Coffee maker vs espresso machine: which one is best for you?

Coffee maker vs espresso machine
(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best coffee maker is essential to ensuring that your first cup of coffee in the morning is just how you like it. A flat white in your local café may be convenient, but nothing beats a fresh home brew, after all. 

There’s a wide range of espresso machines available to buy online with big name brands such as Nespresso, Smeg and Delonghi offering bean-to-cup, pod and ground coffee machines that make intense espressos with a rich crema. You can alternatively find drip-filter coffee makers such as the Moccamaster KBGV Select that produce tall Americanos, which we rate very highly in our best coffee maker round up. 

But while coffee can be produced from the same coffee bean, which type of coffee machine you choose impacts the taste, strength and quality of your brew. This makes it important to consider the options before you buy. 

With so many to consider, finding the perfect machine can be rather daunting – particularly as the latest models don’t come cheap. If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already got your eye on an espresso machine or drip-filter coffee maker. Each type will give you two different drinking experiences so which coffee machine is right for you and your household? To help you choose between the two, we pit coffee makers vs espresso machines here. 

Coffee maker vs espresso machine: Price

The price of your coffee machine all depends on the brand name you choose, the style and finish of your machine, and overall quality of the design. While prices can vary dramatically between designs, drip-filter coffee makers are usually the cheaper option compared to a standard espresso machine. 

The prices for drip-filter coffee makers can range anywhere between $25 / £25 / AU$50 for a model such as the Dominion 12-Cup Drip Coffee Maker to around $350 / £350 / AU$650 for the Moccamaster KBGV Select, for example. Espresso machines, on the other hand, are much less budget-friendly, with the entry price for a basic espresso machine costing around the $50 / £50 / AU$95 mark. 

Depending on how versatile the design and whether it has extras such as a milk frother, for example, you can expect to pay anything up to $1,500 / £1,500. Bear in mind, however, that prices fluctuate dramatically throughout the year with impressive bargains to enjoy at peak sale times such as Black Friday and the January sales.

  • Winner: Drip filter coffee maker  

Ninja DualBrew Pro

(Image credit: Ninja)

Coffee maker vs espresso machine: Design

While flat whites, frothy cappuccinos and gingerbread lattes with all the cream and marshmallows you can fit inside may sound fun, but sometimes a simple Americano is all you need. If you prefer a no-fuss black coffee, a drip filter coffee machine may just be the right choice for you. Offering you a simple way to make black Americano coffee that can be easily poured from a carafe, drip filter coffee makers provide the ideal route to that perfect cup of joe. But bear in mind that drip filter coffee makers don’t tend to come with an integrated milk warmer/frother, so if you want your Americano with milk you’ll need to warm some milk up separately. The Ninja DualBrew Pro is an exception, however.   

Drip-filter designs are attractive as they are convenient, and you don’t have to worry about tying yourself into a coffee pod brand or recycling the pods. Many of the best designs have insulated carafes and programmable timers. You can use the timer to set your machine to start working before you wake up in the morning so that your coffee is freshly brewed and ready for you when you enter your kitchen. Some designs also have a hot plate that stays on for a set time after you’ve made a brew, so your coffee keeps hot. How long the hot plate stays on for varies from model to model so check before you buy. The Cuisinart DGB-650BC Grind & Brew Automatic is an exception, however, as it has an insulated carafe instead of a hot plate, which does a great job at keeping your coffee hot and is less likely to leave your coffee tasting stewed. 

Seattle Coffee Gear Diletta Bello testing images

(Image credit: Future / Michelle Rae Uy)

If you buy an espresso maker that either takes pods, filter coffee or freshly ground beans, you’re in for a different experience. Espresso machines are more complex in design compared to your standard drip filter coffee maker. They come with spouts that produce single or double shot espressos – so you can make two coffees at the same time. Many designs also come with an integrated milk frother or steam wand so that you can add milk to your coffee and use ‘micro-foam’ to create barista style coffee with latte art. Some espresso machines such as the Seattle Coffee Gear Diletta Bello Espresso Machine even have a hot water dispenser, which is a handy extra when you want instant hot water for green teas and hot chocolates.  

Espresso makers give you much more flexibility when it comes to the type of coffee drink you can produce. Some of the best models have digital controls to make it easy for you to select your drink type, variable grind settings so you can adjust the strength of your coffee, and variable water tank sizes. While they all aim to deliver the same end goal – to produce a rich-tasting espresso with thick crema on top – you can read about the differences in the type of machines in our bean-to-cup coffee machines vs espresso machines feature here. 

  • Winner: Draw – it all depends on your end game

De'Longhi EC9255M La Specialista Arte Evo

(Image credit: De'Longhi)

Coffee maker vs espresso machine: Performance

The flavour and strength of your coffee will vary greatly depending on which type of coffee machine you choose, but drip filter coffee makers produce the taller and weaker drink. The two types of coffee machines work very differently to produce the end result – a delicious cup of coffee. 

For drip filter coffee makers, you can choose between designs that grind whole beans or ones that use a paper filter and take ground coffee. Either option gives you the flexibility to use your favorite coffee roast – be it a smooth Colombian or rich Italian coffee – to brew a delicious Americano coffee. Drip filter coffee makers work by pouring hot water over the ground coffee so that it absorbs the flavour and oils of the beans and then drips through the spout and into the carafe. Some believe that by using a filter, it reduces sediments in your drink and produces a smoother cup of coffee with the brewing process highlighting the more intricate flavours of the coffee. 

Moccamaster KBGV Select

(Image credit: Moccamaster)

Unlike most espresso machines, not all drip filter coffee makers allow you to adjust the size (and potentially strength) of your coffee, however. The Ninja DualBrew Pro is one of the exceptions, giving you a brew size range from 4oz to 55oz, so you can brew just how much coffee you desire as you go. 

Espresso coffee machines, on the other hand, can produce a far more intense and aromatic ‘shot’ of double or single espresso. Espresso coffee uses a finer, powder-like grind as compared to a coffee maker and very high pressure to force water through the coffee within seconds. This results in a much richer and shorter finish, delivering a thick ‘crema’ on top of the espresso that you just won’t get from a regular coffee maker. 

  • Winner: Draw – it’s all a matter of taste 

Coffee maker vs espresso machine: Which is right for you?

There are some notable differences in the way a drip filter coffee maker works compared to an espresso maker. To make it easier to decide between the two, it’s important to think about how you like your coffee in the morning. For a flavoursome tall and clean Americano a coffee maker is a great choice, but for shorter ‘shots’ of espresso with a rich crema an espresso maker is ideal.  

  • Winner: Draw – there are pros and cons to each type of coffee machine that we think balances out the results
Emily Peck
Lifestyle journalist

Emily is a lifestyle journalist who writes for a range of publications including TechRadar, Livingetc, Wired, Ideal Home and GQ. She writes about interior design and smart home, gardens, wellbeing, food and fitness and has tested everything from food processors to paddleboards, and bee hives to the best beds. When she’s not typing away at her computer, she can be found tending to her Dorset-garden, trying the latest water sport at the beach or acting as chauffeur to her two young kids.