Are you looking to buy a drip coffee maker but don’t know where to start?
It might seem overwhelming, but you can easily narrow it down when you consider the price you’re willing to pay for a great cup of coffee at home.
To help you weigh in on the cheap versus expensive coffee maker debate, I’ll discuss in this article the key differences between the two price points, affordable alternatives, and some tips to help you make better coffee at home, whatever machine you’re using.
Let’s get right to it.
Cheap vs Expensive Coffee Makers: An Overview of Key Differences
Here’s an overview of the factors to consider when choosing between a cheap coffee maker and an expensive machine:
|Cheap Coffee Makers
|Expensive Coffee Makers
|Typically around $30-$40
|Can cost upwards of $200 or more
|Quality of Materials
|Lower-grade stainless steel or plastic
|Design & Build
|Stylish, often with LCD screens
|Features and Function
|Advanced features like programmable brews
|No, or limited customization options
|More precise temperature control options
|Maintenance and Service
|Difficult servicing and lower quality
|Standardized components for easy repairs
Price is the obvious factor that separates cheap from expensive drip coffee makers.
- Cheaper machines start from around $20, but a reasonable one will be around $40.
- More expensive models can reach upwards of $200, with more high-end models that make specialty coffee going way beyond that price.
I like to think of buying coffee makers with an old adage in mind “You get what you pay for”. Yes, a cheaper machine might be able to brew coffee; however, if your goal is to consistently produce top-notch beverages that rival those served at specialty cafés, then investing in an expensive model is the way to go.
Still, I’ve seen highly-skilled baristas who can make delicious coffee out of budget-friendly coffee machines. Price is just one of the many factors that can affect the quality of your coffee.
Quality of Materials and Parts
Oftentimes, what you pay also reflects the grade/quality of components built into your coffee machine.
Cheap coffee makers are usually made of lower-grade stainless steel or plastic exterior that isn’t built to endure heavy wear and tear. They may also contain inferior heating elements, water reservoirs, and electrical circuits with shorter lifespans on average.
On the other hand, high-end machines often boast an all-metal construction, which provides better insulation from heat and far improved durability overall. They may also come equipped with more powerful motors for finer grinds and rapid extraction capabilities.
Design & Build
Aesthetically speaking, cheap coffee makers typically have plain designs while pricier models boast more stylish looks, often sporting LCD screens which I really love as it gives that modern touch to my kitchen on top of the additional control it provides.
It’s worth noting that some cheaper models can look just as good – if not better – than more expensive counterparts so you might want to take this into account when shopping around.
Features and Functionality
Both pricey and low-cost coffee makers work based on the same principles, but there are definitely a lot of differences in terms of functionality. The most basic cheap machines simply require users to pour water into their reservoir before pressing “start”. There are no bells and whistles here.
Expensive models may offer a barrage of features not everybody will need:
- Programming options like pre-programmed brew times, auto-shutoff for added convenience
- Set drip intervals in the style of a manual pour-over
- Customization options such as adjustable temperatures or strength settings
- Advanced features like cold brew capabilities or multiple cup sizes at once.
So when choosing between a cheap and an expensive coffee machine, consider all these factors carefully in order to make an informed decision based on your needs.
One feature you will definitely enjoy though is the timed brew feature. I don’t use it anymore, since I want to grind my beans fresh, but it was great waking up to the smell of coffee in the morning.
Temperature Control and Consistency
Expensive models tend to provide more precise temperature control than their cheaper counterparts, offering users the ability to customize settings to get just the right flavor for each cup. With most high-end units, you can program specific temperatures for various brew methods so you don’t have to guess what setting will produce your desired result.
On the other hand, less expensive drip machines do not offer these features – which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker since they still do an admirable job of controlling temperature (within reason).
Generally speaking, however, if you want greater precision and consistency across multiple cups of coffee, I think you’re likely better off investing in an upmarket machine.
Cheaper drip coffee makers do one thing. Brew drip coffee.
The expensive, specialty coffee-level machines are vastly different. Thanks to their advanced programming abilities, they can brew several types of coffees.
My favorite is the Breville Precision Brewer, I wrote about it here.
Machines at this level can create:
- normal drip coffee
- coffee of varying strength
- iced coffee
- cold brew
- pour-over coffee with a pour-over adapter (for real specialty coffee)
So yeah, you really get a large variety of brew methods.
Is it for everybody though, or just coffee geeks?
Probably the later.
Maintenance and Serviceability
When it comes to coffee makers, serviceability and maintenance are often overlooked. But let me ask you, what good is a fancy machine if you can’t keep it running properly?
Cheap machines are made from plastic components that make servicing difficult since they tend to be fragile and don’t last long. In addition, these parts may not be readily available or fit other machines due to lower engineering standards. But you wouldn’t really want to service them anyhow, as they are so cheap that it’s less expensive to simply buy a new one once it stops working.
On the other hand, expensive coffee makers typically use standardized components so spare parts are easy to come by, allowing for home repairs rather than needing professional assistance. They are made by big brands (like the Breville I mentioned above), who have service centers all over the world, and multi-year warranties in case something goes wrong.
The Impact of Coffee Maker Quality on the Taste of Coffee
It’s hard to deny the impact of a good-quality coffee maker on the taste of your daily cup. Even if you’re an expert barista, without the right kind of equipment it can be almost impossible to get that perfect flavor every time.
For example, in order for water to properly extract all the pleasant flavors from your beans during extraction, it needs to be at an optimal temperature – too hot and you’ll have overly bitter notes; too cold and your drink will come out weak.
I was cocky once, and thought I could make specialty-grade coffee with the cheap drip coffee machine at a weekend getaway. I was wrong.
When making coffee with high-end coffee makers, this is usually taken care of automatically. With cheap coffee makers, however, manual adjustments are often required or temperatures may not even reach desired levels altogether.
That being said, what matters most is having the patience and willingness to experiment until you find the cup that suits your palate best.
Alternatives to Cheap Coffee Makers – Great, Yet Inexpensive Brew
What if you want a cheaper way to make specialty-grade drip coffee?
I have your back! There are plenty of options that take a bit more effort than a $300 drip machine, but are worth it in my opinion.
Here’s an overview of some effective tools that can help you make delicious brews without breaking the bank:
- Pour Over Coffee Makers – These simple devices have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their convenience and affordability. All you need is your favorite ground beans, filtered water, and a pour-over device for a great brew.
- Moka Pots – Also known as stove-top espresso makers, moka pots are often seen as an inexpensive way to get a genuine espresso-like drink. They work by forcing hot steam pressure from boiling water through tightly packed grounds resulting in a strong, rich cup of coffee.
- Aeropress – Aeropress is another great option when looking for convenient alternatives. There are loads of great Aeropress recipes out there, like this easy method, or these award winning ones.
- Chemex – One of today’s go-to methods for pour-over. It looks like an hourglass-shaped beaker with a wooden collar and leather tie for looks, allowing you to brew coffee in style.
Tips for Improving Coffee Taste without Breaking the Bank
Making great coffee doesn’t always need expensive equipment. Here are some tips for improving your homebrew without investing in an expensive coffee machine:
- Buy Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans: Quality matters when it comes to beans. Don’t be tempted by cheap and old pre-ground coffees; aim to purchase whole beans from a reputable roaster so you know you’re getting the freshest product available.
- Proper Storage of Coffee Beans: Store coffee correctly, as exposure to air, light, and humidity can cause the flavor of your coffee to degrade quickly. Investing in an airtight container becomes more important with freshly roasted beans since their oils will dissipate faster than those of older beans.
- Measure Coffee Accurately: The right amount of ground coffee is essential for making good coffee. Weigh your beans by grams with an accurate scale, like this Timemore, before grinding them instead of using measuring spoons that are inaccurate.
- Improve Water Quality: Water also plays a huge role in improving your coffee. Filtered tap water is good enough for drip coffee. Learn more in my guide on the best type of water for brewing coffee.
- Use the Correct Water Temperature: Exact heating of water to optimal brewing temperatures makes all the difference in achieving optimal extraction and taste — particularly when working with specialty coffee recipes or longer brewing times like with the French press and siphon.
- Explore Different Brewing Methods: If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you experiment with different brewing methods. It’s a fun way to explore their flavors on a budget. Each method has its own unique characteristics, which is why varying one’s approach plays such an important part in having a successful cup at home.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Coffee shops are places dedicated to giving you the best-tasting coffee. Aside from their commercial-grade coffee makers, experts often oversee the sourcing and roasting of coffee beans while their baristas are trained to fix your cup of joe.
However, with the insight you get from BigCupofCoffee.com, you can learn to make coffee that will beat many regular cafés.
Yes. Expensive coffee makers may often outperform cheaper ones but the quality of the coffee you make depends on various factors, including your skills in brewing, the brewing technique, the quality of the coffee beans you use, and your grinder.
Yes, both expensive and cheap coffee makers often come with some type of warranty. You can check the manufacturer’s website or user manual for details on the specific warranty offered with your machine.
When it comes to making a choice between cheap and expensive coffee makers, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You need to consider your own needs first, which will set the course of your search for the right machine.
While an expensive model can certainly make great-tasting coffee with minimal effort on your part – as well as add some aesthetic appeal to your kitchen – cheaper models may also offer more than enough quality at a fraction of the cost if used properly through good maintenance practices and proper brewing techniques.
And remember that you can experiment with alternate brewing methods, like the pour-over or the Aeropress.
To further help you choose a coffee maker, here’s my list of the best coffee machines in 2024.