If you’re not a morning person, you probably need a cup of freshly brewed coffee before you dive into the seemingly never-ending cycle of e-mails, meetings, and long phone calls. For many of us who struggle with time-management, Keurig—with its innovative pod technology (aka pod machines)—is undeniably the most convenient alternative to fiddling with a French press or waiting for a drip coffee maker to get the job done. With the touch of a button, you can get your caffeine kick from a cup pod without the trouble of waiting.
The launch of in-home Keurig machines in 2004 quickly shook up the entire coffee world and changed Americans’ daily caffeine habits. Scientifically speaking, the mechanism behind Keurigs is similar to drip coffee makers, but much faster: Pour hot water over coffee beans and pressurize it to extract juices in under one minute. After the K-Cup technology patent expired, many more pod coffee manufacturers jumped into the game to break Keurig’s short-lived monopoly. Nestle’s Nespresso soon unveiled its more-advanced VertuoLine of single-serve coffee makers with centrifusion technology, which can improve the taste tenfold.
Its sleek appearance aside, our winner, the Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville(available at Amazon for $181.97), is simply the best at what single-service coffee maker does—brew a strong, hot cup of coffee without any fuss. Its 40-ounce water reservoir is not the largest in our roundup, but its swivel bottom handle allows you to detach the tank for storage, depending on your counter space. If your caffeine demands also include espresso and other types of coffee, we recommend the Keurig K-Cafe(available on Amazon), the most versatile single-serve maker we tested.
Here are the best single-serve coffee makers we tested ranked, in order:
Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville
Nespresso Vertuo Evoluo by De’Longhi
Mueller Ultima Sing Serve K-Cup Coffee Maker
Our clear winner, the Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville, is exactly what we look for in a single-serve pod coffee machine. With the VertuoLine centrifusion brewing method, our coffee came out with foamy crema on top, a truly luxurious experience. The technology behind this dense, rich, and aromatic coffee is simple—a machine head penetrates the capsules in the center and around the edges, allowing water to enter in the center opening and push through the 20 edge holes, maximizing ground coffee interaction and pressure. It also brews espresso capsules so you can make espresso, double espresso, and regular coffee.
Unlike most of the other pod brewers we tested, the Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville’s compact design makes it easy to keep on your countertop or store where space is limited. It boasts a 40-ounce water tank that can also swivel out easily. The motorized head opens with a light lift, different from traditional Keurig machines that often require a forced push and thus increase the chance of wear and tear.
The machine can also automatically eject the used coffee pods into a hidden container, saving you from burning your fingertips by manually taking out the pods. And the capsules can be dropped off at various collection sites and their boutique retail stores for the manufacturer to recycle them. Oh, and there’s an additional milk frother—which took first place in our best milk frother roundup at one time—included in bundles if you’re interested in latte or steamed milk in your coffee. As one Amazon reviewer notes, “The Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville machine is like Keurig on steroids.” It’s true.
If you’re not ready to shell out hundreds of dollars on an Italian-made espresso machine with cappuccino, latte, and macchiato capacity but still crave a cup of fancy coffee with milk foam, this machine might be right for you. The control pad gives you the option to brew espresso shots or six ounces to 12 ounces of regular coffee. If you like your coffee more intense, there’s also a “strong” button to intensify the brew strength. The huge 60-ounce reservoir helps save time usually spent refilling the water.
Another highlight is the dish-washable milk frother positioned directly on the side of the machine. To make a latte, you only need to fill the frother with skim, whole, nut, or lactose-free milk and press a button. We love its hands-free design and intuitive control panel. A stainless steel drip tray makes cleaning up a breeze.
I’m Valerie Li, Reviewed’s cooking and kitchen staff writer—and I’m an avid coffee and tea drinker. For me, a day officially starts when I take my shot of espresso, brewed by my beloved De’Longhi machine. From moseying to 7-Eleven for a quick caffeine fix to traveling to Blue Mountain plantation in Jamaica, I’ve sampled coffee of many different origins and varieties.
We first tested single-serve pod coffee brewers in 2016, and have rolled out updates piecemeal since then. Our previous winner, the Keurig K575, was discontinued—so we decided to completely update and test all the best, current models on the market. We previously tested the Keurig K250, Presto MyJo 02835, Proctor Silex 49961, but due to low performance or their replacement with newer models, have decided not to re-test them for this roundup.
We set up nine top-rated single-serve pod coffee makers and brewed at least 10 cups of coffee in each, assessing how long they took to brew, how easy their reservoirs were to fill, and how versatile they were to brew tea, iced coffee, and hot chocolate. We repeated this process with all machines over a week, also analyzing how simple each unit was to descale, how comfortable they were to use, how portable and well-built they were, and how effortless they were to store. We also took note of safety concerns and special features.
Other qualities we looked for included the taste of the coffee and other beverages, the speed (all options we tested averaged one cup per minute), the temperature of the brew, how easy it was to disassemble parts for cleaning, and how easy it was to recycle the pods.
What You Should Know Before Purchasing Single-Serve Coffee Makers
Before purchasing a single cup coffee maker, you should also factor in the cost of Keurig K-Cups and Nespresso capsules. You may also want to compare a single-serve pod brewer with other brewing options, like drip coffee, pour-over and French press, in terms of the cost, ease of use, and time spent brewing. You may also want to take into account if one company is more environmentally conscientious and more committed to producing recyclable and compostable pods.
There are several differences between Nespresso and Keurig, the two major single use coffee pod brands. The Keurig pods are less expensive and the machine comes with a reusable filter or paper filter. Keurig also offers 400 beverage varieties from over 60 brands, but it is important to keep in mind that the K-pods are not widely recyclable. The Nespresso machine, in comparison, has 17 different flavors of coffee available and all are recyclable if mailed back to Nespresso with pre paid shipping labels, or delivered to a collection site. If you want to be really eco-friendly, you can also purchase reusable coffee pods on Amazon. No matter which coffee pod brand you decide to use, it is also important to properly care for your single serve coffee maker in order to keep it running smoothly.
Aside from routine cleaning, you should descale your machine once every six months. Why is descaling important? While we brew coffee, the water we use is not pure and contains minerals, commonly calcium and magnesium. In the long-term, those minerals can build up and gradually accumulate as limescale. It can affect the taste of your coffee as the water temperature might not be able to reach the optimal brewing level and it could eventually lead to machine malfunction.
Other Single-Serve Coffee Makers We Tested
The Cuisinart SS-10 is a perfectly capable pod brewer with an upscale look. Although there isn’t much it does that sets it apart from similar Keurig-branded machines, it does come with a K-Cup filter on the side of the machine that allows you to make coffee with your own grounds.
The SS-10 features a large 72-ounce water reservoir and a digital display. All K-Cup machines are compatible with the My K-Cup reusable filter, but the SS-10 stores its reusable filter right in the machine itself. Options and brew customization are limited to cup size and temperature, and the machine can also dispense hot water for soups and tea.
While we appreciate the SS-10's ease-of-use and self-clean cycle, we found the brew basket opening mechanism to be unresponsive and slightly confusing.
In a rebranding campaign, Keurig swapped out all the 2.0 series with brand new K-series. The K-Elite is the equivalent of our previous winner, the discontinued K-575. The main difference is that it offers a water filtering option for more “pure” water. It boasts a large 75-ounce reservoir that allows you to brew more cups of coffee at once than any other model in this roundup. K-Elite also features an iced coffee option, but it is not to be confused with brewing ice-cold coffee—it just makes the coffee more concentrated so the added ice won’t dilute the flavor.
In contrast to the utilitarian line of K-Cup brewers is the elegant Nespresso VertuoLine Evoluo. Capable of creating both espresso and regular coffee beverages, the Evoluo is an excellent choice for those who want the convenience of a pod brewer, but aren’t willing to compromise when it comes to overall flavor.
In our tests, we found the resulting coffee from the Evoluo to be superior in terms of taste to anything made by a K-Cup brewer, although coffee experts will say it still doesn’t quite match French press or pour-over coffee. And though VertuoLine puts a killer crema in your cup, it can't make cocoa or iced coffee.
Constructed from high-quality materials and sporting a minimalist control interface, the Evoluo wouldn’t look out of place next to a KitchenAid stand mixer or a Viking range. High-end design comes at a cost, however, and the Evoluo is considerably more expensive than any comparable K-Cup brewer. The pods themselves are also priced higher, and are harder to find than their K-Cup equivalents.
For the price point, the Mueller pod coffee brewer does a decent job with four brewing sizes and a 45-ounce water tank. There isn’t anything special about this Mueller, but for us average coffee drinkers, you’re probably not asking for something special. The build is sturdy and the manual is easy to navigate. The water tank is on the smaller end, but its overall build takes up much less countertop space than the Keurig ones. If you’re working with a small budget but still expect your machine to work overtime, then Mueller is a good choice.
The design of this Nespresso Vertuo is almost identical to its De’Longhi model. However, we noticed extremely loud noises during brewing tests and that knocked this model down the roundup a couple of spots. As with other VertuoLine machines, it automatically reads the barcode on the capsules to determine the brewing size, time, and temperature. Its 40-ounce reservoir can make about five cups of coffee at a time.
The K-Select is bulky, but without the functionality of its high-end sibling, the K-Elite. It works fine if you’re a big Keurig fan and you’re expecting a standard cup of brew every time you hit the button. The 52-ounce water tank can make up to seven cups of coffee. It also features an auto-off programmable button if you’re worried about your appliances zapping energy. The maintenance reminder will also alert you when it’s time for descaling.
K-Classic is the rebranded name for K-50 in Keurig’s first generation line of products. The 48-ounce reservoir is the smallest among all Keurig models. Like the K-Select, you can program the machine to turn itself off automatically to save energy. It has only three brewing sizes and it doesn’t feature a carafe option for filling a large mug. There aren't any special features, but its higher price point makes it much less appealing than the other Keurigs that do more. Also, let’s talk about the noise. The loud machine brews average-at-best coffee—but is it really worth enduring a soul-killing sound? My answer is no.
Valerie Li Stack is a senior staff writer for Kitchen & Cooking. She is an experienced home cook with a passion for experimenting with the cuisines of countries she's visited. Driven by an interest in food science, Valerie approaches the culinary scene with a firm grasp of cooking processes and extensive knowledge of ingredients. She believes food speaks to all people regardless of language and cultural background.
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