee Machines
If you’ve finished this article with the impression that I would rank drip coffee machines at a similar position to my beloved manual pour-over dripper, then you’re not the only one. Even I have occasionally asked myself if some of these great machines have shifted my perspective a bit.
Yes, my perspective has changed. However, no, manual pour-over drippers and coffee machines aren’t equally good in my opinion. Manual pour-overs are the Big League, while good drip coffee machines are just the Little League. Yet both of them have lots of talent and fans.
Even I can get off my Coffee-Expert High Horse for a few minutes while I give you a bit of help in answering the question “Manual Dripper or Coffee Machine?”
Do you want to try a completely new coffee? Manual dripper.
Do you gladly sample new blends of coffee? Manual dripper.
Is your roast especially delicate? Manual dripper.
Does your roast let an especially strong aroma do its work? Coffee machine.
Are all of the technical aspects aligned to get the best aroma possible out of the beans? Coffee machine.
Is mom coming to visit? Coffee machine.
Will your mom bring grandma, too? Coffee machine — and use the dark roast!
Are you making coffee just for yourself? Manual dripper.
Is the final result the only thing that matters to you? Coffee machine.
Do you want to learn more about coffee and how to prepare it? Manual dripper.
Will milk be involved? Coffee machine.
Are you on Instagram? Manual dripper.
If coffee machines were really as bad as their reputation, then we wouldn’t even let them near Coffeeness. After all, have you ever seen me test K-cup machines? Exactly. However, coffee machines still have that hint of a bad image, which even I can’t quite avoid buying into sometimes.
I believe that our aesthetics-obsessed society is partially to blame. A copper manual dripper looks pretty awesome sitting next to an elegant gooseneck pour-over kettle, especially when compared to a dumpy plastic coffee machine. Additionally, automatic espresso machines simply bring in more profits for their manufacturers, which is reflected through flashier advertising.
However, while we weren’t looking, some of those manufacturers developed good, automatic drip coffee machines into a whole niche product. This method has even been called an “art form.” Although it’s not quite a Picasso, it might indeed be a paint-by-numbers portrait.
Automatic drip coffee machines must meet certain standards, which means that individuality gets lost along the way. On the other hand, you can still bring some of that individuality back. You can take that paint-by-numbers drip coffee and change the colors around (use new roasts), or add some artful shading within the different numbered areas (change the parameters).
I’ll be waiting to hear from you in the comments section. See you there!