We put $150 coffee makers through their paces, and these are our top picks.
The Bonavita 8-Cup One-Touch Coffee Maker is our favorite. Using it is a breeze, and the coffee it produces is always high quality. 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 a significant discount from comparable home brewers that can cost $400 or more. We recommend the Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Coffee Maker if you can't afford the more expensive model. 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 brewing to perfection for my customers. I'd start with five ounces of coffee and refill my cup whenever I made a new pot.
My requirements have changed drastically since I started working from home. In the morning, I plan to make a single pot of coffee. All right, that settles it. 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.
There have been significant advancements in coffee brewing technology since Serious Eats' last brewer test in 2018, which was published in 2018. So, we're taking a second look at coffee makers, both old standbys and new entries in the market. The best automatic drip coffee makers (if you're willing to spend more) are discussed first, followed by the best models available for $150 or less.
Although only one brewer under $150 is included on the Specialty Coffee Association's (SCA) list of recommended brewers, there are a number of excellent brewers in this less expensive price range. I'd like to focus on what to look for in a more budget-friendly brewer and the tricks that poor brewers use to make their products seem better than they actually are. But first, here is a summary of the tested best models.
The Bonavita 8-Cup Brewer, with its high brewing temperature retention, even coffee extraction, and thermal carafe that keeps coffee hot for hours, has earned the SCA seal of approval. (When we tested this model, it cost us $150.) As of this update, the cost of a home brew system has risen to around $190. )
This Mr Only the Coffee 10-cup model brewed in a reasonable time (the SCA recommends between 4 and 8 minutes), was simple to operate, and made coffee with good extraction quality within this price range.
Ashley Rodriguez's Serious Eats
- First, brew a pot of coffee with a medium-dark roast to evaluate the machine's brew time, how it handles a supermarket's standard coffee, and the quality of the resulting brew.
- Second Brewing Trial: Prepare a pot of light roast coffee to judge the brewer's efficiency and how well the beans are extracted.
- 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: Use a refractometer to measure TDS to see if it serves as a reliable indicator of how much coffee is actually making it into each serving.
- 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.
- Examine the carafe's ability to keep coffee hot by taking its temperature immediately after brewing, then again 30 minutes and 1 hour later with an instant-read thermometer.
Since 2010 I've worked as a barista. My first job in the coffee industry was as a barista in a high-volume cafe 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 written espresso machine, French press, cold brew maker, and milk frother reviews for Serious Eats.
The Ashley Rodriguez Serious Eats Blog
The temperature of the water used in the coffee-making process is critical. I used a thermocouple with two probes, one at the bottom of the brew bed and one as close to the sprayhead as possible, to monitor the temperature of the brewing process on both machines.
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 the temp fluctuations and model differences in brewing from the top probe. Some of the cheaper brewers used water that wasn't hot enough to begin with (around 170–180°F), but which would get much hotter as the brewing process progressed. This led to over-extracted and bitter 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 Bonavita was our top pick because it quickly reached brewing temperature (around 196°F) and maintained that temperature throughout the brew cycle, staying within a narrow range of 195–205 degrees Fahrenheit.When compared to coffee makers with glass plates, which can "bake" the coffee, leaving it with a burnt taste, thermal carafes are the clear winner when it comes to keeping coffee hot for an extended period of time.
Ashley Rodriguez's Serious Eats
I timed how long each carafe kept the coffee hot by taking readings immediately after brewing, after 30 minutes, and after 1 hour. 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. Hot-plate machines, while keeping coffee warmer for longer than it would in a thermos, sacrifice flavor for heat. Coffee brewed in a glass carafe on a hotplate quickly acquired a burnt, bitter flavor as it sat there. With the help of thermal carafes, hot coffee was preserved without losing any of its flavor.
As an analogy for making coffee, I often use the image of a pot full of rocks. Now, picture yourself pouring water over the rocks. The water's path through the rocks to the bottom of the container is influenced by many variables.
To illustrate the difference between grind sizes, I often use the analogy of water flowing through rocks of varying sizes. It also serves to clarify the workings of a coffee brewer's showerhead. Water poured from a single location would soak only the rocks immediately below the pouring point.
Ashley Rodriguez's Serious Eats
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.
That's more difficult than it seems to accomplish There was a preponderance of water holes in the center of some of the showerheads, suggesting that their width was intentionally limited. As a result, the center of the brew basket was sunken, and grounds began to rise up the sides of the brew bed. The coffee was under-extracted because the grounds weren't 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. I was confused at first, but then I realized that these coffee makers are trying to adjust the water flow so that they can make coffee in smaller quantities. Essentially, they are slowing the water's pulse or movement through the machine to lengthen the grounds' exposure to the liquid.
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. This phenomenon was brought to my attention when I was writing my review of espresso machines; many models claimed to be able to pull shots at 14, 15, or 16 bars of pressure, which is completely unnecessary (most espresso machines apply about 9 bars of pressure when pulling shots).
Ashley Rodriguez's Serious Eats
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. I looked online, but didn't come across anyone who had tested or written about this. In order to get an opinion on these aspects, I contacted my buddy Steve Rhinehart, who is the e-commerce manager at Acaia and formerly the 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.
So, I gave the Braun BrewSense a whirl on the "bolder" setting, and sure enough, the brew time was 10 minutes and 46 seconds, as opposed to the standard brewing cycle's 9 minutes and 32 seconds. But I think the "bolder" flavor people are detecting is just the result of excessive extraction. Since the water is remaining in contact with the grounds for a longer period of time, we can say that this coffee is "stronger." However, in this case, I would argue that strong isn't always good and recommend staying away from such details. We'll go into more detail in the Frequently Asked Questions section below, but you can also adjust the coffee-to-water ratio or grind finer to influence the coffee's intensity and produce a more or less flavorful cup.
Chloe Jeong & Ashley Rodriguez & Serious Eats
A great coffee brewer on a budget should provide coffee drinkers with everything they want, including an appliance that efficiently extracts coffee, creates an even brew bed, and keeps coffee hot for an extended period of time without baking it. The best brewers were those with a thermal carafe, an intuitive control layout, rapid brewing times (under eight minutes), and consistent water temperature throughout the brew cycle. Also, a good coffee maker shouldn't be difficult to clean; a bottle brush isn't necessary to clean a carafe with a wide opening.
Our favorite feature is the perfectly flat bed that appears when you remove the brew basket from your coffee maker. And the Bonavita never fails to satisfy.
The ease of use of the model is unparalleled. Simply pressing the power button for five seconds will start the machine's bloom cycle. The thermal carafe ensures that coffee remains hot for up to an hour after it has been brewed, and the minimalist design ensures that only the essentials are included.
It's a question of priorities when shopping for machines in the $150 range. The Bonavita's showerhead and water heating elements are meticulously designed. The design of the showerhead ensures that all of the coffee grounds get wet during each brew cycle, resulting in coffee that is both pure and well-extracted. 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 was the quickest of all the low-cost models at making coffee. 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.
What we didn't like was that the Bonavita's lid is clumsy and requires a button press to activate the pouring lip, which can be difficult to control and causes some dripping. Some people might not be satisfied with the Bonavita because it lacks convenient features (like a timed start option). In addition to a fluctuating price (sometimes over $150), there appears to be supply issues.
Currently, the price is $150.
- Water bottle with a built-in heater: check
- A drop of 16 degrees Fahrenheit in one hour
- Common brewing time is 4 minutes and 56 seconds.
- Holds 8 cups of liquid
- "Yes," certifies the SCA
- Not programmable
Ashley Rodriguez's Serious Eats
What we enjoyed: Mr. The only other brewer in this price range that could produce a full pot of coffee in under seven minutes was a coffee maker. 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. This could be remedied by using a finer coffee grind. 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: It's not the most aesthetically pleasing brewer. The tall, clumsy design and awkwardly tapered brewing carafe make cleanup a chore.
Cost as of publication:
- Thermos carafe, oh yes
- One-hour drop in temperature: 6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Assume a time of 4 minutes and 51 seconds per brew.
- 10 cup capacity
- Non-SCA Accreditation
- Allows programming: Yes
The Ashley Rodriguez Serious Eats Blog
- 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 It's about the same price for coffee.
- The Braun BrewSense with Thermal Carafe addresses the aforementioned issue with the original Braun BrewSense by using a thermal carafe, but the brewing time is still too long.
- 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.
- While the front fill panel was convenient, the showerhead was too focused on the center of the brew bed, resulting in sunken ground in the middle and uneven extraction with the Hamilton Beach Programmable Front-Fill Coffee Maker.
Depending on the design of the brewer, I used Melitta's #4 cone filters and their flat bottom filters for this evaluation. Because that's what I had on hand, I used white filters, but brown, unbleached filters are available as well. Unless pre-wet, these unbleached filters may leave a cardboard flavor, according to some users.
A paper filter was used in each brewer, but many also included mesh filters. The mesh filter can be reused, but it lets more coffee oils escape 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.
Customers always expect their coffee to be served at a sizzling temperature at the cafes I've worked at. 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: The first is to heat the carafe. Warm up your brewer and carafe by running a cycle with just hot water if you have the time. You can also pre-heat the carafe by filling it with water that has been heated elsewhere, like a kettle.
Second, if you're using a ceramic mug, heat it up before each use. Coffee that has been heated and poured into a ceramic mug at room temperature will quickly cool because ceramic is a poor heat conductor. Because ceramic mugs are slow to heat up, I usually allow the hot water to rest in the mug for at least a minute, if not the entire coffee-brewing process.
Or, if you absolutely must keep your coffee hot for an extended period of time, you can read my evaluation of thermal mugs.
Here are some ways to amp up the caffeine in your brew:
- Coffee and water should be mixed in the appropriate proportions; I used 1:16 for this review. You can experiment with different ratios, such as 1:15 or 1:14, to see if you get a stronger cup with more flavor.
- Coffee flavor is improved by using a finer grind because water flows more slowly through the brew bed. However, one must exercise caution lest the water flow become too slow, causing the brew bed to overflow.
- Don't buy pre-ground coffee; it amazes me how many people claim to prefer a "strong brew" but drink instant coffee. Flavor is lost almost instantly when coffee is ground because aromatic compounds degrade quickly. 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. Six months to two years after roasting may be listed as "best by" dates.
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