Tips for buying the best coffee machine

The coffee machine is one of the few appliances in the kitchen where research is definitely key in helping you get the right product for you. Learning how to buy a coffee machine, what features you’re looking for, and what are just gimmicks, is hopefully what this article will help you think about. We’re not going to say you need to buy a £300 pound roaster and burr grinder, dual cup, bean-to-cup espresso maker if what you need is a simple £40 filter coffee machine.

In this article, Tips for buying the best coffee machine, we’re going to give some tips and recommendations; size of drinks, ease of use, temperatures, water tank capacity, build quality, burr grinders and much much more. Hopefully you’ll come away knowing what to look for when browsing the shelves next time you’re buying a coffee machine. Read on…

We’ve split this article into the 4 main types of machines; coffee pod machines, filter machines, bean-to-cup and loose coffee grounds. For each one we’ve written down some buying tips, benefits and drawbacks.

Buying a Coffee Pod Machines

Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee pod system £40

Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee pod system £40

Coffee pod machines, or coffee capsule machines as they’re sometimes called, have really taken off in popularity over the recent years. The pods are usually made of a hard plastic or thin metal which gets pierced by the coffee machine only during the making of the drink. You’re most likely to have seen or heard of the Nespresso coffee pods and their matching pod machines.

The machines themselves often are more compact than both the bean-to-cup and the coffee ground style machines. The leading manufacturers for coffee pods are Tassimo, Senseo and Nespresso.

I believe it is also possible to now get pods supplied straight from your favourite high-street coffee chain, if you’re so way inclined. I haven’t tried them, but if they’re putting their names to them they can’t be half-bad.

Benefits of Coffee Pod Machines

  • Significantly less mess than using loose grounds, this is the key selling point, especially if you live a hectic and busy lifestyle (who doesn’t these days!). Coffee grounds have a knack of getting everywhere after the beans get ground – on the floor, along the counter, over the machine. Thankfully the coffee within the pods never get the chance of being scattered to the four corners of the globe. The little, single-use pods only get pierced when they’re in the machine, and then afterwards fall into a little easy to empty hopper inside the machine. So if a nice clean environment is essentially to you, coffee capsules are probably your saving grace.
  • Variety is the spice of life key to good coffee and coffee pods probably offer you the widest choice. How? Well instead of buying a small bag of beans or pre-ground coffee that’ll last you several days, you can grab yourself half a dozen different flavoured pods. Every morning a different coffee to wake up to. You can even get Cadbury’s Hot Chocolates, Oreo and other wild-and-wacky drinks too! Buying tip: most coffee pod machines come with a ‘starter pack’ of coffee pods, this can sometimes equate to around a £10-30 saving.
  • Reliable drink quality. Each pod is probably very accurately measured in a factory somewhere and the machines are calibrated for specific pods, so the drinks are more consistently produced
  • Quicker to start making your drink. You can either pre-load the coffee machine with your next capsule, so its awaiting you in the morning, or you simply drop a new one in. Most capsule machines take seconds to slot a new capsule in, and then once the machine is up to temperature, you’re good to go. No worrying about cleaning the porta filter, or filling it up correctly with grounds before tampering it – simply pop a new capsule in and press the button. Buying tip: look at heating times when comparing two or more coffee pod machines, if available this’ll tell you how long you have to wait for the machine to get up to temperature from cold.
  • Tassimo coffee pod stand

    A compact carousel of Tassimo coffee pods

    Easier to store capsules than pre-ground coffee or coffee beans; you can either just store the capsules in the box they come in or with a bespoke storage solution. As each capsule is only pierced and used during the drinks making process, you don’t have to worry about keeping them from oxidising or collecting moisture like you do with fresh grounds. Needless to say its still best to keep them away from extreme heat or cold, and out of direct sunlight. Buying tip: you can often get neat little carousels to store all of your pods, or sometimes narrow draws that your machine sits on, just double check you’re getting storage that is compatible with your types of pods.

  • Big names! Its not surprising that you can get some big brands now providing coffee pods; the big players you’ll see listed are Tassimo coffee pods, Senseo coffee pods and Nespresso coffee pods.

Drawbacks of Coffee Pods Machines

  • Higher Running costs. Although figures vary greatly, the usual statement is that coffee pods are more expensive to use on a regular basis than your standard grounds. On the face of it this makes sense, each one is packaged individually after all. As a rough idea of costings though, a quick look on Amazon revealed a good deal for 50x Nespresso Coffee Capsules for £28. That comes out to be about £0.56 per coffee – with a nice selection of 5 different flavours. However even cheaper coffee pods are obviously available too. Buying tip: if possible, buy pods in bulk. You’ll amass quite a significant saving purchasing them this way.
  • Less social, by which I mean if you’re going to get a machine that you’ll break out at the end of a evening with friends, perhaps a ‘one-at-a-time’ pod system isn’t what you should be going for. However that’s potentially overlooking the flexibility of making several DIFFERENT coffees for different taste-buds. Its just something else to be aware of.
  • Finer Controls on the Bosch Tassimo TAS5542GB

    Finer drink controls are usually only seen on the higher-end coffee pod systems, such as the Bosch Tassimo TAS5542GB

    Less control. If you’re really looking to get into the finer details of making coffee, or like your drinks a particular way, a pod system isn’t probably what you’re looking for. Some higher-end coffee machines allow you to modify drinks produced by the pods, but you definitely won’t have the same granularity of controls you’d get with a bean-to-cup or even a standard grounds machine. One such example is the Tassimo coffee pod machine Bosch TAS5542GB for £100. Buying tip: if your budget will stretch a little, look for a machine that’ll allow you to shorten or lengthen a drink by varying the amount of water used.

  • Materials and wastage. There’s no denying the fact that a coffee pod system definitely produces more material wasted than grounds, as each drink basically see’s you binning a small amount of metal or plastic

Buying a Bean-To-Cup Coffee Machine

Buying the De'Longhi ESAM 4000

Buying a Bean-To-Cup coffee machine gives you maximum control

Now that we’ve taken a look at the coffee pod systems, its time to turn our attention to the other end of the coffee spectrum; bean-to-cup machines. As you can probably gather from their name, these machines grind the beans into fresh grounds and then immediately use them for your drink. Not quite as clean as the coffee pods, but pretty damn sophisticated if you ask me!

One thing you might notice while doing your homework, this sector of the coffee machine market is quite dominated by one brand; De’Longhi. Not exclusively, just noticeably.

Benefits of buying a bean-to-cup coffee machine

  • The ultimate level of control. As every aspect of the coffee brewing process can be controlled by these machines, you finely have the maximum control possible when it comes to drink customisation. You can often make the drinks longer, hotter or stronger. Built in milk frothing units often give you the ability to increase or decrease the amount and the temperature.
  • Despite what the name says, these machines can also use bagged coffee grounds that you’d pick up in any shops. So if you’re like me and often get bags of both beans and grounds for presents, these machines will happily convert both into tasty drinks.
  • Build quality and fancy controls. As you’re likely to be spending a significant amount of money on these machines, the manufacturers know they need to make them feel sturdy and significant pieces of kit. Whereas a cheap button or knob might be okay for a cheap coffee machine, when you’re spending £200+ it just wont pass todays standard. Buying tip: check online reviews specifically for mentions about build quality. You should expect nothing less than brilliant with this level of machinery.
  • Professional 15-bar pump pressure. Espresso coffee is extracted by forcing water through the fresh coffee grounds, somewhat of an industry standard is now classed as “15 bar”. Buying tip: its probably best to stay away from anything under 15 bar of pressure, that’ll guarantee you a better espresso extraction
  • Two cups or dual spouts refers to the fact these machines can produce two espressos or coffees at the same time. A neat little feature that almost all machines come with as standard these days, but again, its something worth looking out for.

Drawbacks of buying a bean-to-cup coffee machine

  • Buying a coffee machine? Try the De'Longhi ECAM44 Eletta for only £800They’re expensive. There’s no avoiding it, buying a bean-to-cup coffee machine is going to set you back a lot more than any other type of machine. The sophistication and complexity that goes into these machines means they cant be produced on the cheap – well they can, but its best to avoid any unnamed brands that are obviously too-cheap to be good. You’re probably talking between £150 – £350 for a bean-to-cup, however you can easily spend double that, such as the powerful 1450W De’Longhi ECAM44.660.B Eletta Bean to Cup Coffee Machine that’ll set you back about £700-800
  • They’re noisy. Grinding those beans is actually quite a hard task, they’re pretty stubbon little bits of nature and don’t want to relinquish their taste without a fight. The burr grinders you’ll find inside each bean-to-cup machine now make reliable sized grounds, however it comes at the cost of producing quite a bit of noise. Buying tip: see if the machines give a noise rating (usually in dB), quieter is likely to be preferable.
  • Learning curves – these machines aren’t trivial pieces of equipment, especially when something so subjective as flavours and aromas are the prize. Don’t be frustrated if it takes a while for you to get a perfect drinks from these machines. The difficulty comes from the fact you’ve been given total control
  • Larger footprint. As these machines encompass so many functions and features, they take up a larger footprint on your worktop. If you have a small kitchen or office, this unit might swamp all the free space you have. Buying tip: often the dimensions are given for each unit, compare them carefully to save some vital space.

Buying an Espresso Maker / Coffee Grounds Machine

Buying a coffee maker - try the De'Longhi

Buying a coffee maker – try this De’Longhi espresso maker for £140

Our 3 choice of coffee machine is the iconic barrista styled espresso coffee machine. These beautiful machines are becoming more and more popular as people want to move high-street drinking indoors. They can make both short drinks (espressos) or large drinks such as cappoucinos and lattes.

These machines also seem to have the largest variety in terms of style and colour. We’ve seen black, fire-engine red, metallic silver, baby blue, vivid yellows, mint green and even beige.

The cost of these units has plummeted over the last couple of years, probably due to their bigger brother, the bean-to-cup machine, hitting the shelves. You’ll likely be able to pick up a decent espresso maker for £120, but usable ones come in as low as £60.

Buying tip; look out for the water tank size. Something in the range of 1.5L upwards is ideal, but what is most important is that the tank can be removed and filled under a tap. You don’t want to start filling up your machine via jugs.

Benefits of buying an espresso coffee machine

  • Control over grounds. With direct access to the grounds, the quantity and fineness of them can be altered to change the taste of your coffee. This gives you the control that you would otherwise lose with a coffee pod system.
  • Espresso taste – what more can be said that having a fresh short espresso in the morning.
  • Steamer / milk wands. This will be one of the deciding factors on which espresso machine to buy – whether you get one with a built in steamer / milk wand or not. The wand / steamer diverts steam from the boiler through a tube and into a small separate carafe of milk. Steamed frothy milk can then be used for cappuccinos and lattes.
  • 15-bar pump pressure. Just like the bean-to-cup machines, espresso machines extract coffee by forcing water through the fresh coffee grounds. The industry standard of minimum pressure required is now classed as “15 bar”. Buying tip: I’d stay away from anything under 15 bar of pressure
  • Dual spouts allow for these machines to produce two espressos at the same time, which is great if you and your partner are having a nice drink together. This feature is found on nearly all espresso machines these days.

Drawbacks of buying an espresso coffee machine

  • Medium sized footprint. Although they’re not usually as big as a full bean-to-cup machine, they’re bigger than filter and pod systems. They usually require access to the back, so don’t bury it away in the corner of your kitchen.
  • Messy grounds. The main drawback I would say for an espresso machine, is handling the soggy grounds after the drink has been poured. Arrgh, they get everywhere if you’re not careful. They’re usually easily tapped into a bin, but you often have a bit of clearing up afterwards.
  • Milk wands and steamers require cleaning every time they’re used. Heated milk develops a skin that will dry and stick to the wand. It needs to be cleaned with a damp cloth and fresh steam blasted through it after every use.

Buying a Drip Filter Coffee Machine

Buying a Morphy Richards coffee machine

One of my favourite looking filter coffee machines

We finally come to the bread-and-butter of the coffee machine world, the humble filter coffee machine. If you’ve got a couple of coffee drinkers in the house, run a business or like having a social coffee with friends, this type of machine is likely to be your friend.

It is also the only type of coffee maker that keeps your drinks hot after you’ve made them, which is both a plus and a negative. Read on…

The Morphy Richards 162010 filter coffee machine, pictured here, is one of my favourite budget units, costing as little as £45. I think it looks great, but it also holds almost 2 litres of coffee

One thing that has propelled them into the majority of homes, in comparison to the other types, is there cost. This is encroaching on our first plus point about drip filter coffee machines…

Benefits of buying a drip filter coffee machine

  • Mass volume! No other machine allows you to make nearly 2 litres of coffee in one go. If you need your caffeine in large reliable quantities then a drip filter coffee machine is exactly what the doctor ordered. Buying tip: also ensure that the carafe you get with the unit is either double skinned or thick Pyrex glass.
  • IGENIX IG8126

    Buying a coffee machine? How about the £22 for the basic IGENIX IG8126

    They’re brutally simple – there is so little to change, tweak or break. They usually come with the same guarantee as the more expensive items, but with only the fraction of insides that can go wrong. Buying tip: don’t buy the cheap end of the scale – these machines will feel and look cheap. Look for units that have at least half of their body constructed of metal, this’ll give it weight and rigidity. A half-decent filter coffee machine, such as the Melitta 1011 for £60, can easily last years.

  • Saying that, if you need a cheap coffee machine, you’re unlikely to beat a filter coffee maker. We have our own article about different affordable coffee makers, however I can tell you now that a half-decent filter coffee machine could cost you as little as £22!
  • Smaller footprint. As these units require vertical height, they often don’t take up much more space than the footprint of the carafe. This space saving really benefits when you have to fit a coffee machine into a tight space.

Drawbacks of buying a drip filter coffee machine

  • They’re brutally simple! Yes this is the same point as our first benefit, but simple has its drawback too. Not only can it inadvertently reduce build quality, but it removes options and flexibility. Now if you’re buying a filter coffee you may not want the flexibility of changing the machines water hardening level etc, but its something else to way up.
  • Over ‘warmed’ coffee. Although the machines have heating plates beneath the carafes that promise to keep the drink hot for hours, in reality I’ve never had a machine keep it HOT, just warm. Plus after a while you definitely get a stale tasting coffee. Usage tip: if you know you’re going to be drinking from the carafe all day, make multiple smaller pots instead of one large pot in the morning. I guarantee it’ll taste better
  • Messy drips! Some units drip coffee onto the hotplate when the carafe is being used to pour drinks. Equally you’ll inevitably drip the used grounds across the counter or floor when you’re throwing them out

Conclusions on Buying a Coffee Machine

So this article turned into a big of a lengthy one, but hopefully after getting to the bottom you’ve got some new tips on buying a coffee machine, what to look for and what to avoid.

Here’s a quick summary to think about when buying a coffee machine:

  1. The cost of the machine and how much it costs to run,
  2. Are you usually making coffee for just yourself, or multiple people?
  3. Does the ease of use and lack of mess appeal to you?
  4. Do you like more options, flexibility and finer controls over the taste and pour of your coffee?
  5. Are you going for design and looks; should the machine also be a piece of art,

If you’re looking for a more affordable coffee machine then our article on our top 5 cheap coffee machines might be of interest. That’s 5 great coffee machine suggestions for under £40. Five great bargains.

Thanks for reading this article on buying a coffee machine, happy brewing

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