Shop Smart: When shopping for coffee maker, consider these factors

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You can spend $200 or more for a coffee maker with interactive displays and the stainless construction you'd find on a pro-style range. But Consumer Reports' latest tests of almost 90 models show that a consistently good cup of joe starts at as little as $40.

The most basic coffee makers make at least a decent cup. But you might want more features than a simple on/off switch. A little more money buys you conveniences such as an automatic timer, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer and settings that allow you to adjust brew strength.

Consumer Reports' top conventional drip machines reached 195 degrees to 205 degrees for about five minutes, the industry standard for optimal brewing. If you're into self-serve, brew-and-dispense models let you fill your cup right from the machine, which keeps the coffee hot. When you're on the go, single-serve models, also known as pod machines, brew a cup at a time from sealed beverage packets -- no fuss, no muss.

When shopping for a coffee maker, Consumer Reports suggests considering these factors:

How many cups do you drink? If one cup is enough to jump-start your day, choose a one- or two-cup drip model or single-serve pod machine. You'll probably use less coffee than you would with a full-size model. If you like multiple cups, choose a bigger machine.

How long between cups? If you space your coffee drinking throughout the day, consider a model with an insulated mug or carafe. Those keep coffee hot and fresh-tasting for hours.

Can't see straight in the morning? For some people, even filling the coffee machine and turning it on is too much to handle in the a.m. If that's you, consider a unit with an automatic "on" switch. For the forgetful who rush out of the house in the morning, an automatic timed "off" feature is also important.

Convenience counts. You'll want a clearly marked water reservoir so you can see how much water you're putting in, a swing-out filter basket that's easy to use and clean, and intuitive controls. Don't forget to factor in counter space.

When shopping, you'll find several types of coffee makers, including manual-drip systems, coffee presses, percolators and "pod" coffee makers that brew individual cups using ready-to-use packets of coffee.

Automatic drip coffee makers. By far the most popular type, automatic-drip machines have you fill a chamber with water, load coffee into a filter basket and flick a switch to heat the water and drip it through the filter into the pot. Popular brand names include Mr. Coffee and Black & Decker.

Pod coffee makers. A newer type of machine, these force water through a little coffee packet, called a "pod," that fits in the machine's dispenser. There's no measuring and spilling of grounds. To operate the coffee maker, you typically fill the reservoir, put the pod in and scrunch it down, and push a series of buttons to produce a cup of coffee.

Consumer Reports notes that these are more expensive to buy and operate than other types because you must also buy special coffee refills.


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