How to choose the best coffee machine

Lynn Wright / 26 May 2016 ( 11 April 2017 )

Whether you’re considering a simple coffee percolator, an authentic espresso maker or easy coffee pod machine, our guide will help you find the perfect coffee machine for you.



There’s nothing like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, so whether you’re a committed coffee drinker or someone who wants to serve perfect after-dinner coffee, then investing in a coffee machine at home is great idea.

With prices ranging from just £15 to more than £1,500, there are several key factors to consider before investing in a coffee maker. 

Think about what type of coffee you enjoy such as filter or espresso; how often you drink it; how many cups you want at any one time; and how much effect you’re prepared to put into making it.

 That way, you can choose the right coffee machine for you.

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Coffee machine buyers' guide

Cafetieres

A cafetiere consists of a simple glass jug with a wire mesh filter that acts as a plunger. 

Add a few measures of ground coffee and top up with just boiled water, then push the plunger down after a few minutes to trap the coffee grinds. 

Cheap and attractive, cafetieres are ideal for a few cups of coffee.

Filter machines and percolators

Both filter machines and percolators work with ground coffee, but in opposite ways.

 With filter machines, water drips slowly through ground coffee to infuse in a jug below, while percolators push boiled water up through a tube to brew the coffee in a container that sits above the water tank. Traditionally used on the hob, you can also buy electric percolators that contain a heating element. 

Filter machines can make large amounts of freshly-brewed coffee and keep it warm for ages – ideal for busy coffee-drinkers who need a ready supply of their favourite drink throughout the day.

Espresso machines

Effectively miniature versions of the professional machines that you see in coffee shops, espresso machines offer an authentic shot of coffee. 

They’re cheaper than both capsule and bean-to-cup machines, provide lots of control over the strength of your coffee and many come with milk frothers so you can make cappuccinos, latte and macchiattos. 

However, espresso machines can be hard to master and involve more mess than other coffee makers.

Bean-to-cup coffee machines

If you want the freshest cup of coffee, then a machine that grinds coffee beans on demand and then brews them to perfection is ideal. 

These bean-to-cup models are easy and less messy to use than other coffee makers. They dispense just the right amount of coffee at the touch of a button and work with both beans and ground coffee for greater flexibility. 

Some come with timers and keep warm functions too. However, you’ll pay a hefty premium for such versatility and these machines have a large footprint so you’ll need to have enough countertop space.

Capsule coffee machines

Use disposable pods or capsules filled with just the right amount of coffee for one drink inside. They’re fast and convenient and leave no mess to clean up. 

You will have to first choose a particular brand of capsule, as most machines support only one type. There are several brands to choose from, such as Nespresso, Tassimo and Dolce Gusto, each with different costs and drink options available. 

Sealed pods keep the coffee inside fresh, so these machine are great for the occasional coffee drinker especially as pods are more expensive than coffee beans and ground coffee.

Bear in mind too the environmental impact of throwing away a plastic capsule after each cup of joe.

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Coffee machine features to look out for

Size and weight 

Think carefully about where you plan to use your coffee machine. 

Choose a small, lightweight machine if you plan to store it in a kitchen cupboard between uses. Large, heavy machines on the other hand can take up a fair amount of your available worktop space.

Capacity

 If a single cup of coffee is enough for your daily caffeine fix, consider a capsule coffee machine. 

However, if you need plenty of freshly-brewed coffee throughout the day or for entertaining guests, choose a large-capacity filter, percolator or bean-to-cup coffee machine. 

Check the water tank size on your espresso machine if you want to make several drinks in quick succession. Choose a coffee machines with a transparent water tank or visible gauge so that you can easily see how much water is available.

Ease of use

Some coffee machines can be fiddly to use with all sorts of filters, nozzles and buttons. 

If you’re strapped for time or not interested in releasing your inner barista, look for easy capsule or pod coffee machine with simple programmable cup size options.

Power and pressure

If you’re in a hurry or need to make lots of coffee, opt for a high-wattage coffee machine. 

The higher the wattage, the faster the machine will boil water. With espresso machines, choose a model that provides between 9 and 15 bars of pressure, so you can create the perfect barista-style crema on top of your espresso.

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Thermoblock

Coffee machines that have thermoblock heating systems heat water to the perfect temperature needed for a rich espresso. 

It also ensures that a coffee machine heats up quickly and works efficiently, and by not overheating the ground coffee beans there’s less chance of a bitter tasting cup of coffee at the end.

Automatic shut off

European regulations mean new coffee machines must automatically switch off after 30 minutes, with keep-warm functions limited to 60 minutes, to help save energy.

Milk frother

To enjoy a range of milk-based coffee drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes or macchiatos, choose a coffee machine with a steam arm or built-in milk frothing function.

Coffee machine brands 

Many companies make coffee machines – from high-street brands such as Tesco, Argos and Currys to luxury brands that include Gaggia, Lavazza, Dualit, DeLonghi and Miele. 

You’ll pay more for a premium brand’s sturdy build, power and high pressure, advanced features and designer looks, but cheaper machines are often capable of producing great tasting coffee.

Money expert Jennifer Newton on the true cost of coffee capsules

Coffee machines are convenient but we’re paying for the capsules in more ways than one.  

In recent years there’s been a flood of capsule-style coffee in supermarkets, competing with traditional ground coffee. 

It’s debatable which tastes best, but the machines cost more than a cafetière or stove-top coffee maker and capsules are an expensive way to buy coffee. However, there are environmental concerns too. 

Why? Because some coffee capsules are made from mixed materials, such as plastic with an aluminium lining, which makes them difficult to recycle. Most local authority schemes can’t recycle them, so hundreds of thousands of capsules end up in landfill. 

Hamburg in Germany has taken a lead in banning coffee pods from state-run buildings. But the options are improving… 

Go refillable with reusable coffee pods! 

Nespresso-compatible stainless steel capsules are claimed to last a lifetime: two SealPod capsules, scoop and 100 lids £30.79 amazon.co.uk 

Dolce Gusto-compatible plastic and steel refillable capsules: four King Do Way capsules and scoop £11.98 amazon.co.uk

Go biodegradable 

Nespresso-compatible biodegradable capsules: ten Ethical Coffee Company espresso capsules £3 cofico.co.uk/shop 

Get with the programme 

Order Nespresso pods online at nespresso.com and you can add free recycling bags plus free collection to your basket. Prefer to shop locally but still want to recycle? Join the Nespresso Club online then call 0800 442442 for a free recycling bag; drop it off at any Collect+ parcel point free of charge. Back at the plant the coffee waste is composted and the pods recycled. 

Tassimo has teamed up with terracycle.co.uk: drop pods for recycling at 240 points around the UK and raise money for charity. 

Go retro 

Remember, though, that recycling is a last resort, not the solution. 

Cafetière-made coffee is a fraction of the price and, of course, doesn’t end up in landfill. 

The jury is out about the benefits of using used grounds as a direct fertilizer (though the compost heap is fine) or slug repellent. But try these tips too: 

Coffee as an... Odour buster 

Put a small open container of used grounds in the fridge and it’ll absorb whiffs for a fortnight. 

Coffee as a... Natural abrasive 

Sprinkle old grounds onto a cloth and use as a gentle scour for pans or worktops. 

Coffee as an... Exfoliant 

Old coffee grounds make a good facial scrub, especially when mixed with olive or coconut oil.


Jennifer Newton
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Our top five coffee machines

DeLonghi Dedica EC680

This streamline coffee machine features a high performance 15-bar pump, a rapid thermablock heating system, a cup warmer and a crema device – so you can can create perfect café-style coffees with the minimum of fuss. Easy to use, the Dedica EC680 accepts ground coffee or ESE pods and can be used to dispense boiling water for other beverages. An adjustable milk frother lets you whip up a creamy cappuccino froth in next to no time. Users appreciate the small footprint and recommend watching Youtube tutorials to make the most of its offerings.

Buy on Amazon from £165 

DeLonghi Magnifica ECAM

Now you can make professional barista-style espressos, lattes and cappuccinos from the comfort of your home with the bean-to-cup De'Longhi Magnifica’s ECAM 22.320.SB coffee machine. Featuring a built-in coffee grinder with 13 settings, this espresso machine can be used with either coffee beans or ground coffee. It has multiple settings that allow you to customise your coffee, from strong to mild and hot to warm temperatures. It even has a clever memory function, so you can recreate your perfect cup of coffee time and time again. A milk frother provides a creamy froth while the adjustable coffee dispenser means you can choose between espresso or larger cups. The price does reflect the range of functions it provides however, so might only be worth considering if you’re a very serious coffee-lover.

Buy on Amazon from £675 

DeLonghi Nescafe Dolce Gusto Circolo EDG605

This stylish, circular-designed machine lets you create an array of delicious café-style coffee including espresso, cappuccino and chococinos by using Nescafe Dolce Gusto capsules. The De'Longhi Circolo is quick and easy to operate with a seven-level water selection dial to set your desired amount of coffee. Its 15-bar automatic pressure regulation and thermoblock heating system delivers perfectly smooth coffee. With a removable tray to catch drips, the machine is easy to clean.

Buy on Amazon from £40 

Dualit Cordless Coffee Percolator 84036

Finished in polished stainless steel, this coffee percolator is stylish enough to grace any dining table. Perfect for entertaining, it makes up to ten large or 14 small cups of coffee in ten minutes. A 'stay warm' function lets you make your coffee in advance and then keep it hot until you’re ready to serve. Featuring a concealed element, a translucent lid knob and non-slip handle, it has a swivel base and cord storage. 

Buy on Amazon from £70

Russell Hobbs 14899 Platinum Grind and Brew Coffee maker

With the Russell Hobbs’ Platinum Grind and Brew coffee maker, you can enjoy waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. You can set the digital programmable timer to automatically brew coffee at any time of day at the strength you prefer. The built-in grinder can grind beans from fine to coarse or you can choose to pre-ground coffee instead. It comes with a ten cup glass carafe, permanent filter, a brew-ready indicator and a hotplate that keeps your coffee warm for hours.

Buy on Amazon from £100 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.