“Who wants coffee?” my mother would ask, looking first at my dad and then, once I’d reached coffee-drinking age, at me. She was always up for some joe from her trusty Mr. Coffee, but she felt that brewing a pot for herself alone was wasteful and indulgent.
These days, it’s easy to find machines designed for single servings of coffee, not to mention espresso, cocoa, tea, and other hot or cold choices. And even if single-serve isn’t your top priority, the latest home drink makers are so innovative, you may still swear off all store-bought beverages.
The single-serve revolution came about thanks largely to Keurig, which launched its brewing machines and “K-Cup” single-portion containers (known generically as “pods”) in 1998. It followed up in 2012 with the Keurig Vue, a pricier line offering stronger and hotter coffee, as well as larger servings. Keurig has broadened its list of branded hot and cold drink options to more than 200, including the recent addition of Snapple and Lipton tea varieties. And with the 2012 expiration of two Keurig patents, starting prices of K-Cup-compatible coffeemakers (not made by Keurig) are poised to drop this year to as little as $49, predicts Bill McLoughlin, executive editor of the trade magazine HomeWorld Business. Currently, Keurig-brand makers start at about $100.
In selecting a single-serve model, Jacob Maurer, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Sur La Table, with stores in White Plains and Yonkers, suggests considering whether the coffee drinkers in your house want to control brew strength and temperature, and whether they’d like a range of drink options (including the “milky” types found at retail coffee bars). If so, you can seek out models with those features.
“If you have multiple coffee drinkers, you are going to want a machine that features a larger water reservoir so you aren’t constantly refilling,” Maurer says, noting that the ability to make multiple coffee drinks at the touch of a button may also be desirable.
For espresso fans, Keurig offers a K-Cup maker called the Rivo, while Nespresso, Bialetti, and Starbucks have models that use “capsules,” or K-Cup-like containers. If you enjoy cappuccinos or lattes, look for a version that has a milk frother or offers one as an accessory, since these can turn your brew “into a low-cal, special dessert,” according to Nespresso-owner Fran Scheffler-Siegel of White Plains. Keep in mind, however, that capsule-type espresso machines can be pricey, at $200 to $300—and the capsules themselves can be $1 or more each.
While single-serve models are convenient, innovations in conventional drip coffeemakers make these models worth considering as well. For example, the Remington iCoffee, which debuted last year, steams coffee grounds and then stirs them up with the water, rather than sending the water straight through the grounds. The company says this process produces more flavor and less bitterness, and uses less coffee per cup.
Another interesting newcomer is the Bodum Bistro, which features glass tubing to keep water hot as it travels through the machine, and a vacuum-sealed pot to maintain the heat of the brewed coffee. As a result, there’s no need for a heating element in the base of the unit—a common feature that the company says can lead to a stale taste.
Finally, for those who like carbonated drinks but hate buying, schlepping, and recycling soda bottles, SodaStream may be an appealing option. This soda-making kit shoots carbonation into tap water, which can then be flavored with syrups. The syrups include common soda flavors as well as variations from drink brands like Ocean Spray and Crystal Light. New for 2014 will be varieties including V8 Splash and Eboost Natural Energy. In addition, SodaStream recently introduced its own line of recyclable flavor capsules, known as SodaCaps, for those who prefer snapping on a syrup capsule to pouring the syrup from a container.
With so many drink makers available, it’s easy for coffee enthusiasts like my mom—or lovers of most any beverage—to fashion a perfectly customized concoction. Now, if only they could clear your mug and wipe down spills from the table!