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How to choose the coffee machine that's right for you

07 February 2022

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.

Coffee espresso machine
Think about what type of coffee you enjoy before investing in a coffee machine

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 effort you’re prepared to put into making it.

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

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The different types of coffee makers available

Cafetières

A cafetière, or French press, 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. 

Who do they suit? Cheap and attractive, cafetières are ideal for a few cups of coffee, especially if you aren't a big fresh coffee drinker and only want occasional cups or something to serve guests.

What do they cost? Not a lot, prices tend to range from £15 to £40 depending on size and brand.

What coffee do they use? Any ground coffee.

Filter machines

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. They can make large amounts of freshly-brewed coffee and keep it warm for ages.

Who do they suit? Filter machines are ideal for busy coffee-drinkers who need a ready supply of their favourite drink throughout the day. They're also a popular option for places where multiple people might like to help themselves, such as offices and staff rooms.

What do they cost? Budget machines start at about £25, with premium models at £150 and a range of price points in between.

What coffee do they use? Any ground coffee.

Percolators

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. Unlike filter machines, coffee from a percolator should be enjoyed fairly quickly as they're not designed to keep the coffee, and if left on the heat too long can overflow.

Who do they suit? Percolators make a strong coffee, so they're ideal for anyone looking for a quite pick-me-up in the morning and favour strength over subtlety of flavour.

What do they cost? Basic models start at about £20 for a small model, with larger machines costing around £50.

What coffee do they use? Any ground coffee.

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.

Coffee grinders can be bought for about £15, if you would like freshly ground coffee.

Who do they suit? Espresso machines suit coffee connoisseurs who don't want to splash out on fancy features, but still want complete control over their coffee and are confident operating the machine, as they do take some mastering to get right.

What do they cost? Basic models start at £30, with more premium brands closer to £100.

What coffee do they use? Any ground coffee.

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.

Who do they suit? Bean-to-cup machines provide the barista-at-home experience without the learning curve demanded by espresso machines. They're good for anyone wanting the freshness of ground coffee beans without the hassle of grinding the beans yourself.

What do they cost? Cheaper brands are available for £80 or so, but most can end up costing around £300 or more.

What coffee do they use? Any coffee beans.

Capsule coffee machines

Capsule coffee machines 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 machines 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.

Who do they suit? Capsule machines suit people who don't mind paying a premium price for a quick, convenient and clean method of brewing up coffee.

What do they cost? Capsule coffee machines are usually between £40 and £90.

What coffee do they use? Very specific coffee pods that can cost extra, so allow for the cost of coffee when working out your budget. Alternatively, look for a model that has refillable stainless steel pods available to use any ground coffee.

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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, or a simple cafetière. 

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.

Environmental factor

With increasing awareness of the problem with plastic waste the coffee pod machines might not seem the best option, particularly because these pods are made of mixed materials and cannot be recycled by local authorities. Recycling schemes are available for some brands, such as Tassimo and Nespresso, but that's far from ideal and not always convenient. Thankfully, there are more environmentally friendly ways of enjoying the convenience of the machines, with reusable coffee pots for Nespresso and Dulce Gusto now available. These pots can be filled with your favourite coffee grounds and stored for when you need one. See brands such as SealPod

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.

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Disclaimer

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.

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