I’m on a quest for a coffee that I can happily drink black. I have an ancient (2013) Hamilton Beach 4 cup coffee brewer that reminds me of hotel room machines. I grind my coffee with a Capressso (same vintage) conical burr grinder. I use Melitta paper filters as they seem to work better than the reusable basket inserts. I grew up with a Chemex on hand but before the days of coffee shops everywhere so I believe we drank Maxwell House. I have a French press but dislike the inevitable grounds. All that to explain why I found this article interesting.
The Best Single-Serve Coffee Maker (Isn’t a Keurig)
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For roughly 62% of Americans, according to a 2020 survey, starting the day off right means starting with a cup of coffee. But for anyone who’s looking for just a single-serving fix—because you live alone, you don’t have space for a big coffee setup, or you’re the only coffee drinker at home—your options may seem limited to a Keurig machine (which yields subpar coffee) or a to-go order (which can get pricey).
Fortunately, you actually have several lower-cost ways to DIY delicious coffee for one. And figuring out which method will work best for you is really about just two things: “It’s up to the style and flavor of coffee you prefer, as well as whether you prioritize convenience or ritual,” says Wirecutter senior editor Marguerite Preston, who oversees our kitchen coverage. If you run out the door every day balancing a travel mug in one hand, you’re likely to prefer a time-saving appliance that does the work for you. But if you refuse to go anywhere before sitting and savoring a luscious morning cuppa joe, you’ll probably enjoy a more hands-on gadget that lets you craft your coffee just the way you like it.
To help you decide which coffee maker is best for you, we’ve rounded up all the gear we recommend that can produce a well-made, single cup of coffee, including an array of affordable, sustainable, space-saving choices that don’t involve purchasing a so-called “single-serve coffee maker.”
One more thing to keep in mind: “Most manufacturers measure a ‘cup’ of coffee at about 5 ounces, whereas the average coffee mug holds 10 to 12 ounces,” Marguerite says. So make sure your “one cup” isn’t actually two or more before committing to equipment with a smaller capacity.
Which single-serve coffee maker is best?
- Get a French press if…
- Get a pour-over if…
- Get a moka pot if…
- Get a cold-brew maker if…
- Get a Nespresso if…
- Get an AeroPress if…
- Get an espresso machine if…
- Get a drip machine if…
Get a French press if…
- You want the easiest, fastest coffee without a machine.
- You like experimenting with more exacting methods.
- You want the flexibility to brew several cups at a time.
- You prefer a richer, full-bodied coffee flavor.
- You’re okay with a little daily cleanup.
- You already have a kettle or don’t mind getting one.
- You want a pretty goof-proof coffee-making method.
Espro P3 French Press
Our top-pick French press
The Espro P3, with its innovative filter, consistently brews bright, grit-free coffee.
Making coffee in a French press can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. If you’re in a rush, “you can just measure your grounds and hot water, dump them in, wait, and then drain it,” Marguerite says. Even though you first need to heat your water in a stovetop kettle or electric kettle, the actual brew time is only about four minutes, so it’s one of the fastest ways to make good coffee while being relatively hands-off.
With more patience and care, plus the right advice (video) and tools such as a kitchen scale, you can also use a French press to compose a more carefully balanced brew, which means the press can accommodate your changing tastes and habits. And if you occasionally find yourself making coffee for a crowd, a full-size French press can brew delicious batches big enough to serve three or four people (which is why we don’t recommend those teeny-tiny single-serve presses).
Because a French press relies on immersion brewing, with the grounds fully soaked in the water rather than the water dripping through the grounds, Marguerite adds, it tends to produce “a cup that is to some people richer-tasting, and to other people muddier-tasting” than what you get from pour-overs. You get some sludginess from fine grounds slipping past the press’s metal filter, which is why we recommend the Espro P3 French Press as our top pick. Its bucket-shaped, fine-mesh double filter does a superior job of keeping that sediment out of your cup, though it still can’t match the level of filtration you can get from a device that uses paper filters.
Speaking of muddy, you have to get your hands a little dirty to make daily use of a French press: You need to scoop wet grounds out of the vessel and wash it after every use. On the plus side, you never have to worry about running out of paper filters, and we’ve found in our testing that our French-press picks are built to last. Other than possibly needing to replace the press’s mesh filter every few years, you’re good to go.
Get a pour-over if…
- You love the ritual of coffee making.
- You have more than a few minutes to make your coffee every morning.
- You’re into a bright, clean flavor profile.
- You buy really nice coffee and want to taste all its subtleties.
- You buy pretty-good coffee but want it to taste more expensive.
Kalita Wave 185 Dripper
Our top-pick dripper
The Kalita Wave’s flat bottom ensures the most even extraction—and the best-tasting coffee—of all the pour-over drippers we’ve tested.
Chemex Six Cup Classic Series
A more elegant pour-over with a carafe
As gorgeous as it is usable, the Chemex makes several cups at once, and it produced a delicious, bright brew that our testers loved.
When you want to nerd out with a high-end, hands-on setup, pour-over is the way to go. “Pour-over is the only method that gives you full control over every variable: the amount of coffee grounds, the amount of water, the temperature of the water, and the rate at which you distribute the water over the coffee,” Marguerite explains. You need a small suite of accessories: a kitchen scale, a gooseneck kettle, paper filters, and, if you want a completely bespoke process, a grinder. Once you finish brewing your perfect cup, though, cleanup is pretty simple—because the grounds are contained in the paper filter, all you have to do is grab that from the pour-over and toss it into your garbage or compost.
Handled correctly, a pour-over can yield the most sophisticated joe. Due in part to its use of a paper filter and in part to the way water flows through the coffee grounds, “it produces a cleaner, brighter-tasting cup of coffee than a French press or a moka pot,” Marguerite says. “It’s also less concentrated and espresso-like than from a moka pot or AeroPress, yielding a full mug of true drip coffee.”
We found in our testing that the best-tasting pour-over coffee is made by our top-pick dripper, the Kalita Wave 185. However, if you want something more visually pleasing, or if you want to be able to make more coffee at once, get the Chemex Six Cup Classic Series, an aesthetically gorgeous piece of equipment (it’s in the MoMA) that drips into its own carafe rather than straight into a mug.
Get a moka pot if…
- You love espresso but don’t have the budget or space for an espresso machine.
- You want espresso-style drinks that aren’t quite as intense as actual espresso.
- You want a stovetop option that doesn’t require any other equipment.
- You want something elegant and, ideally, something you’ll own for life.
- You consider yourself a coffee devotee, or you’re interested in joining such a religion.
- You aren’t afraid of some hissing and sputtering.
Bialetti Moka Express
Our top-pick moka pot
This moka pot—which, of the four moka models we tested, comes closest to Alfonso Bialetti’s original design—has a classic look, is dead simple to use, and brews coffee as rich and flavorful as that of any model we tested.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $71.
The cult-fave, Art Deco–ish moka pot, almost entirely unchanged since its invention by an Italian engineer in the 1930s, is an example of inversion-style brewing. Instead of making water drip from the top down through the grounds, the pot forces the water upward from its lower chamber through the grounds as steam. This pressurized method is the closest you can get to making espresso without an actual espresso machine. (Though the resulting brew is a notch milder than true espresso, one expert we consulted for our moka pot guide describes it as “viscous and strong.”)
Marguerite describes the pot as “a coffee maker that’s as much about aesthetics and ritual as it is about flavor.” Like the Chemex, the Moka Express is in the MoMA. And as with the French press, you should be able to go years without needing replacement parts for your moka pot.
Though you can fill a moka pot’s lower chamber with room-temperature water and use it as an all-in-one option, we recommend pre-boiling the water in a separate vessel to reduce the risk of scorching your coffee.
Get a cold-brew maker if…
- You exclusively or frequently drink iced coffee.
- You prefer strong-flavored, low-acid coffee.
- You’d rather prepare coffee in batches instead of making it daily.
- You don’t want to bother with a lot of techniques or accessories.
- You want to make good coffee from cheap beans.
OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker
Our top-pick cold-brew coffee maker
OXO’s cold-brew coffee maker produced the strongest, boldest coffee of any model we tested. It’s also easier to assemble than the competition.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $52.
If you tend to wake up 15 minutes before you need to be out the door, having a jug of cold-brew concentrate at the ready in your fridge can be a godsend. All you need to do is pour a couple of ounces into a cup and then mix with water and, if you want, milk, cream, or sugar. You can even make hot coffee if you swap in boiling water for cold or just nuke your diluted concentrate in the microwave.
Cold brew is another immersion style of coffee making, but it uses time (about 12 to 24 hours) rather than heat to extract flavor from the grounds. If you want to enjoy an artisanal style of coffee but you don’t consider yourself skilled at making it, our top-pick cold-brew coffee maker from OXO may be just what you’re looking for. It’s even more set-it-and-forget-it than a French press. Our testers found that the OXO cold-brew maker “produced a more consistent, flavorful cup of coffee” than other models, creating “balanced acidity, a stronger aroma, and a cleaner finish.”
The OXO cold-brew maker can also store up to 32 ounces of concentrate, so you could technically make about two weeks’ worth of coffee with one batch. A cold-brew maker is also worth considering if you have a sensitive stomach or suffer from heartburn, as cold-brewed coffee is typically found to contain significantly less acid than coffees brewed through most other methods.
Get a Nespresso if…
- You want a taste that approximates espresso with the ease of instant.
- You’re willing to compromise some flavor for speed and convenience.
- You want the very simplest coffee-making method.
- You don’t want to deal with equipment cleaning or maintenance.
- You have just a sliver of counter space to dedicate to a coffee maker.
Nespresso Essenza Mini
The Nespresso machine we recommend
The Essenza Mini makes the same espresso as $400 Nespresso machines but has a smaller footprint and no unnecessary features.
Fill a water tank, pop in a pod, press a button. That’s all the human input required to make coffee with our top-pick Nespresso machine, the slender and compact Nespresso Essenza Mini. Whereas other pod-style coffee makers deservedly get a bad rap (ahem, Keurig), we find that Nespresso machines produce comparatively better-tasting coffee with less wasteful packaging. (Nespresso pods are made from aluminum and therefore recyclable, including through the company’s recycling program.) Besides disposing of your pods, Marguerite notes, descaling the machine every three months or so is the only upkeep a Nespresso model needs.
Depending on your palate, though, using this method may still involve a trade-off of convenience for taste. In our Nespresso guide, we note that we “don’t love the flavor” of Nespresso’s espresso and espresso-based milk drinks, rating them as “drinkable,” which certainly falls short of lofty praise.
Get an AeroPress if…
- You want great-tasting coffee fast but don’t mind (or prefer) a hands-on approach.
- You’re into gadgetry.
- You hate the coffee at your office.
- You travel a lot and despise hotel-room coffee.
- You love camping and coffee in equal measure.
- You like all kinds of coffee, from drip to espresso.
- You already have a kettle or don’t mind getting one.
AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
A simple coffee option
The lightweight, compact AeroPress is the simplest way to make an excellent-tasting single cup of coffee, no electricity needed.
You can use this plunger-style gizmo anywhere you can boil water. Aficionados like to do it in one of two ways: The traditional way is to fill its chamber with premeasured grounds and hot water, place the plunger on top, let it steep for a couple of minutes, and then plunge the resulting java juice into the cup. More advanced users often prefer what’s called the inverted method, which entails (among other nifty moves) standing the plunger on its head.
Either way, AeroPress coffee should take only about two minutes to brew, not counting the time necessary to boil water, so it’s one of the flat-out fastest devices for making great coffee quickly. However, unlike the French press’s more hands-off brewing, with an AeroPress you spend most of the time working (preheating all the elements with hot water, measuring, stirring, and so on) rather than waiting.
Though the AeroPress is an unassuming, small piece of equipment, it can actually make coffee in lots of different ways, and if you’re into that, you’re likely to make internet friends with fellow AeroPress-heads who say that it’s a toy as much as it is a tool. “You can find all kinds of recipes online that will allow you to make anything from an 8-ounce cup resembling drip coffee to something that resembles a concentrated shot of espresso,” Marguerite says.
The company also sells an AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press that comes with a scoop, paper filters, and a stirrer, all of which travels compactly, but its capacity is a little smaller than the original’s, and we find both models equally easy to take anywhere.
Get an espresso machine if…
- Price is not an issue.
- You like steamed milk drinks (lattes, macchiatos) or straight espresso.
- You’re into entertaining with flair.
- You’re willing to spend some time learning how to use your new machine.
Breville Bambino Plus
The best espresso machine for beginners
Fast, small, and easy to use, the Bambino Plus impresses both beginners and experienced baristas with its consistent espresso shots and silky frothed milk.
May be out of stock
May be out of stock
If you insist that your morning coffee whisk you away to a cozy coffee bar in the Italian Alps (credit card be damned), only a true espresso machine will do. Nowadays, some of these gorgeous models of modern machinery are thankfully designed with newbie-friendliness in mind, although we still think a little practice is required before you can call yourself a barista.
Besides having the ability to brew a true cup of delicious espresso at home, the other big benefit of owning an espresso machine is that it’s a showstopper. Our top pick, the Breville Bambino Plus, allows you to “pull shots back to back in very little time,” Marguerite says, and the machine has an automatic milk-frothing function, making it easy for you to serve (and amaze) several guests relatively quickly.
Get a drip machine if…
- You want a machine that does the work for you.
- You like to entertain.
- You don’t mind the price.
OXO Brew 8 Cup Coffee Maker
A top-pick drip coffee maker
A compact cousin to our top-pick drip coffee maker, the 8-cup OXO model brews slightly better coffee but lacks an auto-brew function. It’s the only drip machine we recommend that allows you to brew directly into a mug.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.
Though it may seem counterintuitive (and pricier than everything but the espresso machine), it is possible to make just one or two good cups of coffee using a drip machine. This method is also as automated as it gets: Add grounds and water to the machine, press the button, go do something else. One of our drip coffee maker picks, the OXO Brew 8-Cup, is ideal for this purpose because it allows you to swap out its carafe and just brew straight into your cup or mug, so it can flexibly accommodate your coffee-for-one habits. It even comes with a distinct, dedicated filter basket for brewing single servings, which creates a cup of coffee that’s not too far off from pour-over. We’ve also found that the 8-cup model makes a full pot of coffee faster than our top pick, the OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker, finishing in just over six minutes, and that the resulting brew even tastes a little better.
If you truly just want your coffee fast, cheap, and for your lips only, one of our cheap coffee maker picks, the petite Zojirushi Zutto Coffee Maker EC-DAC50, which has a 23-ounce capacity, may be your soulmate. As Marguerite puts it, “If your priority is just being able to press a button and have a machine brew you two or three cups at a time, I would get the Zutto.”
This article was edited by Alex Aciman and Marguerite Preston.