The ultimate coffee machine buying guide for the perfect cup of joe

Get your morning fix in a jiffy with these handy appliances

Joanna Gould
Monday 15 March 2021 19:06
<p>The amount of coffee your household drinks, space available, and how you plan to grind your coffee are points to consider when shopping for a machine</p>

The amount of coffee your household drinks, space available, and how you plan to grind your coffee are points to consider when shopping for a machine

Brits may be known as a nation of tea drinkers, but we really love our coffee too. More and more of us are looking to replicate that coffee-shop experience at home. But investing in a piece of barista-worthy kit without doing your research – especially when there’s such a range of machines and prices to choose from – could make for a costly and disappointing cup.

James Bellis, founder of BalanceCoffee and Balance Barista School, has worked in the industry for a decade. He points out: “It’s easy to ruin even the best coffee if you don’t have the right knowledge or equipment.

“At Balance we’re all about coffee education,” he continues. “Whether you’re a novice or a pro, we provide tips so you can recreate that café experience in your own home. Choosing the right machine for you is all about matching up the type of coffee you want to drink, your budget, speed and convenience.”

The amount of coffee you and your household drink, space available, the types of beverage you prefer and how you plan to grind your coffee are all points to consider when shopping for a machine too, so read on before parting with your hard-earned cash.

Whether you’re an espresso addict, a filter coffee fan or like your lattes at the touch of a button, there’s a coffee machine to suit you down to the ground. Here, we’ve listed the main types of coffee machine – and rounded up their pros and cons – to help you decide which option is right for you.

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Filter coffee

“For those wanting an affordable option that provides a clean, smooth cup then a filter coffee brewer might be your best starting point,” James says. This is the most basic type of coffee machine and are a good value option for Americano drinkers. Plus, they can be picked up on the high street or online easily for well under £50 and the large volume of coffee produced will suit a household at breakfast time.

Filter coffee machines (sometimes known as “drip filters”) pour hot water through ground coffee which then drips through a filter into a waiting pot. Some may require you to manually pour the water through, while others have a mechanical pour-over system from an inbuilt water tank. Most modern machines will have an integrated filter that the coffee drips through once brewed, though some models still use paper filters which can be messy and rather inconvenient. They also usually have a hot plate or other warming device that keeps the pot warm for 45 minutes or more, making them a good low-cost alternative to a French press.

But with so many on the market it can be hard to narrow it down. Our reviewer loved the Sage precision brewer and said: “If you’re a serious coffee drinker but don’t go in for the frothy coffees, this is the machine for you. With several modes to choose from and a 1.7l capacity it drips the coffee quickly and efficiently into the special thermal jug without spilling a drop, and the coffee we tried was really top-notch.”

To get the most out of a filter coffee machine you should use freshly ground beans: so we also recommend investing in a decent coffee grinder too.

Sage precision brewer thermal: £249, Johnlewis.com

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Espresso

All coffee starts with espresso: a roughly 30ml “shot” of strong, extracted coffee which can then be drunk as is, made into an Americano, cappuccino or a number of other favoured beverages. As such, you’ll find automatic espresso machines are generally a staple in coffee shops.

Most espresso machines require you to fill the portafilter with ground coffee, tamp it (tightly pack the grounds into the basket using a pressing tool), secure the portafilter and then the machine does the rest of the work though some will let you alter the extraction time and/or water temperature.

They’re serious bits of kit though and certainly don’t come cheap. You’ll need a fair bit of worktop space to accommodate them and a healthy budget. They start at around £200 for countertop models and can run into thousands of pounds for integrated plumbed-in versions.

James said: “The espresso machine is perfect for the aspiring home barista but if you’re worried about the higher cost then simply work out how much you would spend per week on coffees in a café, multiply that out per year and then over a 3 year period and you’ve well and truly justified a swanky machine for your kitchen counter.”

We agree, it’s worth it: a good espresso machine will produce highly aromatic, full-flavoured coffee with a rich “crema”. Beyond this you can weigh up whether you’d like a machine that has an integrated milk function or tank for milky drinks, or if a steam wand will suffice (much easier to clean). Our reviewer really rated the Dualit Multibrew Espresso Coffee Machine in our list of best espresso machines, which offers fantastic value and looks smart as well as creating rich, steaming hot espresso.

Dualit multibrew espresso coffee machine silver DCM2X: £215.70, Amazon.co.uk

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Bean to cup

We think bean to cup machines cannot be beaten on freshness or flavour. Complete with integrated grinders they deliver the convenience and deliciousness of freshly ground beans each time at the press of a button. They can look intimidating, but every machine we’ve tried has been extremely simple to navigate and use, allowing you to create your coffee shop favourites in seconds without grinding, measuring or frothing (if fully automatic).

But they don’t come cheap – prices usually hover around the £500 mark and increase dramatically for top of the range models with inbuilt milk tanks, Bluetooth and high spec memory functions. They’re usually large and you’ll need enough countertop space to spare to access the water tank, bean hopper and more. Cleaning can also be annoying if you choose a machine with pipes involved and you are more likely to need to do a full manual clean regularly with integrated milk coffee machines rather than having the option of running an automatic cleaning cycle.

That said though, when we tested bean to cup machines we really liked the Siemens Fully Automatic EQ.9 which is an all-singing-all-dancing professional-level machine that will produce a dizzying roster of barista worthy creations with ease. And for models under £1000 we highly recommend looking at models from DeLonghi and Sage.

Siemens fully automatic coffee machine EQ.9 plus connect: £1499, Ao.com

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Pod

Pod machines are an increasingly popular option for people looking to enjoy their favourite coffees at home; people like that they offer consistent results without fuss, they’re usually small and they come at an accessible starting price of around £100.

These machines take specially designed capsules which the machine pierces and pumps high-pressured water from its tank to create an individual beverage which could be anything from a simple espresso up to a coffee pot’s worth of java. The capsule is then discarded ready to be removed – cleaning really couldn’t be easier.

Choose from well-known brands like Nespresso, Lavazza and Tassimo where a dizzying array of capsules available mean you can enjoy a coffee shop branded hazelnut latte, a mocha or PSL without any of the hard work and no need to mess around with milks yourself (though some machines offer a steam wand). We also recommend you take a look at machines that are compatible with a variety of capsules and can prove great value.

In the past, pod machines have come in for a bad rap for environmental reasons, but today capsules are increasingly eco-friendly, recyclable or compostable – plus more and more independent speciality coffee brands are creating their own which are often heads and shoulders above the mass market pods. You can check out our list of the best eco-friendly pods here.

We awarded the illy X1 iperespresso 1935 machine our best buy when we tested the best pod machines, thanks to its highly aromatic extraction which is far superior to many pod machines. Coffee quality is the main negative when considering a pod machine purchase; many coffee lovers don’t believe pods can create the same coffee experience as beans do, but for other people, the convenience outweighs this.

illy X1 iperespresso anniversary 1935 machine: £416, Sourcedcoffee.co.uk

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Whatever machine you decide on, be sure to make the most of your coffee experience with the best coffee subscriptions, the best independent coffee brands and insulated flasks

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.