Everything you’ll ever need to know about buying a coffee machine.
One thing that Aussies adore is coffee. It’s important for us to get that much-needed caffeine (or decaffeinated) fix in our manic modern-day lifestyles, which is probably why home coffee machines are becoming the latest must-have appliance. You can make barista-style cappuccinos and lattes from the comfort of your own home and avoid having to make a trip to your local coffee shop. Coffee machines can also be a more cost-effective purchase long-term. But buying the coffee machine that’s right for you can be a daunting task. With competing brands marketing different designs, functions and flavour availabilities, we find ourselves spoilt for choice. Don’t panic! You can relax as we’ve done the legwork so that you don’t have to.
How to decide which coffee machine is best for you
With an ever expanding market for coffee machines, it can be quite an overwhelming task trying to figure out where to start your search. In order to determine which machine is best suited to your lifestyle, you’ll need to ask yourself a few important questions:
- How often do you drink coffee?
- Do you like flavour diversity or is a simple americano more your style?
- Do you want to be able to cater for your friends and family? Or is this simply a personal necessity?
- How much space will your coffee machine have?
There are several things that you’ll need to consider before purchasing the coffee machine that’s perfectly suited to your needs. We’ll take you through all of the primary decisions and make some of the best recommendations out there to help you decide!
Which coffee machine is best for use at home?
Coffee machines are now available in a variety of shapes and sizes, some utilising pods or capsules, and others that are either fully or semi-automatic. Some coffee machines are designed for those with barista experience while others are engineered for the novice, so we’ve identified the features to look out for when deciding which machine will suit your level of expertise.
Pods and capsules
Machines that utilise pods and capsules have increased in both popularity and desirability in the last couple of years. But what’s the difference between pods and capsules?
Pods are discs that contain coffee which has been compressed between two layers of filter paper.
Capsules are approximately the same size and are similar in shape to a single-serve UHT milk carton you’d often see on a hotel room’s complimentary coffee tray. They are sealed in an airtight manner which ensures freshness for approximately nine months.
Both coffee pods and capsules are inserted into the machine which then pierces the capsule, allowing hot water to flow through the shot of coffee. These machines are very easy to use and offer a wide variety of coffee flavours readily prepared so that you don’t have to waste time measuring correct amounts of additives to gain the desired effect. They also require very little in terms of maintenance and cleaning. However, if you’re a strong coffee enthusiast, you may find that these machines do not produce that intensity of flavour you’re looking for.
Automatic coffee machines
Automatic coffee machines have their fan base too. Although not as convenient or cost-effective as the capsule or pod machines, automated machines have secured their popularity and can prove very useful in the confinements of a tight office kitchen, or when hosting a coffee morning with friends.
They work simply by positioning your cup or mug directly underneath the spout of the machine, pressing a button and allowing the machine to do the rest for you. It grinds the coffee beans and produces an espresso, cappuccino or latte, whichever your preferred caffeine intake may be. They’re much easier to use than a semi-automatic machine and have the additional bonus of using fresh coffee beans to create a better density of flavour than the pod or capsule ones. It is important to point out that these aren’t as cost-effective as other machine types on the coffee machine market.
Semi-automatic and manual coffee machines
Both semi-automatic and manual coffee machines allow users to practise, experiment and get more hands-on with their coffee. These machines continue to be a firm favourite with extreme coffee enthusiasts and do require additional knowledge of the techniques behind being a barista.
How they work is you put the accurate amount of ground coffee into the group head, then you can set the machine to pour. A semi-automatic machine automatically cuts off the flow of coffee once a pre-set amount has been poured into your coffee cup or mug, whereas a manual machine will require you to manually stop the flow. These are a great choice if it’s an intense and flavoursome coffee that you desire as they use fresh coffee beans, which you would have to grind before adding to the group head. They can be rather tricky to master if you’re a complete coffee novice, and having to pre-prepare the coffee grinds can be less time efficient.
The coffee machine features to look out for
Coffee machines have a wide range of different features on offer, which can cause confusion when it comes to buying one that’s right for you. Here is a handful of useful features to look out for:
Clear control panels
Digital displays are much easier to understand than indicator lights, especially when it comes to programming your machine.
If you’re opting for an automatic machine, they come ready-assembled with built-in grinders. An adjustable grinder will allow you to adjust the grind to suit whichever coffee bean and machine you are using.
Variable coffee strength
This is a great feature as it allows you to accommodate the intensity of the coffee flavour to your own personal taste, as well as the varying tastes of your friends, family or colleagues.
Machines range dramatically in size from a compact capsule model to a large and extravagant espresso machine. Make sure your coffee machine will suit its spatial surroundings.
Cup warming tray
A cup warming tray can help to retain the heat of your coffee by warming the cup before it’s poured. A big part of modern living is the hustle and bustle, which can cause distraction. If you regularly forget about your coffee, and upon remembering, return to a cold cup, this could be a game changer for you. It’s also handy in those cold winter months when things cool much more quickly!
Plenty of models can make two espressos at once, but they often just grind one dose of beans which leads to a much weaker coffee. If you regularly need to make two cups, you should look out for models that make them one after the other rather than at the same time. These models grind a new dose of coffee beans for each cup, which is the best way to ensure you both get a good, intense hit of caffeine.
Water tank empty reminder
This is a handy feature that reminds you to add water before starting your machine, or before making your next cup of coffee. It’s usually a little icon that illuminates to show you that the water in your tank is running low.
Height-adjustable spouts allow your machine to accommodate larger cups, for example when making a tall latte.
Coffee grind, machine compatibility and taste
Coffee grinds range dramatically from extra coarse to extra fine. Here’s some handy information on what each level of coarseness is useful for and the flavour it produces.
Extra coarse coffee grinds are generally used for cold brewing techniques, and iced coffees are growing in popularity, especially on those simmering summer days.
Medium coffee grinds generally have the texture of sand, are most readily available on the market, and are most commonly used in automatic drip coffee machines like the Sunbeam Mini Barista EM4300.
To make the best espresso, you’ll need to use a very fine and consistent grind. One easy test to check whether your grind is fine enough is topinchthe grinds between your thumb and forefinger. The coffee should clump together slightly in the centre of the pinch, where the pressure is hardest, but not clump too much. If it does not clump at all, it is too coarse and will produce a weak shot. If it clumps excessively, it is too fine and will produce over extraction, which results in unfavourable flavours. The best feedback to look for on the suitability of your grind is extraction time. If the water pushes through too fast, you’ll need to use a slightly finer grind. Equally, if it goes too slowly, you should opt for a slightly coarser one.
What can we expect to pay for a decent coffee machine?
Coffee machines are very eclectic in price. If you were looking for a pod or capsule machine, you’d expect to pay anywhere from approximately $99 to $500. If you’re leaning towards an automatic machine, the prices range from $500–$3,000 and beyond. If you’d like to try a more hands-on coffee-making experience, semi-automatic and manual models will cost somewhere between $200 and $1,500.
Best coffee machines for…
Let’s have an in-depth look at some of the best coffee machines on the market for a range of different scenarios.
If your budget is a little restrictive on price, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered! In capsule models, we’d recommend the Nespresso Inissia Coffee Machine with Milk Frother. At just $199, this quirky little gadget is available in a variety of colours. Perfect for a hot and velvety coffee with the added options for making an espresso or lungo, this coffee machine has the versatility required to cater for the varying tastes of your family and friends. It comes with an Aeroccino frother which enables you to enjoy creamy and textured milk in your beverages. It’s simple and easy to use as it allows you to create hot or cold milk froth for your latte at the touch of a button.
If you’re drawn to a more hands-on approach to your coffee making, why not go for the Sunbeam Cafe Barista Coffee Machine? Perfectly priced at $199, you can perk up your day with cafe-quality coffee.
Additional features include:
- It comes with an automatic milk frother so that you can add froth to your coffee, depending on cup size.
- If your preference is for less or more frothed milk, the frother can also be adjusted manually.
- It’s easy to use, as a single touch on the Barista's control panel is all you need to create a delicious cappuccino, latte or espresso.
- The machine also has a removable milk reservoir that you can store in the fridge when not in use.
- For ease of cleaning, the coffee maker's milk reservoir and lid are dishwasher-safe.
At this price point, you aren’t really looking at the entry-level options. You are upgrading the experience and the quality of the coffee you’re intending to make. A great choice in the automatic category would be the DeLonghi Magnifica Automatic Coffee Machine. Priced just within budget at $499, this machine offers 13 grinding settings and can process beans to cater to your perfect brew. It utilises a compact reliable fresh (CRF) system, which allows you to sip your drink at its ideal temperature and produces a rich aroma every time. CRF works by grinding beans inside a compact, tubeless system, so you can enjoy with efficient performance. It’s also great for making creamy and velvety coffee recipes, as it features an innovative cappuccino system. It mixes air, steam and milk, and can easily create that creamy froth to top off your coffee.
If you’re after the simplicity, diversity of flavour and cost-effectiveness of a pod or capsule machine, then the KitchenAid Nespresso Coffee Machine could be the perfectly stylish choice for you. You can prepare delicious coffee at the touch of a button.
Additional features include:
- It’s crafted from precision die-cast metal, lending to style and longevity.
- This machine offers six coffee strength and volume settings, from ristretto to lungo, so you can enjoy your espresso however you like it.
- It has a water tank capacity of 1.4L.
- It features a heat up time of less than 30 seconds, meaning you can produce premium espresso almost instantly.
If your budget is a little less constricted, why not indulge in the Sunbeam Torino Coffee Machine and Grinder? At $1,499, it comes in well under budget and is crafted from sleek and smooth stainless steel. It features triple thermoblock heating technology which provides fast and efficient water heat-ups. Two thermoblocks maintain optimum temperatures, while the coffee maker’s third thermoblock delivers powerful steam. It has a belt-driven conical grinder that reduces motor vibration to enable consistent grind size – perfect for espressos. The grinder also has a “tap and go” option which provides fast and easy grinding, bringing ground coffee directly into the group handle. It also has custom-program functionality, allowing you to produce coffee exactly as you like it. You can utilise multiple espresso shot variations for different coffee bean types and hone your barista skills while trying out a variety of coffee recipes.
It features an integrated LCD screen that displays the espresso shot timer and its current program settings. The extraction pressure gauge provides live feedback during coffee making, measuring extraction pressure throughout the process, which is vital for producing an excellent espresso.
The best option for the small and compact office kitchens would be an automatic machine like the Jura Ena Micro 90 Automatic Coffee Machine. This automatic coffee machine allows you to create a great variety of specialty coffees at the office. The coffee maker selects the ideal extraction time and maximises that indulgent aroma, letting you make specialties like espressos with ease. It has an energy saving mode that minimises energy consumption while creating your favourite coffee. Its simple control layout lets you make adjustments easily, and its space-saving design means that it won’t take up too much space, even in an already overcrowded office kitchen.