When shopping for the best thermal carafe coffee maker there is a lot to look out for, and a lot of choice on the market. While it generally holds true that you get what you pay for, there are still some bargains to be had as well as some costly pitfalls.
For our money, you won’t go far wrong with the Ratio Six. This is a fairly recent addition, only being released in 2020. It is a stunning design, available in white, matte black, or stainless steel. But it doesn’t just look pretty. This SCAA approved coffee maker has the most stable brew temperature available on a domestic machine and provides sublime extractions.
Our Top Picks
1. Best All Round: Ratio Six Coffee Maker
2. Most Feature-Rich: Breville Precision Brewer
3. Most Iconic: Technivorm Moccamaster
4. Best Value For Money: OXO Brew 9 Cup (Barista Brain)
5. Most Convenient: GE Café Specialty Drip Coffee
6. Best Small: Bonavita 5 Cup Coffee Maker
7. Best Commercial: Fetco XTS Coffee Brewer
All of the domestic machines we have featured in this article are SCAA Gold Standard approved, with the exception of the Bonavita. Its exclusion is only on grounds of size, and not performance, which is very similar to that of the larger models that are certified.
The Fetco has been a pillar of the commercial batch brew scene since the 1980s and is one of the best quality brewers available.
We’ve aimed to include something of a range of features and levels of functionality and control to suit every kind of buyer.
A Closer Look At the Best Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker
Below is a more detailed appraisal of our favorite thermal carafe coffee makers. There should be something here to suit a range of budgets, but if you are looking for something at the cheaper end of the spectrum you may find our post on the best coffee makers under $100 useful too.
Ratio Six Coffee Maker – Best All Round
The Ratio Six is a relatively new entry to the market. It is a very simple to use machine, much like the Moccamaster, in that it doesn’t have thousands of options for every parameter. It just brews you a very good cup of coffee. You simply fill it with water and coffee and trust it to do its best. It’s very visually appealing too, with a solid metal finish in a range of colors.
It has a pre-infusion (or bloom) facility, excellent water dispersal, and a very consistent brew temperature. These are all preset, which for some users will be a drawback. If you want a machine that knows what it’s doing to produce the best cup of coffee without having to be told, this will work well for you.
On the other hand, if you enjoy the more experimental aspect of toying with water temperature and bloom times to get the best out of different single-origin coffee beans, you would perhaps be better off with something like the Breville Precision.
The best feature of this brewer is its brewing temperature stability. Out of all the domestic machines we looked at, this is able to hold the most consistent temperature throughout. In part, this is thanks to the heat shield that sits between the showerhead and the coffee grounds.
A potential drawback of this machine might be its carafe. It doesn’t really pour all that well and is fairly difficult to clean as it is made up of lots of parts.
Very stable brewing temperature
Simplicity of use
Great quality extractions
Not the best carafe design
Breville Precision Brewer – Most Feature-Rich
The Breville Precision Brewer is a very popular machine. It wins a lot of fans in specialty coffee circles for being incredibly customizable. You can alter everything from the water temperature, bloom time and volume, and even the flow rate. This is a functionality that you just don’t see in other domestic coffee makers.
It has a very fast brew time, at just under three and a half minutes typically. The choice between flat bottomed and conical filters, too, is further cause for celebration amongst third-wave aficionados.
We prefer brewing with the conical basket in place for optimal water distribution, unless you are brewing a darker roast. In this case, you will benefit from the shorter brew time offered by the flat bottomed basket.
There are a couple of small concerns or considerations that are worth noting with this brewer though. Firstly, the resulting brews tend to come out at the slightly less extracted end of the spectrum in terms of total dissolved solids (TDS). This isn’t a problem as such, but it is important to remember to grind a little finer accordingly.
The other annoyance with this machine is that the graduated lines demarcated on the reservoir are actually inaccurate. Again, this can be overcome by weighing in your water, but just seems like a strange design flaw that may be inconvenient for some users. For example, when full at 40 fl oz, the tank is actually holding around 44 fl oz — about 10% out.
Very high control
Fast brew time
Can adjust bloom settings
The thermal performance of the carafe isn’t great
Technivorm Moccamaster – Most Iconic
The Moccamaster by Technivorm has been one of the market leaders in homebrew drip coffee since it first came out in the 1960s. And with good reason. It produces first-rate quality extractions without needing to fuss around with programming and settings — it already knows how to make a great cup of coffee and has been doing it successfully for over half a century.
Similarly to the Ratio Six, this may not be the best choice if you want a few more bells and whistles. If, however, you just need a great cup of coffee and are not so interested in controlling bloom times and brew temperatures, this will be a great machine for you.
They are also simply beautiful pieces of engineering. So much so that they are available to buy in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They have an iconic late 60s aesthetic and are available in a range of colors. If you appreciate classic design this should sit well on your countertop.
From a technical viewpoint, it is worth mentioning that the first few pulses of brewing water tend to come out a little cool. This doesn’t, however, seem to present an issue in terms of cup quality.
Arguably the best thing about a Moccamaster, and a firm reason to choose it over any other brewer if you are on the fence, is that it is a solid workhorse of a machine. It is engineered in such a way that it shouldn’t break, but if it does, there will be parts available and it can be repaired. There are strong online communities available to support you with this machine, as it has something of a cult following.
Great online support communities
Parts availability for repair
Carafe design leads to messy pours
OXO Brew 9 Cup (Barista Brain) – Best Value For Money
This coffee maker, formerly marketed as the OXO Barista Brain, represents superb value for money. Although it won’t produce quite the same quality as some of the highest performing machines, there really isn’t much in it in a blind taste test — an impressive claim for a machine that costs over a hundred dollars less than its rivals on average.
The brew time is a little at the slower end of the pack with this coffee maker, coming in at around five and a half minutes. The carafe is a bit of a weak point as well. It’s almost impossible to get the last bit of your coffee out, even with a good amount of shaking, twisting, and waving.
In tests, this brewer was reliably able to achieve 20% TDS which is indicative of a very good extraction. If anything the OXO Brew 9 Cup runs towards the more extracted and care may need to be taken not to grind too fine.
The OXO Brew machines all feature 24-hour advance programmability as well. Although this is a feature that can be found in lower-end machines, it usually comes at the expense of coffee quality. This is not the case here, which is further evidence of the excellent value.
The build quality of this brewer is also very solid. It feels like it should last the distance for at least 10 years if looked after and regularly cleaned and maintained.
Very good quality extraction for the price
Easy to use
Carafe retains quite a bit of coffee
GE Café Specialty Drip Coffee – Most Convenient
The GE Café Specialty Drip Coffee maker is one of the most convenience-oriented machines on the market today. This machine will connect to your WiFi for remote setup and programming. It even comes with its own app, SmartHQ, which can communicate with your Alexa or Google Home devices for voice-to-brew functionality.
Of course, as with all advance programming, there is a sacrifice in having to grind your beans ahead of time so you can switch the water on remotely. This will result in aroma degradation and oxidation of your coffee grounds and causes staling. But if you are prepared to drink slightly less than fresh coffee for the sake of convenience you may enjoy this.
When brewing with fresh ground coffee there is actually very little perceptible difference between the batches produced by this machine and those from less tech-heavy brewers. It is a very capable coffee maker, with separate bloom and brew phases, and good temperature stability throughout.
One area where this coffee maker performs less well than some others listed is in heat retention with the thermal carafe. Although it is double-walled and stainless steel it seems to struggle to keep your brews hot for anything much over an hour. If you prefer piping hot coffee this may be an issue for you.
WiFi voice-to-brew convenience
Good aesthetics and choice of color
Not the best performing thermal carafe
Bonavita 5 Cup Coffee Maker – Best Small
The Bonavita 5 cup is a truly excellent small capacity thermal carafe coffee maker. Due to its small size, it actually doesn’t qualify for SCA certification, although its larger model cousins are fully accredited and they share most of the same parts.
There are many advantages to this smaller volume brewer if you don’t need the upper limits provided by larger coffee makers. Not least amongst these is the price difference. It’s remarkably cheaper than the 8-cup Bonavita and is around one third the cost of the Ratio Six.
Further benefits lie in the fact that the Bonavita is specifically designed to be a small volume brewer. It features a slightly different showerhead to larger models from the same manufacturer which is optimized for water dispersal over smaller coffee beds. This will yield better results than most larger brewers run at less than full capacity — an area where some suffer from slightly uneven extractions.
Considering the price of this unit, the only criticism it feels fair to level against it is that the carafe design is relatively poor. The pouring spout is attached to the lid rather than to the jug itself, so even if you don’t plan on storing your coffee with the thermal lid on you need to use it when pouring. Even then, this is a messy pourer and leaves quite a bit in the jug.
Showerhead specially designed for small batches
Remarkably cheap for the quality of extraction
Poor carafe design
Retains coffee and messy to pour
Fetco XTS Coffee Brewer – Best Commercial
This machine isn’t going to be for everyone. It is a commercial machine, so unless you have a fairly large kitchen, it may be a little obtrusive. It is also about 6 times the price of the more expensive domestic brewers we have featured.
But if money is not an obstacle for you and you are looking for the best quality batch brew possible, you can’t afford to overlook going for a commercial machine like this one.
Every aspect of the brew parameters is completely programmable through the touch screen control panel. You can set one of four recipe slots to control batch volume, brew time, number of pouring pulses, and the pre-wet (or bloom) percentage and duration. This gives you almost the level of control you can achieve with manual pour overs and a lot less scope for human error.
Bear in mind this is a commercial machine, built around quality. It will last a lifetime and produce consistently excellent results with specialty coffee-shop levels of customizability. But, it doesn’t have features like the automatic brew settings that you might find on some domestics.
Absolute precision control
Best quality extraction
Quite large and expensive
With so many viable contenders for the best thermal carafe coffee maker on the market, it is important to know what you are looking for. You need to be aware of your own personal requirements, as well as whether or not different machines provide the solutions you need to fulfill them. Below we will discuss a few of the more salient points to consider.
The insulative properties of a thermal carafe are one of the most important features of a coffee maker if you plan on drinking your batch brew over a number of hours. Thermal carafes work in much the same way as a thermos flask.
They are constructed with a double-wall design with a vacuum between the two to inhibit heat transfer. As they work on heat retention rather than relying on an external heating element it can be a good idea to heat the inside of the flask with hot water before filling with your coffee.
It is important to bear in mind that you need to select an appropriate size carafe for your needs. If you’re trying to keep a thirsty office full of workers happy with a 5 cup Bonavita you may find yourself a little hard pushed. Equally, if you are the only person in your house that drinks coffee, brewing a full gallon in a Fetco might not be the most sensible either.
If you only need a smaller machine you may be able to get a little more quality for less money.
All of the brewers we have listed here brew in the SCA recommended temperature range of 197.6 ºF (92 °C) and 204.8 ºF (96 °C). It is important to check, in particular with cheaper brewers, that they are capable of reaching temperatures adequate for a decent extraction. This is a common failing of less reputable coffee makers.
It is equally important, although less likely to be an issue, to ensure that your coffee maker isn’t brewing at temperatures of over 205 ºF (96 °C) at any point in its brew cycle.
The build quality of a coffee machine, or anything manufactured that you may buy, is an important consideration. It is not uncommon for coffee makers to carry a guarantee of up to 5 years, so look out for the length of guarantee. Not only is this good for peace of mind, but also is usually an indicator of a manufacturer’s faith in their product.
Look for as much metal and weight as possible on a machine as a rule of thumb. The Moccamaster has a reputation for robustness. It is fairly heavy and frequently described as being “built like a tank”.
Decide what you need in terms of programmability and what you will actually use regularly. There is no need to filter out machines that won’t auto brew at 9 am every day if you won’t be prepared to pre-grind your beans, for example.
A lot of the better brewers on the market don’t necessarily have a particularly broad range of functions. If you want precise control over your brew recipes, you will need to be careful to choose a machine that has that capability (like the Breville Precision).
The physical size of the brewer is also a constraining factor in some decisions. It may be the best coffee maker available in your price range, but if you are going to have to pull it out from under your wall cabinets to open the reservoir lid from the top every time you use it, how much will this bother you?
If you only have a small kitchen you will likely want something with a smaller footprint. The Fetco is probably off-limits in a studio flat.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Should the Carafe Stay Warm?
This will vary greatly from carafe to carafe. Anywhere between one hour and three hours would be typical. Perhaps better questions to ask yourself are how long do you need a carafe to stay warm, and how hot do you want your coffee anyway?
A common, and perhaps unfair, complaint about thermal carafe machines is that coffee is often not hot after over an hour. Ideally, you shouldn’t be drinking your coffee too hot anyway as you won’t be able to appreciate the flavor nuances. Also, this can easily be solved by not brewing more coffee than you are likely to drink in an hour.
How Long Does Coffee Stay Fresh?
The main advantage of a thermal carafe or air pot is that the coffee is protected from too much air, which of course slows the rate of oxidation. It is also away from direct heat sources, which is further cause for aroma degradation. In a well-designed carafe, your coffee will stay at good quality for around 2 hours.
Should You Descale Your Coffee Maker?
You should clean your coffee maker after every use to prevent the build-up of coffee oils. Descaling is necessary to remove heavy mineral deposits roughly once every three months. If you live in a hard water area and don’t filter your water, once a month would be wise — but really you should filter your water, it will taste better too.
Hopefully, you now need everything you wanted to know and perhaps some things you didn’t know you needed to know in order to pick out the best thermal carafe coffee maker for your kitchen.
In our view, the Ratio Six has everything you could want in a coffee machine. It makes excellent quality coffee and looks good doing it. Its operation is a one-touch exercise in simplistic elegance, ideal for bleary-eyed early mornings when you don’t want to deal with a V60, but can’t bring yourself to grind your beans the night before for an auto brew.