What is a “Smart” Coffee Maker?
A lot of coffee makers come with features that allow you to automate the brew process—such as a 24-hour timer or an auto-brew setting—but a truly “smart” coffee maker isn’t just automated. Instead, it’s connected to your devices or home automation systems via a Bluetooth or WiFi connection.
Bluetooth gives your devices a more direct, reliable connection that will never fail if your home WiFi system drops. However, the range on Bluetooth tends to be shorter—usually between 30 to 60 feet. Bluetooth-enabled coffee makers are less common due to this shorter range. However, a few of the smart coffee makers compatible with home automation systems do include Bluetooth connectivity—more reliable when connecting to a centralized home automation hub.
Wi-Fi relies on your existing home wireless network to connect your tablet or mobile phone to your coffee maker. This is great if you live in an area with consistent WiFi signal, but if your wireless coverage is spotty, it can be problematic. Thankfully, most smart coffee makers are designed to automatically reconnect to your WiFi network even if the signal drops or the power cuts, so it’s fairly easy to keep the coffee maker running well via your network.
All smart coffee makers come with their own app, which gives you choices on how to customize the brewing process. Some apps deliver complex features—everything from brew timing to water temperature to pump pressure—while others are just designed for one-touch convenience.
Simply put: smart coffee makers give you more control over the brewing process, and they allow you to start the coffee brewing without your needing to actually be in the room. Just turn on your smartphone, open up the app, and hit the button to get brewing.
Features to Look for in a Smart Coffee Maker
When buying a smart coffee maker, there are a few features you definitely want to consider. These aren’t just the “smart” features, but the brewing and convenience features as well:
Reliable Connection – The previous section delved into the Bluetooth vs. WiFi connection issues, so it’s important that you know which of the two options serves you and your home best. WiFi is best if you have a reliable network, but Bluetooth is best if you are close enough to your kitchen that you’ll always be within the 30 to 60-foot range of your smart coffee maker.
Smart Home Integration – This is very handy if you’ve already got a number of smart home devices or automation system set up. For example, a number of smart coffee makers can be integrated into your home automation hub using IFTTT, or it can be connected to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. For those who want to make their home truly “smart”, the ability to integrate the coffee machine as well is a definite must-have!
User-Friendly App – The idea behind smart coffee makers is that they make the brewing process much easier and more user-friendly. Seeing as you typically control the coffee maker via the app, that means the app needs to be easier to use, with a simple User Interface that doesn’t take a tech whiz to learn. Sure, it can take time to really master the ins and outs of all the features, but the smart coffee maker app should allow you to get brewing quickly and easily right out of the box.
Carafe Size – If you’re a 2-person household, you’re not really going to need a 12-cup carafe—unless you drink A LOT of coffee every day! However, if you’re a family of six coffee drinkers, a single-cup coffee brewer isn’t going to cut it. You should always buy the coffee maker sized according to the number of people in your household.
However, you may want to consider owning two coffee makers: one for mass-producing coffee for the entire household, and a second one for precision brewing for the true coffee connoisseurs. You’ll waste less coffee and spend less time waiting for a pot to brew that way!
Programmability – This is an integral part of the smart coffee maker’s app, and one that you should always consider according to your needs.
If you’re a “set it and forget it” type of coffee drinker, you want to be able to program the machine to brew a cup of coffee at the same time every day—more of a programmable timer feature that should come integrated into most apps. However, if you’re a precision brewer that loves to get into the nitty gritty of the brewing process, you’ll want an app that offers various settings for temperature, brew time, grind coarseness, and all the other important features.
Basically, find the smart coffee maker that you can program the way you want. Some coffee makers focus more on delivering a simple cup of coffee at the same times every day, while others let you take the wheel on the coffee brewing process.
Multi-Function – This is great if you’re not JUST a coffee drinker! A multi-function brewer allows you to brew tea, hot chocolate, and other beverages in your coffee maker.
To dedicated coffee enthusiasts, this is absolute sacrilege. To them, a coffee maker is to be reserved for making coffee alone. However, for those who like a wide range of beverages, the ability to brew multiple drinks in the same smart coffee machine is a huge bonus.
Built-in grinder – A built-in coffee grinder is a very useful feature to have in your smart coffee maker! Not only will it save you from having to buy a grinder of your own (only casual coffee drinkers buy pre-ground coffee; true enthusiasts grind their own beans!), but you’ll be able to grind your coffee as part of your smart-brewed coffee.
Very few smart coffee makers come with a built-in grinder, so it’s definitely one of the pricier (but more useful) features to add. However, if you want the freshest, best-tasting brew possible, the ability to grind your own coffee is definitely a feature worth the price.
Pause and Pour – The last thing you want is to make a mess on your kitchen counter, but sometimes you’re in a hurry and have to serve yourself coffee before the brewing process is finished. The smart coffee makers are designed to prevent this problem—you can set the coffee brewing before you get out of bed so it’s fully ready for you when you reach the kitchen.
However, a “pause and pour” feature is always good to have, in both a regular and smart coffee maker. The automatic pausing of the brew process will allow you to serve yourself coffee without making a mess, giving you that little bit of added convenience that helps you spend less time cleaning your home every day.
Filter Type – A smart coffee maker that “does everything” for you will typically come with a built-in filter—that way, you don’t have to wonder if you forgot to insert a paper filter when adding the coffee grind.
However, be warned: not all smart coffee makers come with a built-in filter. You’ll need to read the specs to find out if there is a filter already built into the design, or if you’ll need to buy special filters designed specifically for that smart coffee maker (one way some manufacturers increase earnings on their products).
Auto Shut-off – This is definitely a good feature, one that can save electricity and make your home a lot safer!
Smart coffee makers are designed to be controlled via your smartphone app, but it’s likely that you’ll forget to shut the coffee maker off at least once or twice a week. The auto shut-off feature ensures that the machine will switch off the heating elements (usually after around 2 hours). This helps to not only reduce energy usage, but also prevents the risk of electrical fires in your kitchen.
Don’t worry, the coffee maker itself isn’t totally shut off—it’s just the heating element. You can still connect to the coffee maker via the smartphone app to get the brewing process started again. Sometimes, coffee makers will even have the option to reheat the coffee sitting in your pot!
Pod vs. Drip vs. Espresso Coffee Makers
Smart coffee makers come in three basic types: pod coffee makers (like the Keurig), drip coffee makers, and espresso machines. But which makes the best quality coffee at the best price? Let’s take a look and find out…
Pod Coffee Makers – Pod coffee makers use disposable plastic pods that are pre-filled with a specific amount of coffee in order to produce the quality brew you want. All you have to do is insert the pod and hit the “Start” button, and you end up with the brew as strong, weak, bold, or mild as you want. Simply buy pods according to the type of coffee you want, set it, and forget it!
Smart pod coffee makers are VERY easy to use—it’s literally a one-button operation that will require little to no expertise. However, they tend to be more expensive, as you have to buy more disposable pods on a regular basis. One article found that you end up paying as much as $40 per pound of the coffee included in the pods. That’s A LOT, more than you’d pay for the highest-quality Starbucks or even artisanal coffee beans.
The quality of pod coffee is also up for debate. Some users find that the use of the pods makes it easier to get the more customized brew, because they can buy the pods that match their tastes best. However, some connoisseurs insist that you’ll never get high quality coffee from a pod because it’s not designed for a perfect brew, just simple convenience.
Drip Coffee Makers – Drip coffee makers are the “average Joe” of the smart coffee maker world. They’re simply designed, reliable, inexpensive, and deliver exactly what you want every time. You can find single-serve drip coffee makers or drip coffee makers that churn out up to 12 cups at a time. They’re the coffee maker you find everywhere.
However, make no mistake: drip-made coffee isn’t as good as the more precise brews churned out by cappuccino makers or espresso machines. They do take longer to brew than pod coffee makers, but you get a pretty consistent brew every time. You can customize the brewing process by adjusting the amount of coffee ground you add, but in the end, it’s the same simple brew every time you churn out a fresh pot.
Espresso Machines – Espresso machines are the Ferraris of the coffee maker world. They produce high quality coffee in very small quantities, giving you a stronger, richer brew every time. If you’re a connoisseur, you’re probably going to want to invest in an espresso maker.
The problem with espresso makers is the size. You’re not going to get more than one full-sized mug of coffee from an espresso maker, no matter how much you fiddle with the settings. It will be top-quality coffee, but it will never be a large amount at once.
Are Smart Coffee Makers Compatible With Alexa?
Alexa is one of the most commonly-used home automation devices, thanks to its ability to remotely control specific devices—not just via voice commands, but also via the Alexa app (connected through Bluetooth to your smartphone).
As of 2016, the Behmor Connected (our #1 top pick) is able to connect to Alexa, allowing you to brew coffee on a voice command.
Commands include things like:
- "Alexa, ask Behmor to start brewing my favorite coffee.”
- “Alexa, ask Behmor if my coffee is ready.”
Not only will you be able to control it via your Echo and Echo Dot devices, but you’ll be able to connect it to Amazon’s Dash system, which will allow you to order more coffee from Amazon if your supply starts to run low.
Thanks to this compatibility, using your new smart coffee maker will be so much easier and more convenient than ever!
How to Automate Your Coffee
Smart coffee makers can be a tad on the pricey side—the ones on our list range from $170 to $500—but there are ways you can “automate” your coffee without having to splurge on a smart coffee maker.
Fair warning: it’s not true automation, but the devices below will help you to save time and get that coffee ready in the morning without your having to do anything!
Smart Outlets – Belkin’s WeMo Switch is the classic example of a smart Wi-Fi outlet that will allow you to automate your coffee in the morning.
Basically, you plug your coffee maker into the plug, then use Alexa or your home automation system to switch on the power to the coffee maker first thing in the morning. All you have to do is plug in your coffee maker, turn it on, but switch off the smart outlet. At the right time in the morning, the smart outlet will power up, and your coffee maker will turn on to get brewing.
(Note: WeMo will require your coffee maker to have an actual switch that you can turn on rather than a push button—it may be more compatible with older coffee makers.)
Granted, you’ll still need to fill the coffee maker with water, add the brew, and set the switch on, but these smart outlets are a cheaper alternative to buying a fancy smart coffee maker—you’ll spend $20 to $30 on the switch instead of $150+ for the coffee maker.
Programmable Coffee Makers – This is one feature that is built into a lot of drip coffee makers, as well as some espresso and cappuccino makers.
Basically, the coffee machine comes with a digital timer that allows you to set the time you want the coffee to be brewed. Once you reach that time—say 5-10 minutes before you get out of bed—the coffee machine will kick on and start brewing.
The downside of programmable coffee makers is that they may not work if the power is cut. A loss of power causes the coffee maker to re-set, either the timer itself, the internal clock, or both. If you experience a power cut during the night, you’ll wake up in the morning to an empty pot.
However, for most people, consistent electric supply is a given, so it’s easy to ensure that you’ve always got the coffee ready to go in the morning. It’s beautifully easy to program the timer, so all you have to do is make sure the water is added, the coffee filter in place and filled with grind, and the time set just the way you want it.
Are these suitable alternatives to a smart coffee maker? They can be, if you just want to make sure your coffee is ready at the same time every day. If, however, you’re the kind of coffee drinker that cares about precision brewing, there’s no real replacement for a smart coffee maker—they’re worth the higher price tag!