Our round-up of the best coffee machines offers something for everyone. We’ve reviewed dozens of pod machines, espresso machines, filter coffee machines and bean-to-cup coffee machines to come up with the perfect list.
Coffee is an incredible drink. From the vast number of ways that it can be made, both with and without milk, to the enormous choice of coffee varieties, the drink has almost limitless combinations.
The downside of such variety is that there’s also a huge range of coffee machines to choose from, which makes making the right choice harder. We’re here to help with our expert guide to the best coffee machines that you can buy. Every single machine on this list has been thoroughly tested (we even roast our coffee to ensure a fair comparison between each).
Our buying guide at the bottom of the page tells you everything you need to know about buying the right machine, but you can just dive into the list of our top coffee machine choices instead. To make things easier, here’s a quick overview of the different types of coffee machine, so you can more quickly narrow your choice:
- Manual espresso machines – These types of machines give you full control over your coffee and are the home equivalent of the machines that you see in your local coffee shop. They require a bit of practice to get the perfect coffee and steamed milk but will give you the best results and a sense of satisfaction.
- Bean-to-cup machines – These type of coffee machines grind, tamp and pour coffee automatically at the touch of the button. For convenience, while still delivering a pure real-bean experience, they’re an excellent choice. And, as these machines are so quick to use, they’re great for heavy coffee drinkers or busy households. Posher machines will also steam and froth milk automatically.
- Filter machines – These type of coffee machines drop hot water through coffee grounds in a filter to give you a traditional cup of coffee. There is less flexibility and drink variety than with an espresso machine, but the smooth and rich taste, combined with the benefit of having a large pot of coffee can make these machines a winner.
- Pod machines – With these types of coffee machines you drop in a pod or capsule, tap a button and you’re done. Ultimate convenience and a wide range of coffee varieties are the two main benefits of these machines. However, coffee pods are generally more expensive than buying beans or ground coffee, and the results aren’t always as good as with the other types of machine.
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There are two types of coffee machine: those that produce espresso, and filter machines.
Espresso machines are the most versatile, producing that distinctive shot of coffee with its burnished crema on top. Espresso serves as the basis of most coffee drinks, from a long black (espresso added to hot water) to a cappuccino (1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 milk foam). With espresso machines, there are three main types to choose from: manual, bean-to-cup, and pod.
Filter coffee machines are simple to use and give you a carafe of hot coffee, which makes the ideal for big groups or dinner parties.
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Manual espresso machines
Manual espresso machines are the type that you find in coffee shops, letting you take full control over the brewing process. Coffee grounds are placed into a filter basket, which is held in the group handle, and tamped down. The espresso machine then passes hot water at pressure through the grounds, dispensing a shot of espresso.
Using a manual machine takes practice, and you have to be prepared to make a few bad coffees along the way. Yet, when you get the combination right, the quality of the espresso can’t be beaten, and you get the exact type of coffee that you want.
With a manual coffee machine, you’ll either need your own grinder or you’ll need to buy beans with an espresso grind (a normal grind isn’t fine enough and is designed for french presses or filter coffee machines).
Manual espresso machines will have a steamer wand, which is used to manually froth milk. More expensive machines will have a steam tap, letting you adjust the flow as you go. Cheaper machines merely turn the steam on or off, which gives you less control, although you can still get good results.
Finally, there’s a choice between single- or dual-boiler machines. Single-boiler machines have to increase the boiler’s temperature to deliver steam, so can’t be used for pouring coffee as well as texturing milk at the same time. Dual boiler machines are more expensive, but let you texture milk at the same time as you pour espresso.
Bean-to-cup espresso machines
Bean-to-cup espresso machines take the hard work out of making coffee, grinding and pouring your drinks automatically for you. This is the ultimate in convenience, giving you the benefits of freshly ground coffee without the hassle of manually doing the job yourself.
There’s a higher degree of maintenance with bean-to-cup machines, which need regular cleaning inside, and the used coffee grounds have to be emptied (they’re dropped into a bin). All bean-to-cup machines give you control over the grind and the coffee strength, but the degree of change is far more limited than with a manual machine.
Look out for a machine that can handle two drinks at the same time, which is particularly useful if you want to keep a busy household caffeinated.
The more expensive bean-to-cup machines can also automatically froth and pour milk for you, although the results aren’t always as good as the manual method. Cheaper bean-to-cup machines will give you a steamer wand so that you can make the milk yourself; this can be a good option, giving you that hands-on feel, without the hassle of producing your own espresso shot.
Look out for customisation options. All bean-to-cup machines let you adjust the volume of the drinks that you produce, so that you can tune them to your specific cups. Posher machines also let you add, edit and create your own recipes, even creating different profiles for everyone in your house, so you all get the type of coffee that you want.
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Filter coffee machines
Filter coffee machines work by dripping hot water through ground coffee held in a filter, filling a carafe (jug) of hot coffee. This is a simpler, easier way of making coffee, and one that gives fewer options for drinks than espresso. That doesn’t make filter coffee inferior, though; in fact, it’s smooth style can often be preferable for some types of coffee bean, letting you taste the full subtleties of single origin beans (coffee from one location, as opposed to a blend).
The second advantage of filter coffee is that you get a jug of coffee, which is great for heavy drinkers or dinner parties.
All filter machines work in the same way, but there are differences to look out for. Machines with washable filters are arguably easier to use and less hassle, but the filter can get tainted with use, affecting the taste of your coffee. Paper filters are a better option, from a taste perspective, giving you a fresh filter for each carafe.
All filter coffee machines are designed to keep your coffee hot. A glass carafe and metal heating plate are common. Hot plates are set to run for a maximum of 40 minutes, to reduce power usage. Running for longer isn’t recommended: constantly heating coffee makes it bitter. A better option is a filter machine with a thermal carafe, keeping your coffee warm via insulation rather than heating.
Filter coffee machines take coarsely ground coffee, which you can buy in store or create via your own grinder. Some filter machines have integrated grinder; these cost more, but give you everything you need in one package.
Pod espresso machines
Pod espresso machines are the definition of convenience. They all run on pods of coffee that you drop into the machine, tap a button and you get your drink dispensed perfectly.
The second benefit of pod machines is the range of flavours and choices available, letting you make different drinks depending on your mood. With other coffee machines, you’re largely stuck with a bag of coffee until you’ve finished it.
Some pod machines have automatic milk frothing, although the quality differs from machine-to-machine. Nespresso has its own Aerocino machine, available with some models of coffee machine or as a separate purchase. This whips up hot or cold milk at the touch of a button, so you can just free-pour the results into your cup.
There are pod machines that use powdered or UHT milk in pods. It’s a convenient way of getting a milky drink, but the results pale in comparison to using real milk.
There are a lot of pod systems, but three main ones. Nespresso is arguably the best, delivering high-quality shots of espresso with a great choice of capsules. Even those dedicated to manual espresso machines (which still produce the best results) will grudgingly accept that Nespresso produces great coffee with no hassle. The downside of the system is that you can only buy the official capsules in Nespresso stores or the online store; there are third-party ‘compatible’ capsules for the machines, although only for original Nespresso, not the newer Vertuo system, which uses different pods.
Nescafe Dolce Gusto machines are comparatively cheap, with a wide-range of pods available in supermarkets. This system is a step up from instant coffee, but the reliance on powdered milk is a little disappointing.
Tassimo machines and pods are similar to Dolce Gusto, with a similar range of pod options available online or in good supermarkets. These use UHT milk capsules for some drinks.