Eye-Openers: Exceptional Coffee Makers & Espresso Machines

Plus: The Scoop on Cold-Brew & Wi-Fi-Enabled Models

More consumers drink specialty coffee than ever before, and the latest specialty machines deliver more-precise controls and the capability to make more types of beverages than ever before. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi-enabled coffee makers emerged in the past 3 years, and the single-serve market stagnated.

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When we make coffee, as with many people, we value ease of operation and a fast brewing time. How quickly can we get that first sip of caffeine and transform ourselves from a bleary-eyed zombie into a productive human?

According to the trade group National Coffee Association (NCA), such coffee drinkers now are in the minority. For the first time in its annual National Coffee Drinking Trends report, NCA found in 2017 that more than half (59 percent overall) of the cups of coffee that are downed daily by U.S. consumers are specialty drinks, such as espresso and cold-brew coffee drinks. The report says more people than ever before take their time to brew their drinks. Michael Edwards of the market-research company Dig Insights, which worked on NCA’s annual report, says the market continues to shift toward “being more gourmet.”

Consumers certainly will find an expanded selection of espresso machines. We found 171 espresso machines, compared with 134 before. Many of the latest models start at $600 and deliver precise, barista-like grinding and temperature controls for consumers who want to dedicate themselves to the coffee craft. We found plenty of less complicated models that start at $100 and deliver fine espresso. What’s good news is that prices fell $10–$20 across the board for models that existed previously.

Besides espresso, in the past 3 years, we’ve seen the introduction of 10 cold-brew coffee makers that start at $40. Cold-brew coffee is a trendy-but-time-consuming alternative to iced coffee, which basically is hot coffee on ice. Cold-brew coffee makers typically consist of a carafe and a filter. You pour coarse grounds into the filter, place the filter into the carafe, pour cold water into the carafe and let the grounds steep for 12–24 hours until you have concentrated cold-brew coffee.

Nitro coffee, which is poured from a keg that infuses cold-brew coffee with nitrogen gas to make the drink creamy and foamy, is the latest evolution of cold-brew coffee. Starbucks started to sell nitro coffee at 500 shops in 2016, and we found two consumer nitro-coffee kegs that start at $229. You should keep in mind that you’ll have to find a source of nitrogen gas, which starts at about $2 per gallon, when you use such a coffee maker.

APP FOR THAT. If you only want to get your coffee as quickly as possible, then you’ll be pleased to know that 12 Wi-Fi-enabled coffee makers, which start at $50, can be controlled and programmed through the use of a mobile app, so your coffee will be ready when you wake up.

We found that, although the apps are easy to use, operating such coffee makers requires a few more steps of pushing buttons than do programmable coffee makers that start at $40 and don’t require an app. Unless you’re the type of person who often forgets to program your coffee maker or who wants to program your coffee maker while you’re away from home, we found that using an app seems silly. Furthermore, even if your coffee maker is programmable or Wi-Fi-enabled, you still have to place coffee in the filter, make sure that the reservoir has water and make sure that a clean, empty carafe is ready to be filled—plus grind beans, if that’s the way that you go.

Most Wi-Fi-enabled coffee-maker apps don’t deliver many features beyond scheduling their brewing time. However, Behmor’s Brewer ($299), which was introduced in 2016, is the first Wi-Fi-enabled model that allows you to control brewing temperatures, brewing times and the length of time that the model presoaks the coffee grounds before it starts to brew. The app also saves your brewing preferences depending on the type of beans that you use, and it can reorder more beans automatically from Amazon when you’re about to run out.

We haven’t heard of other Wi-Fi-enabled coffee makers that deliver so many features, but given how quickly that Wi-Fi-enabled models are evolving in almost every other consumer category, we’re eager to see what features are included in the next wave of Wi-Fi-enabled coffee makers.

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