In a day and age when there’s a Starbucks or similarly themed coffee shop on every corner, it would be entirely fair to question the necessity of a coffee machine. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why pay someone else to make you a coffee you quite like, when you could make your own coffee that you absolutely love at home?
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Coffee Machine Buying Guide
Here you’ll find all the information you need in order to make a good decision about which coffee machine is right for you. Soak it in, let it percolate and then take the plunge.
Types of Machines
The best way to narrow down your options when it comes to coffee machines is to figure out what type of coffee is your blend. Are you a filter fan, for example? Or do you normally opt for an espresso or cappuccino?
The simplest and cheapest option is to buy a cafetière. This involves a glass container with a wire filter on the end of a plunger that you fill with coffee and hot water. The benefit of this is that you can make as much or as little as you’d like, and it looks good in the kitchen! It’s not the same as a modern day coffee maker, though, so your options are very limited.
Filter Coffee Machines
These are very easy to use and often come in different cup volumes. They work by having water drip through a basket of ground coffee into a pot or similar container. You don’t need to boil the water with filter coffee machines as they normally have thermos pots or a hot plate in order to keep the coffee warm. They also tend to have either paper or permanent holders.The permanent ones might be cheaper, but they’re also ‘fiddlier’ to use and keep clean. Papers holders, on the other hand, can just be thrown away after use. Some of them have ‘pods’, which are similar to tea bags and produce very little mess.
These tend to work the opposite way around to filter coffee machines. The ground coffee is put into the top of the machine and water is put in the bottom. Once it boils, the water goes up a tube then over and through the filter. The brewed coffee then settles at the bottom of the jug.
The bottom of the jug is sometimes see-through, so you can see how dark the coffee is getting and test it until it is right for you. It means you can vary the strength of your coffee until it is right for you – though some people think the quality of the coffee isn’t as good.
Espresso & Cappuccino Makers
These types of machine are more like home versions of the ones you’d see in your local coffee shop. They are steam-driven machines that produce delightfully flavoured, strong coffee. It tends to be significantly richer coffee than you’d get from a percolator or filter coffee machine. Its concentration is the reason it is the basis for the likes of cappuccinos and lattes. There are two basic types of machine, which we discuss here:
In these systems the water is boiled inside a chamber and this causes a build-up of pressure and steam. Eventually this forces the boiling water through to the coffee. You can use the steam to froth your coffee. One possible downside is the water can be so hot that it doesn’t make an authentic espresso, so make sure you check out the bar pressure to ensure it’s powerful enough for a good espresso.
These are more expensive than the pressure machines, as they have a separate tank as well as a thermostatically-controlled boiler. This contains what is called a ‘Thermoblock’ system the causes the water to be heated up to between 85-92 degrees centigrade. The water is sent through to the coffee when it gets to the right bar pressure. Espresso coffee tends to be made using finely ground coffee.
Some of the machines use a pod Nespresso system. The coffee is normally blended, roasted and ground before being placed into hermetically sealed capsules that remain fresh for up to 9 months. You can order the pods from a number of places and they offer numerous advantages, including the fact that most major coffee machine makers offer a Nespresso system.
Bean-to-cup machines can provide you with a lovely, sophisticated espresso without any of the difficulties of use of the more complicated machines. With these machines, fresh beans are ground and used in order to allow you to make espressos on demand. These machines are mostly automatic and require you add water into a tank, milk into a container and then fill the coffee bean hopper. You then simply press a button and the machine does all of the hard work for you.
In the more high-end machines you can also find cup warming facilities that gently warm your mug so that the coffee doesn’t experience a sharp change in temperature when it enters your cup. Bean-to-cup machines tend to be a little bit more expensive than the other options, and are often significantly noisier. The noise is still acceptable, though, and the machines produce truly lovely coffee.
Terms to Look Out For
Here are some of the main terms to look out for when you’re buying your coffee machine, and what each of them means:
- Bar Pressure – This is very important to make a delicious ‘crema’. It causes the steam to meet the coffee granules at the right speed, as if it goes too slowly then it can result in a bitter taste. Some coffee machine manufacturers say that 9-11 bar is fine if the beans have been ground correctly, but ideally you want to look for machines that offer between 15-19 bar.
- Thermoblock – Scalding the coffee will result in a genuinely inferior tasting coffee. A thermoblock is a boiler that heats the coffee up to the perfect temperature of about 90 degrees C. Some systems also have a thermoblock boiler for the frothing of milk, which is normally to about 120 degrees C.
- Filter Holder – This is where the coffee granules are held and should be kept warm. Expensive models have brass holders that stay warm for longer.
- Valve – A lot of machines have a mechanical valve that controls the flow of the water. Really high-end machines have solenoid valves, and these both increase the water pressure at point of delivery, as well as shut off the valve at the point that you finish the extraction.
- Wattage – The higher the wattage, the faster the water is boiled. A high wattage machine is important if you tend to make several espressos in a row.
Anything Else to Consider?
Spending a little extra on a decent grinder can make a huge difference to the quality of the coffee. It ensures you get the right sized grain for the coffee that you want. You’ll want a coarse grinder for percolators or cafetières, a medium one for flat-bottomed filter machines, a fine grinder will be ideal for cone filter machines, and an extra fine one is what you’ll be looking for espresso machines.
The maintenance of your machine is something you need to think about, as well as the accoutrements that go with it. As for the coffee itself, the real trick is to buy it little and often as coffee loses it’s freshness really quickly. Storing the coffee in an airtight container will also help. If you’re going to use it within a week then room temperature is fine, but if you’re not likely to use it for up to a month then stick it in the fridge.
Before you use the machine it’s worth flushing it out with hot water first, in order to remove any residual air bubbles. Always use clean water when you’re cleaning and never, ever use detergent. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, though, as any residual coffee from previous times you’ve used the machine will affect the next cup you make yourself. It’s also worth de-scaling the machine 2 or 3 times a year.