How to pick the best coffee machine
Coffee is, quite simply, an amazing drink with a huge range of options for making it. Whether you want a manual espresso or bean-to-cup machine to replicated what you get in a coffee shop, a filter machine for large volumes of smooth coffee, or a pod machine for convenience, there’s a massive choice available. Fortunately, we’re here to help you find the best coffee machine.
Choosing the right coffee machine is about getting the right style of machine for you based on taste, convenience and the style of drink that you like. If this sounds complex, don’t worry, we’ve made things easy for you. First, we’ve listed our top machines in each category, so you can just dive into the best.
Next, we’ve divided the list into sections to help you find the coffee machine that you want. We’ve got manual espresso machines, so you can replicate the style and quality of coffee a barista would deliver. We’ve got bean to cup machines, which do everything automatically for you. We’ve got filter machines, which give a longer drink and, some would argue, richer taste. Finally, for convenience, we’ve got pod machines.
Question of the month: do you get more variety with a pod machine?
Browse through the shelves of a Nespresso store or your supermarket shelves and you’ll find that pod machines seem to have a lot more variety than you might get with a traditional coffee machine and beans. That’s far from the truth, and what you see for mass sale tend to be blends designed to taste the same all year around.
There’s a lot more choice out there and coffee should be thought of like fine wine, with almost infinite variety between beans, depending on the type of coffee and where it’s grown. There’s even a big difference between how beans are dried, washed and stored. There’s one type of coffee bean, the Old Brown Java, where the beans are aged in a way that mimics how coffee was inadvertently aged in ships travelling to Europe. As a result, the Old Brown Java coffee has a brown colour before it’s roasted, where most coffees start green. Then, there’s how the coffee is roasted, with individual varieties roasted to different levels to get the most out their flavour profile.
In short, if you start in the supermarket aisles, you’ll find some half decent coffee beans, but if you really want to experience the world of coffee, you need to spread your wings a bit further and try an independent coffee roaster, either online or in a shop. Here, you’ll find a far wider range of coffee beans to choose from and more choice than you get with pod machines. My guide on how to choose the best coffee beans tells you more.
That’s not to say that pod machines are a bad choice. The main benefit, other than convenience, is that you change the type of coffee from cup-to-cup; with coffee beans, you really need to finish one variety before moving onto the next one.
How we choose the best coffee machines
Testing coffee machines is all about getting the best-quality coffee out of them, ensuring that each one can produce the best-tasting cup of the black stuff. It’s a job that we take very seriously, and our testing is dependent on the type of coffee machine that we’re reviewing. For any that use ground coffee or whole beans, we roast our own batch of Peruvian beans. We use a medium roast, a little lighter than you’d probably use at home so that we maintain the beans’ origin flavours.
By controlling the roast and beans used, we can compare the machines that we review, taste-testing each one. We think it’s fair to give each machine a thorough working through, so we adjust the grind and, where required, tamp until we get the best results. All coffee dispensed is tested for temperature (around 65C is right for espresso).
Where milk’s involved, we manually froth where available and use automatic options otherwise. We’ll adjust technique and settings until we’re satisfied that we’re producing the best steamed milk that the coffee maker can deliver. You can read more in our how we test coffee machines article.
Our five top picks
1. Melitta Barista TS Smart
Our favourite bean-to-cup coffee machine
The Melitta Barista TS Smart is a top bean-to-cup coffee machine, capable of producing high-quality drinks – from spot-on espresso to enticing cappuccinos and lattes – all at the touch of a button. This machine has 10 user profiles, so everyone in your house can customise their favourite recipes. The “smart” part of the name refers to the Bluetooth app, which makes it easy to program your favourite drinks using your phone.
Read our full Melitta Caffeo Barista TS Smart review
2. Smeg ECF01
Our favourite manual espresso machine
If you’re a hardcore home barista with high expectations of your espresso machine, look no further than the speedy, feature-packed and 1950s design-inspired Smeg ECF01. Its Thermoblock tech helps it reach the optimal temperature in a staggering 40 seconds, and it has a clever knack for remembering exactly how much water you like in your coffee every time. There’s no denying this machine’s sheer all-round brilliance.
Other notable perks include a cup-warming surface on the machine’s top that’s large enough for two cups. There’s also a de-calc alarm to let you know when it needs a clean to keep the coffee flowing smoothly. This is manual coffee making at its fastest, most practical, and certainly its most attractive.
Read our full Smeg ECF01 review
3. Sage Nespresso Creatista Uno
Our favourite pod espresso machine
Pod machines are built for ease, not necessarily artistic ability. The Sage Nespresso Creatista Uno changes that, with a machine that gives you the ease that you’d expect from a pod machine, but the ability to free-pour milk to make your own creations like a professional barista. Taking a standard milk jug, the Creatista Uno can steam milk automatically; the pouring is up to you.
High-quality espresso comes at the touch of the button, with this model supporting Nespresso’s ristretto, espresso and lungo settings. Best of all, the coffee machine is excellent value and won’t take up much room on your worktop.
Read our full Sage Nespresso Creatista Uno review
4. Melitta AromaFresh Grind and Brew
Our favourite filter coffee machine
Filter coffee machines are best when used with freshly ground coffee, and the Melitta AromaFresh Grind and Brew makes that easy by including a grinder. While you can set the machine to deliver the right amount of coffee you need (two to 10 cups worth), you have to manually fill the right water level.
Melitta has used paper filters for the AromaFresh Grind and Brew, which is a great choice – you get a fresh one each time you make coffee. Washable filters may seem more convenient, but they can become tainted with use. Coffee quality is excellent, with the AromaFresh delivering rich and smooth coffee in large amounts.
There’s a handy timer, too, so you can set the machine to ensure your coffee is ready in the morning. For convenience and quality, the Melitta AromaFresh Grind and Brew is an excellent choice.
Read our full Melitta AromaFresh Grind and Brew review
5. Nespresso Barista
A clever way to experiment with coffee
Not strictly a coffee machine in its own right, the Nespresso Barista is an add-on for all types of espresso machines, not just Nespresso ones. Use the touch-screen interface to select a recipe, add the ingredients, which mostly include a shot of espresso, and off you go.
The Barista then makes everything automatically for you, including delicous cold Iced Nitro espresso drinks, hot chocolate and even frothed milk. If you’re a little more adventurous, this is a great way to make some stunning drinks.
Read our full Nespresso Barista review
Top coffee machines – the full list
The coffee machines we’ve listed above are best in class and should suit most people. If you fancy something slightly different, then we have further recommendations. Some have specialist features, some are more expensive, all are machines that we can fully recommend. We’ve split the machines into categories to make the selection easier. Here’s some advice on picking the best coffee machine for you:
Manual espresso machines These coffee machines are the same type that you see in quality coffee shops. You need to tamp ground coffee manually to get the best results. They operate best when you have your own grinder (see how to use a coffee grinder for more information), and you’ll need a little practice to operate. The resulting coffee is better than you’ll get from any other type of machine, but you’ll have to deal with more mess and greater effort to get your perfect cup of coffee.
Bean-to-cup machines These machines do everything – grind, tamp and pour – at the touch of a button. Some even pour milk. If you want a fresh coffee experience with real beans, without the hassle of an espresso machine, these are the type to go for. The downsides are that they can be big and expensive, plus they don’t always produce the same quality as a manual machine.
See the Best bean-to-cup coffee machines
Filter machines These make coffee by dripping hot water through coffee grounds. A smooth taste and large carafe (jug) makes these good for anyone that likes to drink a lot of coffee, or for entertaining a big group of people. Technically, these are one of the easiest machines to operate, but you don’t get the flexibility and range of drinks options that espresso-based machines offer.
See the Best filter coffee machines
Pod machines The ultimate convenience, you just drop in a pod or capsule, tap a button and you’re done. Pod machines aren’t compatible with each other, so once you’ve bought into a system, you’re locked in. Nespresso machines produce the best coffee and have the best range, with pods that are recyclable. Pod brands available in supermarkets aren’t as good and most use plastic, which can’t be recycled.
See the Best pod coffee machines
1. Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Oracle
A powerful espresso machine with a built-in grinder.
The Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Oracle gives you everything you need to keep your inner barista happy. It’s a traditional espresso machine, but the integrated grinder means you don’t need to worry about buying a separate unit.
Instead, you tap one button to grind the coffee directly into the group handle and filter basket, tamp, then hit another button to dispense your drink. It takes a little practice to get everything right, but when you do, The Oracle makes stunning espresso that’s every bit as good as you’d get from a top coffee shop. Thanks to the configurable and simple-to-use steamer function, frothing milk for all types of drinks is straightforward.
Read our full Sage by Heston Blumenthal The Oracle review
2. Gaggia Classic Deluxe Coffee Station
A classic redefined – this bundle is an upgrade to Gaggia’s current machine and comes with a top coffee grinder, too
The Gaggia Classic Deluxe Coffee Station provides everything you need to make brilliant coffee at home – including the high-end Gaggia MDF grinder and a bundle of other clever accessories. With 34 grind settings, ranging from super-fine to coarse, getting the right balance can be a little tricky at first. Once you’re used to it, however, the grinder creates perfect coffee with which to make yourself some espresso.
This bundle also sees an updated Gaggia Classic espresso machine. When the Gaggia Classic 2015 was released, we were disappointed by its plastic build in parts and overall inferior quality compared to the original Classic. With this bundle, the Classic has an all-new metal drip tray and professional-quality group handle added. The result is a high-quality coffee machine capable of dispensing the best-quality espresso.
Read our full Gaggia Classic Delux Coffee Station review
1. Miele CM7500
Excellent coffee, automatic descaling and programmable profiles, what more could you want from a coffee machine?
A big and bold bean-to-cup coffee machine, the Miele CM7500 is a high-end model that does pretty much everything automatically. This even includes descaling, thanks to the integrated descaling capsule, which slips into the rear of the machine so that the auto-descaling mode can keep the insides of the coffee machine clean.
More importantly, the CM7500 delivers high-quality coffee and milk drinks at the touch of a button. Using a motor, the spout moves to the ideal spot above your cup automatically, before delivering the good stuff. Spot-on espresso and high-quality milk frothing ensure this machine is at the top of its game.
Programmable user profiles let each member of the house get the style of drink they want. Only a slightly fiddly interface detracts from what is otherwise a rather brilliant, high-end machine for true coffee lovers who want quality quickly.
Read our full Miele CM7500 review
2. Melitta Caffeo Barista TS
The new Smart version is slightly better, but this machine is cheaper and still makes excellent coffee
With the ability to serve up practically any hot drink under the sun, thanks to its automatic milk-frothing function, the Melitta Caffeo Barista TS makes a coffee with the same attention to detail as any good manual machine. Its dual hopper lets you have two types of bean on the go, and its huge range of configurable recipes provides plenty of scope to experiment.
Simple touch controls and a bright LCD screen make it super-easy to put your drink together, and if you don’t like the default options – which is unlikely, since they’re spot on – then you can manually override them in the menu system. My Coffee modes let you assign different concoctions to different members of a household, and a slick front and high-quality gloss finish complete the unbeatable package.
If you have the cash to splash, the Caffeo Barista TS is a no-brainer; but the newer Barista TS Smart is better.
Read our full Melitta Caffeo Barista TS review
3. Gaggia Anima
A great-quality bean-to-cup machine that doesn’t cost the Earth
A bean-to-cup machine that does everything for you feels a little like cheating. With the Gaggia Anima, you get the best of both worlds: it automatically pours espresso, but the steam wand gives you control of milk-based drinks.
A sleek design and simple one-touch controls on the front take care of dispensing espresso. Thick and oily crema, with a full-flavoured shot underneath, prove the Anima’s quality. To froth milk, steam is dispensed at one speed with no tap to control flow. It takes a little while to get used to, but once you do, you can produce practically any recipe to your specification.
If you’re looking for a well-priced bean-to-cup machine, but still want manual control at the end, the Gaggia Anima is the machine to buy.
Read our full Gaggia Anima review
1. KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker
It grinds, filters and pours into a travel cup making this the perfect way to start the day
The KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker is different; it’s effectively a single-person filter coffee machine. It’s designed to be used with a supplied insulated mug, which you can take with you on the morning commute. There’s nothing stopping you from buying another mug, but it comes with only one.
The Personal Coffee Maker produces a drink that’s ready to consume straight away, although still hot enough for you to add some milk if you need. It’s a great, convenient option for those wanting their coffee fix in the morning, and who prefers a long coffee to espresso. Its compact design looks fab, too.
If you’re spending megabucks on a daily Starbucks habit then consider this the perfect antidote.
Read our full KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker review
2. Oomph Coffee Maker
As seen on Dragon’s Den – an innovative way to make French-press-style coffee
Part travel cup, part french press, the Oomph is a new-style filter coffee maker, and it’s rather brilliant.
You drop coffee grounds into the inner container, fill with water and leave to steep for a few minutes. Once done, you push down the outer sleeve, which forces water at pressure through the coffee grounds, separating the two in the process. The separation has added benefit that your coffee remains at the same strength; with a french press, coffee continues to brew, becoming more bitter as it does so (see how to use a french press for more details).
Coffee from the Oomph is brilliant, with a rich and smooth taste that’s quite different to anything we’ve tasted from other filter machines. If you like, you can drink directly from the Oomph, which also acts as a travel mug. The only downside is that coffee doesn’t stay warm for long, so you’ll want to drink soon after the brewing process.
Read our full Oomph Coffee Maker review
Pod coffee machines give you a huge amount of flexibility while keeping things nice and easy: you just drop in a coffee pod, hit the button and you’re done. There’s a massive variety and range of pod machines, although we believe that the Nespresso system is the best. Even so, this model has two types of capsule, the Vertuo and Original line. To help you decide, why not check out our guide on the Best Nespresso pods and the Best Nespresso Vertuo capsules for more information?
1. Nespresso Vertuo Plus
The Nespresso system redefined and updated to deliver mug-sized drinks
If you’re a fan of longer coffee drinks, you’ll love the new Nespresso Vertuo Plus. Using a completely new pod system (the Vertuo’s capsules aren’t compatible with older Nespresso machines, or vice versa), the Vertuo Plus is designed to deliver a rich mug-full of coffee.
Key to the machine’s success is the smart centrifugal brewing system, which spins the capsule at high speed, thus delivering a rich and frothy crema.
The coffee from this machine is rich and full-bodied; it tastes amazing. There’s a wide choice of capsules available, in cup sizes of 40ml (espresso), 150ml, 230ml and huge 414ml. Each capsule has a barcode on it, which the Vertuo Plus reads to set the brew parameters, delivering the perfect cup of coffee at the touch of a single button.
There’s no integrated milk option for this machine, although you can buy an excellent Nespresso Aeroccino4 if you want to add steamed milk.
Read our full Nespresso Vertuo review
2. AEG Fantasia
A Modo Mio machine with a proper milk dispenser
A long-time favourite of ours, the AEG Fantasia is a 15-bar pod machine that supports Lavazza’s Modo Mio capsules. It has 36 settings, so you can enjoy a tailored cappuccino, lungo, espresso or latte, controlling both the amount of coffee and milk.
What separates this machine from many is its outstanding detachable milk jug. Both the jug and steam pipe can be removed and are dishwasher-safe, making cleaning the AEG Fantasia so much easier than most machines.
The jug means you don’t have to rely on powdered milk pods as you do with some other machines, and it’s perfect for making hot chocolate – and even to froth cold milk for milkshakes.
Given the huge number of features on offer, and the excellent coffee it makes, the AEG Fantasia is outstanding value.
Read our full AEG Fantasia review
4. Tassimo Vivy by Bosch
A super-cheap pod coffee machine for those on a tight budget
The Tassimo Vivy is ridiculously cheap for such a versatile coffee machine, which is the reason we recommend it. Part of the Tassimo coffee system, it’s also incredibly small – perfect for compact kitchens and dens.
Like other Tassimo machines, it’s easy to use. It has just one button, and there’s virtually no heat-up time. The machine reads the barcode on each “T Disc” to work out the correct temperature, amount of water and brewing time. The range of drinks on offer is great, too, including coffee, tea, chai lattes, fruit and herbal teas.
If you want a step-up from instant coffee, and don’t have a lot to spend, this machine is a great choice. If you can pay more, a Nespresso machine will give you better coffee overall.
Read our full Tassimo Vivy by Bosch review
Coffee machine buying guide
Best coffee machine – What type should I buy? There are two main types of coffee machines. Filter coffee machines are the simplest, dripping hot water through ground coffee to create a large volume of drink. The resultant coffee tends to be smoother and, as you can keep a pot on the got, are great for large numbers of people or just for having coffee ready to go.
Espresso machines deliver coffee as a shot, distinctive thanks to the foamy head on top called the crema. Manual espresso machines used ground coffee (or beans you grind yourself) and require some skill to get working. They typically produce the best results, though. A bean-to-cup coffee machine does the hard work for you, griding and automatically pouring the coffee. Quality can be great but you don’t quite get the results of a manual machine; the trade-off being that the job is much easier.
Pod or capsule machines are the easiest to use: drop in a pod and hit a button and you’re done. The downside is that the cost per cup is higher and you don’t get the same extensive range of coffees as with a machine that uses beans or ground coffee.
Best coffee machine – Should I used filtered water? Using filtered water can make your coffee taste better if you’re not a particular fan of the taste of your tap water. It’s worth trying if you’ve got a filter jug to see what difference it makes. More importantly, a water filter should be installed and used where possible in a coffee machine’s water reservoir, particularly if you live in a hard water area.
Using a water filter removes the impurities from your water, which can lead to better-tasting coffee. It also helps reduce limescale build-up, which will reduce problems with your coffee machine getting clogged up and requiring descaling. You’ll still need to regularly descale your machine (check it’s manual for the full details on how to do this), as a machine that has a lot of limescale in it will struggle to pour water at the right rate and your coffee will be ruined.
Best coffee machine – Do I need a grinder? Coffee stays fresher for longer if it’s not ground. If you’re regularly using a manual espresso or filter machine, a grinder is a good addition. In particular, for a manual machine, using a coffee grinder lets you adjust the grind to suit your machine and coffee, further fine-tuning the results. The downside is that while you can use a cheaper grinder for a filter machine, you’ll need to spend a bit more to get a suitable grinder for a manual espresso machine: that’s particularly true if you have a more expensive coffee machine.
Best coffee machine – What milk options should I look for? If you have an espresso machine a way of making steamed milk opens up the potential to make a wide range of drinks from cappuccinos to lattes. A steamer wand is the traditional way of making frothy milk. You hold a jug under the wand, while steam adds air to the milk, swirling it around. A steamer wand gives you more control over the process but the downside is that it can take quite a bit of skill to get the right results.
An automatic milk frother is a good alternative, producing steamed milk. These are typically available on bean-to-cup and pod machines. The simplest option is a system that steams milk and pours it, which is great for convenience although the final results aren’t as good as pouring milk from a jug. Some machines can froth milk in a jug or they use an external device, such as the Nespresso Aeroccino. You don’t quite get the results of doing the job yourself but you can free pour your final drink to get the balance of espresso and milk that you want.
Best coffee machine – How many boilers do I need? If you buy a manual espresso machine you can get single- or dual-boiler options. A dual-boiler coffee machine can produce espresso and steam milk at the same time. This cuts down on preparation time and lets you make milk drinks in the optimal time. They are a lot more expensive than single-boiler machines, where you first steam your milk, then reduce the temperature of the system to make a shot of espresso.
Best coffee machine – What should I look for in a bean-to-cup machine? A quality bean-to-cup machine will provide multiple recipes on tap, so you can make the type of drink that you want quickly. Look for options to customise mug size, coffee strength and ratios of water and milk so that you can get the type of drink that suits you.
Best coffee machine – Is there anything to look out for with a filter machine? Filter machines are easy to operate. Those with a washable filter might seem easier but they can taint the flavour over time; replaceable paper filters produce better results. A hot plate can keep your coffee warm, but be warned that coffee left too long can become bitter. A filter machine with a thermal carafe keeps your coffee warm with no negatives.
Best coffee machine – What type of pod machine is best? Nespresso capsules are the best by far. Nespresso is now available in two types. Original pods are designed to replicate the type of coffee that you get in a coffee shop. There’s a wide range of capsules available from Nespresso, although you can also choose from a growing range of third-party ‘compatible’ capsules. There’s a good reason to stick with Nespresso, though: it will recycle all of its capsules for free, either by organising a collection or by dropping old capsules into a Nespresso store.
There’s also the newer Nespresso Vertuo system, which uses large capsules. This system delivers larger mug-fulls of coffee and has a similar range of official capsules to the original system. Currently, there are no third-party options for Vertuo. All capsules are recyclable with Nespresso.
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.
Best coffee machine – How should I store fresh coffee? All of our espresso, bean-to-cup and filter machines work best when used with fresh coffee. Out-of-date coffee will produce poor results, and you may notice that you don’t get that perfect crema or that the taste isn’t right. A common myth is that you should store coffee in the freezer, as it’s air tight. That’s true, but freezers are also humid, with the moisture playing havoc with fresh beans or ground coffee. Instead, you should keep your coffee in a sealed, air-tight container away from direct sunlight and it’s as simple as that. For more information, see how to store coffee, which also covers why coffee goes bad, how to tell if it’s gone off and what to do if you have a coffee grinder.
Best coffee machines – What’s the best type of coffee? If you’ve just spent a load of money on a coffee machine that uses fresh beans or ground coffee, you should use high-quality coffee. If you buy bags from the supermarket, you can find some decent options, but more often than not the coffee is picked to deliver the same flavours all year around.
Proper coffee is more like fine wine, with taste varying by region, plantation and year. Opening up to trying different beans from speciality roasters will blow your mind: you’ll get a wider choice of quality coffee, each individually roasted to bring out the best. And, going with a coffee roaster will get you fresher coffee that will last longer.
There’s no right or wrong choice with coffee: it’s about finding the type or blend that you like the most. You can find out more in my guide on how to choose the best coffee beans.
Best coffee machines – What are the best capsules? If you’ve bought a pod coffee machine, you’re largely limited to the capsules that the manufacturer sells. It’s our experience that Nespresso makes the best range of coffee capsules by far. Its original system, which makes espresso shots, now has third-party options available, although these aren’t all recyclable. If you want to know more about the range of Nespresso own-brand capsules, check out our guide to the best Nespresso capsules.
If you have the newer Nespresso Vertuo machine, then the pods are different. These are only available from Nespresso and there are no third-party options. To find out which ones were the best, we tried out every flavour and type. You can find out more in our best Nespresso Vertuo pods guide.
In all cases, it’s worth experimenting with different options, finding your favourite options.
Best coffee machines – What kind of maintenance is required?
All coffee machines require regular maintenance to keep them in the best working condition. The most important job you’ll do is descaling them, removing limescale from the innards to make sure that water flows smoothly through the machine. If you don’t descale your machine when prompted, you may find that the seize up and water won’t pass through at the speed required to make decent coffee. Most coffee machines will warn you when it’s time to descale, based on the water hardness level that you set: the harder the water, the more often the job has to be done.
Espresso machines should also be cleaned with a cleaning tablet when prompted, which removes the oily residue from the beans. It helps keep your machine in the best working condition and ensures that you get the best taste.
If you have a steamer wand, this will need to be cleaned after every use. You can usually remove the tip to wash it in hot water to remove all milk residue. Make sure that you clean our drip trays (again, use some soapy water). For bean-to-cup machines, if they have a removable brew head, this should be removed and rinsed regularly, too.
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