Reviews

Top picks in Coffee Makers

Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee ... COFFEE! There are people who need their coffee to be good, and there are people who need their coffee to be reliably good over and over, pot after pot in volumes that rival restaurant output. How often do you get good coffee in a restaurant? The machines that can make a pot in a couple minutes do so at the expense of the end result, burning the coffee in the rush. Home machines can have the same problem, which is why you won't find any of those cartridge systems here. Apologies, but after the first four systems it was obvious that while you can get a decent cup of coffee fast, you can't get a really great cup of coffee ever. There's nothing wrong with decent and fast if that's your preference, but we're shooting for the best cup here.

Then there's the way you take your coffee. Are you the pot after pot person, a single espresso shot person, a person who only has a coffee machine for entertaining? Unlike some of the other equipment, there is no single best bet for all here. So, we're breaking them up into categories, all with an eye on the longest term continued performance. What's the best option to make a smile replace that one closed eye in the morning, morning after morning, and also help you out during a dinner party without compromising quality for speed, and without breaking the bank?

Espresso Makers

Espresso makers come with such a wide variety of options we could be here all day. We narrowed the field to equipment that would have the broadest appeal: semi-automatic, milk frother/cappuccino steam arm, and under $150. That being said, it's time for a note on reviews for equipment that meets the criteria. If you look at two pieces of equipment from almost any brand that seem identical except that one has a frothing arm and one doesn't, you'll almost always find the one with the frothing arm has lower buyer ratings. After a lot of testing, it seems this is more a function of people expecting magic out of the box than it is that the equipment is faulty. How else can you explain people being in a bad mood about one and loving the other when the machine otherwise works identically? If you don't know how to steam milk for your cappuccino and want the machine to do it all for you, then semi-automatic is not your thing. Anyone who knows how knows you can't just put the arm in the milk and presto. It'll take ten minutes on Google to learn the tricks. Most importantly for our purposes here, don't mind the lower stars. At these prices, you're getting a good quality cup o' java from a good machine.

The De'Longhi is the front runner at this price point, and by a wide margin. Follow the directions and you're looking at specialty shop quality right on your counter. In terms of ratings, Capresso hit the map suddenly after some quality revamping a while back. Having three of them in the top four doesn't mean they're the top quality pick. It means there are more of them in this price range than any other decent brand. But, there's a range to choose from to meet your needs and the pricing runs accordingly. The Capresso EC100 will run faster than the De'Longhi, but maybe not worth $50 faster for your tastes. The choice between the De'Longhi and the Capresso 119 is largely a matter of design preference. The De'Longhi is still the win for final flavor, but if you're not an over-the-top espresso maniac, you might not notice the slight difference. Just want to have something around for the occasional guest or your own weekends-only jolt? The Capresso 303 keeps the budget in mind and is durable enough to expect good things for a long time if you're not over-working the little guy.

Automatic Drip

A coffee maker is a coffee maker is a coffee maker. Not so! You'll probably be surprised that a company like Proctor Silex is on this list and the famed Mr. Coffee is nowhere to be found, but the method to PS's madness is much cleaner with a better flavor delivery than the biggest names, as are the other runners in this category. Again, the De'Longhi wins hands down and is worth the few extra dollars. Why others have not learned their secrets of perfect timing and temperature for an entire pot of smooth is anybody's guess, though in the more recent "quality wins" paradigm of the home coffee world PS and Hamilton Beach are catching up. As you can see from the placement, Hamilton Beach is catching up faster. Bella came out of nowhere as the affordable design-forward option for people who might care as much about pretty as they do about function, and why not? You can buy mixers, food processors and more in every color under the rainbow and in all shapes and sizes. Why judge someone who wants a pretty coffee maker? The tick is whether or not you're sacrificing quality, and in the case of Bella you could most definitely do a lot worse for the money.

Combination Machines

Here's where things get sticky. The convenience of these machines is great, but are you asking too much of something that only costs a couple hundred bucks? Here's the rub with these guys, once you step above a couple hundred dollars, you'll find a few in the high hundreds and then there's a huge jump up into the thousands on pricing. So, if you want perfection in a combo machine, just know that the average four star combo is about $3,000. For your purposes at home, keep the review notes on the espresso machines in mind, because people having issues with frothing their own milk affecting ratings applies here too. De'Longhi being the front runner here is no surprise when they won both espresso and automatic drip above. Of course putting them together in one case doesn't create a big difference in resulting beverage quality. There's another review rub here, though. A lot of reviews are saying their machines crap out after a year, or they have problems with the steamer tank in the short term. All I can say is I've had my De'Longhi Cafe Figaro combo machine for fifteen years and haven't had a single problem with it. Then I'll refer back to the earlier statement about trying to compare a $150 or $200 machine to a $3,000 machine and having the same expectations. If the possibility of the machine not lasting forever at these prices beats out the convenience and the incredible flavor you get from a De'Longhi, then maybe combos aren't the place for you. No problem. KRUPS comes in second, at a slight compromise to flavor (too hot on the coffee brew, we think), a lot more confidence in durability according to reviews, and an expected increase in price. None of the others in this category compared to these two brands for buck-bang.

Percolators

Even with automatic drip quality going up and prices getting relatively closer to percolators, there are some who feel the little extra work of a percolator is still the way to go. And let's face it, how often is old-school really a bad thing? We've just moved from stove-top to a built in heating element. The only trick to a percolator is quality construction. Faberware is considered by many to be the king in this arena, so it has to be here. But if durability is the key element between competitors, you're looking at big savings with the other three choices in roughly the same quality category. What's the big deal about $25 more for extra quality? Well in this case that's an average of 40% off. The results don't seem worth it. For some, pricing might be a consideration for being in this category in the first place, so it got a little extra weight here.

Manual

Ok, purists! Nobody's forgotten about you. For those who want to control the temperature of their own brew or take the few extra minutes for an old fashioned espresso, salute. Like with the percolators, base construction quality is the primary consideration here. Dollar for dollar, year after year, the Pedrini wins out on stovetop espresso makers. For a few extra bucks you can go a little fancier in appearance with the Bialetti. There doesn't seem to be any correlation in bigger dollars creating a better product, so you don't even have to factor for value here. Your only other pricing consideration is how many cups you want out of it. We stuck with six. The same considerations hold true for the French Press, where we're most concerned with the handle not falling off in the dishwasher in six months, the top being your basic "keeps the heat in long enough and otherwise doesn't complicate life unnecessarily" genre, and the only performance consideration being a reliable screen and plunger. At an eight cup mandate, we figure $18 is about where you should be. Bodum and Procizion meet all the wish list items. In addition to the De'Longhi mentioned above in the combo section, my counter features a stovetop espresso maker and French Press that both get regular use if I'm brewing just for myself, by the way. There's nothing too old fashioned about sticking with these if your volume requirements don't demand more. If you're new to it, just plan to experiment some. Once you find your groove, there is no better bang for the buck anywhere on this page!