Settling down with the right coffee machine can feel awfully similar to a fairytale about porridge and bears. If you find the right one, it’ll probably be one of your most-used appliances, elevating your day with that perfect cup of caffè crema every morning. Pick wrong, and it’ll bring headaches and an even larger caffeine deficiency to battle with.
Back in the day, your cafetière or percolator could do the job and that was enough said. But with the rise of pod and fresh ground coffees available on the market, as well as the Antipodean and artisan coffee influences of flat whites and long blacks, the coffee stakes were raised at home too.
When the so-called ‘Third Wave’ of coffee drinkers arrived on the scene, they brought with them the single-origin beans, microfoam, pour-over brewing, and latte art that have since filtered down into the mainstream. Coffee’s game was raised from mere commodity to artisanal foodstuff, and we need the at-home technology to match.
So, back to Goldilocks. Finding that ‘just right’ middle ground is essential for a machine that gets regular daily use (and, let’s face it, is usually the first thing to turn on in your house), and of course, every Goldilocks has a different ‘just right’.
In your household, that might mean a consistent crema or simply the fact your pre-programmed coffee can be ready to go with the switch of a button. What about bean to cup or totally fully manual? An almost endless choice of pods and capsules might be more your thing, or picking out that perfect roast ready to grind fresh that next morning.
Whether it’s an all-singing, all-steaming steel machine you’re after or a hand-powered espresso that will fit in your rucksack, these are the best domestic coffee machines TechRadar has used. After all, coffee fixes the day’s woes, and these machines fix the coffee.
Nespresso Vertuo Plus
Nespresso updates its pods with a new super-sleek system
Looking to add a pod machine to your life? The Nespresso Vertuo Plus is convenient and easy-to-use, creating great-tasting coffees of all types and sizes. If grinding beans and sourcing single-origin coffee aren’t your jam, pods are likely a better fit.
Think of it as the capsule coffee machine 2.0: Nespresso’s Vertuo pods come with a built-in barcode, which the machine reads in order to tailor its blending technique, with the pod spinning up to 7000 times a minute to create some impressively rich crema.
The Vertuo Plus also has a moveable water tank (surprisingly useful if you’re finding somewhere to house this in an office or in your flat), and of all the machines we tried, it was the most compact and intrusive - if you’re short on space, the Vertuo Plus is worth taking into consideration.
We tested this machine for a month and the Centrifusion extraction technique worked every time, without fail - you could probably use this machine with your sleep mask still on. In fact it’s so easy, it’s not even rude to ask guests to help themselves.
But as with any pod machine, it’s hard to get away from the fact that by choosing a Nespresso Vertuo, you’re also locked into their way of doing things (it’s not called ‘a system’ for nothing).
The Vertuo machine will only read Nespresso pods, meaning no last-minute trips to refresh your caffeine supplies. And they’re not cheap either. At around 60 pence/80 cents per pod, a morning espresso habit could soon add up. There’s also little (well, no) scope for adding milk, although if it is a range of coffee flavors and not microfoam you’re into, you’ll have struck gold.
You’ll also need to watch out when it comes to disposing of those pesky pods - Nespresso encourage people to make recycling their pods part of your ‘coffee ritual’, if that sounds like a realistic addition then by all means, this might just be your bowl of proverbial porridge.
- Read our full review: Nespresso Virtuo Plus review
Sage by Heston Blumenthal Oracle Touch
Perfect lattes, no skill required
If it’s the unmistakable aroma of fresh ground coffee that’s got you thinking about spending big on an all-star machine, you’ll likely have come across the Sage by Heston Blumenthal the Oracle Touch.
From automatic microfoam and coffee grinding to perfect coffee doses and expert tamping, this machine does almost everything, and for its price, it needs to. But if you’ve always fancied yourself as a would-be barista, or just like the idea of raising your latte-art game, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a flaw.
As with all the best top of the range appliances, the Oracle Touch excels in being deceptively easy to use. Sage has set out to automate the crucial elements of making a great espresso (dose amount, water temperature, water pressure and steam pressure are all handled by the machine), meaning a novice can pour the perfect cup of barista-level coffee at home with minimal effort, because the Oracle Touch is doing all of the hard work.
The machine is semi-automatic, grinding and tamping by itself, while it leaves coffee strength and milk texture down to you. This is where the aforementioned coffee aroma comes in - using the Oracle Touch means your kitchen will be full of that gorgeous rich smell every morning, but there’s also a bit of mess from coffee grounds too, so if you need a tidier approach, consider pods instead.
Using separate boilers for milk and coffee, the Oracle Touch produces enough steam pressure to create that ever-elusive microfoam. Digital thermometers cut off the steam to stop the milk from scalding, so all you have to do is pour it.
Don’t consider squeezing this machine in between appliances - with the hopper on top, it’s hard to fit the Oracle Touch on to kitchen-top surfaces if there's shelving above, so properly measure out where it could fit if you’re considering purchasing, or you’re going to have a lot of kitchen to re-arrange.
True to its name, the Oracle Touch does the majority of the leg-work, leaving you free to fine-tune aspects. Just make sure those single-origin coffee beans are on repeat order, because with all that showing-off to do, you’re going to be getting through a whole lot.
- Read our full review: Sage by Heston Blumenthal the Oracle Touch review
Melitta Caffeo CI Bean to Cup
A bean-to-cup machine with minimal fuss and great taste
What do we have here, a bean-to-cup machine with minimal fuss and great taste? In a nutshell, yes! The Melitta Caffeo might be half the price of the Sage’s Oracle Touch, but we found customizable settings give you the best of both worlds and cafe-worthy creations every time.
The Caffeo’s CI (Coffee Intelligence) Bean to Cup Coffee Machine focuses on ease of use and customizable elements in an automatic set up.
Its My Coffee Memory system can store four personal preferences that are pre-programmed into the machine, alongside making a consistently good espresso and milk foam. At its price point (£849.99), it’s by no means a cheap model, and it does risk being outshone by both the lower cost and flashier machines at either end of the market.
The Melitta is fully automatic but designed to allow for plenty of customization. It’ll take you under five minutes to programme in a few different coffee preferences, and once that’s sorted, this machine is incredibly easy to use even first thing in the morning.
While its price point sits in the middle ground for high-end coffee machines, it also incorporates a few simple touches that inch it ahead in the running. Using a simple coffee chamber system, it’s possible to switch between two types of beans. It also excels in the taste stakes, producing rich and aromatic espresso, and an excellent crema.
Going up against the Oracle Touch by Sage, we’d think it actually surpasses the Sage for milk-based coffees: cappuccinos are finished with a top of frothy, creamy milk (meaning the crema shows at the sides of the milk), and when it comes to lattes, milk froth and milk are added to the cup before espresso, so the coffee settles between the milk and froth.
In a coffee-loving home or workplace, the Melitta is a good choice for a crowd. After a month with the Melitta, we argue that it’s a robust bean-to-cup machine for someone that needs a quality caffeine fix with minimal fuss.
- Read our full review: Melitta Caffeo CI Bean to Cup Coffee Machine review
For great tasting coffee on the move
A bit of a wild card for an at-home espresso machine, sure. But we were so impressed by Wacaco’s Nanopresso charms that we couldn’t resist including it.
Simply put, the Wacaco’s Nanopresso is a pocket-sized machine with the ability to brew hand-pumped espresso. So whether you’re not taken in by a blimp-sized domestic espresso machine or simply on the go so much that home means more than one place, the Nanopresso is a surprisingly worthy contender.
There’s no battery or charging - it’s all done by creating up to 18 bars of pressure through hand-pumping, and the end result is comparable to what you’d be served in a cafe.
Lighter, smaller, easier to pump and yet twice as powerful as its predecessor (the Minipresso), the Nanopresso comes with a built-in espresso cup and lightweight case that’s moulded perfectly to house the device.
If you’ve never used an outdoor espresso maker before, it takes a bit of time to work out what’s going on, especially when slotting it all back in together, but it gets much easier after the first few uses. This is definitely not a machine to try for the first time at 7am on a weekday morning, but it’s great for taking high quality espresso with you no matter where you go.
Because this machine is so simple and the technology is boiled right down to the essentials, it’s easy to tweak and see immediate results, and feel like you’re learning a lot about honing in on that perfect espresso.
In look, price, and experience, the Nanopresso couldn’t be further than the Sage. And yet the taste is almost on par. It is more of a faff, it does involve boiling water and finding a flat spot if you’re outside, but the end result is seriously impressive.
- Our full review is coming soon.
Gaggia Gran Deluxe
A chic, compact machine that makes the perfect espressos
After weeks of trying out the Sage, Nespresso Vertuo and Melitta, Gaggia’s Gran Deluxe has a tough act to follow. No, it doesn’t create impeccable microfoam by itself or remember your name and chosen latte strength at the flick of a button. But when we’d gotten to know its old school ways (such as priming the machine and the lack of touchscreens to rely on), it felt like finding a comfortable middle ground for coffee and owner.
It’s by no means as flash as Sage’s Oracle Touch or the Caffeo by Melitta, and some elements do feel a little cheaper than we expected from a Gaggia; the machine is plastic-bodied with a metal front, and you’ll find the espresso filter holder is also plastic.
Day after day, we missed the weight of a heftier machine. But it’s also incredibly compact, fitting in alongside everything else in your kitchen, and although it doesn’t have much height to fill buckets of coffee up, there’s no denying the chic design credentials of an Italian classic.
If you’re looking for a machine to get back some control over your coffee making process, you might have just found your Goldilocks zone. Nespresso’s Vertuo, Melitta’s Caffeo and Sage’s Oracle Touch are all keen to take that out of your hands - a little like going from automatic back to stick driving.
But with the Gaggia, suddenly there’s a lot more control and variables you missed when something else was doing it for you: you’ll need to prime the machine before you start - the ensuing confusion for us was a reality check after thinking our coffee making had come along a fair way!
Aside from design, the Gaggia Gran Deluxe is a traditional pump espresso machine with a pressurised filter holder. The machine comes with filters for ground coffee, or you can use ESE espresso pods and it does produce a great crema-topped espresso.
The steamer wand will give you some great foamed milk - there’s no temperature gauge to tell you when to stop steaming, which we found tricky after relying on the insight of the Oracle Touch, but again - the Gaggia feels a bit like going back to basics. Considering it’ll cost you less than ten per cent of the price of an Oracle Touch, learning the traditional espresso method may be right up your street if you’re also under a budget
The Gaggia Gran Deluxe doesn’t do as much of the hard work for you as the other machines we tested, so you’ll really be getting to know your way around a great espresso, flat white or cappuccino. Whether that’s a pro or a con is down to you.
- Our full review is coming soon.