It’s National Coffee Day in case you didn’t know! So we’re taking another look at one of our most popular topics on the blog— the single serve coffee makers. It turns out that nearly one in three of us get our engines running with a drink from a single serve brewer. But if you’re thinking of investing in a machine, you might be jolted by the number of choices you’ve got. There are a lot of brewers out there vying for your coffee money, and they dramatically range in price as well as in technology.
We did a smackdown between Keurig and Nespresso last year, and it turns out you had a lot to say about it. So much, in fact, that we’ve decided to do an updated comparison of single serve coffee makers, and add a few new ones: Keurig, Nespresso, BUNN, Mr. Coffee and Hamilton Beach. We wanted to know: Do you need to pick a pricey one to get great coffee? Can an affordable one do the job just as well? What makes one machine better than another? (Hint: technology has something to do with it.)
We compared the top five single cup coffee brewers that are vying to get you percolating.
Caveat: If there’s one thing we learned from your comments on our last smackdown, it’s that coffee is personal, yo. One person’s perfect cup is another’s hot water, while yet another caffeine fiend’s “rich, robust” cup is someone else’s sludge. With that in mind, we did our best to present multiple considerations for each brewer. And now, let’s get our buzz on!
keurig k575 plus
Keurig currently has five non-commercial brewers ranging in price from $99 to $180. The Keurig K575 Plus is basically your utmost tricked-out Keurig (see “Tech” below for details), with every bell and whistle an American coffee drinker (the kind who says “go big, or go home!”) could want. It even has a massive 80-ounce reservoir so you can go on a caffeine blitz without slowing down to refuel. Note, however, that all brewers have the same “Keurig technology,” which means that every one offers the same control over temperature settings, the same ability to sense what type of brew you’re making (coffee, tea, hot cocoa and so on) and the same pressure (though the company doesn’t reveal specifics, Keurig is considered a low-pressure machine similar to a drip coffeemaker). It accepts not only single-serving K-Cup pods, but also K-Mug and K-Carafe pods, which are sized to brew for Keurig’s travel mug and its carafes.
Design-wise, this model has the classic Keurig “wide-shouldered” look, and I did feel its presence pretty strongly on my counter. I would have liked it in cream or white, which you can get from Keurig’s smaller models. And I wish the handle for inserting capsules wasn’t metallic, because it gets fingerprint-y.
But what it lacks in design, it makes up in usability. Insert capsule, touch screen, dispense drink. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from, including Starbucks, lots of sweet, coffeehouse-style drinks, Snapple (brew over ice!) and even Campbells soup (SOUP!).
So how does it taste? While there is a new Illy variety that I haven’t yet tried, the majority of the coffees are what I’d call… mild. This isn’t a slow brew or a careful barista creation, though one friend felt the taste was more complex than her usual drip. It’s a quick, hot hit of instant gratification. If you want it darker, you can tap the “bold” button, which brews each drink a little longer. The sugary drinks are very similar to your favorite $4 coffeehouse creations.
- Price: $139.99, and about .60 to 1.20 per K-Cup (more for Carafe pods)
- Tech: Each K-Cup contains very finely ground coffee, tea or other beverage powder, so when hot water runs through it, it brews instantly. This model also has bells and whistles including a color touch screen, strength control with five temperature settings, programmable settings, energy saver mode, a high altitude setting, maintenance alerts, and a light inside the reservoir that illuminates in colors (because why not?)
- Size of machine: 13.63” w x 10.43” d x 13.45” h
- What it comes with: six K-Cups, two water filters
- Brew sizes: 4-30 ounces
- Brew temperature: Five settings from Low to High
- Warranty: One year
nespresso vertuoline evoluo
Europeans love the Nespresso Virtuoline Evoluo. One of our testers has an aunt in Geneva, who pounds her Nespresso like a lab rat with sugar tabs. The coffee is meant to imitate rich European coffees, down to the crema (creamy head). Looks-wise, the machine is a bit less imposing than the Keurig, but pretty blah when it comes to style. Yet even with its 40-ounce reservoir, it’s petite and clean-lined, and it even spits out the capsules after they’re spent. It offers fourteen coffee flavors and four espresso flavors, all with subtle taste differences (the company offers in-store complimentary tastings at a few Bloomingdale’s, Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma locations). Bonus: the aluminum capsules can be returned free to Nespresso for recycling, a nice point for anyone who feels guilty dumping loads of capsules into the trash.
I loved having this little machine on my counter. It didn’t call attention to itself, and it hardly seemed to take up space. The flavors are, to my American taste, bitter without lots of milk. But they’re also as complex as wines, something I hadn’t imagined was possible with a capsule.
- Price: $199 for the machine, plus .85 per espresso capsule and $1.10 per coffee capsule
- Tech: The VertuoLine uses “Centrifusion technology,” which means it spins the capsules while brewing them. The spinning is supposed to create an even blend (and the foamy crema). The machine also senses which capsule you’ve put in by reading its barcode, and optimizes the brew for that variety. There’s also an alarm that tells you when the machine needs descaling.
- Size of machine: 8”w x 12.2”d x 12.3”h
- What it comes with: Only the machine.
- Brew sizes: 1.4 ounces (espresso) and 8 ounces (coffee)
- Brew temperature: varies based on the capsule
- Warranty: One year
bunn my café mcu
With its retro look (think: Mad Men), the BUNN My Café MCU appears old-fashioned, but it has some interesting tech under the hood. Billed as “four machines in one,” it can handle ground coffee, K-Cups, soft pods (like Melitta) and tea bags. Unlike other machines, it requires that you add water each time you brew. There are four drawers included, too: a cup drawer for K-Cups, a pod drawer for coffee pods, a ground coffee drawer and a plain ol’ hot water drawer. You will need to wash them between uses. There’s also a pulse button that lets you extend brew time if you like your coffee stronger. A few reviewers complain that the machine can spit hot water in a behavior that’s been described as “exploding.” I haven’t personally tested this, so cannot pass judgment. It’s assembled in the good old U. S. of A., and offers a longer warranty than most of its competitors.
- Price: $159.99
- Tech: Pulse Brew function, four interchangeable front-loading drawers
- Size of machine: 7.1” w x 10.3” d x 12” h
- What it comes with: four separate drawers for K-Cups, pods, ground coffee and hot water
- Brew sizes: 4-14 ounces
- Brew temperature: 200 degrees
- Warranty: Two years
mr. coffee single serve
Looking like a cross between a Keurig and a cartoon robot, the Mr. Coffee Single Serve Coffee Brewer is actually the result of a partnership with Keurig. It’s essentially a scaled-down Keurig machine, and very similar to the K55 but with a slightly smaller reservoir (40 oz.) and a lower price (as little as $66 online). Unlike the K55, it doesn’t come with water filters. If you want a lower-priced machine and already have filtered water, this might be a good way to cut costs. Oh, and in white? I think it’s one of the nicest looking machines on the market.
- Price: $79.99, plus about .60 to 1.20 per K-Cup
- Tech: Keurig technology—hot water runs through a capsule of super-finely ground coffee, tea or beverage mix.
- Size of machine: 8.7” w x 12.4” d x 12.7” h
- What it comes with: 5 K-Cups
- Brew sizes: 6-10 ounces
- Brew temperature: 192ºF
- Warranty: One year
hamilton beach the scoop
Hate the idea of spending a bundle on pods? Hamilton Beach’s The Scoop is a reimagined drip coffee machine that offers some of the convenience of a pod machine. Its scoop is pre-measured, so all you need to do is scoop the ground coffee of your choice, insert it into the machine, add a cupful of water and press Regular or Bold. (Bold is a slower brew for darker coffee.) Consider it the low-tech version of its competitors. As for flavor, though I haven’t personally tested it, reviews are generally positive. Complaints tend to be that it’s too weak, because it brews in just 90 seconds. But you can’t beat the price— this would be great for the college kid (or grown ups of all ages) that can’t afford their latte habit.
- Price: $35.00
- Tech: The steel mesh scoop is pre-measured so you can scoop the coffee of your choice. The machine doesn’t take pods.
- Size of machine: 8.67” w x 8.35” d x 8.67” h
- What it comes with: Only the machine and its scoop
- Brew sizes: 8 ounces and 14 ounces
- Brew temperature: 195ºF to 205ºF
- Warranty: One year
Do you own one of these machines? Is there another I should review? Let me know in the comments!