December 3, 2019 What is the best coffee machine? – Coffee shop quality at home
No matter what your budget, whether you have a few pounds or a few thousand pounds, this guide will walk you through what is the best coffee machine for your specific needs in 2020.
Once you have established the prices you can expect to pay within each category and what each type of coffee machine has to offer you can then drill through into the specific detail by clicking on the relevant link within each section to take you straight to what you are looking out for and how to get the best value for your money.
Value for money is the cornerstone of how we ultimately measure whether it’s worth parting with your hard-earned cash on any coffee machine.
We measure value for money by researching and reviewing hundreds of different coffee machines and establishing whether the quality of coffee that ends up in your cup is worth the price that is being asked.
What type of coffee machine is the best?
The first thing you need to decide is how much effort you want to put into making a cup of coffee at home and how much time you want to commit to the cause.
If you want to taste your coffee and savour the flavour and you know that there must be a better way than instant coffee but you are constantly juggling 10 things at once and you simply do not have any time then you may steer towards a pod coffee machine.
Pod coffee machines offer the ultimate convenience and if you choose wisely you can achieve a very tasty cup of coffee without having to give any thought whatsoever to the process of actually making a cup of coffee and there is no mess and no maintenance to concern yourself about either.
But there are downsides as well, the main one being that it is an expensive way to make coffee at home. We explain below how expensive it can be so you know what you are getting yourself into before you jump in.
If you are looking for freshly prepared coffee but you still don’t want to spend any time preparing your coffee throughout the day then you should consider a bean to cup coffee machine.
Bean to cup coffee machines give you the convenience of a pod coffee machine and also produce a fresher more tasty beverage because the whole coffee beans are ground at the same time your drink is made and it’s all done automatically by the machine.
You also get a lot more choice because there are thousands of different types of coffee beans to choose from whereas with a pod machine you are restricted to the range that Nespresso or Dolce Gusto or Tassimo offer.
Those are a few of the benefits of a bean to cup coffee machine versus a pod coffee machine but a bean to cup does produce a bit more mess, will require more maintenance and will cost you more for a decent one.
The coffee ground container will need emptying and cleaning on a regular basis and the drip tray will need emptying of water every few days and you will need to run regular cleaning cycles to avoid the build-up of limescale that can damage the machine.
Less frequently but it needs to be done, you will need to remove and clean the brewing unit to stop it from clogging up with coffee grounds.
It’s not as bad as it sounds but whereas a pod machine is pretty much set and go with an occasional cleaning cycle, a bean to cup does require a little more work from a maintenance perspective.
If you are prepared to spend a little time making your coffee (a couple of minutes) then the best way to replicate a coffee shop coffee is to consider a manual espresso machine.
It can be a little confusing because they are called different things. We call them “pump machines” and they are also called “semi-automatic” or “espresso machines”.
It doesn’t really matter what you call them, it’s more important to understand what they do and the difference between these coffee machines vs bean to cup and pod.
In a nutshell, manually operated pump machines are the kind used in Starbucks and Costa. They give you more control over the quality of the coffee which is why the coffee shops use them. This is explained in more detail below under “what is the best espresso machine”.
The first three options described above will produce espresso that can be drunk as it is or with milk added will convert your espresso into your favourite milk-based drinks such as flat white, cappuccino or latte.
That leaves us with filter coffee machines, cafetières and stovetop.
Filter coffee machines are much lower cost and surprisingly you can pick one up for around the £20 mark that will make a decent cup of coffee but you will have to hang around while the coffee drips through into your pot below.
This is a good place to start if you normally drink instant coffee and want to try out brewing your own fresh coffee but without making any kind of significant investment.
A cafetière is our recommendation for the easiest way to enjoy a good cup of coffee for a very low cost. You can pick one up for around £10 – £20, add some ground coffee and some hot water, plunge down and pour away. Simple yet very effective.
Traditional stovetop coffee makers are a low-cost way to brew espresso type coffee without a complicated machine. Add coffee to a basket and water to the base, screw the top on, place it on a stove and pressure will force the water through the coffee and into the top ready to be enjoyed within a few minutes.
You can pick these up for as little as £10 and are a good way to experiment before investing in a more expensive coffee machine.
There are other ways to brew coffee but the six methods described above are by far the most popular.
That gives you an idea of what they are and how they work. We now take a detailed look at each one individually.
The best bean to cup coffee machine
Bean to cup coffee machines are a step up from POD coffee machines in respect of the freshness of coffee that you will drink and the ability for you to have more control over the variables that make up a really great cup of coffee.
Never underestimate the importance of using freshly ground coffee to get the best tasting cup of coffee possible.
All of the high street coffee chains grind whole coffee beans just before making your coffee and for good reason.
Once ground coffee is exposed to oxygen its flavour quickly starts to deteriorate so if you are wondering why you can’t get your coffee at home to taste the same as Costa or Starbucks then one of the big reasons will be that you are not using freshly ground coffee.
Using a coffee grinder is an easy way to better coffee and it doesn’t need to be expensive either. A blade coffee grinder can cost as little as £10 and a burr coffee grinder will give you more control over the fineness of the grind but will cost a little more.
The good news is that if you opt for a bean to cup coffee machine it will come with a built-in grinder so no need to get one separately.
Different machines come with different types of grinders so it’s important to choose accordingly as a good or bad grind can literally make the difference between a good tasting or bad tasting coffee.
Bean to cup coffee machines also give you options to tweak things to suit your individual taste.
One of the biggest differences between one of these machines and a pod machine is the amount of coffee that gets delivered into each cup.
With a coffee pod what you get is what you get. If you like it stronger then you need to use another pod and the costs can quickly escalate.
Before I went down the road of espresso machines I had a Nespresso machine for years and I had to use 2 pods for every coffee I made because I like it strong and it was costly. I was regularly spending £100 a month on coffee which for home use seemed a bit extreme.
Using a bean to cup coffee machine is cheaper because whole coffee beans are MUCH cheaper than coffee in coffee pods.
You also get to choose the amount of coffee that you want to have delivered in each cup according to how you like it.
If you get a decent bean to cup coffee machine it will definitely cost more than a pod machine upfront but it will become cheaper over time as the cost of buying the whole coffee beans will work out a lot cheaper than the pods and you also have a lot more choice when it comes to whole beans versus pods.
Bean to cup coffee machines are an all-round better option for quality of coffee compared to a pod coffee machine but as we have already alluded to in the overview, you need to bear in mind that they do require more maintenance.
Whereas pod machines are pretty much set and forget you will need to run various cleaning cycles to keep your bean to cup in shape but its really a small price to pay for the extra benefits that you get.
Here is a detailed breakdown of what to look out for to get the best bean to cup coffee machine for your budget.
These are the best bean to cup coffee machines available in 2020
The best pod coffee machine
Pod coffee machines are without a doubt the most hassle-free way to make a decent cup of coffee BUT you need to think about the cost of the pods before you commit yourself.
Using a pod machine to make your coffee will cost you about twice as much as any other method but if you just don’t want to think about it then you can join the millions of people that have already gone down this route.
If you decide to buy this type of coffee machine you are looking in the region of 25p – 50p per cup.
That may not sound like a lot and seems cheap in comparison to what you pay in a coffee shop but if you like your coffee and drink 3-4 cups a day then it can quickly rack up to a decent amount and take a chunk out of your monthly disposable income.
Everyone knows someone that has a pod coffee machine but how do you go about making sure that you choose the one where you get the best value for money in the long run?
Essentially there are three main manufacturers that control the entire pod coffee machine market. Nespresso, Dolce Gusto and Tassimo are by far the most popular brands and there really is no need to look any further than these three.
Lavazza have tried to get their foot in the door but without any success and Dolce Gusto and Tassimo are so popular that you can pick up the most popular pods in most supermarkets when you are doing your weekly shop so you don’t even need to go to the hassle of ordering separately online.
Nespresso has taken a more exclusive approach and their pods are only available through their boutique shops or via the Nespresso website.
You can pick up a very cheap Dolce Gusto machine because that is the business model that Nestle (the owners of Dolce Gusto) use for their coffee machines.
Sell the machine cheap and then charge a lot for the pods once the machine is in your kitchen. Although the machine won’t cost much, buying one of these machines will work out one of the most expensive ways to own a pod coffee machine in the long run once you take the cost of the pods into account.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Dolce Gusto coffee machines as long as you know that the pods are not going to be as cheap as the initial outlay.
Tassimo is pretty much the same principle except they are a bit more sophisticated because they have a barcode on each capsule that tells the machine exactly how much water to push through the coffee so you never have to work it out yourself.
Nespresso coffee machines can work out a little more expensive but the pods work out a bit cheaper than Dolce Gusto or Tassimo.
When it comes to the quality of the coffee, Nespresso wins hands down mainly because the other two use powdered milk to produce milk-based drinks such as Cappuccino or Latte which seriously reduces the flavour compared to using fresh milk so if it’s the best quality coffee you are looking for combined with the convenience of a pod coffee machine then Nespresso wins.
Although all the coffee in a coffee pod is vacuum-sealed, it is worth mentioning that it has of course been pre-ground and sitting inside the pod for a number of months and sometimes for more than a year.
It’s still going to taste good but not as good as grinding the beans yourself or using a coffee machine that has a built-in grinder.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the 11 best Pod coffee machines available in the UK in 2020.
Can you get cheaper pods?
You can simply choose to use compatible coffee pods or capsules instead and save a lot of money by doing so.
You will be surprised at just how good a replacement pod can be even though they can cost as little as half the amount being charged by either Nespresso or Dolce Gusto.
Here is a detailed explanation of how to buy cheap coffee pods in 2020 without compromising on flavour.
Unfortunately, if you go for a Tassimo coffee machine then you are pretty much stuck with buying the Tassimo original capsules because they have a barcode on each capsule that tells the coffee machine how much water to deliver through the pod and this makes it harder for non-original replacements to be made cost-effectively.
If you are thinking about buying a pod machine but are not sure which brand to go for then we would recommend either Nespresso or Dolce Gusto over Tassimo because it gives you the option to go for cheaper compatible pods in the future.
What is the best espresso machine?
Bean to cup coffee machines can be defined as “fully automatic” because you press one button and a double espresso is delivered straight into your cup.
POD machines also operate on this basis but they use pre-ground coffee instead of freshly grinding whole coffee beans.
If you REALLY want to get the best possible result then you need to consider a “semi-automatic” espresso machine.
These machines will give you the ultimate control you need in order to create a true coffee shop experience in your own home.
No coffee shop uses a bean to cup machine, nor do they use pod machines because the only way to get truly great coffee is to do some of the work yourself.
There are many things that go into making a coffee like you get in the best coffee shops and if you want to do what they do then you’ll need a semi-automatic espresso machine.
Getting just the right amount of coffee and combining that with just the right amount of water that gets delivered in the correct amount of time is the combination that you need to perfect.
In order to make that happen, you need approximately 18 grams of coffee with approximately 60ml of water delivered through the ground coffee in around 25 seconds.
You will need to get the grind fineness just right to make that happen and then to make sure the coffee is nether bitter nor burnt it will need to be delivered at a temperature of 93 degrees.
If you are a bit of a perfectionist then you will be strongly suited to a semi-automatic pump espresso machine.
If that all sounds like far too much hard work then you will be more suited to a bean to cup or a pod machine.
Some come with a grinder and some don’t. it just depends on how much you are willing to spend to get the perfect cup of coffee.
The range of pricing is huge for these types of machines and you can pick one up for as little as £50 or you can spend over £1000.
If you are just starting out and you want to develop your barista skills before committing significant funds to a coffee machine then you can get a decent beverage from a cheap espresso machine but if its high-quality coffee that you are looking for then you need to be spending £150+.
If you are willing to dedicate a little time to create your coffee with a semi-automatic machine then you will be rewarded with a truly top-class beverage that will equal or better any coffee shop and for a fraction of the price.
These are the best semi-automatic pump coffee machines in 2020
What is the best filter coffee machine?
Pod coffee machines, bean to cup coffee machines and manual espresso machines are the most popular methods used in the UK to brew a cup of coffee but a low-cost alternative that is often overlooked are filter coffee machines.
They are more popular in the USA where there are commonly referred to as “drip coffee machines” and can be used to brew a large pot of coffee of up to 10 or 12 cups in one go.
A lot of people in the UK think that you have to make a pot of coffee with this type of coffee machine and that makes them less popular but that is not the case at all.
In the £20 to £30 bracket, you can pick up a perfectly decent filter machine that can make as little as 2 cups at a time and if you like a big mug of coffee then you can make it one mug at a time.
It’s also a super simple way to make coffee. Just add ground coffee to the filter basket and press a button. The machine automatically delivers water slowly through the ground coffee and it drips through into the jug below.
It will take around 10 minutes for a couple of cups to brew but if you don’t have that kind of time in the morning then even at around the £25 level you can pick one up one with a timer so you can set it for the time you get to the kitchen and that freshly brewed coffee smell will be waiting for you every morning.
Most people buy pre-ground coffee for their filter coffee machines because it’s easier and most of them don’t come with a grinder (some of the more expensive ones do) but you will get a much better tasting coffee if you buy a cheap coffee grinder and grind whole beans just before you add them to the machine.
This is a very underrated way to cheaply brew a good quality cup of coffee.
Here is a detailed breakdown of all of the different types of filter coffee machines and what to look out for to get the best value for your money in 2020.
Here are all of our top-rated filter coffee machines.
Best cafetière coffee maker
Cafetière’s or the French Press as it is also known is another cheap way to get miles better coffee than you will ever taste with instant and is a very low-cost way to get started if you want to explore the many different varieties of coffee that you will never get to try if you stay with instant.
You can argue this is the easiest and cheapest way to enjoy good coffee.
You can pick up a cafetière for around £10, add some coffee, add some water, plunge down and you are ready to enjoy.
As with filter coffee, try and avoid pre-ground coffee. Get a cheap coffee grinder, grind the beans yourself just before brewing and it will taste a whole lot better.
The only downside with a cafetière is that, unlike filter coffee machines, they don’t come with a timer so it’s only really a viable option if you have a good ten minutes to spare.
If you are in a rush and want a coffee within a minute or two then you will be more suited to one of the other options above.
If you do have some time though and you want to finesse your coffee making skills with a cafetière, then here is a more detailed explanation of how to make coffee in a French press or cafetière.
Here is a selection of the best cafetière’s in 2020
If you managed to get this far then you are now fully versed in all of the most popular methods to brew a great cup of coffee and how to get the best value for money whatever type of coffee machine you decide on.
We finish off with a short video for a visual look at how to choose the best coffee machine for your needs.