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NerdWallet’s Coffee Maker Buying Guide

Aug. 19, 2016
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Coffee is an important part of the morning routine. That’s why selecting the right coffee maker is key, especially if you’re going to use the appliance every day.

From quantity to convenience, we’ve outlined everything you should know before picking a machine for your home.

These are the top things to keep in mind as you begin your search for a coffee maker:

Coffee maker type

As you start your research, think realistically about how much coffee you drink and how many people you’ll need to serve. You can narrow down the type of machine you need based on your desired brew capacity. It’s also worth noting that some makers take only coffee grounds while others use prepackaged pods, so pay close attention to each model’s requirements.

  • Single-serve coffee makers: These coffee makers produce just enough for one person at a time. Most are designed to use pods, but some can use grounds, and others let you use either. These machines tend to brew quickly; some take less than a minute to make a cup. They’re usually smaller than other coffee makers and more suitable for kitchens with minimal counter space.
  • Drip coffee makers: These machines are ideal for larger servings. They typically have a carafe and use grounds to make a full pot of coffee. Some models can make upward of 12 cups at once, which means your java might take a little longer to brew.
  • Dual-design coffee makers: If your coffee intake varies, a dual-design coffee maker might serve you best. This type gives you the choice to brew enough coffee for just one cup or a full pot.
  • Grind-and-brew coffee makers: These are drip machines that have built-in grinders for your coffee beans. Users can get convenient, fresh coffee without making a trip to a cafe.

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Your new coffee maker likely will have a prominent place on your countertop. That means you’ll want one that fits. If you have an expansive kitchen with ample counter space, the size of your coffee maker probably isn’t a concern. Otherwise, it’s smart to take out the tape measure before you buy. Then, look at the product height, width and weight to ensure you have enough room and can move the machine easily if necessary.

If you’re leaning toward a single-serve appliance, you’ll also want to factor in whether it will accommodate your cup, travel mug or other vessel. User reviews can offer some guidance on what fits underneath the spout.

» MORE: Best grind and brew coffee makers
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Pods, capsules or grounds?

Pods and capsules are convenient choices, but coffee grounds are more economical — and some say they taste better, too. However, some machines can’t use them. Others limit you not only to using coffee capsules but to a specific brand of capsule. Some machines, such as Keurig models, let you use either grounds or pods — but you’ll need to purchase a reusable filter cup if you choose grounds. Check the product details to find a model that matches your preference.
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Special features

Coffee makers have one basic function — making coffee — but some devices do much more. If you’re looking for a hands-off experience, you might want to pick a more advanced machine. Added features you may want to consider include: an auto-off function, digital display, clock, flavor-strength settings, programmability and temperature control. But the more features a model has, the more it’s likely to cost.

» MORE: The best cheap coffee makers
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Beverage options

Whether you want a simple cup of joe or the option to make practically any item off the coffeehouse menu, there’s a model for you. Some coffee makers brew only hot coffee, while others are capable of making iced coffee, hot cocoa, tea, cappuccino and more. If you want the best of both worlds, look into a versatile machine.
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A coffee maker may be easy to use, but you’ll want it to be easy to clean, too. Keeping your machine free of coffee splatter and calcium buildup will help it last longer and maintain the quality of your coffee.

Look for a maker that has removable, dishwasher-safe parts. If the device has parts you must clean by hand, read user reviews to see whether it’s simple or awkward to clean, or whether there might be design flaws that make the machine messy.

» MORE: How to clean your Nespresso machine
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Some coffee drinkers aren’t happy unless their morning beverage practically scorches their mouth, while others are content to ease into the morning with a cozy, warm cup of joe. To ensure your coffee won’t be cold, look for a model with an insulated stainless steel carafe, a warming plate or a temperature control setting. Heat levels are subjective, so take that into consideration if you read any consumer reviews.
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Brew time

Not all machines brew at the same pace. Most single-serve coffee makers can prepare your coffee in an instant, while others, like drip coffee makers, may take several minutes. If time is of the essence — or if you’d like to wake up to the smell of coffee — look into a device with a programmable option. You’ll be able to schedule a specific time to make your beverage. Check the product information for an estimated brew time.
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Certain coffee makers are sold with accessories or bonus items like mugs, pods or carousels that store capsules. And some retailers may host limited-time sales that offer a gift with purchase. When you compare different models at different retailers, take note of what’s included in the price.
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Timing your purchase

Once you’ve decided on the right type of coffee maker, you’ll want to make sure you get it for the best possible price. That’s why it’s important to consider both when and where you buy.

Historically, the best time to buy a coffee maker is in May, during Memorial Day sales. Of course, that won’t be the most convenient time for everyone to shop. Keep your eye out year-round for sales on small kitchen appliances, where you’re likely to find some coffee makers in the mix.

Once you pick out the model you want, take a look at the manufacturer’s website. Some will offer free shipping or include extras with your purchase. Make sure to compare the prices among the manufacturer and different third-party retailers. And don’t forget to try Amazon, where you might regularly find the coffee maker at a reduced price.

Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.