Coffee machines buying guide

Why do you want to buy a new coffee machine?

I want the right type of machine for the coffee I like

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.

I’m buying a coffee machine for the first time

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.

I’m replacing my broken coffee machine

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.

Signs you need a new coffee machine

  • The water isn’t hot anymore - tepid morning coffees just won’t do
  • You suspect the water filter isn’t working anymore
  • The espresso takes forever to come through
  • The pressure is all over the place, despite cleaning
  • Your steam arm is weak and doesn’t produce a good froth

Top tip!

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)

What do you want from a coffee machine?

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.

Types of coffee drinks

Your favourite coffees and how they are made

  • Espresso

    Espresso

    Pure coffee, should have a crema on top. Can be a single or double, is the base of most other coffee drinks.

  • Macchiato

    Macchiato

    A single or double shot of espresso with milk froth on top.

  • Latte

    Latte

    A single shot of espresso with steamed milk, topped with milk froth.

  • Cappuccino

    Cappuccino

    A drink of equal thirds - espresso, milk and milk froth. Sprinkle some cocoa powder on top to finish.

  • Cafe au Lait

    Cafe au Lait

    Uses brewed coffee instead of espresso for one half and steamed milk for the other half.

  • Flat white

    Flat white

    A stronger version of a latte, one half espresso, one half steamed milk.

  • Americano

    Americano

    A single or double shot of espresso topped with water - the amount of water is up to you.

  • Mocha

    Mocha

    A shot of chocolate syrup, a shot of espresso with steamed milk. Often comes with the option of whipped cream on top.

Types of coffee machines

 

Espresso machines

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).

  • Budget: £60 - £600+
  • Uses: Ground coffee or ESE pods (easy serve espresso)
  • Makes: Espresso, (if there is a steam arm - latte, cappuccino, flat white, macchiato)
  • Good for: Regular coffee drinkers with more time to create drinks
  • Freshness: Medium
  • Pros: Lets you try out any coffee you like, you are free to experiment like a Barista. Cheaper, lighter and smaller than bean-to-cup machines and you can use any brand of coffee. You also have total control over the amount of coffee and water used.
  • Cons: Because you have the most control, it also takes the most effort (being a Barista is not as easy as it looks). Can be very messy and a lot harder to clean.
 

Bean-to-cup coffee machines

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!

  • Budget: £300 - £2000
  • Uses: Any coffee beans (some also accept pre-ground coffee)
  • Makes: Espresso, Americano, latte, cappuccino, flat white, macchiato, cafe au lait
  • Good for: Coffee lovers who like a variety of drinks
  • Freshness: High
  • Pros: Produces a superior espresso. Generally easier to use than espresso machines because everything is automated. Can make a large range of drinks at the touch of a button.
  • Cons: The most expensive type of coffee machine. Can be large, noisy, heavy and bulky.
 

Capsule or pod coffee machines

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.

  • Budget: £40 - £200+
  • Uses: A particular brand of sealed coffee capsule or pod
  • Makes: Espresso, Americano (if it comes with a milk frother - latte, cappuccino, flat white, macchiato)
  • Good for: Low to regular coffee drinkers on the go
  • Freshness: Medium (capsules should stay fresh for up to 9 months)
  • Pros: More affordable, light, clean and doesn’t take up much room. Low maintenance, hassle-free espresso. Coffee grinds don’t get everywhere.
  • Cons: Limited to one brand of coffee, pods and capsules are not compatible across machines. Capsules might not be available locally, you might have to buy online. Capsules are more expensive per cup than ground coffee.
 

Filter coffee makers

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.

  • Budget: £20 - £150+
  • Uses: Ground coffee
  • Makes: Filter coffee only
  • Good for: Coffee drinkers who prefer volume over strength of coffee
  • Freshness: Medium
  • Pros: Cheapest type of coffee machine, available in several pot capacities. Makes large amounts of coffee in one go.
  • Cons: Only makes one type of coffee. Not instant, you have to wait for the water to drip through. Permanent filters are harder to clean.
 

What is a percolator?

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

Coffee machine features

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.

Coffee machine size

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).

Drip trays

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.

Water tanks

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.

Dual espresso

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?

Bar pressure

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!  

Advanced programs and features:

  • Personalised - allows you to tweak your favourite drinks to your exact requirements and save them to enjoy over and over again
  • Automatic milk frother - froths milk without you having to learn the technique but performance can really vary
  • Cup storage / cup warmer - a space where cups sit on top of the machine as it warms up, priming your mug for the coffee
  • Built-in water filter - really useful if you live in a hard water area
  • Complementary accessories - milk frothers, milk jugs, coffee grinders and matching coffee spoons and cups, see if you can get any of these for free
  • Automatic shut off - automatically switches off after a set amount of time which saves energy and helps to keep your machine in good working order

Share the guide

Share on Google+
Share on Pinterest