While there are several features to consider when it comes to purchasing a single serve (also called single cup) coffee machine, brewing speed is one key feature that vary widely between models. On average, brew time with a single serve/single cup machine is around 1 to 3 minutes from start to finish. For perspective; most Keurig machines that have a reservoir brew in a minute or less, while other single cup machines can take upwards of 4 to 5 minutes. If you want a model with the quickest brewing time possible, look for models that have smaller reservoirs. Alternately, you can opt for models that do not heat the water internally (French press and other low-tech brewers), but are designed to have hot water added to them.
While standard coffee brewing machines have an average range between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 90-96 degrees Celsius), professional quality machines will have the option to control the exact temperature that is used for the brewing process. Since some varieties of coffee brew best at higher, or lower than normal temperatures, the ability to regulate the brewing temperature that a machine uses offers the best versatility. If you like to brew specialty, or more exotic blends, consider a model that allows you to set the temperature of the water used in the brewing process (just remember that fully boiling- 212 degrees Fahrenheit/100 degrees Celsius, is too hot to properly brew coffee).
Hot Water Only Option
A common and greatly enjoyed feature of many single serve coffee machines is the option to simply produce hot water for use with other beverages, such as cider, cocoa, and tea. This feature can be accessed by either not loading the “grinds” compartment, or via a side spout (more common in professional quality models). If a model is not compatible with a wide range of coffees or beverages (for example if it can only use a specific brand of flavor pods/cups that are made by the same company), then be sure it at least has a hot water only mode, or opt for a more flexible model of single serve coffee maker.
When shopping for a single serve/single cup coffee maker, consider how much space you have to dedicate on your countertop. Even if you plan to store it away when not in use, you need to measure out your counter/cabinet area ahead of time. Single portion coffee makers can vary quite a bit in size, from 7” x 10” x 10” (Kitchen Selective Single Cup Brewers) to 15” x 12” x 15” (Keurig Elite). Most standard quality and basic function single cup/serving machines fall within these parameters, so be sure to plan ahead. Professional quality machines may come in larger sizes, so be sure to look at the specifics for any model you are considering.
Reusable or Disposable Cartridges
There are two basic varieties of single cup/serve coffer makers; the kind that can only be used with disposable, prepackaged coffee mixtures and those that can make use of reusable cups/pods. Keurig, the market’s leading producer of single serve coffee brewing machines, quit making models that were compatible with anything but their brand at the start of their 2.0 line, while many others continued to produce machines that are cross compatible and even allow the use of reusable cartridges. Aside from the obvious restriction in variety (and costs), machines that allow the use of different brands, or reusable cartridges offer the greatest variety possible. If you prefer being able to use the coffee you already have, or a variety not currently available in the prepackaged selection, consider models that allow for reusable cartridges (for example, older Keurigs and Mr. Coffee brand machines work with reusable cups).
Operational Noise Level
For most who use their machines at home, noise is not always a problem. However, machines intended for at office use may need to operate at whisper quit levels. All brewing machines are going to emit some level of noise (given what they do, it should be expected). Quiet models have the added benefit of not potentially disturbing infants, animals, or business meetings. The Keurig B70 Platinum and Breville Gourmet (BKC700XL) are both professional quality machines that users often rate as being extremely quiet. Typically the quieter the machine, the more expensive it is likely to be. Consider if the sounds of the machine is going to be an issue for you, or the environment it will be used in when shopping for a single serve machine.
While they are not the first company to make a single serve brewing machine, they are the most synonymous with the concept. Keurig introduced the K-cup method of packaging coffee grinds that work with brewing machines to produce single cup/serving portions. It is the same technology that they company has licensed to other coffee and tea making companies such as Starbucks, Newman’s Own, and Celestial Seasonings, which allows for a wider variety of beverages to be made using Keurig machines. To date there are several series of Keurig brewers that are among the most popular with consumers. They are one of the premier makers of both at home and professional quality single serve machines. A trademark for the brand, aside from an easily recognizable name, include some of the quickest brewing times in the industry.
With a name that is well known around the kitchen, it is little surprising that they would also be known for their single serve brewing machines. Their two most popular models, SS-700 and DGB-1, serve up coffee in single-sized portions in one of two ways; the SS-700 uses the K-cup system and the DGB-1 grinds up beans and brews on the spot. Both are easily considered professional quality machines, that have unique features to make each cup a veritable coffee experience(both use water filters to further enhance the flavor). Another aspect that makes Cuisinart highly popular is their tendency towards extended warranties, which is a testament to their quality.
Not a brand for the beginner or dabbler, Breville produces professional/commercial quality machines that often serve more than a single purpose for brewing. The well known Breville BKC700XL, for example, not only uses a K-cup style system for brewing hot drinks like coffee, it also has the ability to produce cold beverages as well. Like most of Breville’s products, it features many state of the art aspects, such as the versatility for hot and cold drinks, digital display interface, and much more.
With a name like Mr. Coffee it can be expected that they would produce a line of single cup/serve machines. Utilizing the K-cup technology, they offer five different models to meet consumer’s needs and wants. The main variances between the models, aside from price, include the capacity (how many single cups it can make before needing more water), and brewing times. One aspect that make the company so popular, is the fact they are among the most affordable for quality K-cup style machines.
Another name known around the kitchen, Hamilton Beach is known for making quality appliances at easily affordable prices. When it comes to coffee makers, they have several different models, both full pot and single/serve (some capable of both). They also make use of the K-cup and other methods for single serve brewing. When it comes to versatility and affordability, Hamilton Beach is hard to beat.
Timer functions in single serve/cup coffee machines are like very tasty and welcoming alarm clocks. They are designed to turn the machine on and start the process of making a fresh serving at a set time. For people who enjoy a regular routine and want their morning cup as soon as possible after waking up, then models that include a timer are ideal. Timer settings are not common among standard machines, and are usually found in more professional or commercial quality models. If the idea of a fresh cup at the same time your alarm clock starts going off in the morning, consider higher quality models (Keurig K40 Elite and Hamilton Beach FlexBrew) that include a timer feature.
While standard coffee brewing machines have an average range between 195-202 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 90-94 degrees Celsius), professional quality machines will have the option to control the exact temperature that is used for the brewing process. Since some varieties of coffee brew best at higher, or lower than normal temperatures, the ability to regulate the brewing temperature that a machine uses offers the best versatility. If you like to brew specialty, or more exotic blends, consider a model that allows you to set the temperature of the water used in the brewing process.
A far from standard feature for most machines, the option to alter how strongly a cup gets brewed is considered a professional grade perk. Changing the strength of the brew requires the ability to alter the heat and pressure used during the process. While most users don’t really need more than a single mode brewer, if you like your coffee milder, or stronger, consider a model with an adjustable brewing mode (for example, the Keurig Vue V700 series allows for a very customized brew).
A perk that is common to both standard and professional quality machines, the inclusion of a carafe or thermos is often considered a luxury feature. Some larger models of single serve, in which single portions are just an option, include a carafe (Keurig 2.0 has a 70 ounce reservoir, can use up to 6 k-cups at a time, and comes with a carafe). Other models that include items such as traveling mugs are often still considered single serve models, just with larger portion options, such as 6 ounce, 10 ounce, or 16 ounce servings. If you want to make up coffee for the day, or to share with others, consider larger scale models that are designed to produce larger, or multiple servings at a time.
When it comes to the control panel, one common luxury on professional quality machines is a digital interface. Some of them even use touch screens (Keurig 2.0), along with advanced settings to allow users to fully customize their brewing. While they are rather nifty, touch screen, and even digital displays, are often considered a pure luxury for most. If you have vision problems, however, a large digital display may be a feature to look for, as they can often be easier to use than typical buttons and dials.