Coffee Mates: Best Coffee Makers & Espresso Machines

You’ll find more choices than ever before when it comes to coffee makers that deliver a single cup of java. Further, today’s top automatic-drip coffee makers brew faster at higher brewing temperatures than ever before to create a better cup of coffee, although they still fall short of industry standards.

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Over the past few years, the coffee-maker marketplace has gone in contrary directions. More single-serve pod models that promote convenience are on the market than ever before. At the same time, tweaks to automatic-drip coffee makers are designed to deliver a cup of coffee that’s close to what you’d buy from your corner coffee shop.

According to National Coffee Association (NCA), which is an industry trade group, 29 percent of coffee drinkers now use single-serve pod coffee makers. That’s up from 20 percent in 2013, according to a March 2014 survey of 3,000 coffee drinkers. Twenty-five percent of the consumers who were surveyed said they likely would buy such a model in the next 6 months. It’s no surprise, then, that the more widely available single-serve pod models are becoming less expensive, too.

Meanwhile, more automatic-drip coffee makers deliver brewing times and brewing temperatures that come closer to meeting standards that are intended to ensure more flavor and less bitterness in a cup of coffee. The brewing guidelines of Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which is a coffee-industry trade and research association, is 195–205 degrees Fahrenheit for brewing temperature. For brewing time (the time that water and coffee grounds are in contact), the standard is 4–8 minutes.

The most expensive automatic-drip coffee makers go further to emulate manual-drip coffee makers by fine-tuning the way that water is dispersed over the coffee grounds to extract flavor.

SINGLE SERVE. Although coffee aficionados decry the lack of fresh-ground coffee and the high per-cup cost of models that use pods, single-serve coffee makers continue to be the fastest growing category among coffee makers. (A study by market-research company The NPD Group found that U.S. sales of single-serve coffee makers reached $930 million in 2013, which is up 8 percent from 2012.)

More often than not nowadays, single-serve coffee makers use the K-Cup format. Keurig Green Mountain’s patent exclusivity for its K-Cup pods expired in 2012. That loss of exclusivity fostered an explosion of single-serve models that use K-Cup pods. Consequently, you now will find 31 models that represent eight brands that use K-Cup pods, and they start at $60. Before the patent expiration, consumers were limited to five Keurig models and one model each by Breville and Mr. Coffee. Those models started at $79. You also will find a wider selection of K-Cup pods, too, as a new generation of cup-filling machinery emerged that enables even small coffee producers to make their own premium coffee in the K-Cup format.

Keurig in March 2014 surprised industry observers when it announced its generation 2.0 machines, which, at press time, were scheduled for release on Keurig’s website in August 2014 and in retail stores in fall 2014. The new models will expand the capabilities of the current Keurig models. The 2.0 models will have the capability to brew either a single cup in varying sizes or an entire carafe of coffee. They also will include a touch screen that allows you to customize your drinks. Sensors that are in the new machines will read ink technology that’s printed on the rim of new K-Cup pods, says Lynda McKinney of Keurig. Then, the touch screen provides you with options that are tailored to that specific drink. For example, you’ll be able to select the strength of your coffee, and the coffee maker will slow the brewing process to achieve that result, she says.

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However, the generic “K-Cup compatible” coffee pods that have sprung up since the patent expiration won’t work in Keurig 2.0 machines. (Unlicensed brands are predicted to make up about 12 percent of the K-Cup pod market in 2014, according to banking and financial-services company Rabobank.)  Unless the company that produces a K-Cup pod is licensed by Keurig, the pod won’t have the printed-ink ring on the rim that allows the 2.0 models’ sensors to interpret what’s in the pod.

Fortunately, if you have a model that’s compatible with K-Cup pods now, you still will be able to use both licensed and third-party K-Cup pods in your appliance. The newer K-Cup pods that have the ink coding will work in older machines.

Critics charge that Keurig’s move is an attempt to restore the exclusivity that it lost when the K-Cup patent expired. McKinney says the restriction is necessary for consumers to get the most choice and customization out of each drink pod.

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