A whopping 33 million households in the US use a Keurig machine. But popularity doesn’t always connote quality, and Keurig is far from the best single-serve coffee maker you can buy—though after testing 12 popular makes and models, I can confidently say there are worse options out there.
The good news? Because America’s collective craving for convenient pod coffee spawned a whole category of competitors, you now have your pick of high-quality alternatives. Many manufacturers have even addressed the plastic pod problem Keurig created by making more sustainable capsules out of recyclable or biodegradable materials.
While the best single-serve coffee makers can’t yet compete with good pour-over coffee or the best espresso machines, they are capable of brewing really good coffee, and sometimes good “espresso”, too (I’ll use quotes as a nod to any readers who want to get metaphysical about what exactly is required for a real espresso shot). But people don’t buy capsule coffee for its taste alone. The appeal of a pod machine is that it’s quick, easy, and requires very little thought or cleanup. And my top pick happens to require the least thought of any machine I tested. It also produces some of the best coffee and espresso-style shots.
Find the top pick for single-serve coffee after all the testing below, and keep reading to learn more about how I tested and what I really thought of the 11 other machines I tried.
Table of contents
The best single serve coffee maker: Nespresso Vertuo Plus
If you want a single-serve coffee maker that makes great coffee and espresso with little to no effort, I enthusiastically recommend the Nespresso VertuoPlus. It should be noted that Nespresso predates Keurig, and this machine is part of the brand’s newer Vertuoline, which employs a precision brewing system for one-touch fool-proof coffee drinks. In the world of coffee pods, this machine is a game changer.
Here’s how it works: The rim of every dome-shaped Verto capsule is printed with a barcode with information about what’s inside. All the user has to do is tap the lever to open the lid, pop in a pod, close the lid, and press the machine’s only button. The machine then reads the barcode and automatically adjusts the settings to brew a cup of coffee or shot of espresso suited to the coffee inside the pod every single time.
The VertuoPlus heats up in just 20 seconds and uses centrifuge technology to make smooth, well-balanced coffee and espresso in four sizes ranging from 1.35 to 8 ounces, with a beautiful crema in every cup. (I really enjoy my coffee with a stirred-in crema, but if you don’t, Nespresso machines aren’t for you, because crema is unavoidable.)
Features include a removable 40-ounce water tank (the Deluxe model holds 60 ounces) that can be rotated to make it fit on your counter and a drip tray that can be adjusted or removed to accommodate both short espresso cups and tall travel mugs. Used pods automatically fall into an attached receptacle that can hold at least 10 large capsules, and other than keeping the water tank full and descaling every six months or so, this machine doesn’t need any cleaning or maintenance. A small selection of Nespresso Vertuo pods can be found at Target, Amazon, and other big box retailers, but you’ll find far more variety (and less Starbucks branding) at Nespresso.com, where you can also set up a subscription so you never run out of your favorites.
What I didn’t love about the Nespresso Vertuo Plus
Nespresso offers free recycling bags with prepaid UPS labels for returning used pods, but for those who don’t have easy access to a UPS driver or drop-off point, the process may be tedious. (New Yorkers however, can drop their pods right into their blue recycling bins, no bag required.) And though I appreciate that Nespresso’s pods are fully and easily recyclable, this is one of the few single-serve coffee machines that doesn’t officially accommodate a reusable pod. Given the barcode system, a refillable pod likely wouldn’t produce a great cup of Joe, and customer reviews of after-market options support this theory. Still, Nespresso’s proprietary capsules and lack of a refillable option are certainly drawbacks for those who would rather avoid single-use pods altogether.
How I tested single-serve coffee makers
In an attempt to find the best single-serve coffee maker, I drank a lot of good, bad, and in-between coffee, sampling different roasts, brew sizes, and styles. Because some brewers only accept proprietary pods, it was impossible to compare apples to apples across the board, but I did my best to find something that would be compatible with a majority of the machines. I ended up with a selection of Starbucks Veranda pods I could use in all but one (the Bruvi) and the lighter roast made it easier to detect the notes and nuance in each cup. Acknowledging my own bias in this category, I also tested the K-cup compatible machines using higher-end pods from the Italian brand Illy. Additionally, I used freshly-ground coffee to test the machines with refillable pods. As I eliminated the worst machines, I continued to evaluate the remaining contenders with side-by-side taste tests.
What I looked for
Ease of use
The big selling point of any pod machine is convenience so I looked for machines that were easy to use and considered the following: How many buttons does a user have to push before brewing a cup of coffee? Is the interface intuitive or too complicated? If the machine offers options for different brew types and sizes, do they feel overwhelming or still convenient? Is the water reservoir sufficient for making multiple cups of coffee or does it need to be refilled for each use?
Coffee taste and texture
I won’t pretend that even the very best pod machine makes the best cup coffee, but within this category there’s a broad spectrum that ranges from “quite good” to “godawful.” I gave preference to machines that could produce a well-balanced cup of coffee with a smooth finish.
These machines are made for use in residential kitchens and since not everybody has unlimited counterspace, I looked for machines that didn’t have a huge footprint. Even better if they could tuck under upper cabinets.
While most single-serve coffee makers aren’t prohibitively expensive, they’re still an investment, so I looked for machines that felt like they were built to last. I also considered whether the manufacturer offered any sort of warranty.
Cleaning and maintenance
Daily maintenance would kind of defeat the purpose of these quick-and-easy coffee makers so I considered the following: Does the machine require any sort of daily cleaning? If so, is it easy? Is there a receptacle for pods or do they need to be manually removed after each use? How often does the machine need to be descaled? Are the instructions for cleaning and descaling clear and easy to follow? Is there a disposable water filter that needs to be regularly replaced or a reusable filter that requires special care?
Look and feel
If something is going to take up semi-permanent residence on your countertop, you want it to look good. With that in mind, I paid attention to the style and finishes of each machine.
Other single-serve pod coffee makers I tested
Nespresso Essenza Mini
The Essenza Mini is a compact single-serve espresso maker that’s part of Nespresso’s Original line. Unlike the VertuoLine’s centrifuge extraction, the Original machines use pressure-driven extraction and smaller, more angular pods. This mini brewer uses 19 bars of pressure to extract one of two cup sizes from Original pods: a 1.35-ounce single espresso shot or a 3.7-ounce Lungo. (It should be noted that while 19 bars of pressure is more than double the standard nine bars required of a professional espresso machine, the experts at Home Grounds advise against reading too much into that number because a lot of the pressure is actually diminished within the less-powerful brewing mechanisms of a plug-and-go machine.) Though the Essenza Mini technically doesn’t make regular coffee, it’s certainly worth considering if you want a high-quality compact machine and prefer to drink lattes, cappuccinos, or americanos over a standard cup of drip-style coffee. The removable drip tray and water tank also make this small machine super easy to travel with or store.
L’or Barista Coffee & Espresso System
Though L’or machines have been available in France since the 90s, the L’or Barista Coffee & Espresso System is only starting to gain popularity in the US. Like the Nespresso Vertuo, it brews both coffee and espresso-style drinks, but the process is slightly different. The L’or accepts both the brand’s proprietary coffee capsules as well as Nespresso Original espresso pods (you can use L’or espresso pods in an Original Nespresso machine and vice versa). Operating the machine is simple; for either drink style, you can choose between three brew sizes and coffee or espresso is extracted under 19 bars of pressure through two dispensing spouts—which produce a crema that rivals Nespresso’s. In my final round of testing, I brewed the same pods at the same size (3.7 ounces) in this machine and the Nespresso Essenza Mini and while the differences were subtle, I consistently found that the espresso from the Nespresso machine was ever-so-slightly more balanced with a smoother finish. Overall, this is one of the only single serve coffee makers I tested that feels like a true competitor to Nespresso, but the system would benefit from printing cup size recommendations on the pods (e.g. “this pod tastes best when brewed small”).
Instant Dual Pod Plus
Of all the single serve coffee makers I tested, the Instant Dual Pod Plus was the most pleasant surprise. From the maker of the do-it-all Instant Pot, this machine has the ability to brew a good cup of coffee or espresso-style shot from K-Cups, Original Nespresso pods, and the brand’s own compostable pods (NOTE: they require an industrial composting environment rather than a regular old backyard compost pile). Additionally there’s an included refillable pod for brewing single servings of your favorite coffee, as well as a hot water button for tea. This brewer delivered on all fronts and even produced a nice crema on the espresso shots. The regular coffee was far better than anything I got from a Keurig, too. If you like really hot coffee, the Dual Pod Plus brews slightly hotter than the Nespresso and other machines I tried, but not so hot that it scorches the coffee. While I wouldn’t want to replace my VertuoPlus with this (it’s pretty big and I could go the rest of my life without ever consuming another K-Cup), I’d be happy if I walked into a hotel or vacation rental to find this on the counter. Because it’s so versatile, it’s also a great option for a home with both Nespresso and K-cup devotees, as well as small offices and teachers’ lounges.
Epi’s reviews editor, Noah Kaufman is a big fan of the Bruvi single-serve coffee brewer—and for good reason. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, it has a lot to offer in terms of functionality. The touch-screen control panel allows users to choose between eight cup sizes and it features a selection of one-touch brewing options including buttons for low acid, americano, iced coffee, and cold brew. Of course, any single-serve coffee maker can be used to brew coffee or espresso-style shots over ice, but the Bruvi’s cold brew setting takes a few more minutes than a hot drink and uses cooler water, too. Similar to the Nespresso Vertuoline, the Bruvi reads data on the proprietary pods and adjusts a variety of brewing factors accordingly, but the user still can pick the highlighted default cup size or select another—and there’s always the option to make manual modifications by tapping the screen for “stronger,” “hotter,” or “low acid.” When brewed in eight ounce sizes without any additional settings, the light- and medium-roast coffees were well-balanced and nuanced—especially for something from a pod machine. That said, there was always a little sediment in the bottom of my cup and I was far less impressed with the espressos I tried. Because Bruvi is very new to the market, there are fewer coffee pod options than you’d get with Nepresso or Keurig, but the beans are sustainably sourced and the brand promises that the treated polypropylene cups will mostly break down in a landfill, so you avoid any confusion over what is recyclable or what type of composter your pod is appropriate for (Bruvi also recently released a refillable pod for those who want to use their own specialty coffee). If you want the convenience of a pod machine with the kind of versatility and functionality you’d get from a high-end drip coffee maker, the Bruvi is a great choice—though it may be too robust and pricey for some coffee drinkers who just want something quick and easy in the mornings.
Nespresso Vertuo Next
The Vertuo Next is another machine from Nespresso’s Vertuoline and while it brews just as beautifully as the Vertuo Plus I recommend above, it has a few features that set it apart. First, the pros: Though this is smaller than the Vertuo Plus, it can brew bigger coffee sizes. Where the Plus brews four sizes and can make a maximum of eight ounces of coffee from one pod, the Next has five brew size options and accepts pods that brew 18 ounces at a time (there’s a compatible carafe that can be used with the larger pods, too). If you love the quality and ease of a Nespresso but want the ability to brew more than a single cup at once, this is a good option. But because the Next is a smaller machine, it has a slightly smaller water reservoir than the Plus, and the top of the Next doesn’t open automatically, either. Instead, it has to be locked and unlocked via a lever on the lid, and it takes a little too much force to make it happen, especially until you get used to the mechanism. Finally, it has Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity—which seems kinda gimmicky but some users may appreciate receiving maintenance alerts and firmware updates, as well as capsule tracking so you can remember to order more before you run out. Overall, using this machine was a less pleasant experience than using the VertuoPlus, so if you don’t need the 18-ounce pour or the app connectivity, you may want to pass on this model in favor of the Plus.
Cuisinart Premium Single Serve Brewer
The Cuisinart Premium Single Serve Brewer is a popular one-cup coffee maker that works with K-Cups and also comes with a reusable mesh pod you can fill with your favorite ground coffee. It’s billed as fully programmable, and the simple control panel allows users to pick one of five cup sizes and two brew temperatures (other features, like the auto-on and shutoff seem somewhat unnecessary for a single cup coffee brewer). The removable 72-ounce water tank means you won’t have to fill it too often, but it does require a charcoal filter insert that needs to be replaced every 60 days or after 60 uses. While this machine can’t compete with the Nespresso, it’s certainly an upgrade if you’re used to using a Keurig. In multiple rounds of testing using the same K-Cups in both, the coffee from the Cuisinart consistently had more depth of flavor and was less murky. (One thing to note about the reusable pod: I initially had issues getting the machine to register the fact that I’d inserted it and only got it to work when I rotated the adapter about 5 degrees clockwise from the supposedly proper alignment.)
Ninja DualBrew Pro
Ninja’s DualBrew Pro Specialty Coffee System is a modular brewer centered around a 12-cup drip coffee maker with a detachable milk frother and K-Cup adapter. While this machine has a lot going for it—including a bevy of options for brew size and strength—if you’re looking for the convenience of a pod machine, you’ll likely find this too big and too complicated. It’s a drip coffee maker first; the frother and K-cup capabilities are add-ons and the whole thing has to be reconfigured to switch between carafe mode and single-serve mode. That said, if you mostly make pots of coffee but want the ability to pop in a pod every once in a while, this could be a good choice if you have the counter space to spare. It brews K-cups better than a Keurig machine and while the model I tested came with a few starter paper filters for brewing into the carafe, you can also get a reusable mesh filter if you want to cut down on waste. I wasn’t able to find Ninja brand refillable pods but there are some compatible aftermarket options that look promising.
As I write this, the Keurig K-Mini is Amazon’s top-selling single-serve brewer. And I understand why: It’s incredibly compact, it comes in a variety of pretty colors, it has a price point around $100, and K-Cups dominated the market long enough that they’re now the default for tens of millions of American households. If I didn’t know anything about coffee or just wanted something to have on hand to offer guests a cup, I might pick this machine too. But I do know better and after trying a wide variety of pods, I didn’t get one decent cup of coffee out of the K-Mini or the more expensive Keurig I tested. There was no depth of flavor, and the coffee was consistently watery and overly bitter at the same time. Additionally, the internal water reservoir in this machine only holds enough for one cup and needs to be refilled with every brew.
Keurig K-Supreme Smart
The K-Supreme Smart Single Serve Coffee Maker seems to be Keurig’s attempt to compete with the Nespresso Vertuo line. It is not a close second. Even if I ignore the fact that it makes bad coffee, the technology doesn’t live up to the marketing claims and the machine itself can’t seem to handle some of its own features. It does have options for brew strength and temperature, and you can save up to 10 of your favorite settings as presets, but the whole system leaves a lot to be desired. One of the main selling points is that the K-Supreme Smart is supposed to recognize what K-Cup pod you put in it and customize the brew settings accordingly, though you do still need to choose your brew size (6, 8, 10, or 12 ounces) and you can adjust the brew temperature if you’d like, too. App connectivity allows for remote brewing (a feature that seems pointless to me for a single-serve device) and K-cup pod inventory management (possibly helpful), but the machine froze when I tried to brew back-to-back cups of coffee. I actually had to unplug it a few times to get the “please wait” message off of the display. This Keurig does have a 66-ounce water reservoir, but no pod receptacle; the used K-cups need to be removed by hand after each brew.
Hamilton Beach FlexBrew Single-Serve Coffee Maker
The coffee from the Keurigs set a low bar. The Hamilton Beach FlexBrew unfortunately went under it. It is a versatile single-serve coffee maker that allows for brewing three cup sizes and two brew strengths, comes with a reusable pod for brewing your own ground coffee, and has a removable 40-ounce water tank. It also has a hot water button for tea, instant ramen, and the like. On paper, it looks pretty good. Unfortunately, it makes a lot of noise when it’s working, and worse, brews noticeably hotter than the other machines I tested. It brewed so hot that it scalded the coffee. Even locally-roasted, freshly-ground beans couldn’t redeem this thing. If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to the Keurig that also lets you use whatever type of coffee you want in a reusable pod, this is not it.
Amazon Basics Compact Dual Brew Single Serve Capsule Coffee Maker
The Epi product testing team has been pleasantly surprised by a handful of Amazon Basics gadgets (Exhibit A: the kitchen scale) so I was curious to see if the single-serve coffee maker was worth considering. It is not. When I brewed the same K-cup pod in this machine and a Keurig, the dark liquid that came out of the Amazon house brand’s coffee maker was worse in every way (taste, texture, and temperature). It reminded me of something I’d drink out of styrofoam and desperation while waiting all day for a car repair. Sadly, the freshly-ground, high-quality coffee I put into the reusable pod wasn’t much better. This one is a hard pass.
If you want really good coffee and “espresso” with very little effort, the Nespresso VertuoPlus is the best single-serve coffee maker you can buy. Every brew is consistent, the capsules are fully recyclable through Nespresso’s free recycling program, and the machine requires virtually no cleaning or maintenance.