04.What to look for
Shop around; we paid considerably less than recommended retail price for the tested machines. Many large retailers have demonstration models, so ask the sales assistant to make you a coffee from the machine you’re interested in.
Choosing a machine
- If you usually drink espressos or long blacks, choose a machine with a good taste test score.
- If you usually drink latte or cappuccino, the milk will mask the espresso flavour to some extent, so it's more important to choose a machine with a good milk frothing score.
Clear and simple controls Digital displays are generally easier to understand than indicator lights, especially when programming the machine.
- An adjustable grinder lets you adjust the grind to suit the bean and machine. Check the grinder mechanism is safely inaccessible, or that the grinder automatically shuts off when the hopper lid is removed. The Saeco models have the latter feature; on all the rest, the grinder mechanism is not accessible.
Variable coffee strength This allows you to adjust the intensity of the coffee to your taste.
Footprint A big espresso machine is fine if you have plenty of bench space in your kitchen, but you may want one that takes up less space.
Removable froth enhancer Some machines come with a froth enhancer on the milk frothing wand. This is intended to make frothing easier, but often it produces large bubbles rather than the fine foam that’s suitable for lattes and cappuccinos. If you can remove the enhancer you may find it easier to produce fine, velvety foam. The Juras, Krups XP9000 and Delonghi ESAM3500.S froth the milk automatically; none of these produced very fine foam.
Cup warming tray All but the Jura models have one.
Other useful features All the tested models have a “water tank empty” reminder, height adjustable spout to accommodate larger cups and adjustable coffee volume.
One cup or two?
- An automatic machine should be ideal for making two coffees at once, but unfortunately the Delonghis, Juras, Krups XP9000 and Sunbeam do not do so correctly.
- Rather than grinding a fresh batch of coffee for each cup, they instead grind a little more than one cup’s worth and then put two cups of hot water through it, making each cup weak and watery. With these machines, you’re better off making two single cups consecutively.
- Of the remaining machines, the “two cup” option makes two espressos in rapid succession, giving much better results.
- This setting was not used in our taste test, where all the cups were made individually.