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The number of coffee makers out there is astounding! I’ve lost track, but there are at least several thousand on Amazon alone. It’s hard to pick the right coffee maker until you understand the options before you.
In this guide, I’ll detail the 13 main types of coffee makers (drip, percolator, espresso, etc.), including examples and pros and cons of each. Most people will probably land on an auto-drip coffee maker, espresso machine, or pod coffee maker, but this article gives you the information you need to find the perfect brewing method for you.
Main Coffee Brewing Methods
I’ll cover all the specific types of coffee makers in the next sections. First, though, we need to understand the three general methods for brewing coffee: drip, immersion, and pressure.
- Drip brewing — Drip coffee is made by dripping water over coffee grounds and letting gravity do the rest. The water flows through, maintaining contact with the beans for a very short period of time, typically only a couple of minutes. Given the short brewing times and lack of pressure, drip coffee always uses hot water.
- Immersion brewing — Immersion coffee, also known as steeped coffee, is made by keeping the coffee grounds and water in direct contact for an extended period of time. Depending on the water temperature and other factors, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Once the water has fully extracted the grounds, the grounds are usually filtered out of the coffee.
- Pressure brewing — Pressure brewing speeds up the standard drip brewing process by pressurizing the water during the process. Most often, the water is pressurized before contact with the grounds. Sometimes, though, the pressure is applied only after the grounds are immersed in the water. Because of the pressure and because these methods typically use finely ground coffee, pressure brewing often takes only a minute or two.
Drip Coffee Makers
1. Automatic drip coffee makers
These are by far the most common type of coffee makers in the typical American kitchen, and they have been since the 1970s. They’re so common that we often shorten the name to auto-drip coffee makers or drip coffee makers. Often, they are just generically called coffee makers.
Most auto-drip coffee makers look very similar, consisting of four major parts:
- A carafe, usually made of glass.
- A heating plate on which the carafe sits.
- A plastic enclosure above the carafe that holds a filter basket.
- A water tank situated beside or behind the carafe, sometimes transparent but sometimes made of or encased in opaque plastic.
- Easy to use
- Often inexpensive
- Lots of styles to choose from
- Both single-serve and carafe options
- Typically little if any customizability
- Mediocre coffee quality
2. Pour-over coffee makers
Pour-over coffee makers are very simple contraptions. In most cases, they just consist of a ceramic or glass funnel that sits on top of a mug or carafe. To make a pour-over, you place a paper filter inside the funnel, fill it with grounds, and pour hot water over it, letting the final coffee drip out the bottom into the carafe.
Pour-overs are the most involved brewing method, requiring a level of skill that takes years to master. When you start off, your pour-overs likely won’t be any better than auto-drip coffee, but if you are looking to become a master home barista, brewing a pour-over is an important milestone. A well-brewed pour-over is considered one of the best, if not the best, of all coffee drinks.
- Can make amazing coffee
- Basic equipment is very cheap
- Slow, hands-on process
- Generally makes one cup of coffee at a time
- Takes a long time to master
3. Automatic pour-over coffee makers
The differences between a masterful pour-over and a plain auto-drip coffee largely come from controlling for: water temperature, pour rate, bloom time, and grounds coverage.
Automatic pour-over coffee makers are just auto-drip coffee makers that do each of those things better. They typically have showerhead water dispensers to better cover the grounds. Many of them let you adjust the water temperature, pour rate, and bloom time for your particular tastes or to match the type of beans you are brewing.
- Very easy to use
- Consistently excellent coffee
- Many are highly customizable
- Often expensive for drip coffee
- Few single-serve options
4. Coffee percolators
If you watch old TV and see somebody brewing coffee in what looks like a tea kettle, that’s percolator coffee. Stovetop percolators were the most popular coffee makers before the auto-drip coffee maker was introduced. They’ve largely fallen out of style, but electric percolators are still popular, especially for event venues that need to brew very large quantities of coffee at once.
Percolators have an upper chamber that holds coffee grounds and a lower chamber that holds water. The water is boiled, rises up, condenses, and drips through the grounds. That would be exactly like other drip methods, but it doesn’t stop there. The water can drip through the grounds multiple times, getting more flavorful (and eventually more bitter) with each pass.
- Fairly quick to brew
- Usually inexpensive
- Lets you your coffee flavor level
- Have to monitor the brew process
- Can brew very bitter coffee
5. Vietnamese coffee makers
You may see these called phin filters or Vietnamese coffee filters. Phins are a traditional way of brewing Vietnamese coffee. They consist of a metal container with a partition that holds the grounds tightly in place. The container is filled with hot water, covered, and let sit until the water drips out the bottom of the container into a mug or carafe.
- Incredibly cheap
- Small and very portable
- Hands-off and mostly easy to use
- Brewing take 5–7 minutes
- Makes one serving at a time
Immersion Coffee Makers
6. French press coffee makers
French presses are basically pitchers with a plunger sticking through the lid and a filter attached to the end of the plunger. During the brewing process, the plunger is lifted and the main chamber is filled with a mixture of water and grounds. After a few minutes, the plunger is pushed down, filtering the grounds away from the coffee.
French press coffee is richer than drip coffee and has a thicker body. This is caused by the extra oils that are extracted during the brewing process and not removed by the metal filter.
- Often inexpensive
- Rich, flavorful coffee
- More versatility than auto-drip machines
- Heavier brew is not for everyone
- Not good for those with high cholesterol
- Can over-extract if left alone
7. Cold brew coffee makers
Cold-brew is often confused with iced coffee, but they are very different. Cold brew is brewed at or below room temperature, often in the refrigerator. Hot water is not involved at all in the process. Iced coffee, on the other hand, is made by adding ice to coffee that was brewed hot.
Unlike most brewing methods, cold brew doesn’t require any specialized equipment. You could just mix the grounds and water in a mason jar, let it sit for 12–24 hours, and then filter off the grounds. While that’s already easy, you can instead buy a cold brew pitcher with a permanent filter. Those cold brew coffee makers are very cheap, don’t require paper filters, and eliminate the need for a separate filtering step.
Cold brew coffee has rapidly risen in popularity in the past few years. It brews a concentrate instead of full-strength coffee, which lets you add milk or ice without overly diluting the flavor. Recently, nitro cold brew, a cold brew with infused nitrogen bubbles, has further fueled the cold brew craze. Now, you can even brew nitro cold brew at home!
- Can brew in mason jar or with cheap equipment
- Easy, hands-off brewing
- Makes strong, low-acidity coffee
- Concentrate stays fresh longer than regular coffee
- Very long brew time
- Muted flavor not for everyone
8. Siphon coffee maker
Siphon coffee makers are also known as syphon coffee filters or vacuum coffee makers. They consist of two glass containers, one sitting on top of the other and connected by a short, thin. A heating element (gas or electric) is placed under the bottom container, and a metal stand holds the entire apparatus in place.
Water is added to the bottom container and grounds to the top container. The heating element causes water to rise into the top container where it is mixed with the grounds. After a short steeping period, the vacuum pulls the brewed coffee back into the bottom chamber, passing through a filter along the way.
- Beautiful equipment
- Makes delicious coffee
- Good ones are moderately expensive
- Equipment is very fragile
- Hard to clean and maintain
9. Turkish coffee makers
Turkish coffee is traditionally made by boiling extra-fine coffee grounds in water in a specialized pot called an ibrik or Turkish coffee pot. The process involves a few steps and allows you to add spices like cardamom and cinnamon to personalize the flavor. You can also purchase electric versions of a Turkish coffee maker, which greatly simplify the process but are more expensive.
Turkish coffee is very strong, and you traditionally drink it with the dregs (the smallest coffee grounds). It’s an enjoyable experience, but it’s certainly not for everyone. The equipment is cheap, though, so there’s little harm in trying it.
- Very cheap
- Equipment is small and durable
- Makes very strong coffee
- Hands-on brewing process
- Leaves sediment in cup
- Brews one cup at a time
Pressure Coffee Makers
10. Espresso machines
Espresso is strong, concentrated coffee that serves the base for lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and just about every other coffee shop beverage. You can also drink it alone, either as a shot or as an Americano — espresso diluted with water to the strength of drip coffee
Espresso machines work by pressurizing water and pushing it quickly through finely ground, compacted coffee. Good espresso machines produce at least 9 bars of pressure, far more than even other pressure coffee makers. The best espresso machines use even more pressure, above 15 bars is preferred for the most flavorful espresso.
There are three main types of espresso machines:
- Manual espresso machines — These are also called lever machines. They don’t require any electronics. Instead, hot water is added manually and the extraction process is controlled by pulling down a lever. I don’t generally recommend these machines unless you just like the novelty of them.
- Semi-automatic espresso machines — These are the espresso machines most people are familiar with for home use and in coffee shops. The user has to fill the portafilter (a long handle with a filter basket at the end) with grounds, tamp the grounds down, and attach the portafilter to the machine. Once turned on, the machine handles the remainder of the brewing process.
- Automatic espresso machines — These machines handle the entire brewing process for you, often including grinding the coffee beans. Automatic machines, also called super-automatic espresso machines, are typically the most expensive option, but they are the easiest coffee makers to use. You just press button and take coffee.
- Produces rich, delicious coffee
- Often include built-in milk frothers
- Can make specialty drinks like lattes
- Generally expensive
- Moderate learning curve (except with automatic machines)
- Makes 1–2 cups of coffee at a time
11. Pod coffee makers
These machines are made to be very simple to operate, replacing loose ground coffee with self-contained coffee pods or capsules. They take away the need to grind coffee or measure grounds, and the lack of grounds makes the cleanup process very simple.
This category includes both Nespresso and Keurig, as well as lesser-known brands like ESE. Each brand operates somewhat differently, but they are generally somewhere between an espresso machine and a drip coffee maker.
Some, like Nespresso, can even produce espresso-strength coffee from over 15 bars of pressure. Others, like Keurig, opt to brew drip-style coffee.
- Simple use
- Virtually no cleanup
- Newer models make good coffee
- Pods are more expensive than ground coffee
- Older models often make weak coffee
12. AeroPress coffee maker
The AeroPress is a recent addition to the coffee world. It consists of a brewing chamber and a plunger. The brewing chamber is placed on top of a mug and filled with coffee grounds and hot water. After about one minute of immersion, the plunger is placed into the chamber and gently pushed down to force the brewed coffee through a paper filter and into the mug.
The pressure exerted by an AeroPress is minor compared to espresso machines, but it still produces concentrated coffee. You can even modify the brewing method by, for instance, inverting the chamber to make AeroPress espresso, an even richer brew.
- Quick brewing process
- Makes delicious coffee
- Small, cheap, durable, and portable
- Very versatile
- Cleanup is very quick
- Best for making one cup at a time
- Hands-on process
- Requires a bit of force to push the plunger
13. Moka pots
Moka pots, or stovetop espresso makers, look a lot like stovetop percolators. They even share some of the same design features such as a lower chamber for water and an upper chamber with coffee grounds.
There are two main differences between Moka pots and percolators. First, Moka pots pressure the water before it’s pushed through the grounds. Second, the water only passes through the grounds once. Because of that second difference, Moka pots are not prone to the same over-extraction concerns of a stovetop espresso maker.
- Quick brewing process
- Cheap, durable equipment
- Makes strong coffee
- Can burn coffee if left on burner
- Involved cleanup process
Other Coffee Maker Variations
The above sections include all the major types of coffee makers, but there are a few variations worth discussing. Don’t think of these as new types of coffee makers. Rather, they are modified versions or sometimes just different features for the above types. Each uses one of the brewing methods we’ve already discussed.
Thermal coffee makers
Glass carafes lose heat quickly. If you brew a full pot for yourself, you’ll likely need to either leave the pot on a burner or reheat your coffee by the second or third cup. Reheating or applying continuous heat to coffee can burn it or alter the flavor.
To fix this problem, some coffee manufacturers have been replacing their glass carafe with stainless-steel thermal carafes. These can keep your coffee warm for several hours without altering its flavor, and they are a must-have for those that brew a carafe and don’t drink it immediately.
You’ll find this option most commonly on auto-drip or automatic pour-over coffee makers. However, it’s also beneficial for French presses or any other carafe-sized coffee brewer.
Carafe-free and single-serve coffee makers
Traditionally, home coffee machines were designed to make full carafes of coffee. Single-serving and carafe-free machines have become increasingly common. These include pod coffee makers but also standard auto-drip machines that either brew one cup at a time or store the coffee in an internal chamber rather than a carafe.
Portable coffee makers
Some coffee makers are inherently portable, like the AeroPress (and its even more travel-friendly variant, the AeroPress Go). Most, though, require electricity or take up too much space to be used while camping or traveling.
It’s rare to find battery-powered coffee makers that are worth buying, so portable coffee makers are almost exclusively either very small plug-in models or manual coffee makers. Often, these are just smaller versions of normal coffee makers or coffee makers that build a travel mug into the design.
A particular innovation in this space comes from a company called Wacaco, which has created the only truly portable espresso maker I’ve ever seen. It requires some strength to make it work, but it’s a great step forward for travel-friendly coffee.
Dual coffee makers
Dual coffee makers, or two-way coffee makers, mix and match the above methods or sometimes offer two ways of brewing the same type of coffee.
The most common dual coffee makers have the ability to brew either single-serving or full-carafe drip coffee. These machines are often highly customizable. Most notably, Ninja coffee makers have several cup sizes, multiple brew strengths, and other customizations built-in.
Other dual coffee makers can brew both espresso and drip-style coffee. These can also include the Nespresso Vertuo machines that feature some pods for espresso and others for larger mugs of coffee.
Lastly, some dual coffee makers brew both ground coffee and coffee pods. This is the same thing you can achieve with a reusable Nespresso capsule or Keurig pod, but having it built into the machine is particularly convenient.
Smart coffee makers
Most auto-drip machines are programmable, but smart coffee makers are a more recent innovation. They allow you to customize brew schedules, change brew settings, and re-order coffee from a smartphone app or by voice command.
Pod coffee makers are starting to become smart, too. Nespresso has had smart features in some of their coffee makers for a few years now, and Keurig has just announced their first smart coffee maker: the K-Supreme Smart. Expect even more types of coffee makers to gain smart features in the coming years.
Grind-and-brew coffee makers
Last, but certainly not least, we have coffee makers with built-in grinders, also called grind-and-brew coffee makers. Most coffee makers take ground coffee, so you either need to buy a coffee grinder or settle for the less-than-fresh alternative: pre-ground coffee.
Grind-and-brew coffee makers take care of the entire process for you. They grind beans and often measure the grounds as well. They take care of the entire process for you. If that sounds familiar, it’s because these machines are basically the drip coffee equivalent of an automatic espresso machine.
Brew It Your Way
It’s truly amazing how many different types of coffee makers there are. Whether you like your coffee hot or cold, strong or delicate, heavy or thin, there’s a perfect brewing method for you. Some are easy and hands-off while others offer an opportunity for mastery.
Please feel free to comment with any questions or to suggest a new type of coffee brewer that I haven’t included. Until next time, go brew yourself a delicious cup of joe.