The Best Single


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Jan 03, 2024

The Best Single

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For roughly 62% of Americans, according to a 2020 survey, starting the day off right means starting with a cup of coffee. But for anyone who's looking for just a single-serving fix—because you live alone, you don't have space for a big coffee setup, or you’re the only coffee drinker at home—your options may seem limited to a Keurig machine (which yields subpar coffee) or a to-go order (which can get pricey).

Fortunately, you actually have several lower-cost ways to DIY delicious coffee for one. And figuring out which method will work best for you is really about just two things: "It's up to the style and flavor of coffee you prefer, as well as whether you prioritize convenience or ritual," says Wirecutter senior editor Marguerite Preston, who oversees our kitchen coverage. If you run out the door every day balancing a travel mug in one hand, you’re likely to prefer a time-saving appliance that does the work for you. But if you refuse to go anywhere before sitting and savoring a luscious morning cuppa joe, you’ll probably enjoy a more hands-on gadget that lets you craft your coffee just the way you like it.

To help you decide which coffee maker is best for you, we’ve rounded up all the gear we recommend that can produce a well-made, single cup of coffee, including an array of affordable, sustainable, space-saving choices that don't involve purchasing a so-called "single-serve coffee maker."

One more thing to keep in mind: "Most manufacturers measure a ‘cup’ of coffee at about 5 ounces, whereas the average coffee mug holds 10 to 12 ounces," Marguerite says. So make sure your "one cup" isn't actually two or more before committing to equipment with a smaller capacity.

The Espro P3, with its innovative filter, consistently brews bright, grit-free coffee.

Making coffee in a French press can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. If you’re in a rush, "you can just measure your grounds and hot water, dump them in, wait, and then drain it," Marguerite says. Even though you first need to heat your water in a stovetop kettle or electric kettle, the actual brew time is only about four minutes, so it's one of the fastest ways to make good coffee while being relatively hands-off.

With more patience and care, plus the right advice (video) and tools such as a kitchen scale, you can also use a French press to compose a more carefully balanced brew, which means the press can accommodate your changing tastes and habits. And if you occasionally find yourself making coffee for a crowd, a full-size French press can brew delicious batches big enough to serve three or four people (which is why we don't recommend those teeny-tiny single-serve presses).

Because a French press relies on immersion brewing, with the grounds fully soaked in the water rather than the water dripping through the grounds, Marguerite adds, it tends to produce "a cup that is to some people richer-tasting, and to other people muddier-tasting" than what you get from pour-overs. You get some sludginess from fine grounds slipping past the press's metal filter, which is why we recommend the Espro P3 French Press as our top pick. Its bucket-shaped, fine-mesh double filter does a superior job of keeping that sediment out of your cup, though it still can't match the level of filtration you can get from a device that uses paper filters.

Speaking of muddy, you have to get your hands a little dirty to make daily use of a French press: You need to scoop wet grounds out of the vessel and wash it after every use. On the plus side, you never have to worry about running out of paper filters, and we’ve found in our testing that our French-press picks are built to last. Other than possibly needing to replace the press's mesh filter every few years, you’re good to go.

The Kalita Wave's flat bottom ensures the most even extraction—and the best-tasting coffee—of all the pour-over drippers we’ve tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $27.

As gorgeous as it is usable, the Chemex makes several cups at once, and it produced a delicious, bright brew that our testers loved.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $45.

When you want to nerd out with a high-end, hands-on setup, pour-over is the way to go. "Pour-over is the only method that gives you full control over every variable: the amount of coffee grounds, the amount of water, the temperature of the water, and the rate at which you distribute the water over the coffee," Marguerite explains. You need a small suite of accessories: a kitchen scale, a gooseneck kettle, paper filters, and, if you want a completely bespoke process, a grinder. Once you finish brewing your perfect cup, though, cleanup is pretty simple—because the grounds are contained in the paper filter, all you have to do is grab that from the pour-over and toss it into your garbage or compost.

Handled correctly, a pour-over can yield the most sophisticated joe. Due in part to its use of a paper filter and in part to the way water flows through the coffee grounds, "it produces a cleaner, brighter-tasting cup of coffee than a French press or a moka pot," Marguerite says. "It's also less concentrated and espresso-like than from a moka pot or AeroPress, yielding a full mug of true drip coffee."

We found in our testing that the best-tasting pour-over coffee is made by our top-pick dripper, the Kalita Wave 185. However, if you want something more visually pleasing, or if you want to be able to make more coffee at once, get the Chemex Six Cup Classic Series, an aesthetically gorgeous piece of equipment (it's in the MoMA) that drips into its own carafe rather than straight into a mug.

This moka pot—which, of the four moka models we tested, comes closest to Alfonso Bialetti's original design—has a classic look, is dead simple to use, and brews coffee as rich and flavorful as that of any model we tested.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $71.

The cult-fave, Art Deco–ish moka pot, almost entirely unchanged since its invention by an Italian engineer in the 1930s, is an example of inversion-style brewing. Instead of making water drip from the top down through the grounds, the pot forces the water upward from its lower chamber through the grounds as steam. This pressurized method is the closest you can get to making espresso without an actual espresso machine. (Though the resulting brew is a notch milder than true espresso, one expert we consulted for our moka pot guide describes it as "viscous and strong.")

Marguerite describes the pot as "a coffee maker that's as much about aesthetics and ritual as it is about flavor." Like the Chemex, the Moka Express is in the MoMA. And as with the French press, you should be able to go years without needing replacement parts for your moka pot.

Though you can fill a moka pot's lower chamber with room-temperature water and use it as an all-in-one option, we recommend pre-boiling the water in a separate vessel to reduce the risk of scorching your coffee.

OXO's cold-brew coffee maker produced the strongest, boldest coffee of any model we tested. It's also easier to assemble than the competition.

If you tend to wake up 15 minutes before you need to be out the door, having a jug of cold-brew concentrate at the ready in your fridge can be a godsend. All you need to do is pour a couple of ounces into a cup and then mix with water and, if you want, milk, cream, or sugar. You can even make hot coffee if you swap in boiling water for cold or just nuke your diluted concentrate in the microwave.

Cold brew is another immersion style of coffee making, but it uses time (about 12 to 24 hours) rather than heat to extract flavor from the grounds. If you want to enjoy an artisanal style of coffee but you don't consider yourself skilled at making it, our top-pick cold-brew coffee maker from OXO may be just what you’re looking for. It's even more set-it-and-forget-it than a French press. Our testers found that the OXO cold-brew maker "produced a more consistent, flavorful cup of coffee" than other models, creating "balanced acidity, a stronger aroma, and a cleaner finish."

The OXO cold-brew maker can also store up to 32 ounces of concentrate, so you could technically make about two weeks’ worth of coffee with one batch. A cold-brew maker is also worth considering if you have a sensitive stomach or suffer from heartburn, as cold-brewed coffee is typically found to contain significantly less acid than coffees brewed through most other methods.

The Essenza Mini makes the same espresso as $400 Nespresso machines but has a smaller footprint and no unnecessary features.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $162.

Fill a water tank, pop in a pod, press a button. That's all the human input required to make coffee with our top-pick Nespresso machine, the slender and compact Nespresso Essenza Mini. Whereas other pod-style coffee makers deservedly get a bad rap (ahem, Keurig), we find that Nespresso machines produce comparatively better-tasting coffee with less wasteful packaging. (Nespresso pods are made from aluminum and therefore recyclable, including through the company's recycling program.) Besides disposing of your pods, Marguerite notes, descaling the machine every three months or so is the only upkeep a Nespresso model needs.

Depending on your palate, though, using this method may still involve a trade-off of convenience for taste. In our Nespresso guide, we note that we "don't love the flavor" of Nespresso's espresso and espresso-based milk drinks, rating them as "drinkable," which certainly falls short of lofty praise.

The lightweight, compact AeroPress is the simplest way to make an excellent-tasting single cup of coffee, no electricity needed.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $32.

You can use this plunger-style gizmo anywhere you can boil water. Aficionados like to do it in one of two ways: The traditional way is to fill its chamber with premeasured grounds and hot water, place the plunger on top, let it steep for a couple of minutes, and then plunge the resulting java juice into the cup. More advanced users often prefer what's called the inverted method, which entails (among other nifty moves) standing the plunger on its head.

Either way, AeroPress coffee should take only about two minutes to brew, not counting the time necessary to boil water, so it's one of the flat-out fastest devices for making great coffee quickly. However, unlike the French press's more hands-off brewing, with an AeroPress you spend most of the time working (preheating all the elements with hot water, measuring, stirring, and so on) rather than waiting.

Though the AeroPress is an unassuming, small piece of equipment, it can actually make coffee in lots of different ways, and if you’re into that, you’re likely to make internet friends with fellow AeroPress-heads who say that it's a toy as much as it is a tool. "You can find all kinds of recipes online that will allow you to make anything from an 8-ounce cup resembling drip coffee to something that resembles a concentrated shot of espresso," Marguerite says.

The company also sells an AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press that comes with a scoop, paper filters, and a stirrer, all of which travels compactly, but its capacity is a little smaller than the original's, and we find both models equally easy to take anywhere.

Fast, small, and easy to use, the Bambino Plus impresses both beginners and experienced baristas with its consistent espresso shots and silky frothed milk.

If you insist that your morning coffee whisk you away to a cozy coffee bar in the Italian Alps (credit card be damned), only a true espresso machine will do. Nowadays, some of these gorgeous models of modern machinery are thankfully designed with newbie-friendliness in mind, although we still think a little practice is required before you can call yourself a barista.

Besides having the ability to brew a true cup of delicious espresso at home, the other big benefit of owning an espresso machine is that it's a showstopper. Our top pick, the Breville Bambino Plus, allows you to "pull shots back to back in very little time," Marguerite says, and the machine has an automatic milk-frothing function, making it easy for you to serve (and amaze) several guests relatively quickly.

A compact cousin to our top-pick drip coffee maker, the 8-cup OXO model brews slightly better coffee but lacks an auto-brew function. It's the only drip machine we recommend that allows you to brew directly into a mug.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.

Though it may seem counterintuitive (and pricier than everything but the espresso machine), it is possible to make just one or two good cups of coffee using a drip machine. This method is also as automated as it gets: Add grounds and water to the machine, press the button, go do something else. One of our drip coffee maker picks, the OXO Brew 8-Cup, is ideal for this purpose because it allows you to swap out its carafe and just brew straight into your cup or mug, so it can flexibly accommodate your coffee-for-one habits. It even comes with a distinct, dedicated filter basket for brewing single servings, which creates a cup of coffee that's not too far off from pour-over. We’ve also found that the 8-cup model makes a full pot of coffee faster than our top pick, the OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker, finishing in just over six minutes, and that the resulting brew even tastes a little better.

If you truly just want your coffee fast, cheap, and for your lips only, one of our cheap coffee maker picks, the petite Zojirushi Zutto Coffee Maker EC-DAC50, which has a 23-ounce capacity, may be your soulmate. As Marguerite puts it, "If your priority is just being able to press a button and have a machine brew you two or three cups at a time, I would get the Zutto."

This article was edited by Alex Aciman and Marguerite Preston.

Rose Maura Lorre

Rose Maura Lorre is a senior staff writer on the discovery team at Wirecutter. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Salon, Business Insider, HGTV Magazine, and many more. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, her daughter, one dog, two cats, and lots and lots of houseplants.

by Joanne Chen

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