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Students moving into a new dorm on a budget typically want the best 4-cup coffee maker they can afford. Married couples who want a quick brew-for-two before heading to work in the morning might be prepared to spend a bit more.
With that in mind, we’ve found five of the best 4-cup coffee makers at a range of price points. But if we could only choose one, keeping both quality and value in mind, the choice is clear.
Our pick for best 4-cup coffee maker
While we consider the Zojirushi to be the best all around, we did find four others that are worth your consideration. They fit a range of budgets.
Our top 5 best 4-cup coffee makers
|TopTop Top Top Top Top Top||Zojirushi||See Deal|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top||Cuisinart||See Deal|
|Top||Elite Gourmet||See Deal|
|Top Top Top Top Top||Mr. Coffee||See Deal|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top||Brentwood||See Deal|
What to know before buying
Before we discuss these models in detail, let’s go over a few things you need to know about coffee makers in this niche.
A 4-cup coffee maker doesn’t make 4 cups of coffee
This sounds absurd, but it’s true. Most coffee machine manufacturers consider a cup of coffee to be about five or six ounces. That’s less than two-thirds of your typical measuring cup. A 4-cup coffee maker, then, is going to make between 20 and 24 ounces of coffee. At most, you will get three full measuring cups worth of finished brew.
If you drink your coffee out of a large mug, you probably won’t be able to fill it twice with this amount. A couple who drinks out of normal coffee mugs can each have a full mug, but that’s about it.
So if you’re looking to brew coffee for four people every morning, you should consider at least an 8-cup machine.
Automatic shut off and programmable timers
Coffee makers in this price range vary in the amount of automation they offer. Some models keep the price way down by offering nothing more than an on-off switch. That’s fine, but you need to be aware that once it’s on, it stays on until you turn it off. This is in contrast to a machine with automatic shut off, which will power down by itself after 30 or 60 minutes.
If you’ve grown used to an automatic shut off machine and you suddenly buy yourself a machine without it, you are in real danger of leaving your coffee machine on all day. You may return home to a burning smell and a coffee carafe that’s dried out or broken. So please be aware of this if you’re making the switch.
A coffee maker with only an on-off switch will not offer you the luxury of programming your brew, either. Some people really like to set their coffee maker to roughly the same time as their alarm, so that the fresh coffee is brewed and waiting for them when they get up. Just keep in mind that without programmability, nothing happens until you get to the machine and make it happen. Then you’re going to have to wait a bit.
Pausing your brew
People can be impatient, especially when it comes to coffee. Even though a 4-cup coffee maker doesn’t take much more than five minutes to brew a full pot, some people can’t wait.
Many manufacturers have addressed this with a special feature known by various names such as pause-brew, brew-pause or pause-and-serve. What it means is that when your machine is brewing, if you see that it’s already brewed enough for your first cup, you can pull the carafe out and pour. The machine will recognize that the carafe is gone and stop brewing until the carafe has been returned to its spot. Then the brew will resume.
You’ll find these types of machines with both flat-bottomed and conical filter baskets. Some will come with their own permanent filter, usually made of a fine wire mesh. Others will require paper filters. You can decide what you like best. The permanent filters save you the trouble of buying refills, but they do demand regular cleaning.
Now let’s take a closer look at our five suggestions.
The best 4-cup coffee makers in detail
The Zojirushi EC-DAC50 Zutto scores points for looking good, and it has a unique design feature that the others on this list don’t have. The Zutto’s filter basket actually sits in the carafe, rather than above it. This means that when you pull the carafe out at the end of a brew, the filter basket stays with it and you don’t get those messy extra drips of coffee on your hot plate. Any extra drips just fall into the carafe.
The Zutto uses a star-shaped opening at the top of the filter basket rather than a shower head to distribute the water evenly over the coffee grounds. The water passes through a charcoal filter before it gets to that point. The filter lasts about two years before you should replace it. Replacements are easy to find.
The Zutto is really easy to clean. The water reservoir comes completely out of the machine for filling and cleaning. The filter basket and carafe are easy to clean as well, although it’s best to wash the glass carafe by hand rather than risk it in the dishwasher. They are delicate.
The coffee tastes great, thanks largely to the well-calibrated brewing temperature of between 200-205 F, which is perfect. It takes about five minutes to brew, and uses a No. 2 paper cone filter.
This machine is almost entirely plastic, but it feels solid and looks great on the counter with its subtle curves and matte faux-metal finish.
As for the drawbacks, there is no programming, no automatic shut off, and no pause-brew features. Great if you like simplicity, not so great if you’re the sort of person who forgets to turn things off.
The handle on the carafe feels a little bit flimsy and is attached to the carafe only by a metal band that circles the top of the glass. Some users have reported cracking in their carafes which they attribute to this setup, but these reports are relatively old and the problem has likely been solved with a switch to thicker glass for the carafe.
All in all, it’s a great little coffee maker that’s unlike anything else on our list. Here it is in action:
2. Cuisinart DCC-450BK
The Cuisinart DCC-450BK 4-cup coffee maker made our list of best coffee makers under $50, and it stands out for its nice-looking stainless steel carafe—although it’s not thermal so you still need the hot plate to keep the coffee warm.
The DCC-450 also has pause-brew and automatic shut off after about 30 minutes.
It’s a nice, compact design that takes up little very little counter space, with a shower head that distributes water evenly over the grounds to produce really good coffee. The parts that touch the water are all BPA-free, if a plastic free coffee maker is important to you.
The main drawbacks are the design of the spout, which makes it challenging (but not impossible) to pour without any drips or spills, and a hot plate that seems to show wear quite quickly. Some people find the reservoir a bit difficult to fill because it doesn’t open all the way. The stainless steel will stain even more easily than glass, so a proper wash after each use is a good idea.
The Cuisinart takes No. 2 paper cone filters and doesn’t come with a permanent filter, but you can buy one separately. It comes in black or white, with a limited three-year warranty.
Here’s a look at it on video:
3. Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet
The Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet brews good coffee and pours better than any other coffee maker on our list. Small coffee makers are notorious for having carafes that make it impossible to pour without a bit of spillage, but Elite Gourmet definitely has the pour spout figured out.
This machine does have the pause-brew feature so you can help yourself before it’s finished brewing. Other nice features include a semi-transparent water reservoir that makes it easy to see how much you’ve poured in, and a filter basket that’s dishwasher-safe and really easy to remove for cleaning.
The Maxi-Matic comes with a reusable filter, but it does stain rather easily. It won’t harm you, but if that’s a turnoff then you might want to stick with a machine that uses paper filters.
There is no programmable timer and no automatic shut off. One button starts the brew and turns off the hot plate when you’re done, so you are on your own to some degree with this machine.
We can’t judge the Maxi-Matic’s durability, but online reviews suggest it isn’t significantly better or worse than other machines. It does not feel like a particularly heavy-duty appliance, though, and the glass of the carafe is thin. Glass like this can crack easily if it’s exposed to cold water while the carafe is hot, so take care.
They call it a 5-cup, but it’s pretty much the same size as the others on our list. The Mr. Coffee 5-Cup Programmable machine can be set up to 24 hours in advance to begin brewing at a specified time. You can choose the strength of your brew. It also has automatic shut off 60 minutes after the brewing begins, which is a nice amount of time to allow you to make some breakfast, etc. without worrying about the coffee going cold. It also has pause-brew, so it ticks a lot of boxes.
This machine’s big brother, Mr. Coffee’s 12-cup version, is also on our list of the best coffee makers under $50.
We like the rubber feet that can grip a slippery countertop, and the removable filter basket for easy cleaning. The filter basket is flat-bottomed, so you’ll be looking for flat-bottomed paper filters in the 4-6 cup size. You can buy a permanent filter for this machine separately, but it doesn’t come with one.
There’s a lot of plastic on this machine and you will almost certainly taste it out of the box. It’s a good idea to run a few brews of straight water when it’s new. That should help. After that, fairly regular cleaning with a water-vinegar solution followed by a few plain-water brews will maintain the neutral taste you need for great coffee.
A word about the clock—it’s not connected to a satellite network like your smartphone is, so it’s going to lose some accuracy as time passes. Watch for it to become five minutes out of sync and then it’s probably time to reset.
At a certain price point, it doesn’t really matter how durable a coffee maker is because you can buy three of them for the price of another coffee maker. Brentwood Applicances TS-213 is one of those.
This machine is as basic as it gets—one-button brewing with no programming, pause-brew or automatic shut off—but it works and it makes good coffee at the right temperature.
For its core purpose, this machine does as good a job as its competitors. If there’s one complaint, it’s that the plastic smell is quite strong and users say it takes some time to shake it. But there are salads that cost more than this coffee maker, so if you’re on a student budget then there’s nothing wrong with the TS-213. I’m sure some of them have even made it all the way to senior year!
You can get it in white or black.
If you’re in the market for a 4-cup coffee maker, then your needs are likely modest: a couple of tasty cups of coffee each morning, quickly and easily. Honestly, each of the five coffee makers above can do that for you. Manufacturers know that these machines only need to do one thing well, so you won’t find a huge amount of variation between the models. We tried to give you a little variety in our recommendations and point out what makes each coffee maker unique. Hopefully you’ll recognize immediately which one is for you. And if it’s still not clear, don’t worry—pick any one of them. You’ll still get your quick cup in the morning, and it will taste great.