How to buy the best coffee machine

Maybe it’s because you’re tired of drinking nothing but instant coffee. Maybe you’ve reached the point where you can’t afford to visit the local café every morning for a flat white. Or maybe it’s just that you want to be able to make a great cup of coffee in the comfort of your own home. Whatever your reason is, the solution is buying a coffee machine.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as walking into your local appliance shop and asking for a coffee machine. Domestic coffee machines come in all shapes and sizes these days, and whatever your expectations or expertise, there’ll be a machine perfectly tailored to your needs. But how do you know which coffee machine is best for you? Well, you read our coffee machine buying guide, of course!

What type of coffee machine should I buy?

Before anything else, let’s go over the different kinds of coffee machines that you’ll find in the store, be it physical or online. There are three main kinds of coffee machines, all of which are suited to different levels of skill, involvement… and effort. They’ll all give you a decent cup of coffee, but some will end up being more rewarding than others, if you’re willing to put in the time. Here are the types of coffee machines we’re looking at in this guide:

  • Pod coffee machines
  • Automatic coffee machines
  • Manual espresso machines

Pod coffee machines

Capsule coffee machines

When it comes to pod coffee machines, you’re probably most familiar with the Nespresso-made variety, but you can buy machines and capsules that use them from many other companies. These machines were developed in order to provide you with an authentic coffee taste, without the money or effort required to purchase and operate a manual coffee machine.

How do I use a pod coffee machine?

Purchase coffee pods that fit your machine. Once you insert a pod into the designated space, the appliance will pump out a pre-measured shot of coffee into your cup. Keep in mind that brands tend to keep their range of coffee products within the family and create pods that are only compatible with their own machines.

Some empty capsules can be recycled, and the machines have no complex parts to clean, all of which make them an attractive low-maintenance option for at-home espresso.

Why should I get a pod coffee machine?

Pod coffee machines are designed to be convenient, quick and easy to use, giving you a satisfying coffee without much effort at all. These machines are much easier to use than automatic coffee machines, and with the use of coffee pods, you get a consistent flavour and amount of coffee every time you make one. You’re not limited to a single kind of coffee, and you can get some quite creative coffee pod flavours. Pod coffee machines are also quite cheap, ranging from around $50 to above $500.

Why shouldn’t I get a pod coffee machine?

The downside to the unrivaled convenience of a pod coffee machine is the fact that you’ve got absolutely no control over the flavour of your coffee, besides determining how diluted the shot of coffee is (most machines let you select from small, medium, and large cup sizes). While different capsules will have different strengths and flavour profiles, you’re still left choosing from pre-set options rather than creating your own tailored cup of coffee. For the most casual of coffee drinkers this may be satisfactory, but some of us may want something a little more involved and varied. So where do you go?

Designed for: people who want coffee quickly and with minimal mess.

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Automatic coffee machines

Automatic coffee machines

These are the machines that let you edge into the world of real coffee making while still being able to mostly rely on a machine to get the job done. These machines, much like a fully-fledged espresso machine, take beans rather than pods.

How do I use an automatic coffee machine?

Firstly, you insert the coffee to the machine’s specifications (be it as coffee beans or coffee grinds, as machines will use one or the other). Then, with water servicing the machine (either through an inside tank, or a water source) select the coffee you want brewed. On more basic machines, there will only be a few buttons to press. If you want milk, pour the milk into wherever the milk is serviced in the machine, or pour it in after the coffee is made if this isn’t built into your machine. Then, enjoy your coffee!

Why should I get an automatic coffee machine?

Automatic coffee machines give you the freedom to choose whatever beans you like, and offer a much larger flavour range than pod coffee machines. Depending on the machine you buy, you may even have to grind those beans yourself before they go in the machine, adding even more choice and variety to the process.

Why shouldn’t I get an automatic coffee machine?

If you’re planning on sharing an automatic coffee machine with a coffee snob, this type of system has only one way of grounding them. The automatic process means you have minimal control over how you can enjoy your drink. Once you insert the beans and press the button corresponding to the size of the beverage you want, the machine takes control and dispenses the drink for you.

The higher price tag of automatic coffee machines might leave a bitter taste in some mouths. Costs can range into the hundreds and thousands for some models, so even a budget-oriented model will cost you lots.

While this process doesn’t afford that much more control to the user than a pod machine does, the fact that it’s the same process used by proper espresso machines is incredibly appealing to many, and for good reason. No matter how good your pods and your pod machine are, they’ll probably never be on par with proper, pressure-extracted espresso made from freshly ground coffee beans. But that being said, a similar thing can be said about automatic coffee machines; that no matter how good your machine is, the coffee it makes will probably never be on par with coffee made with care and expertise using a ‘proper’ manual espresso machine.

Designed for: people who want more control over the coffee they’re brewing, but still want an uncomplicated process.

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Manual coffee machines

Manual espresso machines

This is the machine for you if you fancy yourself as a bit of an at-home barista, or simply want to be able to make the best coffee possible in the comfort of your home. Not only is this method of making coffee the most involved and detailed, but it’s also the most rewarding once you figure it out.

How do I use an automatic coffee machine?

Compared to other types of coffee machines, using a manual espresso machine involves a few more steps.

Firstly, choose your own beans based on what flavours you want in your cup of coffee. Then, grind those beans to the specific fineness that you’re after. Now, load the grounds into the portafilter and then tamper them evenly. Finally, control the pressure and the temperature of the water inside the machine as it runs through the ground coffee.

Once your coffee is made, go ahead and enjoy it! Keep in mind that you won’t be a perfect barista right off the bat. Only practice makes perfect, and it may take you a few goes to figure out how to get it just right.

Why should I get a manual coffee machine?

Put simply, manual coffee machines give you unrivaled control over your coffee and how it tastes. Once you master all the steps to making a coffee with a manual machine, not only will you be able to make a cup of coffee just the way you like it, you’ll also be able to make coffee based on how other people want it. This machine offers you total control and the flexibility to make the same cup of coffee a hundred different ways based on the preferences of you and your friends/family.

Why shouldn’t I get a manual coffee machine?

Along with the previously mentioned teething period where you’ll have to practice using the machine before you can actually brew a delicious cup of coffee, manual espresso machines require a great deal more cleaning and maintenance than their pod and automatic counterparts. This is due to the multitude of moving and detachable parts within the machine; manual coffee makers are a great deal more complex than other coffee machines in terms of their inner workings! But if you’re willing to deal with the handful of downsides mentioned above then you’ll be on your way to making some of the best coffee you’ll ever find outside of a café. Manual coffee machines can also be a bit expensive, ranging from hundreds of dollars and into the thousands, depending on your selected model.

Designed for: anyone who wants total control of the brewing process, regardless of difficulty.

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How to buy a coffee machine

Buying a coffee machine is a harder decision to make than you might think. You’ve got to find a machine that’ll last you several years (unless you’re one to buy new technology every year) and includes all of the features you want out of a machine (such as an integrated grinder, multiple modes, and extra features). You’ve also got the added layer of choice between different coffee machine types, such as pod coffee machines, automatic coffee machines, and manual coffee machines, which we’ve covered in detail above.

Your machine should be perfect for you, like buying a phone or a car. You should also be aware of how to maintain it so that it’s always producing the best coffee imaginable, and you should be aware of its limits, such as what it can or can’t do. Of course, there are coffee machines that offer no compromises, but you can expect to pay more for these machines.

What to consider when buying a coffee machine

This may sound hard to believe, but a coffee-making machine isn’t the only thing you’ll need to get started with the fine art of coffee making. There’s a small list of other bits and pieces you’ll need to brew your morning brew, some of which are only necessary for certain types of coffee machines and some which aren’t even necessary at all, but more of an optional extra.

What coffee should I buy?

You can’t make coffee without coffee! The beans themselves are the most important ingredient in any cup of coffee, so it’s crucial that you try a wide assortment of beans to find a blend or single origin that you really love. Try heading to your local café and asking a barista about different beans and blends. Or even better, see if there are any roasters nearby! Visiting a roaster is the easiest and most guaranteed way to figure out what you’re after in terms of how you want your coffee to taste. If you use a pod coffee machine, you’ll be limited as to what kinds of coffee you can buy, so make sure the coffee beans you buy are compatible with your machine.

Coffee beans/pods

Why is the Portafilter important when making coffee?

This little thing will come with an automatic or manual espresso machine you purchase and is an integral part of the brewing process. Your ground beans are placed in the portafilter’s basket, lightly compressed or ‘tamped’, and the portafilter is then locked into the machine so your coffee can be brewed.

Not to be confused with. . . well

Is the Tamper important when making coffee?

Another tool that will probably come packaged with any automatic or manual espresso machine, this is what you use to compress or ‘tamp’ your coffee grounds before they’re locked into the machine for extraction. This process involves turning your heaped pile of grounds into a neatly compressed coffee puck which water can then run through evenly and freely. Many tampers will serve a double function, having the flat tamper at one end and a suitably sized spoon at the other end for coffee grounds.

Tamper

Why are coffee grinders important?

If you plan on buying pre-ground beans then you don’t have any need for a grinder. But if you want to make coffee properly, you’ll also want to buy whole beans and then grind them yourself. There’s a fair number of different ways to grind your beans, and some are better than others in terms of the cup of coffee they’ll leave you with. Some machines will include an in-built grinder, but these will likely be more expensive than coffee machines without a grinder included.

Grinders

Why is a milk frother important when buying coffee?

This is what separates the amateur amateurs from the professional amateurs. Why bother going to the effort of brewing yourself a beautiful cup of espresso if you’re just going to plonk some cold, thin milk in the cup with it? Buy yourself a milk frother and use it to heat and thicken your milk so that it mixes with your espresso to create a perfect café-style coffee. While steamed or frothed milk is generally only associated with espresso machines, both automatic and manual, there’s no easier way to improve a cup of pod-made coffee than by topping it up with some steamed, textured milk.

Milk frother/steamer

What should I use to clean my coffee machine?

Don’t be that person who spends hundreds of dollars on a fancy coffee machine only to not maintain it and never clean it. Make sure you’ve got the right tools to clean and maintain your machine’s various detachable parts, and the machine itself. This will generally entail buying a few specialised scrubbing brushes along with some descaling equipment.

Machine cleaning equipment

Well, there you go! All the information that the aspiring home barista could possibly ask for, and all in the one place, too. Hopefully, this helps you buy the coffee machine best suited to your tastes and skill level, and subsequently helps you make yourself a wonderful cup of coffee. Good luck!

Espresso Coffee Machines Reviewed

Picture credits: Pavel Korotkov/Shutterstock.com

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