"Coffee - the favorite drink of the civilized world." Thomas Jefferson
Picking the best coffee machine can be a time consuming and complex process.
All the talk of burr grinders, milk frothers, automatic timers and many other terms can make the whole process seem more complicated than it needs to be.
We’ll take the complexity out of the process and help you find the best coffee machine for you.
Thanks for helping me choose the perfect Espresso Machine, I was overwhelmed by the choice and your advice was invaluable; thanks!
Whether you want a Drip coffee machine, automatic espresso machine or even a full bean to cup super espresso machine we’ll help you find the best coffee machine for you.
What is the Best Espresso Machine?
If you’re short of time or don’t want to have to research in too much detail check out our 3 top espresso machines below, they all make an excellent drink and you won’t be disappointed. Just pick which type of coffee drinker you are:
Our Top Drip Coffee Maker
Breville 800 ESXL
Our Top Automatic Espresso Machine
- Pro machine
- Simple Design
- Easy to use
- Small Footprint
- Great Coffee
Top Pod Espresso Machine
What type of person are you?
Busy and on the Go
Short of time, want a quick and convenient machine that's quick to clean up?
Willing to pay for the best coffee machine that will make Barista style coffee at home
Different types of Coffee and Espresso Machine
As the different ways of making coffee vary so do the equipment requirements and the cost of said equipment. A basic coffee maker can start at $20, with top end espresso machines selling for $10,000+. In this range there are a huge variety of different machines but can be broadly grouped into the following categories:
1. Drip style coffee machines (including pods)
Stove top coffee machines typically refer to Moka’s and Percolarors, both involving the use of heating water on a stove top such that when it evaporates the steam passes through ground coffee before condensing into coffee as we know it.
The main difference between a Moka and a Percolator is that the Moka passes the coffee through the coffee beans only once where as with a percolator you have the ability to pass the liquid through the ground coffee multiple times in order to create the desired strength.
Stove top coffee machines are some of the cheapest and easiest to use but the downside is that the boiling point of water is far hotter than the optimal temperature for extracting flavour from ground coffee. Additionally the pressure isn’t really high enough to extract enough flavour for an espresso however this is not an issue if you’re making other types of coffee.
Stove top coffee machines will certainly make an ok cup of coffee but for those who want a great cup we suggest you check out some of the other coffee machine types.
Having said that they can be excellent for those who like to camp and pursue other outdoor activities as they can be used with pretty much any heat source, including an open campfire.
If you’re interested in stovetop coffee makers we suggest you check out our favourite:
Drip Coffee Makers
Probably the most popular coffee machine is the Drip or Filter coffee machine. A Drip coffee machine works by heating cold water then ’dripping’ it through ground coffee beans into a glasss coffee carafe that sits on a heating pad. These glass carafes can keep coffee hot indefinitely however wit time the flavour of the coffee does alter so it’s best to drink it as soon as possible.
One of the advantages of Drip coffee machines is that they can make multiple cups worth of coffee at the same time, it’s fairly easy to find a machine that will make 10+ cups worth of coffee in one go, this is great if you make large rounds or like to have a coffee pot ready and waiting that you can grab a quick refill from..
Some Drip coffee machines have an inbuilt reusable filter whereas others rely on separate (often disposable) coffee filters, we’ve found that often the inbuilt filters are either not fine enough to strain all the coffee grounds out or that they tend to get clogged up and require regular cleaning. It’s for this reason that we use a disposable filter even if there is an inbuilt one.
Drip coffee machines can be used to make a decent cup of coffee however due to the limited pressure so it’s almost impossible to generate any Crema on your coffee, making it of limited value to Espresso lovers. If however you don’t drink Espresso just want to make a reasonable filter coffee then a drip coffee machine may be your best bet, they tend to be cheaper than many of the other coffee machine types.
Drip coffee machines are typically the starting point for people who want to purchase a coffee machine as both the initial outlay and ongoing running cost are much lower than other coffee machines.
Increasingly even Drip coffee machines are becoming more advanced, you can now get Drip coffee machines that include a timer so that the coffee is ready and waiting when you get up in the morning as well as some that come with self-cleaning functionality.
If Drip Coffee machines are of interest, check out our favorite the Cuisinart DCC1200
Generally when people think of espresso machines they think of coffee machines that have an electric pump which is used to generate sufficient pressure to force heated water through a Puck of ground coffee.
These Espresso machines come in a variety of different formats. Some will utilize previously ground coffee whereas others will grind the beans as part of the coffee making process.
They can be roughly split into 4 categories which depending on the level of functionality that's available and as you'd expect they all have their pro's and con's.
- Super Automatic Espresso Machines
- Automatic Espresso Machines
- Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
- Manual Espresso Machines
Do everything you want and more. Full bean to cup solution at the touch of a button
You control the drink, steep learning curve but perfect for wannabe baristas
Add ground coffee, press a button and a decent coffee is made every time. No hassle or fuss just good coffee
More control than an Automatic less than a full manual.
A fully automatic coffee machine requires the user to grind / prepare the coffee and add it to the machine for each cup. What makes it automatic is that the machine controls how much water is dispensed, ensuring that a consistent amount is passed through the coffee in order to make a consistently good drink.
An automatic Espresso machine is the most popular type of espresso machine as it makes a consistently good drink without requiring all the experience of some of the more complicated machines
If you want more help finding an Automatic Espresso Machine check out our buying guide on the Best Automatic Espresso Machines
Alternatively you can jump straight to
Super Automatic Espresso Machineso machines
Super automatic Espresso machines can do everything, from grinding the beans freshly for each coffee to frothing milk and automatically making speciality coffees, these are the Rolls Royce of coffee machines.
The ability to do all these things does come at a price though, these machines can be extremely expensive with the cheapest machines coming in at a little over $500.
Other than the price the main downside to the super automatic espresso machine is the lack of control, some can be programmed to strengthen or weaken coffee but others have it pre-set, for master brewers this can be a real downside, for the rest of us it just makes the coffee machine easier to use.
If you want more help finding a Super Automatic Espresso Machine check out our buying guide on the Best Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Alternatively you can jump straight to..
A manual espresso machine gives you complete control over the coffee making process and typically requires a lever to be pulled to force water through the coffee puck. If done well this can lead to a perfect espresso but equally it can be a disaster if done wrong.
If you like to experiment or have a strong desire to be able to make the perfect Barista style coffee at home then a manual espresso machine may be the right thing for you. Expect it to take many hours of practice and experimentation but the end result (with a little luck) will be a phenomenal cup of coffee that’s comparable to the best coffee shops in the world.
Semi automatic machines rely on the user to buy or prepare ground coffee.
As the name suggests Semi automatic machines rely on the user to push a button or pull a lever to start the water being pushed through the coffee grounds.
This gives the user control over how much water is passed through the coffee enabling a much greater level of influence over the end result, this does however come with a relatively steep learning curve. More control means it’s also easier to get it wrong and make the coffee to weak or strong.
For beginners we’d recommend avoiding a semi-automatic (unless you like a challenge) due to the amount of practice required to be able to brew a consistent cup of coffee with it.
Pod Coffee Machines
POD coffee machines are the latest innovation to hit the rapidly expanding coffee machine market. Often referred to as K-Cup (after the Keurig brand that popularised them) these machines use pods to make single individual cups of coffee.
As these have gained in popularity there have been an increasing variety of flavors and styles introduced and there are now more than 50 coffee flavors offered by Keurig alone, for those who like a wide variety of coffees, pod coffee machines are definitely worth considering.
The use of individual pods has some clear advantages mainly relating to the consistency of the coffee and the ease of maintenance.
As Pod machines have developed so has the quality of the coffee and we’ve now reached a point where from a taste perspective many coffee pod machines can rival more traditional methods for making coffee.
The other major advantage of pod machines is the ease with which they can be cleaned, through the use of a pod all ground coffee is kept in a small contained pod which can be thrown away after use, in this way pod machines are designed to be low maintenance and easy to clean.
Having mentioned all these positives we should also touch on the downsides, some people have resisted the pod coffee machines due to the environmental impact of single use coffee pods. This is certainly a valid concern and although some have worked around it by buying reusable pods, these can be fiddly to fill and remove one of the key benefits of this type of machine; hassle free coffee.
Coffee pods can also be expensive with some of them working out at $0.50+ per pod, convenience does not come cheap.
There is essentially no control over the end product, a pod is put in the machine and a button pressed to make the coffee, there is very little the user can do to influence the end result, to some this will be a good thing, but to others who prefer more control over their coffee this is a definite no, no!
If you're interested in the best POd coffee machine, either look at our buying guide or check out our recommended Pod coffee machine.
What should you consider when picking a Coffee or Espresso Machine
Choosing a coffee machine can be hard work and there are loads of things to consider. While not an exhaustive list here’s a list of potential considerations that will hopefully help you take the first step in choosing a coffee machine, identifying what factors are most important to you.
- Size and weight –especially for those with limited space the size and weight is a huge consideration. If your coffee machine is only used infrequently or you have limited space then you may wish to get a smaller and lighter machine like a Drip Coffee Maker or a Pod Coffee machine that can be tucked away in a corner, or even put in a cupboard
- Type of coffee – The type of coffee will typically be driven by the type of machine that you buy but some machines are compatible with multiple coffee types. Super Automatic Espresso machines like the Gaggia Brera accept both ground coffee and coffee pods, for those who typically drink espresso but like the variety that Pod compatibility enables this can be a great compromise. Super Automatic Machines don’t tend to accept pod’s but there are a number that have a bypass doser that makes them compatible with ground coffee by bypassing the bean grinder, this can be extremely useful for more oily coffee than can clog up the inbuilt grinder, not to mention making cleaning challenging.
- Speed of brewing – for some this will be a huge consideration, the difference in brew speed for 1-2 cups worth is pretty minimal but if you’re looking to make rounds of coffees at the same time this will be more of a consideration. Typically the less work the machine has to do the quicker the brew speed with Pod machines tending to be the fastest and bean to cup Super Automatic machines taking longest, especially when bean grinding and milk frothing is required
- Wattage – if speed of brewing is a consideration you should also consider the machine wattage, typically the higher the wattage the faster the water will heat up, a particular concern if you want to make lots of coffee from a Single Boiler machine
- Milk frother– When choosing a coffee machine it’s worth considering the type of coffee that you want to be able to make, this is especially relevant if you’re a fan of milky coffee’s as you’re likely to want a milk frother. Although you can get separate milk frothers most people just ensure they get a machine that has an inbuilt frother. Depending on your other requirements it may be worth considering a Super Automatic espresso machine with an automatic milk frother, these are generally easier to use and more consistent than machines that rely on a manual milk frothing attachment (although these are more than adequate for most people’s needs)
- Ease of maintenance - One of the downsides of having a coffee machine is that it’s one more piece of equipment that needs maintenance, fortunately coffee machines tend to be very low maintenance and other than a regular clean there is a little the user needs to do. If like me you hate cleaning and will do whatever you can to avoid it, it could be worth considering either one of increasing number of coffee machines that comes with a self-cleaning capability or one of the Pod machines that catch all the waste in a purpose built container for easy cleanup
- Start timer – for many people the morning coffee is an essential part of their morning and not much happens before their first cup, if this is you, then it might be worth getting a coffee machine that has a start timer, you can set the timer to automatically start brewing a cup of coffee in time for when you get up so by the time you get into the kitchen your coffee is ready and waiting, a great time saver if you tend to be short on time in the mornings
- Fashion – Increasingly coffee machines are starting to be used as a central feature of the kitchen, if you want to use a coffee machine as a central feature then you should consider ‘looks’ as part of the decision making process. If you want large bulky coffee shop style machines then start by looking at our Super Automatic Espresso Machine guide
- Number of boilers – most machines have one boiler which means that they can either heat milk or heat water but are unable to do both at the same time. For most people this won’t be an issue but if you like to have milky drinks, and like to make a lot of them then it’s definitely worth looking at something like the Breville BES900XL that has a double boiler, massively speeding up the brewing process when making lots of milky coffees
A brief history of Coffee
The exact history of coffee is disputed by some, but the legend is that that coffee beans were first made into a drink in Ethiopia in the 10th Century. The legend goes that an Ethiopian farmer noticed that his goats wouldn’t sleep at night after eating beans from a certain tree.
The farmer reported this to the local Abbot who used the berries to similar affect keeping himself awake during long prayer sessions by grinding the beans and mixing with water to make a hot drink.
The first evidenced drinking of coffee was in the 15th century in the Yemeni part of the Arabian peninsula. By the end of the 16th century it had reached the rest of the middle east and in 1616 the Dutch were the first European nation to obtain live coffee trees for cultivation in Sri Lanka and India
New York’s (New Amsterdam as it was called then) first coffee house opened in the Mid 1600’s and coffee has grown in popularity since. In 1723 King Louis XIV transported the first coffee plant to Martinique and all coffee grown today in South America is descended from this plant.
Tea was the most popular drink through all of this period but there was a noticeable swing in 1773 when the Boston Tea Party triggered a revolt against the heavy Tea tax imposed by King George III.
Demand for coffee has steadily increased since then but over the last 100 years we’ve seen a noticeable shift from coffee as a luxury item to a mainstay of the modern world, partly caused by the invention and introduction of coffee based drinks that appeal to a wider audience as well as the widespread introduction of coffee shops like Starbucks and affordable quality coffee machines for the home.