If you are anything like me then you probably enter a semi-comatose state each morning between waking up and getting your first hit of the magic brew. For me this looks like a lingering frown, a slightly blurry thought process, and a general prickliness that is all radically transformed with my first cup of coffee.
This fairly typical experience has led to what some people have called the 6am test. That is, is a given coffee maker simple enough to be used at 6am when you are still half asleep, blurry eyed, and generally in a somewhat foul mood. And this is part of the reason why so many coffee lovers all over the world have come to use and love single serve coffee makers; because they pass the 6am test with flying colours.
Single serve coffee makers are simple to use, quick, and consistent. They require minimal effort yet produce coffee with a consistency that you can trust. In this article I will try and help you figure out which might be the right single serve coffee maker to meet your needs.
What Is A Single Serve Coffee Maker And Who Is It For?
So what is a single serve coffee maker? Well contrary to what some may think it is not simply any coffee maker that can make a single cup of coffee (think Aeropress, V60, espresso machines etc). Instead a single serve coffee machine is an automatic coffee maker that brews coffee at the push of a button, usually using some form of pods or capsules.
So who are these types of coffee makers for? Well they are for people who love coffee and love convenience. The real advantage of single serves over other coffee makers is the time that it takes to brew the coffee and the simplicity of use. These are great for people who are rushed in the mornings but still need that morning hit. And the great thing is that you can make coffee with one of these even when you are rushed and slightly flustered. You simply turn on the machine, insert the pod, push the button and the machine will do the rest.
The other advantage of these coffee makers is that they are a package deal. With a single serve coffee maker you don’t need a grinder, scales, or a fancy kettle, all you need is the machine itself. This is great for both bench space, cleanliness, and affordability.
The downside of these machines however is that the flavour tends to be relatively generic (with some key exceptions!) and there is little scope for experimenting or getting the nuances of different beans. They also aren’t particularly portable. So if speciality coffee is your thing and you love single origins and being involved in the brewing process then single serve coffee makers are not for you. Instead we would recommend you buy something like the Aeropress which is still aimed at making a single cup of coffee but is far more flexible and hands on.
Different Types Of Single Serve Coffee Makers
The most popular single serve coffee makers tend to use capsules. These are small usually plastic cups that are filled with pre-ground coffee which the machine pierces and runs hot water through to brew the coffee. In particular both the Nespresso and Keurig ranges use capsules. The advantage of capsules are that because they are airtight they tend to keep the coffee fresher for longer. Also there have been some exciting beginnings of third wave or speciality coffee roasters dipping into the world of producing capsules. The downside is that while there are ways around it, these tend to have a very negative environmental impact. Similarly, capsules tend to be fairly expensive in comparison to buying whole coffee beans.
While the terms pod and capsule are often used interchangeably, they are actually different. Where capsules are plastic cups, pods are round bags of ground coffee that look similar to tea bags. Pods are usually used to produce espresso-style coffee and brew coffee through hot water being pushed through the pod at a high pressure. The most well known pods are the Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pod swhich were created by Illy in the 1970’s. These can often be used either in some single serve coffee machines or in some espresso machines with special baskets.
Finally, some single serve coffee makers basically brew the coffee as a drip coffee machine. These machines such as the Hamilton Beach use pre-ground coffee instead of any form of pod or capsule and extract the flavour by allowing the water to pass through the grinds. The advantage of this is that the options for which coffee you use are almost unlimited. Similarly, because you are buying your coffee either whole bean or pre-ground rather than in a pod/capsule it tends to be cheaper in the long run. The downside for some is that obviously these machines cannot produce espresso-style coffee.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that a number of single serve machines now have the flexibility to use either K-Cups, other capsules, pods, or ground coffee.
The Best Single Serve Coffee Makers 2021
This is in many ways Keurig’s flagship machine and comes with all the strengths that Keurig owners have come to appreciate. It is an excellent single serve coffee maker which seems to hit the balance just right between functionality and affordability. Some of its best features include a 48 oz water reservoir, an auto-off function, three different available cup sizes, and possibility the fastest brew time of the machines on this list. In addition, it also has a really helpful option of being able to use capsules from other brands rather than simply K-Cups.
Being from Keurig the coffee this produces is closer to drip coffee than espresso. Users have had mixed responses to the flavour of the coffee. While people seriously into coffee may find the flavour lacking, many others have enjoyed it more than enough to make it a staple of their morning routine. The Keurig K55 is also very simple to use and to clean, which is important for a coffee maker. One downside for some however may be the physical size of this coffee maker which is fairly bulky. This is a great option for those who are looking for a single serve coffee maker which is reliable, easy to use, and yet doesn’t break the bank.
The Nespresso Pixie is for the coffee lover who loves excellence and is willing to pay for it. This incredibly compact coffee maker is part of the OriginalLine range from Nespresso and produces espresso-style coffee that is hard to challenge among single serve machines. It comes with a 19 bar motor, three different possible cup sizes (Lungo, Espresso, and Ristretto), a removable water reservoir, an automatic shut-off function, and a height-adjustable drip tray. It also has an incredibly quick brew time of around 30s!
Part of the appeal of this machine is that as well as making great coffee it looks stylish and is compact enough to fit into almost any kitchen. In terms of downsides it definitely is on the expensive side of single serve machines. Also it doesn’t come with an inbuilt milk frother so if you do go for it we recommend buying an Aeroccino3 Milk Frother as well.
This coffee maker from Bunn is for the coffee lover who can’t decide between pods, capsules, or ground coffee. The Bunn MCU rather amazingly can do any of them. Through a drawer system it can support K-Cups, pods, or even ground coffee. This is a great feature as it means that somewhat unusually for this class of coffee maker you can actually experiment a bit with different beans and even different styles of coffee.
In addition it comes with a range of features including a pulse function to manually start or stop the water flow during brewing, an adjustable brew size between 4 and 14 oz, a quick brew time, and a water tank which does a great job of keeping the water temperature consistent which can be lacking in this style of coffee maker. Like many other Bunn products this coffee maker has an almost industrial look and feel to it which may appeal to some or put others off. While it isn’t cheap, there is a lot to recommend about this coffee maker.
If you are on a budget then this is the coffee maker for you. While it may not have all the bells and whistles, it makes reliable coffee, is known to last, and is just amazingly affordable. This coffee maker uses ground coffee and a reusable mesh filter so that there are no pods, capsules, or filter papers required. It comes with a switch that can alternate between regular and bold strength which is helpful. It is easy to use and easy to clean.
Some of the downsides however is that because it uses a metal filter, some of the grinds can make it into the cup similar to what you experience with a French Press. Also this machine has a fairly slow brew time compared to some of the other machines on this list. However, as I mentioned, for the price this machine is a bargain. It can make good coffee, users have found it to last, and because it uses ground coffee you can use high quality beans rather than mass produced pods.
The Nespresso Evoluo is a deluxe coffee maker which looks amazing and can make superb coffee. This machine is part of Nespresso’s new VertuoLine range and can actually brew either drip-style coffee or espresso depending on the capsules that you buy. The Vertuoline machines use a new centrifusion technology to help best extract the coffee from the capsules. It comes with an auto-switch off function that kicks in after 9 minutes, a sizeable water reservoir of 54 oz, and a quick heat up time.
Like the Pixe above this machine can make some delicious coffee and is incredibly easy to use. But the real selling point is the ability to brew either espresso or coffee. So if you have the money to spare and enjoy both coffee and espresso then this machine might be the one for you. Also like the Pixie it doesn’t come with a milk frother if you like lattes or cappuccinos so we recommend either buying a Milk frother separately or buying the bundle with the milk frother.
To understand the difference between Nespresso VertuoLine and OriginalLine watch this video
This single serve coffee maker by Mr Coffee is in many ways the same version of the Keurig above. It uses the Keurig Brewing system and so takes K-Cups and comes with all the strengths and weaknesses of Keurig with a cheaper price tag. The features on this machine include a 40 oz removable water reservoir, three different available brew sizes, and a fairly quick brew time. This machine will win no awards for the best coffee but is affordable, reliable, and many users have found the coffee comparable if not better than the Keurig equivalent.
Frequently Asked Questions About Single Serve Coffee Makers
Can I make different kinds of coffee with a single serve coffee maker?
It depends on the machine. Some machines such as the Nespresso evoluo and the Bunn MCU can brew both espresso-style coffee and drip-style coffee. For these machines, the type of coffee will depend on the capsules you buy and the setting you choose.However, most single serve machines can just do one or the other.
How fast are single serve coffee makers?
Again this will depend on the machine but typically anywhere between 30 to 90 seconds for a normal sized cup.
Which is cheaper, capsules or ground coffee?
In general ground coffee is cheaper than capsules or pods. However this will depend on the quality of the coffee. The official capsules for Keurig machines or Nespresso are fairly expensive but you can buy the same sized capsules from other brands for a cheaper price. Similarly, the cost of ground coffee will be more expensive if you decide to buy it from a speciality roasters rather than mass produced.
Are single serve coffee makers bad for the environment?
A common charge against this style of coffee maker is that they are negatively impacting the environment. This is still largely true due to the plastic waste that capsules produce. However, single serve producers are seeking to combat this tendency. So Keurig are seeking to becoming fully recyclable in 2020 and Nespresso has started a capsule recycling program. Also, there are various options for using reusable capsules such as the My K-Cup for Keurig. It is also worth noting that this ecological consideration is at least partially dodged in single serve coffee makers that just use ground coffee rather than pods or capsules.
Can single serve coffee makers produce other kinds of drinks?
Yes many single serve coffee makers as well as coffee can produce tea, hot chocolate, or other hot drinks. This is usually done by buying special pods or capsules.
How is a single serve coffee maker different from other kinds of coffee makers?
The main difference between single serve machines and other coffee makers is that the process for single serve machines is fully automated. That is, for single serve machines all that you have to do is push a button and the machine will do the rest. For most other coffee machines the one making the coffee is more involved in the process and will have to do other aspects of the coffee brewing (with the notable exception of super automatic machines). Single serve coffee makers use a different and more automated process to produce either espresso or coffee.
We hope this article has helped you understand single serve coffee makers a little better and see which might be the right one for you.
Our recommendation is that the Keurig K55 is the best single serve coffee maker. It is reliable, consistent, makes coffee that many users have come to love, and comes at a very affordable price.