When it comes to single-serve coffee machines, shoppers are often drawn to their convenience. The machines allow you to brew a cup of joe in seconds — they’re a quick and easy way to get your caffeine fix if you’re rushing out the door or are between meetings while working from home. Many people use them at home, but smaller machines can also be useful in dorm rooms or on desks in the office.
In recent years, single-serve coffee machines have become increasingly popular. In a survey of 1,526 coffee drinkers 18 years old and above conducted by the National Coffee Association this fall, 23 percent of respondents who drank coffee in the past day said they used single-cup brewers, up from 15 percent in January 2013.
“Popularity of single-serve machines has been on the rise over recent years, also leading to more variety of machines on the market,” said Jessica Rodriguez, certifications program manager for the Specialty Coffee Association, a nonprofit coffee trade organization. “Innovation and new technology from manufacturers have led to machines that have a variety of single-serve options, from espresso to hot coffee to iced coffee and even tea.”
We talked to experts about the pros and cons of single-serve coffee machines and features you should consider when looking to purchase one. Using their advice as filters, we also rounded up highly-rated options from brands like Keurig, Nespresso, Hamilton Beach and more.
Highly-rated single serve coffee machines
Keurig’s newly released K-Supreme Plus is the brand’s first Wi-Fi-enabled machine — you can control it using the companion app and schedule brews in advance so your coffee is waiting for you when you roll out of bed in the morning. The coffee maker equips the brand’s BrewID to detect the type of K-Cup pod you’re using and adjusts the brew settings accordingly. You can also manually change brew settings, choosing between five cup sizes, five strength settings and six temperature settings. The 78-ounce water reservoir is the brand’s largest to date, and it employs multi-stream technology — five needles versus just one needle on the other models — to get more of the coffee bed wet and extract more flavor.
Keurig K-Supreme Plus Smart
I invested in Keurig’s K-Mini coffee maker because of its compact size and more affordable price point compared to some of the brand’s other machines. It’s less than 5 inches wide, and allows you to brew 6- or 12-ounce cups of coffee using K-Cup Pods. You have to refill the water reservoir each time you brew, and the machine’s cord can be tucked into the back when it’s not in use. The coffee maker’s drip tray is removable so you can fit up to a 7-inch-tall travel mug, and it automatically turns off 90 seconds after your last brew. The machine comes in colors like Black, Dusty Rose, Poppy Red and Studio Gray.
Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker
The Nespresso Vertuo Plus pairs with Nespresso Vertuo coffee and espresso capsules and automatically adjusts coffee size, temperature, pressure and brewing time by reading the barcode on the capsule you insert. You can change the position of the machine’s 40-ounce water tank or remove it completely when it needs to be refilled. The coffee maker features a built-in capsule storage container and heats up in 15 seconds, plus automatically shuts off after 9 minutes of inactivity. You can purchase it in colors like Red, Gray, Ink Black and LE Black Matte.
Nespresso Vertuo Plus Coffee and Espresso Maker
Instead of pods, Hamilton Beach’s coffee maker brews using a mesh filter basket that doubles as a scoop, ensuring you always measure out the correct amount of coffee grounds. It’s built with a 40-ounce water reservoir that you can remove to refill. You can brew an 8- or 14-ounce cup of coffee, and the flip up/down stand adjusts to multiple heights to accommodate different mugs and travel mugs. The machine also offers a bold brew setting to make a stronger cup of coffee.
Hamilton Beach Scoop Single Serve Coffee Maker
Cuisinart’s single-serve coffee maker is compatible with Keurig K-Cup Pods and you can choose from five different beverage sizes: 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 ounces. It boasts a 72-ounce water reservoir with an included charcoal water filter, and you can adjust the brew temperature. In addition to brewing coffee, hot chocolate or tea with pods, you can brew hot water or press the “rinse out” button to clean the machine. It comes in colors like Silver, Robins Egg Blue, Matte Black and Cream.
Cuisinart Premium Single-Serve Coffee Maker
Smeg’s Fully-Automatic Coffee Machine allows you to make single servings of six different beverages, including coffee, espresso and ristretto, as well as brew hot water. It’s built with a stainless steel conical burr grinder, so all you have to do is load beans into the machine and it grounds coffee fresh every time you make a beverage. The brewer features a stainless steel steam wand to froth milk and an adjustable cup holder.
Smeg Fully-Automatic Coffee Machine
With NutriBullet’s first-ever coffee machine, you can make single servings of coffee with K-Cup Pods or brew a large carafe using a reusable filter basket. The machine uses Brew Sense technology to automatically detect whether you added a pod or a filter basket. You can choose to make 6, 8, or 10 ounces of coffee with a K-Cup pod, or 6, 9 or 12 cups of coffee in the carafe. The machine fits travel mugs up to 7 inches tall. It comes with a reusable pod as well as a coffee ground scoop.
NutriBullet Brew Choice Pod + Carafe
What are single-serve coffee machines?
Single-serve coffee machines are designed to produce brewed coffee in small quantities, typically between 5 to 12 ounces. They brew coffee in seconds, which is one of their main benefits, but also where their drawbacks stem from.
“In any coffee brewing method, proper water temperature is essential to a good extraction,” Rodriguez said. “Since single-serve brewing happens in such a short amount of time, some machines face the challenge of being able to reach a proper brewing temperature.”
Coffee brewed in a single-serve machine may taste weaker than if you were to use a drip brewer, for example. Single-serve machines also don’t usually allow you to customize brew settings, which Rodriguez said may prevent you from making a strong cup of coffee.
Pods versus reusable brew baskets
Single-serve machines utilize either pods or reusable filter baskets to brew coffee. Pods — which are used with Keurig or Nespresso machines, for example — are capsules of pre-ground coffee packaged into aluminum or plastic containers. Rodriguez explained that the coffee inside them is ground to a specific particle size to optimize extraction and flow rate while brewing. Reusable filter baskets, on the other hand, are designed to hold the appropriate amount of ground coffee for a single cup. You have to add ground coffee to the filter every time you use it.
Brewing coffee with pods versus with a reusable filter basket is one of the main factors experts said you should take into consideration while shopping. Here’s what you should know about them before you buy:
There are two downsides to using pods with single-serve machines: a lack of fresh coffee grounds and the creation of waste. Pods are packed with ground coffee weeks — or even months — before you purchase them, so they’re not fresh by the time they’re used. This can impact the strength and taste of your brew, said Kaleena Teoh, director of education at Coffee Project NY’s Academy. And using disposable pods everyday, or multiple times a day, makes for a lot of trash.
However, companies are starting to catch up with demand. “[Because] the specialty coffee industry has begun embracing the coffee capsule revolution and demand for single-serve machines, we are seeing great innovation and improvement in quality and variety of machines and capsules alike,” Rodriguez said.
One of those innovations is recyclable and compostable pods, Teoh noted. For example, as of 2020, 100 percent of Keurig K-Cup Pods are recyclable. You can purchase reusable pods for some single-serve machines, which act like a small brew basket. You fill them with the ground coffee of your choice.
Reusable brew baskets
Compared to pods, reusable brew baskets “provide the freedom to brew with your coffee of choice and are better for the environment,” Teoh said. You can grind coffee every time you need to fill the filter instead of buying pre-ground beans, making for a fresher brew.
Since pods are filled with pre-ground coffee, Teoh said they “lose a lot of aromatic compound after grinding, and there will also be a lot of surface area for oxidation.” In other words, after being ground, coffee begins to lose some of its smell and flavor. To combat that issue, pods are often flushed with nitrogen to prevent oxidation, Teoh explained. Thus, using freshly ground coffee in reusable brew baskets eliminates any additives that may be in pods.
Other features to look for in a single-serve coffee machine
In addition to choosing between a single-serve machine that uses pods or a reusable brew basket, you’ll need to think about what water reservoir size you’ll need. Some single-serve machines have a reservoir that only holds enough water to brew one 12-ounce cup of coffee, while others are built with a larger reservoir so you don’t have to refill it every time you brew.
Additionally, some machines allow you to brew both single servings and a large carafe of coffee — these are often referred to as dual coffee makers, or you may see machines advertised with multi-brew settings.
Single-serve machines have a range of brewing times, too. “If speed is a top priority, look for a machine with the shortest brewing time,” Rodriguez advised. If you are interested in buying a machine that utilizes pods, it’s also important to research the types of ground beans and flavors they come in to make sure they align with your coffee preferences. Beyond coffee and espresso pods, some brands sell pods for hot chocolate, tea, matcha and more.