Do you want cafe-quality drinks in your own home, every morning? Of course you do! Whether you like a strong caffeine kick in the mornings or a cheeky cappuccino as your post-dinner treat, there’s a coffee machine out there that’s perfect for making the drinks you love.
As coffee machines become even more sophisticated, there’s nothing stopping you creating the full cafe experience in your own home. This guide will equip you with everything you need to know about your new coffee machine purchase, from drip trays to making the perfect milk froth.
Once you’ve had the convenience of espresso at home, there’s no going back to life PE (pre-espresso). Don’t deny yourself any longer and get up to speed with the coffee machine features you need at home.
Most coffee drinks start with an espresso, so it needs to be the best. An espresso is 30ml and a good coffee machine should take less than 15 seconds to fill that much (including drip time)
The coffee you love of course! Not all coffee machines can make every type of coffee so start thinking about the drinks you like to order and what you can see yourself making at home. Do you like milky, frothy coffees like lattes or is a short burst of caffeine in the mornings more your style?
Next, think about practical considerations like how many coffees you’ll be making and how often you think you’ll use your machine. This will affect the size and features you’ll be investing in. Do you have time to fiddle around with dials and buttons or does the process of getting the coffee just right bring you as much pleasure as the drinking itself? Coffee machines can be as complicated as you want them to be, so let’s find the right one for your lifestyle.
Your favourite coffees and how they are made
Pure coffee, should have a crema on top. Can be a single or double, is the base of most other coffee drinks.
A single or double shot of espresso with milk froth on top.
A single shot of espresso with steamed milk, topped with milk froth.
A drink of equal thirds - espresso, milk and milk froth. Sprinkle some cocoa powder on top to finish.
Cafe au Lait
Uses brewed coffee instead of espresso for one half and steamed milk for the other half.
A stronger version of a latte, one half espresso, one half steamed milk.
A single or double shot of espresso topped with water - the amount of water is up to you.
A shot of chocolate syrup, a shot of espresso with steamed milk. Often comes with the option of whipped cream on top.
These are steam-driven machines. Coffee is added to a portafilter which you fit to the machine. A tank of water is heated and sent through the coffee holder at the right pressure. Look for machines that work by a pump with a thermoblock (a type of boiler that heats up the water to the perfect temperature for coffee - about 90°C). This prevents the coffee from getting scalded (it’s very delicate you know).
These coffee machines grind coffee on demand specially for each cup, resulting in the freshest coffee you can get at home. The grinder is built-in, the coffee is brewed into the cup and the grinds are ejected into a tray. Simply add water to the tank, milk to the container, beans to the grinder and press the button for the coffee you want - boom!
A quick and easy way to get your caffeine fix. Just pop in a capsule or pod and press go. Some machines come with a milk frother, so you can still have milky coffee if you wish. Very convenient, especially for those who like a kick of caffeine before work or an espresso after dinner.
These machines make coffee by water steadily dripping through a filter that contains ground coffee into a pot below. The coffee infuses in the pot and is usually kept warm on a hot plate making it a quick and easy option for re-fills. Some coffee makers use paper filters, others have permanent filters.
It’s like a filter coffee maker but works the opposite way. Coffee is placed in a holder in the middle then water is boiled beneath and rises through a tube, into the filter and up through the coffee. Brewed coffee sits in a jug on top. Great if you like filter coffee but want to vary its strength (you can remove the jug before the coffee gets too intense).
Shop coffee machines by type
Now you know which machine is going to produce the coffee you love, it’s time to get down to details. Here’s what you should be looking for, as well as some more advanced programs and features for top of the range machines.
If you think you’ll store your coffee machine away when you're not using it, make sure it's small enough to fit into a kitchen cupboard and light enough to manoeuvre. If you’re going for an espresso or bean-to-cup machine, measure the available space on your worktop carefully.
Bear in mind that machines with water tanks at the back can be quite deep, they may need to sit at an angle, which takes up more space. You’ll also need to allow space at the front of the machine for preparing the coffee itself (particularly if you’re keen on experimenting).
Look for a large drip tray that doesn't need to be emptied every time you make a coffee. If you have the chance, check it’s easy to remove and replace.
When buying any type of coffee machine, check the water tank capacity (these are usually at the back) and get a size that will suit how many coffees you think you’ll be making at once.
Some espresso machines are large enough to accommodate two coffee filters so you can make two espressos at once.
Try to get a demonstration of this before you buy as some machines are not always even in their distribution of water if both filters are running at the same time. You could end up with one espresso significantly shorter than the other one - which defeats the whole point right?
The right bar pressure is essential for making a good crema (the caramel-coloured foamy bit on top of your espresso).
A good crema (thick and even) is a healthy sign for your espresso, it means that the steam meets the coffee granules at just the right speed. If the steam is too slow then the coffee tastes bitter.
Between 15 - 19 bar is the optimum pressure, though some brands claim 9-11 bar is OK if the beans have been ground to the correct size (fine enough for espresso machines).
Buying tip: If shopping for a capsule machine, check out the coffee range for each brand to see if your tastes are catered for - this will help narrow down which brand of machine you should get. If you can get a free tasting session in-store, even better!
How can I keep my coffee fresh?
Don’t buy in batch, coffee loses its freshness quickly (but you can freeze it). You should store coffee (ground or beans) in an airtight container out of the sun at room temperature (if using it within a week). After you’ve had it for a week, your coffee should be stored in the fridge to stop it going stale.
How should I clean my coffee machine?
If you’ve noticed that your coffee isn’t tasting as good or it’s been a while (or never) since you last cleaned it, chances are it’s built up with used coffee, or worse, mould. Eeek.
Always use fresh water and if you add any detergent, make sure it’s the particular product recommended by the manufacturer in the manual. Some models have a self-cleaning or descaling mode, always refer to the manual and follow the precise instructions.
If your model needs a manual clean then follow these tips:
Clean the steam arm after every use. Dried-on milk is not only really difficult to remove, it’s unhygienic too. Wipe clean with a wet sponge straight away (minding your fingers as it will still be hot). Give the steam arm a little blast to remove the last drops of milk.
The coffee pot, filter, accessories and drip tray should be cleaned at least once a month, the manual will have specific instructions on how these should be removed and cleaned (e.g. which items are dishwasher safe).
Don't leave water in the tank for long periods of time and always use fresh water for boiling.
Prevent coffee build up by ‘purging’ the espresso filters before use. Put them on an espresso run without attaching the portafilter until the water is clear.
How often should I descale my coffee machine?
Depending on how often you use it, your coffee machine should be descaled at least 2-3 times a year, more often if used frequently.
How do you froth milk like a barista?
You can use any milk for frothing, even plant-based milks like almond or coconut because it’s the protein in milk that makes it froth (all milk has protein in it). The freshest milk will give the best results as protein starts to disappear after 4 days.
Use a stainless steel jug for the best heat conduction and fill it to just under half way. Place the steam arm just under the surface of the milk (deep enough not to spatter everywhere but high enough to create little bubbles).