Coffee has been making mornings more palatable since the 16th century, and in the intervening 500 years, the humble coffee bean has spawned a huge range of different coffee-based drinks. But whether you’re a fan of cappuccino, macchiato, espresso, or just plain old drip coffee, there’s a coffee maker out there that will make the perfect cup of joe every time.
The first question you need to ask yourself is this: do you want an automatic coffee maker for barista-style brews; a drip coffee maker for jugs of hot coffee; or do you want the simplicity of a single-serve pod or capsule coffee maker?
If you’re not quite sure what you’re after, then our in-depth coffee maker buying guide at the bottom of the page will help you sort your espresso from your Nespresso. If you just want to start shopping for your perfect coffee maker, then read on and we’ll quickly explain the basic types of coffee maker on the market.
There are four main types of coffee maker, each of which is suited to different needs:
Price when reviewed: $299 | Buy now from Target
The Dedica EC680 is a perfect fit for small kitchens. Measuring just 6 inches wide, it’ll squeeze into the tightest spaces, yet it’s got all the key features you need to make a great espresso. There’s a handy cup warming tray up top, a removable 35oz reservoir, and the double drip tray is incredibly handy – remove the top tray, and the shallow one hidden beneath is low enough to accommodate full-sized mugs.
The overall performance is great for the price, too. Spend some time dialing in the perfect grind and tamp, and the Dedica rewards with a cracking shot of espresso. The milk frothing wand has a good range of adjustment, and while it can quite literally run out of steam for warming larger jugs of milk, it’s capable of producing a lovely microfoam with a bit of effort.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 13 x 5.9 x 13 inches; Water capacity: 35oz; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Yes (steamer wand); Coffee type: Ground
Price when reviewed: $450 | Buy now from Amazon
The Smeg’s unusual, bulbous styling is far more striking than most of the cheaper espresso makers here, but that quirkiness comes at a cost – at $450, you’re certainly paying a premium for those looks.
Thankfully, though, the Smeg is also something of a pro at making coffee. It did take us a little while to fine-tune the perfect amount of grounds to get the espresso tasting just so, but a little effort rewards with great-tasting coffee. The milk frother is wonderfully easy to use too and makes the process of creating milk with a light, creamy froth as easy as you could hope for.
The overall design is highly functional, too. The three press-button controls make it supremely easy to use, and if you want to get your coffee tasting just how you like it, you can tweak the water temperature and the amount of water used for each drink type. The water tank at the back lifts out easily, too, but it’s a shame that a water filter doesn’t come standard at this price.
If looks are as important to you as great coffee, then the Smeg will deliver just the kind of caffeinated kick you’re looking for.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 12 x 6 x 13 inches, Water capacity: 53oz, Cup warmer: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (steamer wand)
Read our full Smeg ECF01 review
Price when reviewed: $105 | Buy now from Walmart
If you want great coffee from a machine that doesn’t cost a small fortune, this simple bar pump maker is the one for you. Easy operation coupled with perfect water flow makes it a cinch to produce a great shot of espresso. With a tap to control steam, getting perfectly frothed milk is just a matter of time and practice, and the dainty footprint means that it’ll fit into small kitchens. The bundle comes with a handheld milk frother too for speedy frothing.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 9 x 9 x 9 inches; Water capacity: 49oz; Cup warmer: Yes; Milk frothing: Yes (steamer wand)
Price when reviewed: $512 | Buy now from Amazon
It may look like a heavy duty machine but the De’Longhi Magnifica has a compact design and a stylish brushed metal finish. The simple push-button controls let you customize every cup of joe, from the fineness of the beans to the strength of the brew. You can grind fresh beans in the integrated conical burr or use ground coffee instead and once you’ve nailed the perfect brew, the machine will remember your strength and size preferences for next time.
Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 11 x 15 x 14 inches, Water capacity: 60oz, Cup warmer: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes, Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes
Price when reviewed: $529 | Buy now from Amazon
Finished in metal, the Gaggia Brera looks fantastic and every bit the high-end automatic machine. It definitely has a classy air to it, which means it will look great wherever you put it. It pours near-perfect shots of espresso automatically, although you have to manually steam milk for drinks. Fortunately, this dual-boiler machine is always ready for coffee and milk.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 16 x 10 x 12 inches, Water capacity: 42oz, Cup warmer?: Yes, Milk frothing: Yes (steamer wand), Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes (3 steps)
Read our full Gaggia Brera review
Price when reviewed: $649 | Buy now from Amazon
While many automatic coffee makers soar effortlessly towards the $1,000 mark, Gaggia’s Anima hits a rather keener price point. You don’t get luxuries such as one-touch cappuccino options (you’ll need to up your budget if that’s what you’re after), but the Anima is capable of making an impressive espresso lungo, and you’ll get the chance to refine your own milk frothing skills with the Anima’s steam wand. There are some minor moans – the espresso isn’t quite up there with the best, and we’d like a finer grind option from the Gaggia’s inbuilt grinder – but the overall quality is enough to make for a good buy.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 17 x 9 x 13 inches, Water capacity: 60oz, Cup warmer: No, Milk frothing: Yes, Adjustable grind: Yes, Adjustable strength: Yes
Read our full Gaggia Anima review
Price when reviewed: $600 | Buy now from Amazon
There’s no simpler way to put it, the De’Longhi Lattissima Pro is the best counter-top Nespresso machine we have ever tested. It’s also one of the most versatile, capable of making simple espresso and milk-based drinks automatically. It looks fantastic and produces great-tasting coffee – what more could you want?
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 13 x 7 x 13 inches, Water capacity: 45oz, Cup warmer: No, Milk frothing: Yes (automatic)
Read our De’Longhi Lattissima Pro review
Price when reviewed: $120 | Buy now from Walmart
The Inissia is the simple but effective entry-level Nespresso machine. To keep the price down, it’s made from plastic, but you shouldn’t let this put you off. It looks gorgeous and comes in a range of bright colors to suit any room. The one thing it doesn’t do is steam milk automatically, although you can buy an Aeroccino 3 frother separately. At this price, it’s a great introduction to real coffee.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 5 x 13 x 9 inches, Water capacity: 24oz, Cup warmer: No, Milk frothing: No
Read our Nespresso Inissia review
Price when reviewed: $69 | Buy now from Walmart
This programmable coffee maker is super-easy to use and consistently churns out great-tasting drip coffee. Its 24-hour program means you can start the day with a freshly-brewed pot of coffee and you can select between one and 14 cups so it’s a smart buy for families. There’s no need for fiddly paper filters as it’s fitted with a hardwearing reusable filter and the handy self-clean feature saves you tons of time in the kitchen. There’s not a lot of scope to fine-tune flavors but you can switch between regular and bold to adjust the strength.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 14 x 9 x 12 inches, Water capacity: 63oz, Machine type: Drip coffee maker, Stay warm: Yes
Price when reviewed: $189 | Buy now from Amazon
High-quality coffee doesn’t have to be expensive, as the Melitta Look Timer shows. Despite its reasonable price, this is one of the best drip coffee makers that you can buy.
It takes paper filters, which ensures fresh-tasting coffee while giving you the opportunity to adjust the taste by using different types of filter. It’s also solidly built, delivering excellent-tasting coffee: there’s even a dial to adjust the strength and flavor of your coffee.
A glass jug takes the coffee, while a hotplate keeps it warm if you can’t drink it all in one go: don’t keep the coffee on here for too long though, as the flavor starts to change.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 9 x 9 x 13 inches, Water capacity: 53oz, Machine type: Drip coffee maker, Stay warm: Yes (hot plate)
Read our Melitta Look Timer review
Price when reviewed: $355 | Buy now from Amazon
If you want the best-quality drip coffee, the Melitta Aroma Elegance Therm Deluxe is the machine for you. It’s extremely easy to use, has a removable water reservoir for easy filling and, most importantly, it produces excellent coffee with no hassle. Thanks to its use of paper filters, you get the best quality and the opportunity to tweak the flavor by changing papers.
This machine dispenses coffee into a thermal jug, which keeps your coffee hot without constantly heating it and ruining the taste.
Finally, with a clock and timer controls on the front, you can quickly set your coffee to start brewing at a time that suits you.
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Key specs – Dimensions (HxWxD): 13 x 10 x 11 inches, Water capacity: 44oz, Machine type: Drip coffee maker, Stay warm: Yes (thermal flask)
Read our Melitta Aroma Elegance Therm Deluxe review
Coffee makers can be split into two main types: drip and espresso. Drip coffee makers drip hot water through ground coffee, while espresso makers use pressurized hot water to extract the distinctive shot of coffee that you’re served in coffee shops. Drip coffee machines make more coffee quickly and with less hassle, so they’re good for dinner parties, large numbers of people or just for having a lot of coffee ready to go. Espresso machines are best for smaller numbers of people and if you want to experiment with drinks: the espresso shot is the basis of every major type of drink from a cappuccino to a mocha.
This guide will help you buy the right type of machine for you, but we’ll start with espresso machines.
A good shot of espresso can be identified by its crema, which is the foamy head on the shot. Crema should be thick, have a smooth and oily-looking top, and should be reddish brown in color. An espresso shot is a drink in its own right, but it’s also the base component of a lot of other drinks, such as latte, cappuccino, flat white and macchiato.
Simply speaking, there are three different types of coffee maker available to make espresso: capsule, manual and automatic. We’ll take you through each type to help you make the right choice.
These coffee machines, as the name suggests, take specially manufactured coffee pre-packed into capsules or pods, which you insert into the machine. The coffee is packed exactly right to brew the perfect espresso, so there’s no messing around. They’re also incredibly neat and tidy, as you don’t have to worry about disposing of used coffee grounds.
There are many different types of coffee capsule systems around, each of which is incompatible with the others. These include the Nescafe Dolce Gusto, Tassimo, A Modo Mio and, the best-known, Nespresso.
Of these, Nespresso is our top choice, as it has the widest range of coffee to choose from and produces the best results; we’ve not been impressed with the other capsule systems that we’ve tested. All of the coffees are rated from one to 10, based on intensity, so it’s easy to pick the coffees that you like.
From a pure simplicity point of view, capsule machines are the best, as you don’t need any coffee knowledge in order to make a decent cup, plus you’ve got a lot of variety on tap. However, there are quite a few downsides. For starters, capsules are generally quite expensive, compared to beans: Nespresso capsules range between 30 and 70 cents per capsule. It’s still cheaper than your local Starbucks, but you’ll pay less if you go for real beans.
The second problem is that you’re stuck with the blends on offer. Blended coffee is chosen and picked, based on the producing company being able to keep the same flavors all year round; go for a manual or beans-to-cup machine and you can go to a coffee specialist to pick single-origin specialist beans and experience different flavors.
A lot of capsule machines don’t have the ability to froth and steam milk, with only the more expensive models providing this option. This can limit your ability to make a wide range of coffee drinks.
Capsule machines are a great, fuss-free way of making decent coffee and of having a wide choice of flavors on the go. However, the cost and limitations of capsules mean they’re best for people that don’t drink a lot of coffee and who aren’t bothered by experimenting with real beans.
Manual espresso machines are, for a lot of people, the only way to make coffee. As the name suggests, they need some manual work to get them set up, but once you’ve learned the right skills you can produce the best-quality espresso.
First, you need the right type of coffee. For espresso, the coffee needs to have a fine grind, so that it takes the right amount of time to extract the shot. If you’re going to buy coffee beans, you’ll need a burr coffee grinder; a blade grinder will both burn the coffee and create a grind with large particles. If you’re going to buy pre-ground coffee, make sure it’s ground for espresso machines: most specialist coffee retailers will grind to order, so make the right choice when you buy.
With manual machines, you’ve got an amazing choice of coffee, from specialty single-origin coffee to dedicated blends. Typically speaking, going to a specialist coffee retailer will give you the widest range of options, so experiment and find what you like to drink.
With the right type of coffee, it’s all about technique and what you do with it. Manual machines have a group handle, which is where you pour the ground coffee, before clipping it into the group head where the pressurized water comes out.
Before you insert the group handle into the machine, the coffee has to be tamped, compacting the grounds together and creating a flat top. You don’t need a lot of pressure to do this. Some machines have automatic tamping systems, but we’ve yet to find one that’s as good as manually doing the job. If you tamp too much, the coffee takes too long to extract and you’ll end up with a thin crema and burnt coffee; tamp with not enough pressure and you’ll end up with light, foamy crema and watery tasting coffee. It can take a bit of experimentation to get it right, but it’s easy to tell a good shot of espresso from a bad one.
The final shot of espresso should be the right temperature, which for espresso is around 140-150˚F. This is considerably cooler than instant coffee, but espresso should be drinkable straight from the machine. For this reason, if you want to make a longer drink, such as a flat white or long black, you should add hot water (from a kettle or from the machine itself) in order to preserve temperature.
It’s wise to allow the machine to heat up for a few minutes first. Flushing hot water through the group head and empty group handle can help pre-heat all of the components first. Look for a machine with a cup warmer on top, so you can pre-heat your cups.
Although a shot of espresso is ideally 1oz, with a manual machine you’ve got manual control over how long you pour for, so you can pull a longer shot to weaken the flavor (or pour a double). If you want to make longer drinks, as described above, it may be more convenient to pour your coffee directly into a larger cup. Check our reviews to find out the clearance underneath the group head, as some machines don’t have a lot of clearance, so you may need to buy dedicated espresso cups.
Most machines come with separate filters that clip into the group handle. These are usually sized for one or two shots of espresso, allowing you to pour a single or double shot, or two single shots at once. For ease, manual espresso machines can mostly be used with an Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pod. These look a little like tea bags, only the coffee is more tightly packed (perfect for espresso). They’re convenient, but if that’s the most important factor, buy a capsule machine instead.
When looking at specs, don’t be misled. The ideal pressure to produce espresso is 9bar, but most home machines are rated at 15bar or 19bar. This is the peak pressure and the overhead is there to ensure that the right pressure can be delivered to the coffee consistently.
The number of boilers is important. Most home machines have a single boiler. This means that they can pour espresso or create steam, but not both at the same time. For a single boiler to create steam for frothing milk, it has to increase the heat of its boiler; once you’ve steamed the milk, you have to vent the steam through the machine or the water will be too hot to make coffee and you’ll end up with burnt espresso. If you’re making milk based drinks, it makes sense to froth the milk first to a higher temperature, making the espresso second, preserving the temperature of the entire drink.
Dual-boiler machines are rarer and more expensive. These have a single boiler at espresso temperature and a single boiler at steam temperature. This means you can make espresso and froth milk at the same time. This reduces the amount of time it takes to make milk-based drinks. Unless you’re really into milky coffee, though, a single-boiler machine will make more sense.
Automatic coffee makers are designed to give you the best of both worlds: access to the huge variety of coffee beans, but without any of the messing around of a manual machine. The machines have a hopper to hold your beans, which are then ground on demand, tamped automatically and poured into a cup, all at the touch of a button. The used grounds are then poured into an output bin, which has to be emptied regularly.
All of the points above stay true for automatic machines. So, an espresso shot should have the right crema and be poured at the correct temperature. The machine will take care of most of this for you, but you do have some control over the final coffee. Don’t get carried away by the rated pressure of a machine, either. Most will be rated at 15bar, but the ideal espresso requires just 9bar – the additional volume is overhead, required to produce a smooth flow.
Look for an intensity control to set how strong you want your espresso. This varies the amount of coffee used to pour a shot. Next, you can manually adjust the grind on the beans, which is useful if you find that the coffee is either too watery or tastes a little bitter.
Our reviews will tell you the size of cup that you can fit underneath the spout. Look for more clearance if you want to pour a long drink directly into a cup, which is an option on most automatic machines.
Cheaper automatic coffee makers come with a manual milk frother, requiring you to use the wand and manual controls to heat your own milk. These are a little trickier to learn, but with a milk thermometer and a bit of practice, you’ll be pouring perfect milk drinks in no time.
As with manual models, an automatic machine with a single boiler has to increase its temperature to make steam to froth coffee. This takes time to do and means that the steam has to be vented (automatically in most cases) in order to make another shot of coffee. For quicker milk drinks and more flexibility, a dual-boiler machine is best, as it can produce espresso and steam at the same time.
More expensive machines have automatic milk frothers. All you have to do is add milk to the milk container and select the type of coffee you want; the machine does all of the work and pours out everything for you. It’s very clever, but expect to pay a lot of money for a machine that can do everything.
For the convenience of an automatic coffee maker, expect a bit less flexibility, as you have to set the machine to deliver the exact volume for your cup sizes. Look out for the size of the water reservoir. You’ll want at least 35oz, as this will mean that you have to refill the machine less often.
Automatic machines are more expensive than manual machines and, generally speaking, don’t produce quite as good espresso. However, if you want to use real beans and don’t want the mess and learning curve of a manual machine, they’re the best option.
Drip coffee makers are simple to use and make regular black coffee. When buying you need to decide if you want a machine with a washable filter or one that takes paper filters. Washable filters are easy to deal with, as you can take them out and clean them before re-using them. However, they can taint the flavor of coffee over time. Paper filters are one-use only, so are a little more hassle, but they’re cheap and you can try many different types to alter the flavor of your coffee.
Next, you need to work out if you want a glass or thermal jug. A glass jug is standard and sits on a hotplate to keep the coffee warm but constantly heating coffee makes it turn bitter. A thermal jug just uses insulation to keep coffee warm, so you get the same-quality coffee from start to finish.
Look for a machine that will make enough coffee for you. Machines are usually marked by the number of small (around 3oz) or large (around 4oz) cups they’ll make. A 10-large-cup machine will do for most people, but go bigger if you drink a lot or have a lot of people to entertain. Finally, do you want hot coffee waiting when you wake up? If so you should buy a filter coffee machine with a clock and a timer in it, so you can set it the night before and have hot coffee waiting for you in the morning.
Taste The Coffee 2019