Starting the day with a good strong espresso is considered a basic human right by many caffeine addicts. But even if you can afford the prices at high-street cafés, you may still find yourself gulping your shot from a soggy cardboard cup, or burning your mouth on an over-heated latte.
Espresso machines come in a range of styles and prices, some surprisingly affordable and convenient, others more complicated, but also more authentic. Making your own coffee should save you money, plus, you can have a cuppa before you've even left the house.
"A coffee maker might seem like an expensive piece of equipment, but making a decent coffee at home can save you a small fortune compared to buying it on the high street," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? magazine. "It can cost as little as 8p a cup to make coffee at home, so even if you buy just one espresso each morning on the way to work, ditching the habit and investing in a machine for £100 could save you more than £200 a year."
Unlike coffee from a cafetière, espresso machines use pressured hot water to extract flavour from the coffee grains. With the best machines, the result is a much creamier, thicker drink, ideally with a crown of golden foam, known as "crema". With the addition of hot milk or froth, an espresso becomes a latte or a cappuccino.
Perhaps the most important decision to make before you buy is practical: how much kitchen space are you prepared to give up? The most authentic machines are large, heavy and noisy, but they do produce amazing coffee.
Generally, an electric heater brings the water to boiling point under pressure, then forces it through the coffee. In most models, the steam can also be diverted into a jet for frothing milk for cappuccinos. If that sounds like too much trouble, you could opt for a pump-driven machine. They use an electric pump, and heat only the exact amount of water needed for each cup. They are generally smaller, more affordable, and work faster.
If you are picky about your coffee blends, you need to consider the type of coffee your machine will accept. The most time-consuming option is using ground coffee, which gives you the option of choosing – and even grinding – the beans yourself. If you are less picky, most of the machines will also give you the option of using "pods" that take most of the mess out of the operation (although they tend to be more expensive than using ground coffee). The cheaper machines tend to only use pods. You may find that your machine only accepts one brand of pod, so make sure you like that blend before you buy.
Of the 19 machines tested by Which?'s experts, the Delonghi EC330 got the highest score, with a rating of 76 per cent. It costs £100, and produced the best coffee. At the other end of the scale, Which? gave a score of only 25 per cent to the Cookworks Espresso Maker. At £18, the price reflects the quality.
Where to buy
If you know what you're looking for, the best prices are almost always found online. Sites such as pricerunner.co.uk, whichcompare. co.uk and froogle.co.uk can help you find the best deal for the model you want.
If you'd rather shop on the high street, retailers such as Argos, Comet and John Lewis all have a good range of coffee machines. You can also order from these retailers online too. And make sure you factor in any additional delivery charges to the final price.
Five questions to ask...
Do you have enough room?
Compared to an ordinary cafetière, coffee machines take up a lot of space. If you plan to store it in a cupboard, check how easy it is to move.
Ground or pre-packed coffee?
Many of the cheaper machines only take coffee pods, which are less messy but more expensive in the long run than ground.
Does it have a milk frother?
If you like cappuccinos as much as espressos, make sure the model you buy has a built-in milk frother.
How impatient are you?
Generally, the cheaper machines work more quickly, but offer a lower level of taste.
How many cups do you need?
If you are likely to need only the odd cup, consider one of the smaller machines, which need refilling with water more often. If you have a big family of coffee addicts to serve each morning, you might want to look at a model with a large built-in tank.
The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information visit www.which.co.uk or get a guide to 'best buy' espresso machines in Which? Money, on sale at Sainsbury's for £2.99. To get three issues of Which? magazine for £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE