While it won’t make the absolute best cup of coffee, a cheap coffee maker does the trick when you just need a big hot pot to fuel a busy morning or long day at work. After testing 12 promising cheap coffee makers since 2016, we think the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure is the best. It reliably brews strong-enough coffee, is simple to program and use, and takes up minimal counter space.
Our pick: Mr. Coffee Easy Measure
The Mr. Coffee Easy Measure is as simple as it gets without sacrificing reliability and flavor, and was the sole model we tested to brew a decent 12-cup pot with the recommended 12 tablespoons of coffee. An indicator on the base tells you, in half-hour increments, how long it’s been since your coffee was brewed. And it’s easy to program it to brew at a later time, even without looking at the instructions. Whether using pre-ground or freshly ground beans, we thought that overall the Easy Measure brewed the most balanced, relatable cup of everyday coffee.
Runner-up: Hamilton Beach 46320
If the Easy Measure is unavailable, or if you’re aiming for flavors that go a bit beyond the basic essence of most drip coffee, the Hamilton Beach 46320 is a close runner-up. It made coffee that tasted fairly distinctive compared with the others we tried and was on the hotter side—186 degrees Farenheit––without being acrid or scalding our taste buds when sipped black. Like the Easy Measure, the Hamilton Beach indicates how long it’s been since your coffee brewed, but does so more precisely down to the minute. However, the Hamilton Beach is a bit bulkier and less intuitive to program.
Why you should trust us
At Wirecutter, we love coffee as much as you do, which is why we’ve spent hundreds of hours researching and testing the best coffee makers, grinders, French presses, and pour-over setups. Thais Wilson-Soler, who wrote the original version of this guide, was a barista in several high-volume Brooklyn restaurants and coffee shops before coming to Wirecutter. She conducted her tests with the help of the team behind Sey Coffee (who then ran Lofted Coffee in Brooklyn). Justin Vassallo, who wrote the 2019 update, is a former lead barista with 10 years of experience working in high-volume coffee shops in New York and Boston. He was trained in developing a palate for different roasts and brewing methods and also wrote our guide to espresso machines. In our research we also read reviews and tips from websites like Dripped Coffee, Home Grounds, The Spruce Eats, and Good Housekeeping, among other sources.
Who should buy a budget coffee maker
If you’re someone watching your wallet who just wants a decent, consistent pot of coffee, a cheap coffee maker is for you. While it won’t make excellent coffee, it can satisfy that primal need for a simple cup of joe. Cheap coffee makers are designed for mass-market, pre-ground coffees, so they’re great if you’re not the type to grind your coffee fresh every morning. Some models can brew fresh ground beans better than others, but all have a clear threshold: Artisanal coffee beans invariably deserve craft-based brewing methods, like pour-over or more elaborate setups. If you’re a connoisseur, our guide to the best drip coffee maker will better suit your expectations. During testing, the OXO On 9 Cup Coffee Maker, our pick from that guide, made much better coffee than all machines covered here.
You should know that companies have to cut corners to be able to sell these coffee makers at such a low price, and inexpensive models are not designed to last much longer than their warranty periods—typically one or two years. That’s not to say that they will break, but you have to adjust your expectations accordingly if budget and a simple, efficient setup are your top priorities.
How we picked
A great cheap coffee maker should produce consistently palatable and hot coffee, be super easy to operate, and have a reasonably small footprint on your counter. To find the best model, we looked for the following qualities:
Balanced coffee: Most coffee brewed using cheap machines won’t impress a coffee connoisseur, but it should taste smooth with or without milk and have a relatively clean aftertaste. It should also be hot and stay hot in the carafe, but not so much that it tastes burnt or can’t be sipped black right away.
Intuitive programming: A cheap coffee maker should be simple enough to use that even a house guest could program it without looking at an instruction manual. You should be up and running within a few steps and be able to program a brew cycle for a set time––an important feature for those who like to have a hot pot of coffee waiting for them when they get up in the morning.
Speedy brewing: The faster a coffee maker can brew a pot (without sacrificing flavor) the better. A good rule of thumb is that a 12-cup pot should take no more than 12 minutes to brew at regular strength.
Clean, reliable performance: Cheap coffee makers are going rumble and gurgle, but you should avoid models that dramatically fluctuate in brew temperature or have a warming plate that gets far too hot. While we found that minor fluctuations of around 5 degrees didn’t impact the flavor of the coffee, repeated fluctuations of 10 degrees or more are a problem, as they will result in an inconsistent daily pot. We also looked for models that could consistently brew without making a mess. The filter basket shouldn’t overflow when filled with the maximum amount of coffee. It should also seal tightly when you remove the carafe from underneath it, so you can pour yourself a cup immediately after (or even during) brewing without coffee dripping all over the place.
Brews 10 or more 6-ounce cups: We stuck to models that would easily serve a crowd, since even if you don’t always need a full pot, you can still brew less coffee on a higher capacity machine. Note that most home coffee makers define a cup as 6 fluid ounces, which is less than both the standard cup measurement used for cooking (8 fluid ounces) and the small takeaway cup (12 or 8 fluid ounces) offered at most coffee shops.
Compact footprint: Cheap coffee makers are rarely elegant in design and tend to have a lot of plastic, but the best ones are fairly compact, without clunky parts. Since it’ll likely live on your counter, a good coffee maker should have a small footprint and fit easily under upper cabinets.
Simple, ergonomic design: The mechanics of using the coffee maker, from filling the brew basket and water tank to pouring the coffee, should be simple enough to deal with even when half asleep. We looked for carafes that were comfortable to hold and that could pour into a mug or the machine’s water tank without splashing or dribbling. And easily washable components are essential for a no-fuss feel.
Glass or thermal carafe: We tried to include both models with thermal carafes and ones with glass carafes, since there are pros and cons to each. Glass can break, and it’s more liable to burn the coffee when sitting for long periods on a hot plate. But thermal carafes are harder to come by for under $100, and the ones we tested lost heat too quickly when compared with the glass versions. Ultimately, our favorite models all had glass carafes.
Nice-to-have features: Cheap coffee makers shouldn’t have a lot of settings, but any simple feature that makes them more pleasant to use is a plus. While we didn’t require them, we appreciated extras such as an indicator letting you know how long it’s been since your coffee’s been brewed, or a removable water reservoir (for easy filling). It’s also nice if the coffee maker’s programming remains set after temporarily losing power. Features like a charcoal water filter (which may allow you to descale the machine less often) and a reusable coffee filter are fine to have but not crucial.
Because this is our budget category, we stuck to machines that ranged from the very cheap (around $40) to a mid-tier ceiling (just under $100). We sought out models that were well-rated on Amazon and other retail sites, and we scrutinized the reviews in order to eliminate models that had significant red flags about their durability or quality. In addition to revisiting our previous top pick and runner-up for the 2019 update, we tested six more machines on top of the six tested in the original guide.
How we tested
In order to compare models, we brewed successive pots of coffee on each machine, using paper filters except in cases where the machine came with a reusable filter. We tried brewing with both the regular and the bold settings (when applicable), first with Starbucks’s Pike Place roast (pre-ground) and then with La Colombe’s Phocea, which we ground fresh using the Baratza Virtuoso (the old version of our current upgrade-pick coffee grinder). Both coffees have a darker roast profile that we thought would be appropriate for these machines since cheap coffee makers aren’t designed to capture the more varied flavor notes that lighter roasts offer. We also thought that as far as darker roasts go they would help us brew strong, relatively flavorful pots of coffee in contrast to cheaper supermarket coffee.
We intentionally stuck to brewing full pots of coffee since we expect these coffee makers to get used in high-volume places like offices and dorms. For our first pot in each machine, we used the ratio of grounds to water recommended in the user manual (typically 1 tablespoon per 6 ounces of water), to see if any model could produce an adequate pot of coffee from the suggested dose. Since most of these pots came out weak and watery, we then brewed at a higher amount, in most cases 16 tablespoons, as this was usually the highest amount each user manual allowed for (and some models couldn’t even brew this amount without overflowing the brew basket). We found that useful taste comparisons between full pots of coffee were only really possible at this higher dose. We timed each brew, used a thermometer to record the temperature in each filter basket and carafe upon brew completion, and finally recorded our tasting notes for each pot.
After eliminating a few models from consideration, we assembled a panel of Wirecutter staff to taste coffee brewed from the Phocea blend with each of our finalists. For quality control we also brewed the Phocea on the OXO Brew 9 Cup (our top-pick drip coffee maker) so that our panel would have a better sense of the Phocea’s depth and complexity when brewed on a more expensive coffee maker. We asked them to taste the coffee both black and with milk (or oat milk) and to rate the flavor profile, body, and aftertaste of each brew.
Our pick: Mr. Coffee Easy Measure
The Mr. Coffee Easy Measure made the smoothest, most balanced cup of coffee among the models we tested. It was the only model that succeeded in brewing an adequate, just-strong-enough pot of coffee from the recommended 12-tablespoon dose. It has an appealing, compact design and a simple interface that lets you know in half-hour increments how long it’s been since the last brew cycle. It was also a no-brainer to program, which is great for shared kitchens.
The Easy Measure produced a surprisingly decent pot of coffee with both the Starbucks Pike Place and La Colombe Phocea, yielding the cleanest finish for both roasts. It softened the roasty quality of the Pike Place, creating a more balanced cup than the other models, and captured some of the subtle, tealike and sweet vegetal notes of the Phocea while still delivering a full-bodied cup. The Easy Measure also came the closest to bringing out some pleasing acidity from both roasts and even revealed a hint of citrus with the Phocea. When we added milk, both coffees showcased an agreeable cocoa-y profile that didn’t linger too long on the palate. Our tasting panel scored coffee from the Easy Measure higher overall than anything except what we brewed with our quality-control model, the OXO On 9 Cup Coffee Maker (our pick for best high-end drip coffee maker).
Although the Easy Measure didn’t brew the hottest pot, at 179 degrees Fahrenheit, it made a perfectly drinkable cup of black coffee. The warming plate also keeps the coffee hot for up to four hours before shutting off, whereas many other models shut off after two (though we don’t necessarily recommend drinking coffee that’s been sitting on a hot plate for even two hours—consider a thermal carafe or a travel mug instead). Meanwhile, a digital display on the base of the machine provides a handy reminder of how long it’s been (in half-hour increments) since your coffee was brewed, going up to four hours.
At 10 minutes, 26 seconds for a full 12-cup pot of coffee, the Easy Measure’s brew time was average in our lineup, and it makes a soft chime when brewing completes. In terms of usability, this model couldn’t be more straightforward. Its simple, clearly labeled button interface is easy to understand even without a manual and doesn’t require you to hold down any buttons to access the programming options (which made other machines trickier to figure out). The glass carafe is unremarkable but pours fine. You can take it out mid-brewing to pour an early cup if you want, though this will result in a tiny bit of coffee dribbling onto the hot plate below (this was true of all the models we tested, as well as the OXO).
Unlike most models we tested, the Easy Measure features a convenient, reusable filter basket so you don’t need paper filters to brew coffee. It also comes with a simple charcoal water filter that inserts into the water tank, which likely won’t improve the flavor of your coffee but might lessen how often you need to descale the machine.
In addition to producing the most relatable, smooth cup of coffee and being the most user-friendly of the machines we tested, the Easy Measure has a nice compact size. Measuring about 13 inches tall, 8 inches wide, and 10.5 inches long, it has one of the smallest footprints of the coffee makers we tested. And as with the other models we tested, a power-cable storage compartment on the machine’s back keeps your countertop free from long, dangling cords. Moreover, the Easy Measure’s uncomplicated, almost retro aesthetic lends it a charm that all the other models lacked.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Though the Easy Measure’s $50 price tag is in its favor, the machine is mostly plastic, and some people might feel like it just looks less sturdy than some of the other models we tested. It’s also a brand-new model, so we can’t look at reviews on Amazon or elsewhere to evaluate how it has held up—and will hold up—over time. But we’ll continue using it while keeping an eye on other reviews and update this guide with our long-term testing notes.
For those who want more options on their control panel, the Easy Measure may be too simplistic, as it lacks both a “bold” brew button and a 1–4 cup brew option. However, we found that models that featured a bold brew option uniformly failed to yield good-tasting coffee on this setting and took several minutes longer to brew. If you want stronger coffee, we recommend just topping off any model with a bit more coffee instead. The 1–4 brew option is also inessential, given that the Easy Measure can still brew as little as 4 cups (which is only 24 ounces, the equivalent of two small takeout cups of coffee) if you’re in need of a small batch.
The Easy Measure may also be prone to moderate oscillations in temperature and brew times. The first brew we tested came in at 11 minutes, 27 seconds, about a minute longer than our subsequent tests. During that initial test we recorded a temperature of 174 degrees Fahrenheit in the carafe, which is a bit low. That said, the coffee from that brew still tasted hot enough when we added milk. And the machines that brewed the hottest coffee yielded flavors that were unbalanced and acrid in the finish. In general, we don’t think slight fluctuations such as these are major red flags: Simply put, cheap coffee makers are going to be less precise per pot than higher end models.
Another minor issue was a discrepancy in the brew output: We noticed that on each test with the water tank filled up to the 12-cup mark the Easy Measure produced a little over 11½ cups of coffee. But this was fairly common among models we tested, and since most people aren’t pouring out precise 6-ounce servings of coffee anyway, we think a better tasting pot is preferable to a perfectly full pot.
Runner-up: Hamilton Beach 46320
For hotter coffee with a taste that is a little more nuanced than the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure, we recommend the Hamilton Beach 46320 Easy Access Deluxe Programmable Coffee Maker. It made a very hot but not scalding pot of coffee—its average brew temperature was 183 in the carafe, a solid Goldilocks reading for both those who want it black but ready to sip and those who might add a more generous dash of milk. Like the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure, it features a brew freshness indicator, but it tracks the time since brewing by the minute rather than the half hour. With a brew speed of 10 minutes, 27 seconds for a full pot on the regular brew setting, it’s just about tied with the Easy Measure when it comes to efficiency.
Despite being very similar in overall performance when compared with the Easy Measure, a few drawbacks relegate the Hamilton Beach to runner-up status. As with the Easy Measure, the brew temperature did fluctuate, but its output discrepancy was more significant, consistently yielding only 11 cups of coffee when the water tank was filled to the 12-cup level. In addition, the brew was simply too weak when dosed at the recommended 12 tablespoons of coffee for a full 12-cup pot; again, the Easy Measure was the one model that performed well enough in this regard. In our initial taste tests we found it brewed both coffees with a latent, sweet vegetal finish, and even brought out a black licorice note from the Pike Place.
The Hamilton Beach also requires paper filters, which the Easy Measure eschews with its reusable filter basket. The Hamilton Beach’s hot plate shuts off after two hours whereas the Easy Measure stays on for four, though we don’t really recommend drinking coffee that’s been on a hot plate for longer than two hours anyway.
When it came to programming the Hamilton Beach to brew later, we encountered some difficulty even after reading the instruction manual. While simple enough once we figured it out, the programming sequence on the interface requires you to first hold down the program button to set the auto-brew timer, then press it a second time to actually turn the auto-brew function on. We think this will frustrate people as it is possible to think you set the machine to auto-brew brew when you’ve actually only programmed the timer.
Another issue was that the glass carafe’s lid came loose a couple of times, which was odd since we couldn’t discern a clear difference in its design from those on the other Hamilton Beach models we tested. Finally, it doesn’t beep when it finishes brewing, and though some people might not want a beep early in the morning, we think it’s nice to have since cheap coffee makers often continue to make brew noises well after your coffee is ready to serve.
Regarding size and appearance, the Hamilton Beach 46320 is about an inch taller than the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure and half an inch wider, at around 14 inches tall, 8.5 inches wide, and 9.75 inches deep. Like the Easy Measure, it has a cord storage compartment in the back. Despite the Hamilton Beach’s size, we do appreciate that you can easily load coffee and fill the water tank from the front of the machine, which eliminates the need to pull it all the way out from under kitchen cabinets. The Easy Measure lacks this perk, but we think it has the edge in terms of overall aesthetics and compactness.
Although the Cuisinart 14-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker (DCC-3200) has one of the sleeker designs of the machines we tested in 2016, our testers struggled a lot with its complicated user interface and found the large-handled carafe unwieldy. This machine did brew decent coffee, but no better than the competition.
The Black + Decker 12-Cup Thermal Coffee Maker (CM2035B) looked appealing for its small footprint and low price. Unfortunately, it was immediately disqualified in our taste test because it produced overextracted, extremely bitter coffee. It also had a cheap-looking plastic body and a clunky interface.
The Mr. Coffee Advanced Brew 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker (BVMC-SJX33GT) was the worst performer across the board in our 2016 tests. It yielded overextracted, bitter coffee that our tasters unanimously declared the worst of the competition. We thought its interface was confusing, and its phony-looking chrome paneling made this machine the ugliest of the bunch.
Though the Braun BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker (KF7150BK) produced decent coffee, the machine didn’t stand out in our 2016 tests. We speculate that the Braun and Cuisinart DCC-3000 share a similar origin, as their interfaces and coffee were strikingly similar. They even have the same measurements.
The Hamilton Beach 46205 Programmable Coffee Maker Standard is our former top pick and brewed better coffee than most of the other models we dismissed. But it fell short when compared with the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure and Hamilton Beach 46320 (which is newer). In particular, it didn’t brew coffee with a consistently satisfactory body and left a heavy aftertaste in one session. Among the models we tested for this update it was also the slowest on both bold and regular brew settings.
The Hamilton Beach 45300 TruCount Programmable Coffee Maker has a built-in scale to keep track of how many tablespoons of coffee you’ve dosed, but we found the reader to be inaccurate since it skipped recording a few level tablespoons. This by itself is a clear dealbreaker, but it also took nearly as long to brew as the Hamilton Beach 46205 and made rather mediocre coffee that wasn’t hot enough. According to Hamilton Beach, the TruCount is no longer available, but it seems you can still purchase one through Amazon.
We expected better results from the Cuisinart DCC-2750 Extreme Brew 10-Cup Thermal Programmable Coffeemaker given the high price. But it produced unremarkable coffee that tended to be weaker than the other models we tested. It also didn’t make a hot enough pot of coffee, and the thermal carafe failed to hold the temperature to the one-hour mark.
The Mr. Coffee BVMC-PSTX95 10-Cup Optimal Brew Thermal Coffee Maker was previously our runner-up, but it has an obtrusive footprint and needlessly awkward filter basket compartment. It also brewed harsh-tasting coffee compared with the Mr. Coffee Easy Measure.
The Ninja 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker CE201 brewed coffee that was both too hot and bland, despite being one of the more expensive models we tested. It also strangely lacks a cup measure indicator on the brew pot itself, leaving you to guess how much water to fill up at your sink to pour into the water tank.
1. Betty Gold, 8 Best Automatic Drip Coffee Makers, According to Kitchen Appliance Experts, Good Housekeeping, January 31, 2019
2. Dennies John, Best Drip Coffee Maker, Dripped Coffee, May 3, 2019
3. Donna Currie, The 9 Best Budget Coffee Makers of 2019, The Spruce Eats, March 1, 2019
4. The 11 Best Drip Coffee Makers of 2019, Home Grounds
5. Meister, One Reason Coffee Is Hard to Make: How Much Is a Cup?, Serious Eats, August 9, 2018
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