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I am among the 79 per cent of Americans who make coffee at home. Are you? Together we drink 400 million cups every day in America alone.
A few people will spend over $100 to get the perfect electric coffee maker, but I am not one of them. Buying an affordable (under $50) coffee maker that makes decent coffee and doesn’t collapse in two weeks is a difficult task.
I did my research, and now I’m happy to share it with you. In this article, I assume you’re looking for an automatic, push-button machine. I will touch briefly on some more manual brewing methods toward the end.
If I could only pick one machine, it would be the Mr. Coffee Programmable 12-Cup Coffee Maker:
Mr. Coffee rose to the top, but I did look at all the top-selling budget coffee makers out there and identified five that stood out. Depending on your personal tastes, you might find the one that suits you best among these models:
|Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker, Black||Check availability|
|Cuisinart DCC-450BK 4-Cup Coffeemaker with Stainless-Steel Carafe, Black||Check availability|
|BLACK+DECKER 5-Cup Coffeemaker, Black, DCM600B||Check availability|
|CHULUX Single Serve Coffee Maker Brewer for Single Cup Capsule with 12 Ounce Reservoir, Black||Check availability|
|Hamilton Beach Scoop Single Serve Coffee Maker, Fast Brewing, Stainless Steel||Check availability|
Now, let’s take a closer look at all these machines.
The 5 Best Coffee Makers Under $50
Mr. Coffee Programmable 12-Cup Coffee Maker
The Mr. Coffee Programmable 12-Cup Coffee Maker is the best coffee maker under $50. It serves up hot, fresh, and tasty coffee. Mr. Coffee is “Old Faithful”—the most reliable of the inexpensive makers. It is plastic, and less sturdy than expensive machines, but that is to be expected at this price point. At least the plastic is BPA-free.
This machine makes basic coffee—balanced, smooth, and strong enough for most folks. It is small and has a small footprint on your counter. Its brew time of 10 minutes, 30 seconds is fast for a 12-cup, and the burner shuts off after two hours for safety. Its programmability is a great added bonus for those who, like me, are incapable of making morning coffee without having a coffee first. If you are making coffee for multiple people, this is the machine for you.
If you make coffee in much smaller volumes, Mr. Coffee also made our list of the best 4-cup coffee makers.
- Good coffee
- Not very customizable
- 10-11 minute brew time
Cuisinart DCC-450BK 4-Cup Coffeemaker with Stainless Steel Carafe
Second place, and sturdiest of all the units I found, is the Cuisinart DCC-450BK 4-Cup Coffeemaker. This small machine that made our list of the best 4-cup coffee makers makes four 5-ounce cups (about two mugs). This is right-sized for me: a cup to drink at home and a cup to take with me. If I get impatient, the machine has a brew-pause feature where I can get a cup before it finishes the total brewing time. The Cuisinart has a shatterproof stainless-steel carafe with a knuckle guard, so you don’t burn yourself. The coffee tastes good.
However, the Cuisinart is not as intuitive as other models, and you will need to clean it regularly. At least cleanup is easy. The coffee could be a little hotter and the 30-minute auto shutoff doesn’t allow some people to slowly savor their coffee. That’s not a problem for me. This unit has no frills and the name Cuisinart adds a $5-10 extra to the price.
- Nice carafe
- Brew pause
- Needs regular cleaning
- Short shutoff time
- Paying for the brand name
Black+Decker DCM600B Coffee Maker 5-Cup
The Black+Decker 5-Cup Coffee Maker comes with many more features. The machine has a simple design that includes a water window—a big bonus for the spill-prone like me. Fill the machine, punch one button, and you are ready to go. This small machine is one of the least expensive around and the best value for the money. Other nice features include the self-cleaning cycle, which makes life easier. You can get charcoal water filters for it. It has a dishwasher-safe filter basket (most don’t) and an enlarged shower head to spread water all over the coffee grounds.
However, in my test the coffee didn’t taste as good as the higher-rated models because the water ran too quickly through the grounds. Perhaps this could be addressed with a finer grind for the coffee, but that didn’t seem necessary with the other machines. I give the taste a C-.
This little machine is not as sturdy as the Cuisinart or even the Mr. Coffee. You will likely be buying a new one in three to five years.
Note: Black+Decker also makes a 12-cup machine, for which most of this review also applies.
- Ease of use
- Self-cleaning cycle
- Great value
- Sub-par taste
- Less well made
Chulux QF-CM801 Coffee Machine
The best of the (few) inexpensive pod machines is the Chulux Single Serve Coffee Maker Brewer for Single Cup Capsule. This small, single-cup machine can make a cup between 5-12 ounces in 2-3 minutes. Insert the pod, punch the button, and the machine makes the coffee and shuts itself off after 3 minutes. The taste of the coffee is quite good. It also fits most coffee capsules, including both the K-Cup 1 and 2. My favorite part is that it comes in six colors including both lime green and orange—my two favorite colors.
There is a reason why it is hard to get a pod machine under $50. This is a cheap machine. You might get a good one or a bad one. At least the company has a good reputation for helping customers who call them. In order to slow breakdowns, you need to clean this machine regularly. It still might have a short life.
- Pod machine
- Compact design
- All the pretty colors
- Mixed quality
- Short life
- Needs regular cleaning
Hamilton Beach 49981A Coffee Maker
The single-serve coffee maker by Hamilton Beach is the best single-cup machine for those who want to avoid pods because of their environmental harm (or their taste). For this machine, you add regular coffee grounds to the basket, add water, and brew. You can select regular or bold and have some room to personalize your coffee. This machine is stainless steel and relatively sturdy.
But don’t use the regular setting because it produces very weak coffee. Even the bold brew was a little too weak for me. (Did I mention I like strong coffee?) If you add milk or sugar, it will likely taste fine. The machine comes with a reusable filter, which does leave some sludge or oil in the coffee. You can get Melitta filters that will fit. The coffee could also be hotter.
- Single serve, no pods
- Ease of use
- Weak coffee
- Filter problems
- Lower temperature
What to look for in an affordable coffee maker
When I buy a coffee maker, the first thing I look for is capacity. How many cups does it make? Making coffee for a crew will always require a larger machine. If you drink a lot of coffee and are the only coffee drinker, you might want to rethink the large pot. Making each cup of coffee fresh gets you better flavor.
Ease of use
Next, I look at the ease of brewing. When I first wake up, I am incapable of thinking or motor skills. I like a machine that lets me set up the night before, and push a button in the morning.
Ease of cleaning follows. I recommend avoiding units with tubing. Tubing is difficult to clean and can provide a home for icky things. Most of these machines will need regular cleaning to keep them operating.
Other things to watch for include temperature settings. If you like a piping hot cup of coffee, don’t choose one of the machines I marked as less hot.
I look for a timer to automatically turn off the machine after brewing—having no faith in myself to do so.
Check out the carafe. Does it fit your needs? Is the pour spout shaped right for you? Does it look like it could break too easily if you get a bit clumsy?
Other affordable brewing methods
I looked only at automatic, electric machines for this survey because ease and familiarity are what most people want. However, there are even cheaper ways to make better coffee. When I want the best coffee, I use a pour-over cone brewer that sits on top of my mug. I do a slow pour of hot water onto the coffee. This pulls out all the flavors in the coffee and makes the best-tasting coffee I have found. You can get these brewers for $15-20. If we’re just talking about the quality of the coffee, then the cone gets my vote for best coffee maker under $50.
Devices such as a French press or an Italian moka pot can frequently be found at good prices and make a stronger, well-balanced cup. The easiest of these hand-brew devices is the AeroPress. It’s a bit pricier, but you can usually find one just under $50. If the quality of the coffee made by the electric devices falls flat, check out one of these other options.