5 great coffee machines

Coffee cupThe dark liquid that flows in the veins of the workforce, coffee is a popular drink. American coffee-drinkers consume an average 3.1 cups a day (according to coffeeresearch.org) – sadly British statistics haven’t been compiled, but I imagine we’re not far behind. If you’re going to drink that much of it, it might as well be good. We look at the best machines for making café-standard espresso in the comfort of your kitchen.

Cafetieres, Filter Coffee Makers and Percolators use plungers, filters and steam to make coffee. We’re looking at the fourth type of coffee-maker: espresso and cappuccino makers, which make stronger more intense coffees and are what you see in professional coffee shops.

To look out for in an espresso machine:
1. What kind of coffee do you use with it?
Expresso machines need extra-finely ground coffee. Some machines use coffee pods which are easier to clean up afterwards and keep for slightly long than normal coffee. Called Nespresso machines, these pod-users are convenient, but you’re tied into buying that maker’s selection of coffees. (Unless you hack them by recycling a pod with your own coffee and a bit of tinfoil: see a video of entrepreneurial nespresso machine hacker.)

2. Is it steam or pump driven?
Espresso machines either use steam or pressure to force the water through the coffee grounds: cheaper machines use steam, more expensive machines use pumps. Commercial coffee-sellers use pumps.

3. The bar pressure
Bar pressure defines at what pressure the steam meets the coffee granules at the correct speed. If it’s too slow, it could result in a bitter taste. 15 – 19 bar is the optimum, though some suppliers claim 9-11 bar is enough if the beans have been ground correctly.
Pump machines have better bar pressure than steam machines.

4. Does it have a milk steamer?
I love frothy milk beyond reason and most espresso machines come with a steam wand, which shoots steam through milk, heating and frothing it for use in cappuccinos and lattes.

Prices range from about £40 to the frankly horrifying £999 (for a deLonghi Prima Donna Espresso Coffee-maker)

Click on the image below to start the gallery



  • I think that your perspective is deep, its just well thought out and really fantastic to see someone who knows how to put these thoughts down so well Nice post.

  • I have the Cuisinart EM-200 and i am pretty happy with it. The bar pressure is very important

  • I love coffee, and both this article and the comments have been very informative! Thank you so much for posting!

  • I am from Puerto Rico and got my Handpresso through Coffee World Puerto Rico: http://www.coffeeworldpuertorico.ecrater.com I received my Handpresso about a week ago. The first expression is that this Handpresso is just nicely built, as well as the case. Making espresso is very easy, and it takes a minute or so to make a cup. I was impressed with the coffee. Believe me for a portable machine, coffee was great. Now my Handpresso substituted my Krups machine. I use Island Joe’s ESE pods,Lavazza Grand Crema AND PORTO RICO ESE PODS FROM PUERTO RICO. A good hint is: to make sure the espresso has an ok temperature, I heat up my cup as well as the water container adding the boiling water and then adding the water to make the coffee. I always fill a bit more water (a few drops more) so the ESE pods gets soaked before extraction. And it really takes about 30-38 pumps, no big deal. With this I get a great espresso and crema too. I recommend buying ESE pods buy bulks of 100 or 150, it gets cheaper. The unit works best with the standard 7g E.S.E pod.

  • Haha… glad no offence was taken.

    Seriously though – NINE paragraphs? Didn’t realise I had gone on so much – it looks less in a comment box!

    Could someone please guest edit my comments!?

    My wife has perfected the “i’ve stopped listening” glazed-over look to a tee, it’s a shame she wasn’t reading over my shoulder earlier!

  • wow – thank you very much steve, that was truly encyclopedic, can you guest-edit all our future coffee-related posts?
    more to the point, can you make me a coffee?
    as to the girl thing – we are very fond of all our readers especially when they are so enlightened.

    mystech – point taken, we’ve stopped the autoplay.

  • Love the blog, realise I’m a bloke, and all the usual caveats….

    But… i’m also a bit of a coffee head. This is not meant to be a criticism of the blogpost, more an additional bit of advice from a coffee nut.

    Re point 1, it’s eSpresso, not eXpresso, small niggle, but one that grinds (pardon the pun). Also, not all pod machines are nespresso. There are various brand and generic pod machines. Machines like nespresso/Dolce Gusto/Tassimo do use brand specific pods, but Nespresso are the only ones with a restricted sales-channel for the pods. It’s well worth it, though, as Nespresso tastes like proper coffee, while the others are glorified hot chocolate machines.

    Many/most of the loose coffee espresso machines are “ESE” compatible – tightly packed little teabag-like pods of fine ground coffee. Variable results depending on the brand of ESE pods and quality of the machine.

    The cheap machines that use steam pressure rather than pump don’t produce espresso per se, rather strong coffee in the same way as mokka pots. The pressure in ‘proper’ machines doesn’t have to be electrically generated though, there are some big metal numbers that look like citrus presses, and even hand-held portable ones that look like bicycle pumps. It’s the combination of pressure and water temp that makes the espresso perfect. The steam based machines rely on the water getting too hot – it makes the coffee bitter, or watery, depending on the grind.

    I would avoid the steam machines generally, and would recommend the handpresso manual device instead (similar price and FAR better results).

    I’d also avoid the Gaggia Cubika – a real disappointment from Gaggia, I found it impossible to get a decent cup from it, despite hours of experimenting with grind and tamping pressure.

    Oh… and don’t use the hack for the nespresso pods – you’ll see from the end of the vid that it produces weak coffee with no crema (oily froth) on the top – it’s because the machine relies on the pressure building in the pods before it punctures on the filter to get the flavour right. Also you’ll potentially b*gger your machine and invalidate your warranty.

    Anyway… I shall get back to reading the blog and pretending that it doesn’t matter that I’m not a girl!

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