Straight to the Point
Our top picks include the Ratio Six and OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker. The Ratio Six is a top-notch brewer, but comes at a hefty price point. The OXO 8-Cup is a great coffee maker and under $200, but didn't surpass the Ratio Six in (most) of our taste tests. For a programmable brewer, we also like this 9-cup model from OXO.
If you’re reading this, there’s a slim chance you've gone the last 24 months without making coffee at home. Certain coffee methods—like a pourover or French press—require more hands-on work to brew. Hence the appeal of an automatic drip machine: after you've loaded it with water and grounds, it does the work for you.
We initially reviewed automatic drip makers in 2018. However, coffee technology has improved tremendously over the last four years. There are a lot of new options and machines that didn’t make the cut in 2018 are now completely redesigned. So, we decided to split our brewer review into two parts: here, we’ll focus on the best overall automatic drip coffee makers. And, in conjunction, we also published a guide to the best brewers for $150 (or less), as finding an inexpensive model poses some challenges of its own. Between these two reviews, we tested 16 coffee makers priced between $52 and $350—including our previous favorites—and were able to find excellent machines that we think meet a variety of needs and budgets.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Coffee Maker: Ratio Six
The Ratio Six brewed, hands down, the best coffee of all the machines we tested. It was also one of the most attractive brewers of the bunch.
The Best Coffee Maker Under $200: OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker
OXO’s unlocked the code on making smartly designed coffee equipment at an affordable price. This model was the most intuitive brewer to use, and it consistently made excellent coffee.
The Best Programmable Coffee Maker: OXO Brew 9-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker
The OXO 9-cup gives users slightly more control over their brewing settings and you can program it to start at a set time every morning. It fell short of the OXO 8-cup in taste tests, but for those who consider a programmable setting essential, it’s a solid pick.
- Brew Test One: Brew medium-dark roast coffee, to assess brew time, how well the machine does with a standard coffee available at a supermarket, and the resulting brew’s flavor.
- Brew Test Two: Brew light roast coffee, to assess brew time, how well the brewer does with a harder-to-extract bean, and the resulting brew’s flavor.
- Brew Basket Saturation: After each brew test, evaluate brew basket saturation, as an evenly extracted brew bed is a sign of a well-designed coffee maker.
- Total Dissolved Solids: Measure total dissolved solids or TDS using a refractometer, to see if it provides a baseline for how much coffee is ending up in the final cup.
- Temperature Tracking: Using a thermocouple, track the water temperature of the showerhead and the brew basket during brewing, looking to see how stable these temperatures are and at what temperature brewing occurs.
- Heat Retention: Using an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the coffee right after brewing and again 30 minutes and an hour later, to see how hot the carafe keeps it.
- User-Experience Evaluation: Determine how easy each coffee maker and carafe is to set up, use, and pour from.
- Ease of Cleaning: After each test, clean the coffee maker’s carafe and brew basket by hand, looking for any factors that make one machine easier to clean than another.
- Winners-Only: For the top models, try any preset functions they have.
Why You Should Trust Us
I’ve been in the coffee industry since 2010. My very first coffee job was as a barista at a high-volume shop where we weren’t allowed to change the grind setting on the grinder. After that, I’ve been behind the bar in some capacity until 2019 and I continue to write about coffee and interview folks for a coffee-centric podcast. I’ve written the Serious Eats reviews of espresso machines, French presses, cold brew makers, and milk frothers.
Evaluating Our Findings from Our 2018 Testing
When we published our review on coffee makers in 2018, we did a lot right: evaluating taste and ease of use, measuring brew times, and checking the brew basket. We also attempted to use total dissolved solids (TDS)—a technical measure of how much of the actual coffee itself is in your final cup—to differentiate the coffee makers. Coffee experts use a refractometer to calculate TDS, which is what we did, too. However, TDS can be affected by a number of factors outside of the brewer, like grind size and water quality. It’s also not reflective of how most people would evaluate or use a brewer at home and we acknowledged this in our original review. For these reasons, we chose not to focus heavily on TDS when we re-tested coffee makers. (We did measure TDS just in case, though.)
Instead, we weighed other real-world factors more heavily—like brew bed saturation and ease of use—homing in on the differences that wouldn’t change from user-to-user. Because while you can endlessly tweak the extraction rate of coffee by tinkering with your grind size, you can’t make a machine brew hotter water or change how its brew basket is designed. Ideally, you should leave this review knowing your options for the best possible brewer and use that as license to play with variables like strength, grind setting, and roast profile to find what works best for you.
To ensure consistency throughout testing, we kept several factors the same from machine to machine:
- Grind setting: We ground whole bean coffee using a burr grinder and the medium grind setting.
- Water flush: Prior to brewing, we did one rinse cycle using just water (to ensure the coffee makers were free of anything that might’ve been present from the manufacturing process). Assuming most people are not pre-heating their brewers, we waited 20 minutes after this flush to begin actually brewing.
- The water: For each of our brewing tests, we used filtered water. We also weighed the water, in grams, rather than relying on the coffee maker’s water level marker (this video from coffee expert James Hoffmann shows why these can be wildly off). Basically, whereas a cup is considered to be eight ounces, a coffee maker's "cup" can be four to six ounces, depending on the model.
- The coffee: We used a medium-dark roasted coffee available at a local supermarket and a lighter roast coffee from a specialty coffee roaster in New York. We also weighed the ground coffee to ensure we were using the same amount in each machine. For the medium-dark roast coffee test, we used 55 grams of ground coffee and 1,000 grams (one liter) of water, which is a 1:16 ratio. And for the light roast coffee, we brewed half that amount: using 30 grams of ground coffee and 500 grams (half a liter) of water.
What We Learned
Large Versus Small Batch Brewing
When evaluating coffee makers, taste should be taken with a grain of salt (although it is important). So many factors contribute to the flavor of coffee, but we tried to isolate what could be attributed to the brewer itself. We brewed round one’s coffees with a liter of water and 55 grams of coffee, as per the SCA’s Golden Cup ratio (which is between 55-60 grams of coffee to a 1,000 grams or one liter of water (a 1:16-ish ratio). For round two, we did a smaller batch at 30 grams to a half liter water.
Some of the brewers performed better with a larger batch than a smaller one because of the depth of the brew bed. When we used less water, the brew bed wasn’t as deep, so water went through quicker. With a deeper brew bed, there’s slightly more resistance (and obviously, more coffee), so extraction happened easier. However, the best coffee makers excelled at both large and small batch brewing. One of our favorite coffee makers, the OXO 8-cup, even comes with a brew bed insert to optimize flavor when brewing less coffee.
We also timed every brew—brewers ranged from a four-minute brew time to almost ten minutes. The SCA recommends a brew time between four to eight minutes and we found the best brewers brewed between five to six minutes. Longer brew times brought out bitter flavors, since the water was in contact with the brew bed for much longer.
How Brew Basket and Showerhead Design Impact Extraction
After brewing, we tasted all the coffees, but also looked at the evenness of the brew bed. This is a sign of even extraction, as opposed to the brew bed being concave in the center. We evaluated the design of the brew basket (flat bottom versus conical) and if there was any visible channeling. This indicates areas where water ran through the brew bed faster than other spots, which can happen with a poorly designed showerhead. Channeling creates both over- and under-extraction, so it's not ideal. Wider showerheads with a larger number of holes were able to saturate grounds evenly, leading to better extracted brew.
As for brew basket shape, we generally liked coffee more from flat bottomed brewers (when paired with a well-designed showerhead) and found them to be more consistent, resulting in an evenly extracted bed of ground coffee and better medium-dark roast coffee.
However, during round two of testing, we found that lighter roasted coffees benefitted from a conical shaped brewer, as the depth of the brew bed increased extraction. A deeper brew bed meant there was more contact time between the coffee and the water, which the flavor of light roast coffee benefitted from. This is one of those topics you’ll see coffee folks debating a lot about and not something there a super definite answer to. However, this article is helpful if you want a deeper explanation of how brew bed shape can impact extraction.
Why Temperature Stability Is Important for Brewing (and Serving)
Coffee extraction is affected by temperature, and higher temperatures will extract more from coffee. We used a thermocouple with two probes on each machine during brewing: one attached as closely as we could to the showerhead to measure the temperature of the water coming out, and one at the bottom of the brew bed.
We didn’t learn a whole lot from the bottom probe, however, the top probe told us a lot about how water temperature changes over time and varies between models. Many of the cheaper brewers started brewing with water that wasn’t quite hot enough (around the 170-180°F), and would spike towards the end of the brew. Higher-end models were able to keep temperature between 198 and 206°F consistently throughout the brewing cycle, resulting in a better, well-extracted brew.
One thing we noticed about the OXO 9-Cup (and to an extent, the OXO 8-Cup) was that there were ebbs and flows in temperature, which indicated that the brewer was trying to replicate pourover brewing where you add water in spurts instead of a continuous flow. We're not 100% sure how this affected the brew's final flavor, but both machines did make consistently great coffee.
We also measured the temperature of the coffee in the carafes right after brewing, after 30 minutes, and then at an hour. Most of the higher-end machines came with a thermal carafe, with the exception of the Technivorm's glass carafe and hotplate. Hotplates keep coffee hotter (and in some cases, even make coffee hotter than it was right after brewing), but at the cost of flavor: over time, coffee tastes baked and bitter. So, we recommend models with thermal carafes over those with hotplates.
Which Coffee Makers Were the Easiest to Use and Clean?
We evaluated how simple each brewer was to set up (did we need to read an entire manual to operate it?). Because a coffee brewer is a device that’ll likely live on a kitchen’s countertop permanently, we also looked at how well the brewer fit on the counter and underneath a cabinet. The standard distance between a countertop and a kitchen cabinet is 18 inches. While all the brewers we tested could fit under a cabinet, some had to be pulled out when we added water. Either our hands couldn’t fit to pour water into the water reservoir or the brew basket or reservoir's lid hit the cabinet when we attempted to remove it—neither of which were ideal.
We also closely looked at the coffee makers' lids and carafes, particularly how easy they were to set up and pour from. We evaluated how easy or difficult it was to put on or add a lid (lids that snapped on, rather than twisted, were preferable) and ease of pouring out of the carafe. It sounds obvious, but carafes with spouts were key at directing coffee into the cup and keeping it off the countertop.
Finally, we determined which carafes were easy to clean. Carafes with larger lids had larger openings, which meant you could clean them using your hand and a sponge. Smaller lids had smaller openings and were tougher, requiring a bottle brush to reach the walls and bottom of the carafe.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Automatic Drip Coffee Maker
An automatic drip brewer has a very simple job: to heat and maintain water at a consistent temperature, to pour that hot water over grounds evenly to extract flavor properly (read: not over- or under-extracted), and to keep coffee hot once it's brewed. It should also be simple and straightforward to use and clean and easily fit underneath a cabinet.
The Best Coffee Maker: Ratio Six
What we liked: No other brewer extracted coffee better than the Ratio Six. In taste tests, this flat bottom brewer was able to produce the most full-flavored coffee without any bitter or off notes that can come from over-extraction.
The Ratio is incredibly sleek. Although it’s available in other colors and a stainless steel finish, the black matte one we tested was eye-catching. It also has some interesting design features: You access the water reservoir by removing a small plate on top of the brewer, revealing a hole that gives you access to the reservoir, so you can easily store it under your cabinet and not worry about a lid knocking into anything. It has an automatic bloom setting and the spray head on the machine was incredibly effective, evenly saturating the brew bed. A piece that's inserted on top of the brew bed had a rubber ring that created a seal around the spray head, ensuring minimal temperature loss.
The Ratio Six also made some of the hottest coffee and after an hour the coffee inside the carafe was 168°F, still very hot and pleasant to drink. The carafe also had a large opening, making it easy to clean.
What we didn’t like: The Ratio Six’s carafe’s lid was a little finicky to put on and the spout design could be improved upon. To pour from it, you have to press down on a release valve and the coffee comes out in an uneven stream, so it’s more prone to spilling. (Ratio is aware of this.) This brewer also has multiple parts: you have the piece that creates a seal over the showerhead, the brew basket, and the lid.
The only other thing to note about Ratio Six is its price—at $345, it’s not super accessible. We do think both OXO models do exceptionally well for their price points, but if you’re looking for the absolute best coffee maker, you’ll be happy with the Ratio Six.
- Stated capacity: 1.25 liters/40 ounces
- Height of brewer: 14.25 inches
- Average brew time: Four minutes, 48 seconds
The Best Coffee Maker Under $200: OXO Brew 8-Cup Coffee Maker
What we liked: The OXO 8-cup is a cost-effective brewer, balancing must-have features with a pared-down design. We enjoyed pouring from the OXO 8-cup's carafe’s the most. The lid to the carafe stayed on during brewing, so you don’t have to awkwardly remove the brew bed and put the carafe's lid on later. It was the most compact option in the bunch and can nicely sit on any kitchen counter. The OXO 8-cup also makes a little indicator noise when it’s done brewing, which the OXO 9-cup doesn’t do.
This OXO can be adapted to brew large and small batches, and the only buttons on the machine (besides the ON button) are to brew for a small batch (two to four cups) or large (five to eight cups), and it even includes an insert to optimize small-batch brewing—which is a big deal. One of the major problems with most coffee brewers is that they do just fine with a lot of coffee, but can’t brew a small amount well. The water usually just pours through too quickly since, with a smaller amount of coffee, the depth of the brew bed is so shallow. The OXO 8-cup addresses this issue, and when we ran the second brew test with a smaller batch of coffee, we liked the coffee we drank from the OXO 8-cup the best (just slightly more than the Ratio, but we vastly preferred the Ratio’s coffee when we brewed a bigger batch).
Optionally, the OXO allows you to bloom your coffee by holding down the brew button, which gives the user more flexibility. The brewer also has an option to brew into a carafe or straight into a mug (we didn’t do this, but we read reviews that said while this feature is appreciated, shorter mugs will result in coffee splashing all over the place).
What we didn’t like: Our only complaint is that the showerhead isn’t quite perfect—we noticed some channeling and the brew bed wasn’t quite as even as we'd like. As we tasted and tasted the coffees from the OXO 8-cup, we noticed some hints of both over- and under-extraction (from the channeling, since the places it did channel would produce under-extracted bits and the areas there wasn’t channeling would be slightly over-extracted from the displacement of the coffee grounds). However, these off notes were truly minimal and not likely something that will bother an average home taster.
- Stated capacity: 1.25 liters/40 ounces
- Height of brewer: 13.5 inches
- Average brew time: Five minutes, 53 seconds
The Best Programmable Coffee Maker: OXO Brew 9-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker
What we liked: Neither the Ratio Six nor the OXO 8-cup are programmable—you pretty much just press a button and coffee happens. The OXO 9-cup allows users to program their brewer to start making coffee at a certain time.
Like the OXO 8-cup, there’s an option to brew either a smaller or larger batch, but the OXO 9-cup doesn’t come with an insert. As I noted above, the OXO 9-cup did some interesting things during the brew cycle—instead of a continuous stream of water, it seemed to dispense water in spurts. We don't think that had a perceptible effect on the final flavor of the coffee, but it does show that the folks at OXO are paying attention to how people brew coffee, and we imagine they’ll continue to improve on their drip machines.
What we didn’t like: My biggest complaint was the conical brew bed, which extracted lighter-roasted coffees better, but didn’t let the slightly darker coffee blend shine. The latter tasted drier, which could indicate over-extraction.
- Stated capacity: 45 ounces
- Height of brewer: 17.2 inches
- Average brew time: Six minutes, 40.5 seconds
- Breville Precision Brewer: The Breville Precision Brewer was one of our previous winners from our 2018 testing. For someone who really wants to try a lot of program settings, we still recommend this pick. However, compared to our new favorites, the brew bed was less even and therefore the flavor wasn't as evenly extracted.
- Technivorm Moccamaster with Thermal Carafe: There’s a reason Technivorm brewers are so well-liked: it’s been around for decades and its design is like no other brewer. But unless you really know how to work this machine (you have to agitate the grounds because the spray head doesn’t saturate the entire brew bed), they brew very under-extracted coffee.
- Technivorm Moccamaster: The Technivorm Moccamaster is over $300, and at that price, we'd like the brewer to come with a thermal carafe rather than glass. The spray head issue mentioned above also exists with this model.
- Bunn ThermoFresh: Bunn is known for its commercial machines, and we were intrigued to try the Bunn ThermoFresh because it brews unlike any of the other models: it has a hot water tank that you fill, then you add more water to “push out” that already hot water. But this is simply untenable for at-home brewing and would be more appropriate in an office setting or somewhere you’re continuously brewing coffee. It was also really hard to set up and get right. It claims to brew coffee in three minutes, but that’s after the 15-minute heating time for the water.
- Cafe Smart Drip Coffee Maker: The Cafe Smart looked promising, but fell short in taste tests. The flavor was flat and uneven and couldn’t measure up to the other brewers. However, it's a very nice-looking coffee maker.
What does it mean for a coffee maker to be SCA Certified?
The SCA has a set of protocols that a brewer must meet to receive their certification. These protocols are long and sort of wild, but they’re designed to ensure that any brewer with their seal of approval will make a tasty cup of coffee. This is based on decades of research looking at what variables make coffee taste good—not every excellent brewer will be SCA certified, and there are a few brewers we tested that have the SCA seal of approval and weren’t standouts. Some of the big things they look for are:
- Volume of coffee: Can it brew a reasonable amount of coffee without overflowing or grounds getting all over the place?
- Brewing time: How long does it take to run a full brewing cycle? To be SCA certified, a brewer must be able to make a batch of coffee between four to eight minutes.
- Brew temperature: How hot does the water get, and does the water stay hot? The SCA specifies that water must reach 92°C (197.6°F) within the first minute that water touches coffee grounds, and stay between 92°C and 96°C (197°F and 204.8°F) as the coffee brews.
- Gold cup standards: Something like 30% of an actual coffee bean is soluble, but not everything that’s soluble is actually pleasant tasting. Over decades, scientists have determined that getting, or extracting, 18 to 22% of a coffee bean produces an ideal tasting cup. Basically, brewers that pass SCA testing can properly extract all the good stuff from coffee.
Think of the SCA seal as a threshold rather than a guarantee that these brewers will be amazing. The SCA protocols test if these brewers can meet the standards listed above—which does help to make great coffee. These protocols are especially useful considering that there are thousands of brewers, many of which cannot meet the above standards (you’ll see a lot of these come up in our review of brewers for $150 or less).
What's a "bloom" cycle?
A “bloom cycle” (or pre-infusion) is built into or offered as a setting/button on coffee brewers. During this phase, a brewer de-gasses coffee grounds, spraying a bit of hot water onto them to release the carbon dioxide that’s inside of the grounds. Then, 30 to 60 seconds after blooming, brewing commences. With these gasses gone, the idea is that easier extraction happens. High-end models usually have this feature, however it’s not something we find entirely essential.
What's the difference between cleaning and descaling a coffee maker?
Cleaning a coffee brewer is removing coffee oils and other residue in and off the machine. Descaling is the process of removing the buildup of calcium carbonate, or scale, from your brewer.
Unless you’re brewing with distilled water (spoiler alert: don’t—it will taste like nothing because coffee needs minerals to bind to during extraction, but if you’re the type of person who needs to try things for themselves, this is actually a pretty fun experiment), all water has dissolved minerals. Any item that touches water will eventually accumulate some of those minerals to produce a white, chalky substance called scale. If you live in a place with hard water, you’ll likely want to descale more often than folks who have soft water, but a good rule of thumb is to descale every one to two months. If you want to learn more about scale, head here.