By Thais Wilson-Soler
After considering 17 cheap coffee makers and testing the six most promising candidates, we think that the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201) is the best. For about the price of three bags of specialty coffee beans, you get a machine that reliably makes a solid cup of coffee—even if you’re brewing pre-ground stuff from the grocery store. In addition to winning over our tasting panel of pro coffee roasters, it has a host of user-friendly features that testers loved—like a removable water reservoir and a programmable auto-brew timer. Best of all, it was the cheapest model we tested.
Who should buy a budget coffee maker
The author getting a whiff of some of the coffee we used for testing. Photo: Michael Hession
If you’re someone who wants a decent cup of coffee for a budget-friendly price, a budget coffee maker is for you. Similarly, if you don’t want to bother with freshly grinding your expensive coffee beans every morning, a cheap coffee maker can actually make a batch of pre-ground Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts joe taste better than it would from a fancier coffee maker. That’s because fancy coffee makers are designed to bring out every flavor note from the coffee—not what you want to do with pre-ground supermarket stuff.
If you’re looking for features like an effective thermal carafe or pre-infusion to achieve optimal flavor extraction, these machines are probably not for you. A budget coffee maker, by definition, will not make you the perfect cup of coffee (we tried!), and coffee machines with expert features like pre-infusion start at around $140. If you’re a connoisseur on a budget, we’d encourage you to experiment with a pour-over setup. If you’re a coffee enthusiast with a little more time and money to spare, our original guide to the best coffee maker will better suit your needs. In a side-by-side taste test, the OXO On 9-Cup, our pick from that guide, made much better coffee than even the best machine covered in this review.
How we picked and tested
Tobin Polk of Lofted Coffee uses a refractometer to determine brew concentration. Photo: Michael Hession
Following the same protocol outlined in our guide to the best coffee maker, we brewed pots in each of our contenders with the help of Lofted Coffee master roasters Tobin Polk and Lance Schnorenburg. We conducted our taste test twice. First, we brewed with Lofted Coffee’s own single-origin light roast to determine which machine did the best job of presenting the flavor profile they were going for, and brewed a second round with a bag of cheap, pre-ground Dunkin Donuts breakfast blend to simulate a more common at-home scenario. We also brought along our trusty OXO On 9-Cup as a control for taste and other measurements, like brew temperature.
After our initial round of testing and ruling out a few machines, we also conducted a group test in our own New York City Sweethome test kitchen. Our panel included writers, editors, researchers, and production staff from both The Sweethome and The Wirecutter. Our group test required that each participant interact with the coffee makers and report on the usability of each machine’s interface. Then, we brewed a pot of coffee using each of the finalists and passed out cups of each in a blind taste test. Each tester then filled out a rubric and rated the coffee makers on taste, usability, and value.
Our pick, the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201). Photo: Michael Hession
The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201) made a good cup despite being the cheapest coffee maker we tested. It also has a removable water reservoir for easy filling (and a rotating base to make it easy to access), a compact footprint, and a simple interface. Testers were initially torn between the Hamilton Beach and the Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew 10-Cup Thermal Coffee Maker (BVMC-PSTX95), but everyone said they’d buy the Hamilton Beach after we revealed that it costs half as much as the Mr. Coffee.
Our runner-up, the Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew 10-Cup Thermal Coffee Maker (BVMC-PSTX95). Photo: Michael Hession
For hotter coffee with a taste that came close to matching the brewing prowess of the Hamilton Beach, we recommend the Mr. Coffee Optimal Brew 10-Cup Thermal Coffee Maker (BVMC-PSTX95). This model ranked second in our taste test; tester Tobin Polk detected a “subtle sweetness” and a more balanced cup of coffee than from other machines besides the Hamilton Beach. Best of all, it makes very hot coffee—a full 8 degrees hotter than that of our top pick. We think its added features and user interface make it a solid alternate option. But considering how close the machines were in their performance, and the fact that the Hamilton Beach typically sells for half the price, this Mr. Coffee is only our runner-up pick.