Which single-serve coffee maker is the best?

There's stiff competition

Photograph by Roberto Caruso

Photograph by Roberto Caruso

If this column seems flighty or abrupt, you’ll have to excuse me: I’ve got as much caffeine as blood coursing through my veins. The wife and I have spent the past few months trying out coffee makers, and we’re more than a little overstimulated.

It started innocently: we received a Bosch Tassimo machine last Christmas from a relative. Overnight, the thing transformed our consumption habits: “Say, hon, want to go down to Tim Hortons for the usual?” “Hell no, it’s raining, and we have, like, 20 different flavours of coffee to try out!” Indeed, it’s been something of a hot beverage nirvana. The Tassimo system— which reads bar codes on capsules, then brews drinks according to encoded instructions—is part of a wave of appliances that are shaking up the home-brew coffee market. (In 2012, the home market for single-serve coffee grew 68% and is showing few signs of slowing down.)

The Bosch Tassimo T55 | $129,

The Bosch Tassimo T55 | $129,

I’m glad. Those old drip-drop things took forever and resulted in a lot of wasted coffee in our house, since we had to make a full pot even if someone wanted just one cup. We love our Tassimo. It’s fast, has a variety of brands—from Nabob to Maxwell House to Tim Hortons—and brews diff erent kinds of beverages, including regular coffee, cappuccinos, lattes and even tea and hot chocolate. Should a machine come along that makes a decent double-chocolate doughnut, we’ll never set foot in a Timmys again. But I did get to wondering: Are the rival machines any better?

To find out, we first tried the Keurig Platinum. It’s bigger and more expensive, but it also holds more water and has a digital screen where you can program cup sizes and brewing temperature. It’s also a little more fun to use. Pulling down the handle to lock in the capsule, it almost feels like you’re cranking out a coffee. On the downside, it takes longer to warm up—about four minutes. When you’re jonesing, that can seem like an eternity.

Ultimately, it comes down to taste— literally. Keurig has licensed K-cups with hundreds of diff erent brands, including Tim Hortons, Timothy’s, Starbucks and dozens of hip American roasters. I prefer Tassimo’s lineup, while the wife generally likes the Keurig offerings better.

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The third contender is the Nespresso U, although we’re now verging into different territory. The machine is strictly a European-style espresso maker; some user input, such as manually adding milk or extra water, is needed for American-style drinks. That said, its coffee was easily the best of the three. Most of the tiny, colourful capsules resulted in perfect, creamy cups of espresso that tasted fantastic, at least to a palate that is used to double-doubles. As an added bonus, the machine itself was by far the prettiest of the three.

In the end, I’m perfectly happy with my beloved Tassimo, but this is one of those rare cases where it’s hard to go wrong. Pick your poison, and watch your pulse start racing.