Are you looking to improve your coffee making routine? Then one of the first places that you might want to turn to, understandably, is to upgrade your old coffee machine. That thing has been sitting there for ages making mediocre coffee, so it basically has to go. Or does it? Read on to find out more.
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The most basic start – your drink preference
Before you rush into buying a new shiny coffee machine, you need to understand that different machines make different styles of coffee drinks, and you really don’t want to be stuck with a machine that is not quite capable of producing the type of coffee you prefer.
In general, people tend to fall into the following general categories:
- Large mug of filter brewed coffee – normally black, you might add a dash of milk. Some people call this an Americano though it’s not actually that, let’s just leave it at “large mug of filter brewed coffee” as a category.
- Espresso – small concentrated coffee drink.
- Espresso‑based milk drinks – concentrated coffee (espresso) plus milk, creating a latte, cappuccino, flat white, macchiato, etc.
This may be super basic to some people but also a lot of people are not too aware of this, and are not too sure of what’s going on when they just can’t get the coffee they like out of their home machines.
Basically, think that if you like cappuccinos, you won’t be getting those from a drip coffee maker no matter how much time you spend tinkering with it, and similarly, if you prefer a typical large mug of coffee, you might end up wasting a lot of time and energy if you use an espresso machine.
Another distinction worth making is how much time you want to dedicate to making that perfect cup of coffee. Whilst the best coffees only come from the hand of a skilled barista, a lot of people don’t have the time or the inclination to spend a lot of time perfecting this craft, and would much rather get started quickly in the morning with a good cup of coffee at the push of a button.
OK, so which coffee machine should I get?
Good coffee machine options if you like filter coffee:
- Sage Precision Brewer – comes with a variety of programmes, including one that uses what is called the “Golden Cup standard” by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), and you can also program your own settings if you feel so inclined. Recommendation: only move into custom settings once you already know what you’re doing – don’t get into tinkering for tinkering’s sake, as in many cases you can end up chasing your tail.
- Technivorm Moccamaster – a legend in the drip brewing world, brews a great cup of coffee and will last forever. They have many models to choose from, with glass or thermal jugs, and also compact single cup makers.
- Ratio Eight – this machine is similar to a Chemex manual brewer, and very much like a Chemex, it’s a beautiful design piece as well as a capable coffee machine. Makes around eight 150ml cups of great coffee and has stunning looks.
Related tip – always get the thermal carafe option with your brewer if you can. A thermal carafe keeps it in the original brewed temperature for a few hours, whilst the glass ones may just have a plate that heats up the coffee every once in a while, and re-heating coffee makes it taste bad very quickly.
In this section, since we’re only discussing actual machines, I’m going to leave out manual filter coffee brewers, like the Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Chemex, and also some popular methods which don’t fall into this category but can achieve a similar style drink like an Aeropress or a French Press.
Good coffee machine options if you like espresso or espresso‑based drinks:
Zero effort machines (AKA “bean-to-cup” or “super-automatic” machines)
These machines have built-in grinders as well, and at the touch of a button they are capable of making a variety of different drinks, some are even capable of creating nice milk foam for a great cappuccino.
Whilst these in general are relatively similar in features and flavour output, I thought I’d mention a few specific ones to give you a starting point. But as I said, they’re not massively different, so pick one that meets your needs and budget.
Great coffee machines for espresso drinks at the push of a button (AKA “bean-to-cup” or “super-automatic” machines):
- De’Longhi Dinamica Plus – this machine offers a variety of drinks, can make two coffees at the same time, and comes with a convenient milk container which you can put in the fridge.
- Philips 3200 LatteGo – this machine also comes with a variety of drinks and allows for two coffees at the same time, but also comes with additional programmable features. Also, its milk container is very easy to clean compared to other machines.
- Jura Z8 – Jura’s are a top of the line option in terms of quality and durability. This particular model automatically adapts the milk foam to the drink you’re making (smaller bubbles for a latte, larger bubbles for a cappuccino).
One thing to bear in mind, is that what’s required of these machines (technically speaking) is pretty intense, and they are by nature less robust than an Aeropress (which will keep making coffee even after a nuclear war). If you get one of these machines, it will break at some point. So get one with a decent warranty and a service centre that is not too far from you. And maintain it properly – you will extend their life by doing so.
A lot of effort machines (AKA semi-automatic or proper espresso machines)
If you are really into espresso or espresso‑based milk drinks, then the absolute best way to get the best tasting cup is to get yourself a semi-automatic machine and learn how to use it. These machines come in all shapes and sizes, from domestic ones to full blown commercial ones with multiple “groups” (the section of the machine where coffee grounds come into contact with hot water) for making multiple coffees at the same time.
They all share the same basic principle of passing hot water through a compacted bed of coffee grounds.
Great coffee machines for the best espresso or espresso‑based drink you could make at home:
- Gaggia Classic – a beginner machine with a single boiler (meaning you won’t be able to steam milk and make coffee at the same time) but which is capable of creating great coffee, and can be a good initial investment if you’re just “testing out the waters”.
- Sage Dual Boiler – a “relatively” budget friendly version of a dual boiler option, not engineered to be as durable as a commercial machine, but capable of making great espressos, and you can steam milk whilst you make your espresso.
- La Marzocco Linea Mini – an espresso icon in your kitchen. This is the home version of the commercial Linea Classic machine, a staple in many great cafés.
The above are just some good examples. Use them as your starting point and also do your own research online for a machine that fits your needs and budget. “What machine should I buy?” is probably the most popular question on HomeBarista.com – spend thousands of hours perusing the forums at your own risk!
Important – don’t buy a semi-automatic espresso machine unless you’re planning on taking up a new hobby. Espresso drinks require a lot of time and dedication, and if you are not planning on seriously taking up a new hobby, then probably a “bean-to-cup” machine (discussed above) is the best option for you.
If you are indeed planning on taking up a new hobby, but could do with having a decent coffee every once in a while (and give yourself a break from constant frustration!), I’d suggest you purchase a machine that allows you to use pressurised (sometimes called dual-wall) baskets as well as non-pressurised ones (or single wall). Pressurised baskets are like training wheels for your coffee, they let you get something good even if you mess up preparation a bit (dual-wall baskets are what bean to cup machines use).
So when you’re starting out, you could use the pressurised baskets early in the morning for that coffee that eases you into life, and use the non‑pressurised ones once you’re already human, to practice your barista skills. A few machines allow you to do this, the above Gaggia and many Sage models, as well as the popular Delonghi EC685 (this one doesn’t come with non-pressurised baskets but you can get compatible ones separately).
Suggestion: You can pair any of the above machines with an SCA barista skills course – a little structured training will go a long way. You will be able to find a local Authorised Trainer here: https://scae.com/training-and-education/course-finder
Additional thought: whichever machine you buy, stick with it until you get good coffee out of it. If you’re not getting good coffee, it’s not the machine – it’s you. But don’t give up, and keep researching and improving – the process might be a bit tricky, but the payoff in the end will be amazing!
Recap – your priorities when choosing a new coffee machine
So wrapping up, there are three things to remember when you want to choose a coffee machine that’s perfect for you.
- Ask yourself what kind of coffee you like and search for a coffee maker that suits your needs. Moccamaster may have great reviews, but if you’re not a fan of filter coffee, you shouldn’t buy it.
- The price range is huge, but it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. You can go for something simpler and cheaper first, and improving your skills will help you get better coffees over time. If you do get bitten by the coffee bug, you can think about improving your gear when it really becomes your limiting factor, maybe even explore some manual brewing methods – that’s OK!
- Think about how much time you want to spend every morning/day on making coffee and take it into account. If you like it fast and easy, go for automatic solutions. If you’re willing to spend more time and effort to become a skilled home barista, then you can choose something that will let you work on your skills over time.
Hope this helps you out on your coffee journey – any questions, thoughts, suggestions or anything, just let us know in the comments below!