We Tried Every Single-Serve Coffee Maker We Could Find and This Was the Best
All single-serve coffee makers aren’t created equal. Here are five solid options for every coffee drinker.
On the market for a new coffee maker? Well, you’ve come to the right place. We enlisted Marianne Williams, an expert from our test kitchen, to test and review every single-serve coffee machine we could get our hands on.
Our favorite of the bunch? Keurig K-Cafe. It’s kind of a rock star. But before we get into what makes it so amazing, let’s talk about single-serve coffee makers—and who does and doesn’t need one:
What Is a Single-Serve Coffee Maker?
Single-serve coffee making has surged in popularity over recent years. It’s a method of brewing coffee that produces a single portion, as opposed to a larger amount meant for many people.
Who Needs One?
There are plenty of reasons you might find yourself on the market for a single-serve coffee maker. For instance, if you are:
- A casual coffee drinker. If you’re the type of person who sips one cup of coffee in the morning (instead of downing three or four cups), a single-serve maker is really all you need.
- Living alone, or the only person in your home who drinks coffee. If you live with other people who enjoy drinking coffee, you may want to consider purchasing a different kind of machine. However, if you’re the only person in your home who likes to indulge in a cup o’ joe, a single-serve product should get the job done.
- In a hurry. A good single-serve coffee maker should satisfy your need for caffeine in minutes.
What Are Coffee Pods—And Are They Bad for the Environment?
Single-serve coffee makers are synonymous with coffee pods, pre-packaged containers of ground coffee, for most people.
These pods are certainly convenient. Not only do they often reduce the time needed to brew coffee, but they eliminate the need to measure out portions of coffee from larger containers.
They also keep ground coffee relatively fresh, since the grounds are never really exposed to air.
However, they do have their drawbacks: Single-use coffee pods have been criticized for their negative environmental impacts. In fact, the man who invented K-Cups (the original pod), said in 2015 that he prefers to use filters.
“I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” John Sylvan told The Atlantic in 2015.
Keurig Green Mountain, arguably the most well-known single-serve coffee brand, is working to cut back on waste—and plans to transition to recyclable K-Cups by the end of 2020.
However, if you’re still concerned, you can use a single-serve coffee maker without using single-use pods. Not every single-serve machine requires a pod of any kind (like this Black & Decker one, which uses regular old filters). Those that do rely on pods usually offer at least one eco-friendly alternative (these reusable coffee pods are only $8 on Amazon and fit most Keurig models).
How We Tested Each Coffee Maker
“(We’re) looking for coffee makers that brew single-serve cups of coffee quickly and consistently, in as few steps as possible,” says Marianne.
Machines that exclusively brew espresso or that must be attached to a separate water supply were not tested.
We added extra points if the coffee maker heated quickly, had a water reservoir, and offered the option to use a reusable pod or a filter.
The ideal single-serve coffee maker is “sturdy, trusty, and clean,” according to Marianne.
She notes that frills and extra features can be good—but they can also complicate a should-be simple process.
“For example, the option to make cold brew is so convenient, while too many buttons can be overwhelming,” she explains. “I love a self-explanatory machine with as few parts possible.”
To ensure accurate and thorough results, Marianne:
- Measured each machine.
- Timed each brew multiple times for speed and consistency.
- Measured the temperature of each brew for consistency.
- Researched the availability and quality of the pod selection (if applicable).
- Recorded any optional or extra features that sets the machines apart.
She graded products based on:
- Convenience. How easy is it to use, clean, and store?
- Speed. The faster the better. She took into account the entire brewing process, including heating the water.
- Display. Is the display easy-to-read and attractive on a countertop?
- Extras. Does the machine take a reusable pod? Does it offer different brew strengths? Timers or alarms?
Here’s what we found:
Best Coffee Makers at a Glance
- Best In Show: Keurig K-Cafe, $180; Amazon
- Runner-Up: Keurig K-Elite, $127; Amazon
- Best For Travel: Coffee Gator Thermal Pour Over Travel Mug, $25; Amazon
- Best Espresso: Coffee Gator Moka Pot Espresso Maker, $23; Amazon
- We Also Recommend: Black & Decker 4-in-1, $30; Amazon
Best In Show: Keurig K-Cafe
Buy it! Keurig K-Cafe, $180; Amazon
What Keurig says: “Introducing the all-in-one coffeehouse brewer. With the new K-Café Special Edition single serve coffee, latte, and cappuccino maker from Keurig, every house can be a coffeehouse. Brew your favorite coffee or make creamy lattes and frothy cappuccinos using any K-Cup pod—all from one effortlessly simple to use brewer. Just brew, froth, enjoy!”
Though it’s the largest and most expensive of the bunch, the Keurig K-Cafe is incomparable.
The attached milk frother adds a “coffee shop” element we love and is incredibly useful—Marianne says it turns “a pesky task into something hands-off and foolproof.”
Sleek and aesthetic, this machine will look gorgeous on any countertop.
“If you’re planning on buying an electric single serve coffee machine, and are prepared for its presence on the counter, this is a winner,” Marianne raves.
Keurig K-Cafe at a Glance:
- Makes single-serve coffee, lattés, and cappuccinos
- Has a dishwasher-safe milk frother
- Consistent brew temperature (170-180°)
- Brews 8 ounces in 35 seconds
- Holds 60 ounces of water in the reservoir
- Larger than most (12x15”)
- Offers a “strong brew” option
- Pod insert is removable
- Fits a 7.2” travel mug
- Makes espresso shots
Runner-Up: Keurig K-Elite
Buy it! Keurig K-Elite, $127; Amazon
What Keurig says: “The Keurig K-Elite brewer blends a premium finish and programmable features to deliver both modern design and the ultimate in beverage customization. With a striking brushed finish and metal details, it’s a stylish addition to any kitchen.”
The Keurig K-Elite is compact and easy to use.
“It looks like an upgraded version of the classic Keurig,” according to Marianne. “It feels sturdy and satisfying to operate.”
Good news for cold brew fans: This nifty machine also makes iced coffee.
The K-Elite also allows the user to program the water temperature. Marianne tested this feature by setting the temperature at 192°. When she tested the coffee with a digital thermometer, it read 185°.
It may not be perfectly accurate, but it’s pretty dang close.
Keurig K-Elite at a Glance:
- Consistent brew temperature (170-180°)
- Brews 8 ounces in 40 seconds
- Holds 75 ounces of water in the reservoir (which comes with a handle)
- Makes hot and iced coffee
- Brews five different-sized cups
- Pod insert is removable
- Fits a 7.2” travel mug
- Temperature control
- Has a digital clock display
- Has removable water filter for reservoir
Best For Travel: Coffee Gator Thermal Pour Over Travel Mug
What Coffee Gator says: “This personal pour over brewer lets you make, then take, hot, fresh coffee wherever you go. Just pop on the stainless steel mesh filter, add ground coffee, then pour over water to make hand drip coffee directly into your travel cup. Coffee hotter for longer. Other brewers restrict you to the house or cool quickly. Vacuum layered, military-grade 304 stainless steel coating a smart copper lining traps heat for longer. Fits virtually all car cup holders for hot coffee on arrival.”
It would be an understatement to say that Marianne was impressed with this compact little mug.
“I immediately adored (it),” she says. “It’s so simple and smart. The perfect “one serving” situation.”
Super easy to operate (you just slowly pour hot water over the ground coffee in the filter), the Coffee Gator travel mug will fit in any cup holder.
Cleanup was a breeze because, well, there was no cleanup. You don’t have to wash the machine or dispose of any pods (which also makes it an eco-friendly choice).
Bonus points: The coffee stays hot in the mug for a really long time.
Coffee Gator Thermal Pour Over Travel Mug at a Glance:
- Easily Portable
- Keeps coffee hot for 6 hours or cold for 20 hours
- Heat-proof exterior
- Metal filter
Best Espresso: Coffee Gator Moka Pot Espresso Maker
What Coffee Gator says: “Classic coffee and a caffeine-rush in a hurry. This traditional moka is based on the traditional Italian design for producing 6 demitasse (2 floz) cups of rich, velvety espresso coffee. Say ciao to espresso, Americano, cappuccino, and latte at home!”
Here’s another Coffee Gator product that blew Marianne’s expectations out of the water.
While it’s intended only for espresso, you can easily make an Americano by adding water.
“It produces a velvety espresso and comes with two adorable 3-ounce stainless steel cups,” says Marianne. “This is a trusty product, but requires a little bit of cleaning after brewing. “
Coffee Gator Moka Pot Espresso Maker At a Glance:
- Easy to use
- Brews espresso
- Works in about 5 minutes
- Holds 12 ounces
- Requires a stovetop
We Also Recommend: Black & Decker 4-in-1
What Black & Decker says: “Choose your brew! This 4-in-1 coffee maker brews into a standard mug, a tall travel mug, a 5-Cup carafe, and it works for pour-over coffee. The adjustable stand allows for brewing versatility, and the unique, removable brew basket lets you control the strength of your coffee when making a pour over into a mug or carafe.”
While this wasn’t Marianne’s favorite coffee maker, she was impressed with its simplicity, low price, and ease of use. Plus, its traditional setup (no pods) means less waste at the end of the day.
“It’s a very affordable coffee maker that allows you to use your own ground coffee, meaning better flavor and less waste,” she says.
However, there is no warming tray for the carafe—so you’ve got to drink your coffee while it’s hot.
Black & Decker 4-in-1 at a Glance:
- Heats and brews single brew in 2 minutes
- Heats and brews 5 cups in 7 minutes
- Relatively compact
- Consistent brew temperature (160-170°)
- Includes carafe, permanent filter, and filter basket
- Adjustable stand
- No warming tray for the carafe