Single-Serve Pod Coffee Makers

From Cook's Country | February/March 2014

Overview:

If convenience is key to getting your morning cup, it doesn’t get much easier than single-serve pod coffee. Just pop a prepackaged pod into the machine, hit the button, and out comes a hot brew. The other major draw is choice: There are hundreds of varieties of pods for coffee, tea, chai, espresso, and hot chocolate. The cost per pod ranges from less than 40 cents to nearly $1, depending on how many you buy. As for the machines, they can range in price from $25 to well over $1,000. We rounded up five single-serve pod coffee makers costing from $50 to $199 and gave them a try, brewing coffee and tasting the results.

Three of our machines worked quickly and consistently, taking 45 to 55 seconds to brew coffee at a drinkable temperature (160 to 175 degrees), cup after cup. Two of those had the added bonus of controls that were intuitive and simple, as well as reservoirs that held as much as 10 cups of water, cutting down on the need to reload between brewing stints. The remaining two coffee makers were temperamental at best. One… read more

If convenience is key to getting your morning cup, it doesn’t get much easier than single-serve pod coffee. Just pop a prepackaged pod into the machine, hit the button, and out comes a hot brew. The other major draw is choice: There are hundreds of varieties of pods for coffee, tea, chai, espresso, and hot chocolate. The cost per pod ranges from less than 40 cents to nearly $1, depending on how many you buy. As for the machines, they can range in price from $25 to well over $1,000. We rounded up five single-serve pod coffee makers costing from $50 to $199 and gave them a try, brewing coffee and tasting the results.

Three of our machines worked quickly and consistently, taking 45 to 55 seconds to brew coffee at a drinkable temperature (160 to 175 degrees), cup after cup. Two of those had the added bonus of controls that were intuitive and simple, as well as reservoirs that held as much as 10 cups of water, cutting down on the need to reload between brewing stints. The remaining two coffee makers were temperamental at best. One brewed progressively hotter beverages (from 155 degrees for the first cup to a near-scalding 181 degrees several cups later). The other product spewed a blast of steam after the brewing (which took a solid 3 minutes) appeared to be finished. Both required users to refill their dinky reservoirs with water every time they wanted to make a cup, defeating half of the convenience.

So how’s the coffee? An independent lab analyzed the extraction rate (the amount of soluble materials extracted from the grinds) and brewed solids (the actual amount of coffee in the cup) from each machine. Three coffee makers produced coffee with extraction rates and solids in line with the “Golden Cup” standard established by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. The other two overextracted the coffee, risking bitterness in the brew. We let tasters be the ultimate arbiters, serving them coffee (which we poured into separate thermal carafes to conceal their sources) from each machine. That left us with one clear winner, which passed muster with the lab, held up well in user tests, and also managed to satisfy our panel of tasters.

While we recommend our winning machine, we offer this caveat: Since its price is on par with any high-end traditional coffee maker, and even buying pods in bulk sets you back 10 cents or more per cup than brewing from regular ground coffee does, you’ll be paying for the convenience.

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