Which domestic coffee machines make the best coffee ?

 A manual barista style espresso machine, a coffee pod or an automatic bean to cup coffee machine…  or is the drip, pour, filter coffee maker good enough for you ?

We’ll go through all the tasks involved in making a great coffee; all the kinds of coffee you can drink; the different types of machines you can buy; what they can do for you; the ones to suit different lifestyles. We’ll link you to our reviews of all the main types of machines, and show you our favourites, and the winning home coffee machines we’ve found for you to buy in the UK, in Europe, in the USA, Canada, and in Australia (Sept. 2019). So go grab a coffee & settle down for a good read.

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Having my banana cake and eating it… with an oat cortado at our favourite coffee shop in Amsterdam.  

The trend is to take control back, and experience the joy of making your own cup of joe, the coffee shop way… saving you money in the long run.

You don’t even have to be a Barista ( well, Paul insisted on doing the training ) ! There are now all sorts of machines available to allow you to do the parts you want, and let the machine do the rest. 

What kind of coffee do you want to make?

We assume everyone reading this loves a good cup of coffee… especially first thing in the morning, to finish off a good meal, an afternoon treat with cake, or just to help stay awake !

For most people, it’s about getting the best coffee, consistently, and quickly – and espresso based coffees are deemed the best and most popular.

But how do you like it?

Do you like it long or short, hot or cold, weak or strong, sweet or bitter? Add the taste or texture of milk, chocolate, spices or syrup even. Will a big mug of good, black filtered coffee be enough, or should it all start with an espresso ?

Once you know, you can start looking for the right equipment to make it.

Think about how much you want the machine to do for you, how much you want to pay, and you’re well on your way to narrowing down the choices to one type of machine in a particular price range.

In a hurry… here’s the TOP 10 from coffee machine reviews… 

for filter coffee, manual espressocoffee capsule, and automatic bean-to-cup machines.

1. Best lightweight manual espresso maker to take on your travelsAeropress

2. Best single serve coffee for the commute to workKitchenaid Personal Coffeemaker

3. Best value long black cup for the crowd at home or officeCuisinart Grind & Brew Plus

4. Best budget Nespresso pod machine – for students and gift givers – Nespresso Inissia

5. Best Nespresso pod machine Latte for busy people  –  Sage (Breville) Creatista Uno

6. Best retro style, entry-level Delonghi pump espresso machineDe ‘Longhi Dedica

7. Best manual espresso machine to be seen pulling an espresso fromLa Pavoni Professional

8. Best semi-automatic bean-to-cup machine to learn thebarista craft Sage ( Breville) The Barista Touch

9. Best automatic bean-to-cup espresso and latte machineDe Longhi Eletta Cappucino

10. For the super stylish, the best bean-to-cup machine to use with a smartphone Jura S8

Yes, you too can have your cake and eat it … well, we should say, your espresso and drink it !

There are 4 different types of coffee machine to choose from.

We’d say pod machines are for the convenient espresso, filter machines for a big cup of black coffee, and manual machines for the purist espresso makers. Semi-automatic machines seem to be the half-way house that suits most.  Both the automatic espresso capsule (pod) machines, and semi-automatic bean to cup machines have been the most popular recently. 

 

Manual Espresso machines

With a manual coffee machine you have all the tools to pull the best espresso yourself – just like the barista in the coffee shop. These machines work with steam, pumps or levers. They can look like this one, with a lever outside, or more often they’re more compact with a pump inside to do the pulling for you.

You put the best ground coffee into the machine, tamp it down and then manipulate all the elements required to get the best espresso and crema.

You need to start with the best freshly ground coffee though, so you’ll probably end up getting a coffee grinding machine too.

If you want more than an espresso, ristretto or lungo, then you usually have a steam wand on these machines to allow you to froth milk and add it to your coffee.

Pod or Capsule Espresso machines

Uses pre-made single dose coffee flat capsules or plastic pods of finely ground espresso coffee, for sheer convenience. They’re usually known by the coffee type – Nespresso, Illy, Lavazza, Tassimo etc and a partner company makes the machines ( e.g. Krups, De ‘Longhi etc.)

They’re compact, simple to use, no mess and fast. The machines have a lower entry price but in the end the benefit of the convenience will cost you more per cup !

Choose the capsule according to your tastes and strength preferences… but it won’t ever be quite like a perfect espresso. We’d say it gets you 70 % of the way there so it satisfies most people.

The main benefit here is that you consistently get exactly the same cup every time.

Bean to cup Espresso machines

These are espresso machines with a built in bean grinder.  They’re the latest style of coffee making machines to help you get a café style coffee within minutes at home. Sage machines look more like a coffee shop machine, but others can look more like a countertop vending machine.

To get the best resulting coffee, like in the coffee shops, you have to have the best from end to end of the process, i.e. from bean to cup. Like it says, you put coffee beans in one end of the machine, and receive an espresso based coffee in a cup at the other end.

But you don’t want to have to do everything yourself. Before you buy, you need to choose how much you want to be involved in the process.

Do some things yourself and customise the machine do the rest  (semi-automatic machine)… or let the machine make all the decisions and do it all for you (automatic),  or both – automatic with the ability to preset your preferences ( super- automatic).

Filter, Drip, or Pour over Coffee makers

Making black coffee the old fashioned way, by pouring water through a filter full of ground coffee and receiving it in a carafe or jug below. What do you call it ? Filter coffee, percolated, cafetiere coffee ?

Or immerse the coffee grounds together with the hot water. Wait for it to brew, then push and squeeze the coffee liquid back up the jug, above the filter. We call that French press, and I used to have lots in my portrait studio from 1 cup to 8 cup jugs.

With all of these however, you end up with is a nice big mug of coffee to set you up for the day, or a carafe full for sharing instead. If it’s on a hot plate or in a thermos, it stays warm for hours so you can take more as you please.

There are so many to choose from but we’ve chosen just a few – only the best, and the most different that meet our modern coffee drinking demands.

“MAKING COFFEE IS AN ART, A SCIENCE, A THEATRE, AND A PLEASURE TO TASTE”

 Which Coffee machine is best ?

It depends on how many jobs you want the machine to do for you. Whether you want to spend time and be involved doing some of them manually or let the machine do it automatically ( even then speed and quality become key criteria). It depends too on the quality you are willing to pay for, in terms of the materials and engineering used, and the quality of the coffee or the milk froth produced. If you don’t want milk frothing at all, then having access to a hot water tap will be key.

 

Coffee machine reviews

Coffee is a passion for millions of people, and coffee machine reviewing has attracted all the wanna be baristas to give their view so there are hundreds of posts chatting about this topic. We’ve been though most of them ( everyday we find more !)

There is also so much information overload online, confusing model names and numbers, and mis-information. We’ve talked to the users and the manufacturers and they’ve been so helpful, one even kindly promising to update incorrect info on their own site.

So, along with the serious reviewers, and a good dollop of our own domestic and commercial experience with coffee machines, ( oh, and our determination to get to the honest detail for you )…  here we are finally with our low down.

 

Our top coffee machine reviews

You’ll find more pages devoted to each coffee machine type, in depth reviews, and helpful detail on the buying or coffee making process. Here’s the shortcuts…

Our top 10 manual machines

Our top 10  bean to cup machines ( automatic and semi-automatic)

Our top 3 Pod or capsule machines

Our top 2 ( very different )  filter coffee machines

 

We’ve gone further than the rest

We’ve done all the checking for you in each region, to see if the machines are the same, ( i.e. do the same thing or even called the same name). There are many discrepancies and some companies have specific machines for geographical areas, and even an international department too ( de ‘Longhi for example). Sometimes a machine from one region can be easily converted with a plug to use in another area.

So, in each review, we will point out the best machines available in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, and Australian regions. Just click on your location only when you go through to any of the buy now buttons.

 

Here are 6 of our personal favourite coffee machines

Manual lever

espresso machine

A piece of art you will love.We had this one !  With patience and skill, you’ll know the art, and the science, that is true barista coffee-making.

La Pavoni Professional

 

Great coffee theatre. This piece of art makes the best espresso, and always pulls a crowd when you use it.

We know, we had one !

Manual pump

espresso machine

Really compact entry level machine. Easy to use… pre-heats cups, pull a great espresso, froth your milk… or brew a tea with hot water.

De ‘Longhi Dedica

 

You can even get a matching bean grinder. But it also ESE pads as well as ground coffee. ‘Easy Serve Espresso’, is ground coffee covered in paper filter instead of plastic or aluminium.

Yay to that !

Semi-automatic

bean-to-cup

Top technology that also looks like a coffee shop machine. Great coffee and lattes, and you can customise it,  programme presets. Quality, flexibility, consistency all in one.

Barista Touch by Sage or Breville

 

Does the hardest parts of the process for you, and also teaches you the craft so you can do it yourself too.

My idea of perfection !

Super-automatic

bean-to-cup

Solid, Swiss, say no more ! Easy to use. Stylish. Does all types of coffee – brilliantly. If 2 of you have a few coffees a day, it could even pay for itself with a year !

Jura S8

So stylish, it fits right in in a swish kitchen, dining room or board room.

If it’s good enough for Roger Federer, it’s good enough for us !

Pod Nespresso

brews & froths

Without a doubt, the most highly rated pod machine on the planet – the milk frothing in particular. 8 different espresso based drinks. Allows you to customise. 

Creatista Uno by Sage or Breville

 

The best barista level Nespresso and frother you’ll find – and if you want more than that, you can upgade to the ‘creatista plus’ 100% stainless steel version !

If it’s pods you like, this is no brainer !

Filter coffee

bean-to-carafe

Feed the crowd with good long black coffee all day. Combine the best of freshly ground beans with a thermal jug that keeps coffee warm for hours.

 

Cuisinart grind and brew plus

The design has been around for years. If you aren’t fussed about pure espresso only, but still want the best for your brood.

This is best of both worlds !

No matter which machine you go for, the espresso coffee making process is the same.

So before buying one you should know first of all, all the steps needed to make a great coffee. 

Secondly we’ll cover all the things a machine can do for you
Then you will be able to choose more wisely.

10 steps to create a great espresso.

Making a perfect espresso is a fine art, and a science. It’s getting the combination of all these right that sets you well on your way to making a great coffee.

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1.The beans

The right Beans for your coffee style and taste. Size colour, flavour of the beans – which beans do you prefer. There are basically two types, Arabica and Robust. How they are stored is just as important.

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2.The roast

There are 4 types; light, medium,medium dark and dark. Which suits your taste, and which is best for your coffee style.

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3.The grind

Important to get the right Grinding of the beans ( nice even burr grinding, correct fineness, freshly ground).

And to get the tight packing of the ground coffee container – right quantity of coffee, portafilter size, tamping and levelling.

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4.The water

The right type or quality of water  affects the taste – not tap water, filter or better.

As is the pre-soaking  of the coffee grounds-  then it’s all to do with the temperature and to start opening up the aroma.

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5.The temperature

Three important aspects to consider here. The temperature of the portafilter ( to make sure your water isn’t going from hot boiler to colder filter which will alter the temperature)

The right temperature of boiled water going all the way through the brewing process. Finally, the pre-heating of a nice cup to receive the espresso is the final element – who likes a cold espresso !

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6.The quantity / size

The precise quantity of hot water that goes through the precise ( between 6-7 grams ) dose of ground coffee, to make a precise size of espresso (e.g. 60ml) .

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7.The pressure

The amount of pressure measured in BARS that is forcing the water through the grounds ( minimum 8 or 9 bars)

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8.The time

How long should it take to make a good espresso? How long to pre-soak, and ‘pull’ the water through the coffee grounds.  The process is generally completed in approximately 20 to 30 seconds.

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9.The right machine

The best, well set up and maintained machine. The machine that is set up to a specification,  all the way through the process, that results in a coffee that is just perfect for you. 

The result should be a smooth strong black espresso with a perfect crema on top.

and finally…

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10. An appreciative palette, & a glass of water to follow.

 

For more details on all 10 elements, head on over to our more detailed post on what to look out for when buying a coffee machine.

 

 Not all coffee machines are equal !

So it’s important to know what each type of machine can do. Once you know which type of coffee you prefer, and which jobs are needed to make it, you can choose the best machine for you.

Do bear in mind that you can also buy separate machines or accessories to do some of the jobs like coffee grinders and milk frothers.

First let’s cover all the jobs covered by the main types of domestic coffee machines you can buy today.

10 jobs a coffee machine might do.

 

  1. store the beans and / or ground coffee
  2. grind the beans
  3. store the water and/or milk
  4. heat the water, and the portafilter
  5. measure the ground coffee into the filter
  6. level and tamp an espresso coffee puck so it’s just right
  7. pour, drip or press the water through the ground coffee to pre-infuse or extract an espresso coffee into the cup
  8. store the milk
  9. steam the milk and possibly add the appropriate steamed milk to the coffee cup at the right time
  10. provide a hot water tap to make americanos or …make tea !

What a manual espresso machine can do.

For many coffee lovers though, time stands still when creating the best coffee so it’s simply about having the best machine to manually create the best espresso based coffee – and for them, the manual espresso machine is still king.

Manual machines take pre-ground coffee, and will provide the water boiler to pour through your coffee puck, and usually the steaming wand to make your frothing milk. Of all the 10 things we list below that a coffee maker can do, I’d say the manual machine would just do three ( nos. 3, 4 and 7).

We have to say though that people who want the best and learn to throw the required time and skill at it usually end up ( like us) getting their own coffee grinder too. So then you have two machines but most flexibility, fun, and acquired skills. If that’s not you, then read on…

What a pod espresso machine can do.

In it’s own special way, it can do everything from steps 3 to 10. There are machines now that also have the frothing wand, but the quality is down to the manufacturer. De ‘Longhi and Breville /Sage make some of the best in our view. This method is all about convenience and speed. At the end of the day, the quality of the coffee grounds are key to getting the best espresso from these machines. So choose wisely. Nespresso, Illy, Tassimo, or Lavazza. The two front runners seem to be Nespresso and Lavazza. You can now also choose your own coffee and put it into your own re-usable Nespresso style pods too !

A lot has also developed in the industry since these machines first came out. Illy developed the filter paper ESE pads (easy serve espresso), and there are many entry level espresso machines that can take these so now competing for the same pod machine market.

So the Pod machines are having to up their game, and the Creatista Uno is the one that’s hitting the review headlines for impressive barista style espresso and fabulous frothing capabilities.

 

What a bean-to-cup machine can do.

Having the best coffee means starting with the best beans and the grinding them to perfection before you even put it into the filter basket of your manual espresso making machine. But you don’t want to have two machines… so this is why the latest craze for bean-to-cup machines have developed. They take the beans directly into a hopper at the top, and when you command the machine to make an espresso they grind the beans freshly for you.

Semi-automatic machines are like manual machines with the grinding added in but as you still have to control the water going through the filter. they can have some automated features too.

Fully automatic means the machine decides on all the right grind, dose, temperature, length of coffee etc to deliver its perfect result. This is one for those that still want the best, love the science, but either have a lack of interest in the theatre of creating, or a busy lifestyle meaning that speed and convenience dictate their choices.

But what if you don’t agree with the machine’s settings ?

So, this is where the super automatic machine comes in. It is fully automatic but allows you to alter the key elements, and save your preferences so you only have to press a button each time to get your idea of a perfect coffee.  The best of these that could do at least all 10 jobs below … will cost you a pretty penny !

What a filter coffee machine can do.

In it’s own way can do steps 1 through to 7, but not usually the milky part in 8,9,10.  However, it won’t make espresso coffee for you ! It’s simply filtered coffee.

Because the pressure of the water is different going through the coffee grounds, you don’t need such a find grind. The water is poured or dripped through, collecting the flavours and then the grounds are filtered out at the final stage either through a paper or fine mesh filter. With the drip or pour system, the coffee drops through gravity to a jug below. Look out for a machine that pours evenly, spreading the water evenly around the grounds. Chanelling is a problem if the water finds too easy a path through the mass of coffee grinds, as it will only take a little flavour and you end up with weak coffee.  

We chose this Cuisinart though because it is trying to get the best quality filter coffee by grinding the beans freshly before filtering, so you can make your coffee from your own choice of beans. It then keeps it from getting stale by holding it in a thermal metal jug rather than a glass jug on a hot plate.

 

Do you know how to make your favourite coffee ?

Does it have a name, and do you know the recipe ? Paul and I both love a lot of espresso based drinks, from a simple, strong espresso to a perfect espresso martini. I also love the simple afogato dessert. We make different choices when it comes to making it milky ! 

Here are some favourite styles of coffee.

 

  1. Ristretto – a short length concentrated 40ml espresso pressed drink
  2. Espresso – a single 60ml espresso
  3. Doppio –a larger than life double espresso from a single functio
  4. Espresso lungo – a long espresso (110ml)
  5. Americano- an espresso topped up to with hot water
  6. espresso macchiato – an espresso with froth on top
  7. cortado – a spanish macchiato – long or short
  8. cappuccino
  9. caffe latte
  10. mocha
  11. flat white
  12. Frappé – an iced coffee
  13. Brera (half fat milk latte) –
  14. Black eye ( coffee with a shot of espresso)
  15. Café au lait , café con leche, coffee with milk
  16. Irish coffee
  17. espresso martini
  18. Breve – a latte made of steamed half-and-half mix of milk & cream, instead of milk
  19. soy or oat milk cortado / latte

And the list goes on…

Apart from an Espresso Martini at the right time…  Mine is a lungo or americano in the morning, a oat cortado in the afternoon if I’m hungry, a double espresso after dinner, and an espresso, ristretto,  or a lungo with a sprinkle of cayenne pepper mixed in …like I’m having right now, when I’m feeling energised. And I thought I was a simple soul !

For Paul, it’s an espresso – the best one possible with a great crema. You don’t need all the equipment a café has to roast, grind, brew, froth and pour – but the process is the same. We’ll tell you all about it !

 

Which coffee machine suits us best ?

 

For both of us at the moment, we like the convenience of the pod machine that we chose for maison mk rooms. So we have one of those with us on our travels. Being in Spain right now, we also have a good selection of those typical steam making espresso makers left by our landlord for using on the stove-top also. We have a few favourite coffee shops on the island to run to for a great fix, one even grows their own beans here !

But we miss Paul’s daily hand-made espresso coffee making though. Just after that picture was taken,  we sold or gave away almost all our possessions so we could start this simple life adventure. But my man doesn’t ask for much… so yes… he got to keep his prized possessions… a.k.a. mostly kitchen appliances !  So a hefty lump of a manual espresso machine ( the Rocket machine pictured below) , and a coffee bean grinder are still safely stored in an attic in the UK !  We hope to retrieve them again one day.

For Paul…

It’s about getting the absolute best espresso coffee, with a great crema, and the satisfaction of lovingly creating it, manually. So for Paul, the more manual and commercial the machine, the better ! And, we’ve had about six of these machines already !

 

For Aoibheann…

That’s me, and I like the convenience of the pod machine, but, hands down, I still prefer the coffee Paul produces ! So a semi-automatic would work best for me… and I would ideally like to pull my coffee from a nice chrome or steel machine.

I personally don’t like some of the large automatic modern looking machines with touch screen menus that look like vending machines. I also prefer one that either doesn’t take up too much space. If it has to spread itself out on the countertop – it should look either like a piece of art , or a great coffee shop !

Bonus ! The best Barista coffee machine for home

The Rocket Giotto Evoluzionne

Read more about the one we kept !

 

 

 

Did our research that tell us which brands make the best coffee machines ?

 

Our research was as wide and complete as possible, taking into account the from cook to chef ethos where we want to provide solutions for everyone. Everyone from beginner to expert, from UK to USA and beyond. Machines to suit different lifestyles, personalities and pockets ! Machines that give confidence and results that different people need.

 

Kitchen Appliance Brands in the Coffee Machine world

We find very different manufacturers that meet these needs. You’ll find big kitchen appliance names like KitchenAid , Smeg and Cuisinart still playing a big part in this market, so if you are a loyal fan, and their values suit you, you will find a matching offering from them. not for all types of machines however, and we have chosen the best one from each – one of them in this post.

Breville and Sage ( one and the same brand ) are an exception as they have a whole range of products in the espresso coffee machine arena and every single product is fabulous – they really have looked at it from a foodie viewpoint.

Of all brands they have taken on board the fromcooktochef type of journey with their products so you can get everything from basic to professional and they teach you how to be a barista along the way.

We have picked our favourite Sage / Breville that we feel outshines its competition in the semi-automatic bean-to-cup, and the Nespresso machine categories.

 

Italian Coffee machine brands

Finally, you won’t be surprised to find the famous Italian brands that have been making coffee machines for decades. Gaggia and La Pavoni make it into our top picks in the manual espresso machines for home. Apart from the technical spec. of their machines, they make some beautiful designs.

For coffee connoiseurs ( or snobs !) well down the espresso making journey, you’ll be happy to see we have included the lesser known household brands,  Rocket and Rancilio as top picks.

Lavazza made it into the top 5 capsule coffee machines but this category was dominated by Swiss Nespresso and Italian De ‘Longhi. 

De ‘Longhi we knew as a kitchen appliance brand initially and hadn’t realised how involved they were in the Coffee machine industry. It so happens that a lot of our top picks ended up being from De ‘Longhi . The only bone we have to pick with De ‘Longhi coffee machines however is their model names all over the world ! It is quite confusing and took a long time to decipher. Interesting that we had the same issue with Braun on the hand blender range. De ‘Longhi own Braun so it must be a company trait !

 

Country specific brands.

There are many more of course, in the U.S. especially…like Mr Coffee, but there is a huge market for filter type machines there and we are concentrating on our main passion of espresso based machines here.

 

Niche brands.

You’ll find these have one main coffee making product to sell, and mostly in the portable coffee maker section… Oomph, Aerobie, Flair, Bodum.

 

 

Conclusion

Immersion based solutions like the ‘French Press’, and pour over, drip style filter cafetières will always be around, especially in America !

Cold brews are silently growing well, but… by a long shot, the espresso based coffee is deemed the best coffee you can taste, and that’s what you get served in coffee shops. And how much do we all spend every day on these coffees every day ?

Now we want the same best coffee at home. We’re no longer satisfied with any old instant or filter coffee. And so the trend for pod machines – Nespresso and the like. But is that good enough ?  It was… until the expert coffee machine makers like De ‘Longhi, Breville / Sage, Gaggia and lots more, started giving us so much more to choose from.

 

What next? Do you know how to choose your own favourite coffee machine?

You are bound to have your own priorities –  from price, to quality, design, convenience, skills required, features and how fast you need that coffee in your hands ! In our blog (jump to relevant coffee machine blogs here) , you’ll find separate posts on each category so that you can check out every machine we looked at. If you still aren’t sure which type of machine you should go for, then pop over to our detailed buying guide first to find out what you should be looking out for.

Thank-you

Thank-you for reading this far ! The coffee machine blog comes next.

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We live it and research it every day, so please join our wee community, follow us on instagram,  or add any comments as a user of any relevant coffee machine. Or use the comments also to ask any questions or even to correct or discuss anything we post. It’s useful information for all of us so please join in.

 

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