Many people can't fully wake up without some sort of caffeine in a cup. The convenience of stopping by a coffee shop or popping K-cups into a pod brewer comes at a high cost. Brewing at home with a basic coffee maker lets you spend less to get your fix -- and put some of the savings toward high-quality beans and a grinder. Experts advise that freshly ground coffee, rather than a pricey coffee maker, is the key to producing a superior cup. Cheapism.com analyzed features and online reviews to filter out unworthy contenders and choose the best cheap coffee makers, including conventional 12-cup machines, a smaller 5-cup drip coffee maker, and a few single-cup units under $50, as well as a pour-over brewer and a French press admired by purists.
Perk Up: Best Coffee Makers Under $50
For some people, the artisanal coffee movement is going too far -- they just want a fresh, hot cup of coffee in the morning without having to go through a whole song and dance to get it. The 12-cup Mr. Coffee CG13 (starting at $15) has none of the bells and whistles that have become the new norm in drip coffee makers. This simple machine doesn't even have automatic shut-off for the warming plate, which is a bit of a worry to some. It does have a "Grab-A-Cup Auto Pause" feature that lets users pour a cup before the entire pot is finished brewing. Although reviewers appreciate the simplicity, there's no mistaking this machine's biggest selling point: the extremely cheap price.
The 12-cup Black & Decker DLX1050 (starting at $22) is a basic machine but fully programmable for those who stumble their way to the coffee pot in the morning. Consumers who own this model appreciate that they can count on hot coffee to be waiting when they wake up. The warming plate keeps it at a drinkable temperature for up to two hours before turning off automatically. There is a Sneak-A-Cup function for users too impatient to wait for the whole pot of coffee to drip through before getting their fix.
For single people and couples, the programmable Capresso 5-Cup Mini Drip (starting at $40) makes just enough coffee for several small cups or three 8-ounce mugs. Another advantage of a more compact pot: The coffee is likely to be consumed within 30 minutes, as experts suggest, instead of turning stale and bitter in a 12-cup pot. Even so, a warming plate keeps coffee heated for two hours. The five-minute brewing time is what experts recommend for best results -- less and the brew would be too weak; more and it would be too bitter. The glass carafe has an ergonomically designed handle and doesn't dribble when it pours, reviewers say.
The 12-cup Hamilton Beach BrewStation Ultra 48465 (starting at $42) makes coffee inside a thermal tank for dispensing directly into a mug. This way, there is no carafe to break and no hotplate to potentially scorch coffee sitting in a pot. The brew stays hot, users say in reviews, and the machine stays on for up to four hours. This coffee maker can be programmed ahead of time, and has a "bold" setting that slows down the brewing so the water soaks up more flavor from the beans.
The Hamilton Beach The Scoop Single-Serve 49981 (starting at $35) makes one mug at a time with ground coffee instead of pricey pods. It can be adjusted to brew directly into a coffee cup or a taller travel mug. Use the mug to fill the reservoir with coffee, measure ground coffee into the permanent filter, and press "on." An 8-ounce cup fills in about 90 seconds and a travel mug in less than three minutes; selecting the "bold" option slows down the process a bit. Users appreciate how fast the coffee is ready, although some observe that even when brewed on the "bold" setting, the coffee isn't that strong.
The Black & Decker Brew 'n Go DCM18 (starting at $18) is designed to quickly get coffee into an included 15-ounce thermal travel mug, sized to fit into cup holders in most cars. It has a permanent filter; no paper filters necessary. And it's easy to use, with only an on-off switch for operation: Fill the mug with water, empty it into the reservoir, measure coffee into the filter, and flip the switch. The machine turns off automatically. This single-serve coffee maker also takes soft pods, although some users say two are needed because the mug is so big. Many prefer to use ground coffee and adjust the strength to their liking.
The Capresso On-the-Go Personal Coffee Maker (starting at $40) comes with a 16-ounce stainless steel insulated travel mug and fills it with piping-hot coffee in less than four minutes. Experts say an optimal cup of coffee is made with water that's just off boiling, 195 to 205 degrees, when it flows through the grounds, and the manufacturer claims that the brew temperature for this machine is 200 degrees. Some reviewers comment that the coffee is hotter than the brew that comes out of other coffee makers. Again there's the option to use soft pods, but many users savor the ability to use their choice of ground coffee, limit waste, and adjust the amount to their taste. Although the unit comes with a permanent filter, some use a paper filter so they don't have to clean the permanent one, and to keep fine grounds out of the coffee.
With this system, the coffee maker is the person making the coffee, not a machine. After putting finely ground coffee into a cone filter, slowly pour boiling water over the grounds. The result is, in the eyes of many a coffee geek, the ideal cup of coffee. The classic Melitta 10-Cup Pour-Over is also dirt-cheap (starting at $13), and because there are no automatic parts, it lasts almost indefinitely. The cone comes with a 10-cup glass carafe but can also be purchased separately, with a thermal carafe, or in a different size. This manual system is a lot less convenient than an automatic machine, but the two necessities of good coffee making -- water temperature and brew time -- can be precisely controlled by the person who's pouring the water.
French press coffee is for people who crave a deep, dark brew. The process involves pouring boiling water over coarse grounds, waiting about four minutes, and pushing down the plunger. The grounds stay below the plunger and the coffee rises to the top. Because there is no filter, a bolder coffee flavor comes through. One downside is that coffee sitting in the pot for any length of time becomes very bitter, so a new pot must be brewed each time fresh servings are desired. The Bodum Chambord 8-Cup French Press (starting at $31) is a coffee maker for the aficionado who doesn't mind a bit of fiddling, rather than a guzzler who would rather set it and forget it.