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Published 11:19 AM EDT, Wed May 12, 2021
As long-time coffee drinkers, we didn’t think it was possible to be overly caffeinated. A few cups in the morning, a pick-me-up cold brew mid-afternoon, maybe a post-dinner cappuccino — we may not be at “Gilmore Girls” consumption levels, but we’re at least in the Stars Hollow neighborhood.
But after running 10 single-cup coffee makers through a battery of tests (more on that below) — and drinking multiple cups from each machine multiple times — we found ourselves staying up extra late watching reruns of Lorelai and Rory on Netflix, and eventually, drifting off to sleep with coffee pods, ideal temperatures and drip times invading our dreams.
The good news: The occasional jitters were well worth it, as they put two winning machines on our radar that we highly recommend you, in turn, put on your kitchen counters:
Serious java junkies tend to avoid single-serve makers, lamenting that pods will never result in the same great taste you get from a lovingly prepared, precisely honed pour-over method. While it’s true many single-cup coffee makers may not produce the robustness of a moka pot or French press, nor the flavorful pots of drip makers, our top two served up some boldly delicious brews.
Both delivered fast, hot coffee that consistently tasted the way it should (meaning, there were no flavors that shouldn’t be there, and they were neither burnt nor weak-tasting), and they were each extremely easy to set up and operate. They both also featured a unique X-factor that tipped the scales, from sheer handiness to valued versatility and amazing taste.
Our overall winner, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
For best value, we found ourselves smitten with the Sboly Single-Serve Coffee Brewer. One of the lower priced machines we tested, it scored big points for its compact size and ease of use, but especially for its ability to brew four different sizes using either grounds or K-cups — an option we really appreciated.
If you’re in the market for a coffee machine that can brew a consistently great cup that’s piping hot, makes espresso, is extremely easy to use and looks great on your counter, you need the Nespresso VertuoPlus in your life.
This single-cup coffee maker stood out from the pack in nearly every category. It produced the hottest coffee of the bunch, delivered the same great taste with every cup, allowed for a variety of brewing options and truly could not be easier to use.
Now, that consistency, of course, is partly owed to its use of Nespresso — specifically, Nespresso VertuoPlus — pods. The big pluses of the pods are that you are always guaranteed a great cup of coffee, no guessing or experimenting with ground amount or timing (and no need for an additional coffee grinder at all). The pods accommodate five cup sizes — espresso (1.35-ounce), double espresso (2.7-ounces), gran lungo (5-ounces), coffee (8-ounces) and alto coffee (14-ounces). They also come in 27 flavor options, from a highly intense double espresso for those mornings you need jet fuel to get you moving to medium roasts just right for a mid-morning pick-me-up to flavored coffees perfect for blending with milk for an afternoon latte.
And thanks to a clever barcode design, the machine reads each capsule, so the user doesn’t have to worry about changing up any settings; just pop the pod in, tap a button, wait 90 seconds for it to do its thing and you’re done.
In addition to the different sizes, you can also choose from a wide range of blends. The machine comes with a starter pod variety pack ranging from espresso to lattes in an array of flavor intensity.
So, here are the minuses of pods: They aren’t cheap. A 40-count variety pack is $40 on Amazon. That, of course, is less expensive than picking up an espresso every morning at your neighborhood coffee shop, but you’re locked in to using Nespresso Vertuo line only. By comparison, K-cups, used in Keurigs and other pod-friendly machines, are readily available at pretty much any supermarket or big box store, but when quality triumphs over ease of use, Nespresso pods edge out the competition. We also found Nespresso delivers a much richer, darker-roast and more flavorful taste than traditional K-cups (true coffee connoisseurs will also look for the brand’s special partnerships with global coffee producers and limited edition blends.)
And while Nespresso does offer a recycling program (the pods are aluminum), it does require some work on your part: You’ll need to collect them in the included recycling bag (or request a free one), then drop them at a collection center, Nespresso store, post office or UPS store.
Pods aside, the machine is our winner because it’s just so easy to use. If there’s water in the tank, you simply tap the lever, insert your chosen pod and tap the sole button on top. The next time you use it, the pod is ejected into a receptacle (it holds 10) so there’s no need to walk the used one over to the trash until it’s full.
It also looks super sweet on your counter. The slim, minimalist, modern look takes up very little rof your precious counter space, and thoughtful design features — including an adjustable water tank that can be moved to rest to the right, left or behind the machine — allows you to make it fit best in your space. Unlike nearly every other model tested, it also comes in multiple colors — black, white and silver — and is sturdier and more durable than most of the other machines.
In short, if staying stocked up on pods and taking an extra step or two to recycle don’t turn you off, you like the option of brewing an espresso if you wish, and you value your time in the morning, this machine belongs on your counter.
Sboly Single Serve Coffee Maker Brewer
Our first thought as we unboxed this petite machine: “How cute!” But while the Sboly is, indeed, compact, it packs an impressive punch, most notably for its versatility.
We love that the machine allows you to brew 6-, 8-, 10- and 14-ounce cups using either ground coffee or K-cup pods — just swap out the grounds basket (no need for a paper filter) or pod basket depending on your choice and push a button to select “capsule” or “ground.” Within three minutes for grounds and 2 1/2 minutes for pods, you have a great-tasting cup of coffee. Of course, when using grounds, a little experimentation needs to take place in order to get the flavor to your liking depending on the size you choose. We found the recommended amount resulted in coffee on the weak side, so we added more the next time to get it to our liking. We also noted that coffee brewed in our 14-ounce travel mug tasted the same — and was just as hot — as that brewed at the smaller cup sizes.
The water receptacle needs to be filled with each use, but easy-to-read water lines make it a cinch to do (we do recommend pouring from a spout as the tank is, you guessed it, small). And to launch the machine’s self-cleaning process, just depress both buttons at the same time.
The coffee itself didn’t quite rise to the same temperature of our other winners, and since it’s made of plastic, the housing definitely is less durable. But for those who have limited counter space or are looking to add their own personal coffee machine to their cubicle or office (practically a must, post-pandemic, right?), this little guy is a wonderful fit.
So, yeah, there are other machines available that will do fancier things and will likely stand up longer to wear and tear. But for just under $60, the Sboly will keep you well-caffeinated, allow you to switch between grounds and pods, depending on what’s in your pantry, and is so small you can easily stash it away. Just be prepared to pull it out often — this is a machine you’ll love using again and again.
We spent several weeks testing these single-cup coffee makers, evaluating each brewer based on overall function, durability, ease of setup and breakdown, aesthetics and included warranty — all areas important to consumers.
Each coffee maker was tested at least three times, using the same grounds for ground-based machines, the same K-cups for pod-based machines and Nespresso pods for the Nespresso machine. When a machine featured both ground and pod options, both were tested.
We took extensive notes to capture a plethora of details from each machine, including everything from how hot it made the coffee and brew time to user-friendliness, everyday durability and how much counter space it required. We looked at how easy the machines were to clean, our first impressions based on looks, whether it comes in multiple colors and warranty terms.
Many of these single-cup coffee machines were excellent, producing hot coffee quickly. However, some shined in certain testing areas, putting them at the head of the class. Read on for our pros and cons, as well as the criteria breakdowns we used in our evaluations.
Optimum temperature: According to the National Coffee Association, the optimum temperature for freshly brewed coffee is typically 180-185 degrees. Using that standard we measured the temperature of each cup using a food thermometer, rating each machine on its heat. Quality of brew: We noted how the coffee tasted after being brewed, including whether it was overly bitter or weak, if flavors or acidity existed that shouldn’t be there, and whether too much — or not enough — heat impacted its taste. Compatibility: We assessed whether the machine could be used with coffee pods or grounds (or both) as well as what filters, if any, were required. We also noted whether pods and filters were readily available, budget-friendly and eco-friendly. Brew time: We pulled up our stopwatch app to keep track of how long it took to brew the coffee, with shorter brew times scoring more points. User-friendliness: From unboxing and setup to brewing, cleaning and storing away, we took notes on how easy each machine was to use, including the value of the included instructions, whether the design was intuitive or overly complicated, how many buttons and settings were included and whether they were helpful or too much, and how easy the water tanks were to read and fill. Serving size: The machines ranged from being able to deliver one cup to a whole pot. For each device, we noted how many cups of coffee each one made, how many options were available, how much water the reservoir could hold and whether it required being refilled for each use. Brewing options: We looked at the number of brewing options available, including whether the machine offered just a basic brew, or if other options, such as single espresso shots, lattes, iced brews or tea, were also available. The mess factor: No one wa
We tested 10 single-serve coffee makers: These 3 won us over
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