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Cheap Coffee Makers Buying Guide

Across the board we found complaints about cheap coffee makers' design, durability, and end product. That said, several garnered enough positive comments to warrant frugal consumers' consideration.

At the top of our list is the Hamilton Beach Ensemble 43254 (starting at $38), a well-liked automatic-drip model that makes hot coffee and doesn't leak.

The Black and Decker Brew 'n Go Personal DCM18S (starting at $19) is a favorite among consumers who brew only one cup at home to take with them on their commute. Another Hamilton Beach coffee maker, the BrewStation Summit 48464 (starting at $47), earns praise for dispensing directly into a cup, rather than holding coffee in a carafe. The Mr. Coffee JWX27 (starting at $35) is also a good option -- a standard, programmable, 12-cup pot that looks good and brews strong coffee quickly, according to reviews.

Another Mr. Coffee model, the 8-cup TFTX85 (starting at $40), has all the right features but appears unable to heat up to a satisfactory temperature. Reviewers also seem unimpressed with the Cuisinart DCC-450 (starting at $21), finding the 4-cup programmable coffee maker poorly designed and saying the resulting coffee tastes "off."

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Coffee aficionados know that a rich cup of joe starts with freshly ground beans, and the quality of the beans should not be underestimated. However, factors such as water temperature and brewing time also affect the taste. The water that filters through the pot should be between 190 and 205 degrees, according to the National Coffee Association, and come in contact with the grounds for about five minutes. Experts at America's Test Kitchen have similarly high standards, saying water should take six minutes or less to drip through the filter. Cheap coffee makers generally struggle to meet these criteria, but some nonetheless earn praise from users for the taste of their brew.

Beyond that, let your personal habits guide you to the right cheap coffee maker. A programmable machine that begins brewing automatically is best for people who can hardly see straight first thing in the morning. Automatic shutoff is a boon to forgetful souls who are apt to leave appliances running as they dash out of the house. Folks in a hurry might also want to look for a pause-and-serve feature that stops the brewing process so they can pour out that all-important first cup. These features are readily available in the budget range. Some coffee makers incorporate grinders or save counter space by mounting under a cabinet. However, these don't come cheap. Keurig-style pod coffee makers are similarly difficult to find on a budget. The Hamilton Beach Personal Cup One Cup Pod Brewer 49970 (starting at $17) is not only the cheapest pod coffee maker but also one of the only such models we found under $50.

While this report focuses on automatic coffee makers, some coffee purists and budget shoppers swear that a manual coffee maker such as the Melitta 10-cup (starting at $13) or a French press such as the Bodum Chambord (starting at $30) is the way to go. They tout the advantage of being able to boil the water to ensure it's hot enough when it comes in contact with the coffee. The manual pour-over method also lets you stir the grounds as they steep in the water, which is crucial to extracting the most flavor out of the beans, according to Coffee Review. The site's experts say coffee made using the French press method is also more densely flavored than automatic-drip coffee, because of the absence of a paper filter, which eliminates essential oils. These alternatives to a cheap drip coffee maker have the added benefit of not taking up much counter space. Of course, a disadvantage is the inconvenience having to boil the water first.

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