Here are our top picks for coffee makers under $150.
The Bonavita 8-Cup One-Touch Coffee Maker is the best option available. It's simple to operate and always produces high-quality coffee. Perhaps you're wondering, "Is $150 really cheap?" We think it's a fair price for a product you'll be using every day, and it's much cheaper than comparable home brewers that can cost $400 or more. We recommend the Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Coffee Maker if that is out of your price range. It has a thermal carafe and costs around .
As someone who has worked in the specialty coffee industry since 2010, I remember starting my days as a barista by fine-tuning the espresso and batch brew to perfection for my customers. I'd start with five ounces of coffee and refill my cup whenever I made a new pot.
However, because I do most of my work from home, my requirements have changed. In the morning, I plan to make a single pot of coffee. So long I'd rather not spend the day tinkering with my brew recipe and tasting as I go, so I'm on the hunt for an affordable brewer that will do a good job every time.
Even though coffee brewers were just recently evaluated by Serious Eats in 2018, a lot has happened in the past four years. So, we're revisiting our favorite coffee makers, testing new models, and updating our older recommendations. The best automatic drip coffee makers (if you're willing to spend more) and the best models for $150 or less make up the two halves of this review.
Although only one brewer under $150 is included on the Specialty Coffee Association's (SCA) list of recommended brewers, there are a few excellent options in this price range. In this article, I'll be discussing the features to avoid and the qualities to seek out in a more budget-friendly brewer. But before we get to those, let's take a quick look at the tested top models.
The Bonavita 8-Cup Brewer, with its high brewing temperature retention, even coffee extraction, and thermal carafe, is certified by the Specialty Coffee Association. For the record, we spent $150 to test this model. The brewer is currently available for around $190 at the time of this update. )
This Mr In this price range, only the Coffee 10-Cup Model brewed coffee in a reasonable amount of time (the SCA recommends between 4 and 8 minutes), was simple to operate, and yielded coffee with good extraction.
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- First, brew some medium-dark roast coffee and evaluate the brew time, the machine's performance with a typical supermarket coffee, and the taste of the resulting brew.
- Second Brewing Evaluation: Brew light roast coffee to evaluate brew time, brewer performance with a more difficult-to-extract bean, and brew's flavor.
- An evenly extracted brew bed is indicative of a well-designed coffee maker, so it's important to check the saturation of the brew basket after each brew test.
- Total dissolved solids (TDS) can be measured with a refractometer to establish a reference point for how much coffee is actually making it into the cup.
- Temperature Monitoring: During brewing, use a thermocouple to monitor the water temperature at the showerhead and the brew basket to determine at what temperature brewing takes place.
- How well the carafe retains heat can be determined by repeatedly measuring the temperature of the coffee 30 and 60 minutes after brewing with an instant-read thermometer.
Since 2010 I've worked as a barista. When I first started working in the coffee industry, I was a barista at a high-volume café where we were forbidden to adjust the grinder's coarseness. After that, I worked in the service industry until 2019, though I've kept up my interest in coffee through blogging and podcasting. I've reviewed coffee tools like espresso makers, French presses, cold brew systems, and milk frothers for Serious Eats.
Author(s): Ashley Rodriguez of Serious Eats
The temperature of the water used in the coffee-making process is critical. I used a thermocouple with two probes on each machine to monitor the brewing temperature: one near the sprayhead to gauge the incoming water's temperature and another at the base of the brew bed.
The bottom probe didn't teach me very much, and I had trouble positioning it precisely because most of the brew beds are enclosed. Once a probe was attached, I had no way of knowing whether or not it had been displaced by the water. But I learned a lot about how the brewing temperature shifts over time and between models from the information gathered by the top probe. Many low-priced brewers used water with an initial temperature that was too low (in the 170–180°F range) but which would rise sharply as the brewing process progressed. Over-extraction causes bitterness in coffee. Coffee brewed in more expensive models was consistently heated to between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the brewing cycle, yielding flavorful, well-extracted brews. The temperature in our top pick, the Bonavita, reached a steady 196 degrees Fahrenheit (F) within a few minutes and remained there throughout the entire brewing cycle.Coffee brewed in glass-plate coffee makers tended to "bake," creating a bitter aftertaste, while coffee brewed in thermal carafes was kept at an ideal serving temperature.
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Coffee temperatures were taken immediately after brewing, after 30 minutes, and after 1 hour to determine how well each carafe retained heat. Thermal carafes were standard on most of the more expensive machines, while glass carafes on a hotplate were standard on some of the less expensive models. Hotplate-equipped machines were better at maintaining coffee's temperature (and in some cases, at creating a hotter beverage than it was immediately after brewing). Roasted and bitter, the coffee from a glass carafe left on a hotplate quickly lost its appeal. Thermal carafes maintained the coffee's temperature without altering the taste.
As an analogy for making coffee, I often use the image of a pot full of rocks. Imagine now that you have poured water over the rocks. The water's path through the rocks to the bottom of the container is affected by many variables.
Water flows more slowly through smaller rocks (a finer grind) than larger rocks (a coarser grind), which is the analogy I typically use to explain the difference between the two. However, it can also be used to clarify the operation of a coffee brewer's showerhead. Only the rocks directly below the point from which the water was poured would be wet.
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If you want your coffee grounds to be extracted uniformly, it is essential that the entire brew bed be uniformly wet, and a well-designed showerhead can serve this purpose. When the brewing process is complete and the brew basket is opened, the brew bed should be completely flat with no craters or deep depressions.
It's not as simple as it sounds to accomplish that. Some of the showerheads appeared to be unusually narrow in design, with most of the water holes clustered in the center. The brew basket was left with a noticeable depression in the middle and grounds began to rise up the sides of the brew bed as a result. The coffee was under-extracted because the grounds were not uniformly saturated.
The coffee was ruined because some of the showerheads were too strong and punctured (if you will) the top of the grounds, creating channels where water passed through too quickly and without extracting enough flavor.
Certain controls and functions on these gadgets proved invaluable. In order to better extract the coffee's flavor, some coffee makers have a "bloom" setting that saturates the beans with hot water, releasing the beans' stored carbon dioxide. Some features aren't all that helpful, but they're harmless all the same, like how some coffee makers let you customize the number of cups you make. This was initially perplexing to me, but now I understand that these machines are attempting to reduce water pressure so that they can brew coffee in smaller quantities. The time the grounds spend in contact with the water is increased by slowing the water's pulse or movement through the machine.
But some features didn't seem to belong, like they were trying to take advantage of the user's ignorance of brewing fundamentals by including useless controls. In my espresso machine review, I mentioned that many models falsely claimed to be able to pull shots at 14, 15, or 16 bars of pressure, despite the fact that most espresso machines only use about 9 bars of pressure.
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I was especially interested in the sub-$100 coffee makers from Ninja, Braun, Cuisinart, and Black Decker that claimed to produce "bolder" or "richer" coffee. After looking around online, I was unable to locate a single person who had either tested this or written about it. Later, I decided to get the opinion of my friend Steve Rhinehart, the current e-commerce manager at Acaia and the former brand manager at Prima Coffee Equipment. He suspected that the brewers were increasing the length of time the water spent in contact with the grounds, but he couldn't be sure.
To test this theory, I ran the Braun BrewSense on the "bolder" setting for ten minutes and forty-six seconds, rather than the nine minutes and thirty-two seconds required for a regular brewing cycle. My guess is that what people are describing as a "bolder" flavor is actually the result of excessive extraction. In a sense, this coffee is "stronger" than regular coffee because the water is in contact with the grounds for a longer period of time. However, I would argue that strength isn't always a good thing, and that these sorts of features should be avoided here. More on how to control the coffee's intensity by tweaking the coffee-to-water ratio or grinding finer can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions section.
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A great coffee brewer for the money will give coffee drinkers everything they want: a machine that can extract coffee well, make an even brew bed, and keep coffee hot for a long time without baking it. The best coffee makers heated water evenly and kept it hot throughout the brewing cycle, brewed an entire pot in less than eight minutes, used a thermal carafe, and had simple, intuitive interfaces. Carafes with wide openings are preferable to tapered ones (which necessitate the use of a bottle brush for cleaning) and make for an easy-to-clean coffee maker.
Our favorite feature is the perfectly flat bed that appears when you remove the brew basket from your coffee maker. And the Bonavita always comes through.
The ease of use of the model is unparalleled. Simply pressing the power button for five seconds will start the machine's bloom cycle. You get everything you need to brew excellent coffee, and nothing you don't, thanks to the thermal carafe's minimalist design and the focus on the essentials.
It's a question of priorities when shopping for machines in the $150 range. Bonavita puts all of its focus and care into the development of its showerhead and heating elements. Each and every brew cycle will yield coffee that is both pure and well-extracted thanks to the showerhead's design. The subtleties and full flavors of both the dark and light roasted coffees shone through. The Bonavita's water temperature stayed steady at or above 195 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the entire brewing process, unlike the other brewers' tendency to experience temperature spikes and extreme heat at the end of the cycle.
The Bonavita brewed coffee significantly faster than any of the other low-cost brewers. Our second choice also achieved SCA Gold Cup standards, making for a smooth beverage without any lingering bitterness. The wide-mouth top of the Bonavita makes scrubbing the thermal carafe a breeze. Because of its small footprint, it can be placed practically anywhere.
Disliked featureThe Bonavita's lid isn't the most comfortable to use, and pouring from it can be a bit of a hassle because you have to press a button to release the pouring lip and because it has a tendency to dribble. The lack of convenient extras (like a timed start) on the Bonavita may be a dealbreaker for some. Its price is always changing (sometimes more than $150), and there appear to be supply issues.
Current price (as of publication): $150
- Definitely a thermal carafe
- A drop of 16 degrees Fahrenheit in one hour
- Took an average of 4 minutes and 56 seconds to brew.
- 8 cup capacity
- "Yes," certifies the SCA
- Can't be programmed:
The Ashley Rodriguez Serious Eats Blog
We enjoyed the Mr. Only one other brewer in this price range could produce a full pot of coffee in under seven minutes, and that one brewed coffee. The brew bed was perfectly flat, and the carafe maintained the temperature of the coffee better than any other brewer I've used. The coffee had a pleasant flavor after being properly extracted, though it was on the watery side. The programmable brewer includes a timer that displays the elapsed time since the coffee was first placed in the carafe.
What we didn't like: This brewer isn't exactly eye-catching. The tall, clumsy design and tapered brewing carafe top make cleanup a chore.
As of this writing, the price is .
- Yes, this thermal carafe
- Loss of 6 degrees Fahrenheit in one hour
- Assume a time of 4 minutes and 51 seconds per brew.
- Yield: 10 fluid ounces
- Non-SCA Accreditation
- Is it programmable?
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- Braun BrewSense: This was the most cost-effective model we tested in 2018, but it took over eight minutes to brew coffee due to the glass carafe and hot plate. The Mr Coffee is about $20 less expensive as well.
- Although the addition of a thermal carafe to the Braun BrewSense helped address the aforementioned issue with that model, the brewing process was still too lengthy.
- Coffee brewed in a Ninja Programmable Brewer became astringent and burned after a while because the hot plate heated it to a higher temperature than it had been at the beginning of the brewing process.
- The coffee produced by the Cuisinart programmable brewer tasted flat and uninteresting because the water heated too quickly. The coffee's flavor became burnt because it couldn't be stored in a thermal carafe.
- Although the front fill panel was convenient for the Hamilton Beach Programmable Front-Fill Coffee Maker, the brew bed was sunken in the middle due to the showerhead's uneven coverage.
Melitta flat-bottom filters and Melitta #4 cone filters were used for this review because they were the most appropriate for the brewers I tested. For the most part, I used white filters because that's what I had on hand, but you're welcome to use brown, unbleached filters instead. Pre-wetting these unbleached filters seems to eliminate the cardboard flavor that some users have reported.
A paper filter was used in each brewer, but many also included mesh filters. Though reusable, the mesh filter lets more coffee oils through during the brewing process. Some people prefer this method, especially those who enjoy the fuller flavor that can be achieved when using a French press. Since the paper filter absorbs most of the coffee oils, the resulting cup is cleaner.
People always want their coffee to be scalding hot wherever I've worked in cafes. One of my regulars would take a sip, then ask if we could warm the rest of their coffee with the steam wand from the espresso machine, which would be a major violation of health code.
Here are two ways to keep your coffee hot for longer: First, get the carafe hot. Warm up your brewer and carafe by running a cycle with just hot water if you have the time. Water can be heated in a kettle and then transferred to the carafe to pre-heat it.
Two, preheating the mug is recommended, particularly for ceramic mugs. If you pour hot coffee into a ceramic mug that has been kept at room temperature, the coffee will cool off rapidly. It takes ceramic at least a minute, if not the entire coffee-brewing time, to reach the ideal temperature for drinking.
If you really need your coffee to stay hot for longer, you could also read my review of temperature control mugs.
If you like your coffee on the stronger side, try these methods:
- Adjust the coffee-to-water ratio; I used a 1:16 mix for this review. If you want a stronger cup, try lowering the water to coffee ratio to 1:15 or 1:14.
- Increase the fineness of the grind to slow the water's passage through the coffee and increase the brew's flavor extraction. However, if you make the holes too small, the water will flow too slowly and could flood the brew bed.
- Don't buy pre-ground coffee; it amazes me how many people claim to prefer a "strong brew" but drink instant coffee. The volatile aromatic compounds in coffee quickly degrade when ground, so flavor is lost the moment beans are put through a grinder. There is no way to know how long ago the coffee was ground if you buy it pre-ground from the supermarket. There is a "best by" date on the majority of these beans, but not a roast date. Roasting dates may be anywhere from six months to two years after the "best by" date.
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