We’re not shy about how much we love our favorite coffee makers, but there’s no denying it: our top picks are more expensive than the average brewer. We tested 16 models across varying price points, and the costlier models won out every time.
In order to learn more about why they performed better, we talked to the makers of the Ratio Six Coffee Maker and OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker and OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker to find out what makes them stand apart, and why they cost more money to produce.
Pricier Coffee Makers Are More Powerful
Ratio Six Coffee Maker
OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker
The first thing that sets high-end coffee makers apart from the competition is raw power. The Ratio Six Coffee Maker, the OXO Brew 8-Cup and the OXO Brew 9-Cup are all rated at 1400 watts, which means they can heat water much faster than cheaper models. Both brewers completed full brew cycles in around five to six minutes in accordance with the Specialty Coffee Associations home brewer standards. Conversely, many cheaper brewers are rated at 900 watts or lower, and took more than 10 minutes to brew. But aside from power, the actual design of the flash-heating chamber is another thing that sets these machines apart.
Both the Ratio Six and the OXO brewers use a cast aluminum coil as their heating element, which wraps around the chamber in a spiral and heats the water to boiling in just a few seconds, sending it up to the spray head after. “Cheaper models often use a horseshoe-shaped heating element that has a double purpose: also powering the hot plate,” says Ratio founder Mark Hellweg. These horseshoe-shaped heating elements don’t fully surround the heating chamber and are usually rated for lower wattage, making them less efficient than coil-shaped heating elements. They’re also a lot cheaper to manufacture, and don’t require a high-wattage cord either: another cost-saving measure. But even horseshoe-shaped heating elements can hit boiling temperatures, eventually, which brings us to our next point.
They Have Precision Temperature Control
In our testing, the Ratio Six and OXO brewers reached target temperatures of 195-205ºF within the first 45 seconds and held those temperatures for the entire brew cycle. Less powerful brewers took two to three minutes to reach a peak temperature of only 185ºF and then would skyrocket to 208ºF to 210ºF in the last minute of the brew cycle, which is too hot.
“During development, we extensively tested each brewing mode to ensure the coffee bed reached the optimal temperature for extraction,” says OXO category director Liz Grasing. Calibrating the brewing temperature involves tracking how much heat the water gains and loses as it travels to the showerhead, and also how much heat the coffee itself absorbs. That includes measuring how long the water lines are, how the spray head disperses the water, and even the materials that the parts are made out of. The plastic spray head on the OXO brewers will absorb less heat than the metal spray head on the Ratio Six, but both have been calibrated to deliver the same temperature stability.
They Have Unique Spray Heads
Speaking of the spray heads: both brewers have specifically designed spray heads that saturate the coffee evenly during extraction. Cheaper brewers tend to concentrate water towards the center of the coffee bed, over-extracting bitter flavors. While the Ratio Six has a metal spray head with a slight spiral pattern, both OXO brewers have a trademarked design they call “The Rainmaker,” which features different channels that divert the water to each hole.
In our testing, it was clear that the coffee bed from both of these brewers was evenly saturated, while cheaper brewers had big divots in the center. High-quality spray heads might seem like a picky detail, but they made a huge difference in our taste tests and required more engineering than the systems in cheaper brewers. Both Hellweg and Grasing explained that Ratio and OXO iterated on a number of spray head designs and extensive testing before landing on their final version.
They Feature Advanced Water Delivery
OXO BREW 9-Cup Coffee Maker
Another great feature of high-end brewers is the built-in bloom cycle. Fresh coffee has a lot of carbon dioxide in it that immediately releases when hit with hot water, often referred to as the “bloom.” Both the Ratio Six and the OXO brewers have built-in programming that automatically blooms the coffee, and OXO even has a proportional bloom depending on the size of the batch you’re brewing. “What's unique about OXO coffee makers is that we optimize the time and temperature based on the brew size—if you're brewing two to four cups, the coffee maker will deliver an appropriate amount of water to bloom the coffee, and then finish brewing,” Grasing says.
They Have Higher Build Quality
What sets the Ratio Six apart, and is a big reason why it’s the most expensive brewer we tested, is the build quality. While the outside of the brewer is made from stamped stainless steel (compared to the plastic body of most home machines), the inside uses borosilicate glass water supply lines. “They’re also designed to be serviceable,” Hellweg says. “If you open up a Ratio Six, you’ll see screws.” Every part in the Ratio Six brewer is designed to be swappable, so even if something fails, the machine can be repaired time and time again. Each brewer also comes with a 5-year warranty. Most cheaper coffee brewers on the market don’t have this, and are usually thrown out if something breaks.
So, Why Are These Coffee Makers So Expensive?
The short answer is that high-end coffee makers perform well because the manufacturers invest in high-quality materials that have been tested for their performance, making each brewer more expensive to produce. So, while our favorite coffee makers might be in a higher-price category we think they’re worth the investment.
It's also worth noting that there are other brewers that also have similar features. Our top inexpensive coffee maker pick, the Bona Vita Connoisseur 8-Cup Coffee Maker has the same style of boiler and a wide sprayhead. And the Technivorm Moccamaster was perhaps the first brewer to ever to feature a high-powered boiler when it debuted in 1974 (though we're not fans of its narrow sprayhead). Our focus in this piece was on the winners from our testing, but that doesn't mean they're the only brewers with these design elements.
Is a high-end coffee maker worth it?
We think so. While our top coffee maker picks might be more expensive than most of what’s out there, these brewers are designed with high-quality parts and are engineered for performance. They outclassed all of the other brewers tested in taste tests, and have higher-build quality than cheaper brewers designed to last, as well.
Why does coffee from a coffee shop (usually) taste better?
Coffee shops have one major advantage over most home coffee equipment: the quality of the brewer they use. Commercial coffee machines have precision temperature control, built-in bloom cycles, and spray heads that saturate the coffee evenly. While most home coffee makers don’t have these features, our favorite automatic drip coffee makers do. They might be more expensive than a lot of the competition, but they make cafe-quality coffee achievable in your own home.