Part of the allure of ordering a beverage in a specialty coffee shop is that you have dozens of choices—from the type and strength of coffee that you want, to how it’s prepared, to the size of your cup.
Stay in your house slippers a little longer: Increasingly, you can replicate that amount of customization in today’s coffee makers and espresso machines.
In the past 3 years, manufacturers have produced more single-serve coffee makers and added more programmable and customizable features, such as brew-strength selectors and dual-brew baskets that allow you to control how strong you want your brew or even make two kinds of coffee at the same time. That means that even the least expensive coffee makers—models that start as low as $35—and espresso machines give you more control than ever before over your coffee choices. You also will find more models of coffee makers and espresso machines that have displays and touchscreens that make the simple task of setting up your brew even easier than it was before.
ONE AT A TIME. Single-serve machines, which use either capsules or pods to produce your coffee drink, are the fastest growing segment in coffee makers. Sales increased 65 percent in 2010 and 90 percent in 2009, according to The NPD Group, which tracks sales of household products. The growth of this category means that manufacturers are making available more choices at a wider price range and, in many cases, incorporating more features for the same price that you paid 3 years ago.
At least four coffee-maker brands jumped into the single-serve category in the past 3 years, including Breville and Mr. Coffee, which use Keurig capsules, and Nestlé, which uses its own capsule design in its Nescafé Dolce Gusto line. Sensio collaborated with Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to produce a line of machines that use Caffitaly capsules. And in October 2010, espresso-machine brand Gaggia joined coffee brand Illy to create an espresso machine that makes espresso-based drinks, such as cappuccino and mocha, from capsules of preground espresso.
A Brew in the Hand: Worth Two on the Counter?
And, at press time, Starbucks (you might have heard that name) announced that it, too, was beginning to work on its own single-serve models in conjunction with Courtesy Products, which manufactures coffee makers for the hospitality industry. According to Alan Hilowitz, who is a spokesperson for Starbucks, the machine will use filter packs that contain Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee and Tazo tea (Starbucks owns Seattle’s Best Coffee and Tazo), and they likely will be in stores in 2012. Machine specifics or prices haven’t been set, but we speculate that the machines will be similar to Courtesy Products’ CV1 ($20), which is a single-cup automatic-drip coffee brewer that uses a disposable, prefilled filter.
Starbucks this year also announced that it would begin to supply coffee for K-Cups, which is the capsule platform that’s owned by Green Mountain Coffee—the parent company of single-serve pioneer Keurig. (Until now, Starbucks coffee has been available for only single-serve machines that use Tassimo pods. Starbucks says those capsules will be at retail stores this fall and in their stores in early 2012.)
But regardless of whether it’s a new or old brand name, when it comes to single-serve coffee makers, you now will find more models that are compact and affordable than were available 3 years ago. The trade-off: These low-cost models come with fewer features. For instance, they might brew only one serving size instead of several sizes, and their water reservoirs might be smaller. Some hold enough water for only a single serving of joe.
At the upper end of the price range, manufacturers have included features that added about $30 to the price of their previous single-serve models. For example, a few models now let you adjust water temperature, program a default cup size, and turn the machine on and off automatically at preset times. The latter feature saves energy and means that the machine is ready to go when you are, without your having to wait the few minutes that it takes to heat the water for your first cup of the day.