Coffee machine buying guide
Automatic, semi-automatic or manual? Pods or capsules? Welcome to coffee machines.
Australians love coffee – possibly a little too much. According to Appliance Retailer magazine, a staggering 36% of us consume five or more cups of coffee a day.
But whether or not we're drinking too much, it's certainly important to us that we drink good coffee, and that's where home coffee machines come in.
- Want to know how we get our review results? Check out how we test coffee machines.
Video: What does it take to make a great cup of coffee?
So, what kind of coffee machine do you need?
Automatic? Manual? What are we talking about? Before you go out buying a coffee machine, there are a few things you need to know.
There are three general types of espresso machines on the market:
1. Pod and capsule machines
These have made quite an impact on the coffee machine market in the last few years, and now make up the bulk of espresso machines we buy in Australia.
Pods are discs of coffee compressed between two layers of filter paper. Some machines can cater for both pods and ground coffee by providing a separate filter basket and possibly a different shower head for each.
Capsules are the size and shape of a single-serve UHT milk holder. They're not compressed like pods but rather hermetically sealed, giving them the added advantage of staying fresh for about nine months.
How they work
A pod or capsule of coffee is inserted into the machine, it then pierces the capsule to allow hot water to flow through and the shot is poured.
- The machines are very simple and convenient to use.
- There are many flavours of coffee available.
- They require very little cleaning up.
- Enthusiasts may find coffees from these machines lack depth or intensity of flavour.
- The used capsules can be recycled, but usually end up in landfill, which is very wasteful of the aluminium and other material that goes into making them.
They range in price from under $100 to $600+.
- Find results for capsule and pod coffee machines in our home espresso machine reviews.
2. Automatic espresso machines
These are a small but significant part of the market; while most people prefer to either work a manual model or enjoy the convenience (and cost savings) of a capsule machine, the automated machines definitely have their fans and can be very handy in a small office kitchen.
How they work
Your cup goes under the spout, then you press the button and it grinds the coffee beans to make the espresso. Many models also automatically froth the milk for a cappuccino or latte.
- Easier to use than the semi-automatic and manual machines.
- Use freshly ground beans rather than a capsule.
- Can be much more expensive than the other types of machines, and their higher price isn't a guarantee that they'll make particularly good coffee.
They range in price from around $500 to $3000+.
- We test 15 automatic espresso machines including models from DeLonghi, Jura and Saeco – see the results in our automatic espresso machine reviews.
3. Semi-automatic and manual espresso machines
How they work
You manually put the required amount of ground coffee into the group head, then set the machine to pour. A semi-automatic machine will automatically cut off the flow of coffee once a pre-set amount has been poured into your cup, while a manual machine will require you to cut the flow of coffee yourself.
- The depth of flavour from using fresh coffee.
- The satisfaction of making your own cup of coffee the way you like it.
- Difficult for beginners with no coffee-making experience.
- Ground coffee needs to be prepared before use.
Semi-automatic and manual machines range in price from around $200 to $1500.
- We test more than 40 manual, semi-automatic and pod coffee machines in our home espresso machine reviews.
What to look for
Clear and simple controls – digital displays are generally easier to understand than indicator lights, especially when programming the machine.
An adjustable grinder (automatic machines have built-in grinders) lets you adjust the grind to suit the bean and machine.
Variable coffee strength allows you to adjust the intensity of the coffee to your taste.
Space – 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.
Some machines come with a froth enhancer on the milk-frothing wand. This is supposed to make frothing easier, but it often produces large bubbles rather than the fine foam that's suitable for lattes and cappuccinos. If the enhancer is removable you may find it easier to produce fine, velvety foam.
A cup-warming tray can help keep your cups at a warm, constant temperature, which stops the coffee from cooling down too quickly.
Double shot – many models can make two espressos at once, but they often just grind one dose of beans for this, usually about the same amount they'd make for a single cup, which leads to weaker coffee. If you often make two cups, look for models that make them in quick succession rather than at the same time; these models grind a fresh dose for each cup, which is the best way for a good, strong cup of coffee. Check the good and bad points for each model in our home espresso coffee machines reviews and automatic espresso machine reviews to see how they fare with making two cups.
Other useful features include a 'water tank empty' reminder, a height-adjustable spout to accommodate larger cups, and adjustable coffee volume.