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Waking up, weighing out your coffee, and grinding it fresh isn’t doable for everyone. While we think it’s the best way to get the sweetest and most balanced flavors in your cup, sometimes it’s better that your coffee maker gets up before you do. 

Programmable coffee makers generally offer a few more settings than their standard counterparts, but the main thing that sets them apart is a digital clock with a brew timer function. These timers trigger the coffee maker to kick into high gear when the alarm goes off, letting you wake up to freshly brewed coffee. 

To help you get your morning started, we tested 12 programmable coffee makers to find out which ones were the easiest to program, kept coffee fresher for longer, and, of course, brewed the best coffee. 

The Winners, at a Glance

The OXO 9-Cup Coffee Maker has been one of Serious Eats’ longtime favorites, and its powerful heating element reached ideal brew temperatures quickly while making a full batch of coffee in around seven minutes. It’s easy to program, brews great, and looks stylish on your counter, too. 

With more customizable settings than any other brewer we’ve tested, the Breville Precision Brewer lets you choose brew temperatures, bloom duration, and even your total brew time. We really liked its clear interface, and programming it was a breeze. It was Serious Eats’ office coffee maker for ages—and for good reason.

At almost half the cost of our top pick, the Zojirushi Dome delivers excellent performance on a budget. It’s one of our favorite inexpensive coffee makers, and its unique dome-style sprayhead helps it fully saturate coffee, while its simple interface is easy to program. 

The Tests

Serious Eats / Will DickeyBrew Tests: We brewed full, small, and Specialty Coffee Association Gold Cup Ratio batches of coffee with each brewer to assess flavor, consistency, and ease of setup. Brew Timer Tests: We programmed each brewer to start in exactly five minutes and assessed how easy each model was to navigate and how accurate the brew timer was. Time and Temperature Tests: We used a temperature probe to measure how long it took each brewer to break 195ºF, which is the minimum temperature required to extract sweeter flavors. We also timed each batch to see if they fell within SCA Certified Home Brewer Standards, which is between four to seven minutes for a full pot of coffee. Cleanup and Usability Tests: We tested how each carafe poured, how easy water reservoirs were to fill, how intuitive the controls were, and any preset functions. We also cleaned each brewer by hand to see if any model had factors that made one easier to maintain than the other. 

What We Learned

Every Programmable Brew Timer Was Accurate

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Every brewer we tested started exactly on time, no matter how cheap or expensive they were. Brew timer functions are built around digital clocks and alarm electronics, and compared to things like high-powered heating elements, they’re relatively cheap parts. What makes a good programmable coffee maker, then, is less about its programmability and more about how well the coffee maker can brew coffee. 

Brew Temperatures Were Essential for Great Coffee

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During our brew tests, we found the same exact results as when we originally tested coffee makers: Coffee brewers that can reach 195ºF to 205ºF within the first minute of the brew cycle brewed sweeter and more balanced cups. The OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker excelled at reaching and maintaining brew temperatures in the ideal range and consistently brewed some of the best-tasting coffee. The Breville Precision Brewer Thermal Coffee Maker, on the other hand, offered more customization. That brewer has a PID controller that uses an algorithm to regulate temperature within a single degree Fahrenheit, and it’s the only brewer we know of that lets you set your ideal brew temperature. While this might be overkill for most people, it’s a slick feature that allows the user to fine-tune their brew settings to bring out the best flavors of their favorite coffee. 

Some brewers, like the Café Specialty Drip Coffee Maker and Cuisinart 8-Cup Coffee Brewer, met our temperature standards but just didn’t match up to the flavor quality of our top picks. Most of the models we tested, however, have cheaper heating elements that aren’t able to reach the ideal brew temperature range. These brewers tend to hover around 180ºF for the bulk of their brew cycles and then spike to over 210ºF for the last minute or so. The resulting coffee from these brewers tasted both sour and bitter, as the coffee was unevenly extracted. The outlier in our tests was the Zojirushi Dome Programmable Coffee Maker: Even though it has a low-powered heating element, the brewer can reach the ideal 195ºF to 205ºF temperature range, just slightly slower than our top picks. The resulting coffee wasn’t as complex, but it was still fairly sweet and nicely balanced, earning the brewer our budget pick. 

Long Brew Times Added Bitterness to the Cup

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Another key factor in SCA Certified Home Brewer Standards is total brew time. The longer a brewer takes to finish a batch, the more bitterness it’ll pull out of the coffee. It’s no surprise, then, that brewers with high-powered heating elements that reached ideal brew temperatures were also powerful enough to make quicker batches of coffee. Both the OXO and Breville coffee makers finished in around seven minutes total, and even the Zojirushi could brew a full pot in around eight and a half minutes. Most of the competition pushed brew times that were longer than 10 minutes, and the resulting cups were excessively bitter. 

Thermal Carafes (Mostly) Kept Coffee Fresher

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Thermal carafes kept coffee fresher, which is something we’ve stood by for a while. We think they’re even more important for a programmable brewer, too, since your coffee pot might finish brewing before you’re even out of bed. Both the OXO and Breville excelled in the freshness tests, with their thermal carafes keeping coffee pleasant for up to a full hour. But even though the Zojirushi has a glass carafe and a hot plate, it still performed better in taste tests than other brewers. The biggest factor seemed to be initial cup quality: The Zojirushi made sweeter coffee than a lot of brewers with a thermal carafe, so even after sitting on a hot plate, it still won head-to-head taste tests.

Simple Interfaces Were Easier to Program

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Both the OXO and Breville coffee makers have a dial to navigate their programming settings, and both also prompt you to set the clock function before you’re allowed to select a brew timer, ensuring that your coffee will start brewing exactly when you want it to. Their simple interfaces made them easy to use, even though they offered more settings than other brewers we tested. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Programmable Coffee Maker

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The best programmable coffee makers are easy to program, can reach ideal brew temperatures of 195ºF to 205ºF in less than a minute, brew full batches in under eight minutes, and, most of all, make sweet and balanced coffee. 

The Best Programmable Coffee Makers

What we liked: The OXO brewer checks off every box we have for a programmable coffee maker. It won all of our taste tests, and its quick brew times and ideal brew temperatures are consistent from batch to batch. It’s got an easy-to-navigate dial that makes programming its timer a snap, and its thermal carafe keeps coffee fresh for up to an hour. On top of that, it’s one of the more moderately priced brewers we recommend, making it a good choice for a wide variety of people. 

What we didn’t like: It’s one the only coffee makers we recommend that has a conical filter instead of a flatbed and, in previous tests, we found that it struggled to brew darker roasts as well as it does lighter roasts. 

Price at time of publish: $230.

Key Specs

Stated capacity: 45 ounces (9 cups)Height of brewer: 17.2 inchesWeight: 11 poundsBuilt-in bloom cycle: YesType of carafe: Thermal carafeAverage brew time: 6 minutes, 40.5 secondsWattage: 1400 wattsWarranty: 2 yearsSCA Certified Brewer: YesSerious Eats / Will Dickey

What we liked: The Breville Precision Brewer takes programmable to the next level. It offers customizable brew temperatures and bloom times as well as flow rates for controlling your total brew time, giving you the exact same control that brewing a pourover does. It also comes with a conical and flat coffee filter insert, so you can pick whichever gives you the best results for the coffee you’d like to brew. Finally, the Breville aced all of our temperature and brew time tests, making it one of the only brewers with a larger capacity to do so. 

What we didn’t like: All of those features come with a higher price tag, and it’s one of the pricier coffee makers we recommend. Having so many customizable options can also be tricky to navigate, and some people might prefer a more stripped-down brewer.

Price at time of publish: $330.

Key Specs

Stated capacity: 60 ounces (12 cups)Brewer height: 15.25 inchesWeight: 11 poundsBuilt-in bloom cycle: YesType of carafe: Thermal carafeAverage brew time: 6 minutes, 20 secondsWattage: 1650 wattsWarranty: 2 yearsSCA-certified brewer: YesSerious Eats / Will Dickey

What we liked: No other programmable brewer under $150 was able to deliver good coffee. The Zorijushi Dome’s unique sprayhead design helped it pass our brew temperature and brew time tests (just barely, however), and it made the most pleasant coffee out of all the lower-powered brewers we tested. If you’re hoping to save a little money but still want a brewer that meets your standards, the Zojirushi is a great choice. 

What we didn’t like: It lacked the coffee clarity and complexity of our top picks, and we wish it came with a thermal carafe to keep coffee fresher. 

Price at time of publish: $128.

Key Specs

Stated capacity: 60 ounces / 12 cupsBrewer height: 15.25 inchesWeight: 10.25 poundsBuilt-in bloom cycle: YesType of carafe: Glass with a hot plateAverage brew time: 6 minutes, 45 secondsWattage: 1050 wattsWarranty: 1 yearSCA-certified brewer: NoSerious Eats / Will Dickey

The Competition

Café Specialty Drip Coffee Maker: On paper, this SCA-certified brewer checks off a lot of the things we look for in a coffee maker, but in taste tests, it never quite matched the quality of our top picks. Cuisinart 8-Cup Coffee Brewer: This is another SCA-certified brewer that struggled to brew coffee that tasted as good as our favorite coffee makers. Cuisinart PerfecTemp 14-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker: This brewer has prolonged brew times that led to flat and bitter coffee, and its temperature spiked during the last minute of its brew cycle. Braun BrewSense Drip Glass Coffeemaker: This brewer also struggled with bitterness and long brew times, taking almost 14 minutes longer to finish a pot—nearly twice as long as our two top picks. BLACK+DECKER 12-Cup Thermal Coffeemaker: This coffee maker had some of the lowest brew temperatures that we tested and spent the majority of the brew cycle under 185ºF. Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Coffeemaker: Our previous budget pick, this brewer produced bitter and flat coffee, though we originally liked its thermal carafe and slightly faster brew times.Ninja 12-Cup Programmable Brewer: This brewer took the longest to finish a cycle—nearly 16 minutes—and the resulting coffee was bitter and acrid. Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker: The coffee bed on this brewer was unevenly saturated, leading to bitter and sour coffee that was over-extracted in the center, where the water was concentrated, and under-extracted at the edges.Zwilling Enfinigy Drip Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe: Even though this is an SCA-certified brewer, it took 10 minutes to finish a full batch and consistently brewed flat and bitter coffee. 

FAQs

What does a programmable coffee maker do? 

Programmable coffee makers offer a variety of settings that non-programmable coffee makers don’t have, but the number one difference is an internal clock and a brew timer. This allows the user to program the brewer to start automatically at a specific time, usually in the morning, so that fresh coffee is waiting for them already when they get out of bed.

Are smart coffee makers better than programmable coffee makers?

While there are some coffee makers that offer Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, most stick with traditional digital internal clocks. They tend to be easier to use, cheaper, and don’t require an external device like a smartphone to program. 

Is fresh ground coffee better than preground coffee?

We always recommend grinding coffee fresh right before you brew because roasted coffee contains hundreds of complex aromatics that start to dissipate as soon as it’s ground. If you do plan on pregrinding your coffee so that you can program a brew timer, we recommend that you grind it the night before, so that it’s still the freshest it can be. 

Why We’re the Experts

Jesse Raub is Serious Eats’ commerce writer and spent over 15 years working in the specialty coffee industry. He’s our in-house coffee expert and regularly tests coffee gear, including reviews of coffee roasters, coffee scales, and pourover brewers.  For this review, we put 12 different brewers through a series of tests in our lab to check for coffee quality, temperature, and time, and the results were cross-checked with our previous results.

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