Being able to access one of the best coffee machines can supercharge both your kitchen and your morning. You'll not only be able to get that all-important hit of caffeine within moments of waking up, but you'll also save money in the long-run by skipping that over-priced (and under-flavoured) coffee that you'd usually buy on your way to work.
Of course, you could always save a lot of money and just make instant coffee each morning instead. But for many of us, instant just doesn't cut it in terms of taste, consistency and quality.
So, if you're a coffee connoisseur like the team here at TechRadar, you'll need to find one of the best coffee machines to help you perfect your morning brew.
But there's a lot to choose from. So which is going to fit into your home, fall within your budget and make sure you're firing on all cylinders by the time you start your day?
If you have the cash to spend, a good coffee machine will serve up a range of blends, features and flavors, and could well become the most-used appliance in your kitchen.
But to get the most out of your coffee machine, you'll need to decide which kinds of coffee you and your family drink the most, as well as what your top priorities are when it comes to a caffeine hit, in order to ensure you'll get the most bang for your buck.
For you 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 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 you're on the hunt for a high-end steel machine that'll make any kind of caffeinated beverage under the sun or a hand-powered espresso device that will fit in your rucksack, here are a few of the best domestic coffee machines fueling the TechRadar team. All of which we've had the chance to put to the caffeine test ourselves.
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Best coffee machines 2020 overview:
- Breville The Barista Express
- Nespresso Vertuo Plus
- Breville The Oracle Touch
- Wacaco Nanopresso
- Gaggia Classic
If you’re here, you are probably looking to up your home coffee game and for those willing to learn a bit of the craft you can get home coffee machines that are good enough to never have to leave the house for coffee again.
The Barista Express has been the best entry level espresso machine on the market for some time now and there’s a number of reasons why. In a nutshell, it was one of the first to be able to do everything you need to make cafe quality at home, without costing too much.
The first killer feature of the Barista express is the grinder. A good grinder is critical for espresso as you need to grind beans fine enough to create the pressure for great coffee. The Barista Express grinder has a generous hopper, ample grind-size settings and an adjustable grind amount that lets you set-and-forget for perfect dosage at the push of a button.
The Barista Express has an easily accessible magnetic mounted tamper to compress and level the grinds and full size group head that can deliver up to 15 bar of pressure to the 54mm portafilter. This is enough pressure to produce good crema from even slightly stale beans (when grinded finely) and the pressure gauge makes it simple to understand if you have the right coarseness and amount of coffee for any shot. It even preallocates shot volumes so you don’t end up with too much coffee if you get the grind dose wrong.
The Breville Barista Express is a single boiler machine, which means you will have to wait till you're finished a shot before you can start frothing milk. It even takes about 10 or so seconds after turning on the steamer to get up a full head of steam, but once going there’s enough pressure to fold milk like a pro.
For anyone wanting cafe level coffee there’s no better value first step than the Breville Barista Express. It is a manual machine so for the best results you will have to learn a little about coffee making, but this machine turns a complicated ‘art’ into a more-than-manageable process to do at home.
Full review still to come.
Nespresso has added a new sleek Vertuo coffee machine to its line-up that is more streamlined and slightly ‘greener’ than its predecessors. The Vertuo Next’s headline feature is that it’s made from 54% recycled plastic and the company has done a fair bit of work to make it easier to recycle used capsules and reduce the overall environmental impact of the system.
Nespresso is still expensive as far as coffee goes, costing about the same per shot as beans from your premium local roaster. The Vertuo range of coffee pods were also designed to cater to individuals who prefer a more ‘Americano’ style coffee that can fill a 414ml cup without milk. So if you’ve got a Nespresso Classic machine and you like local flat whites then there’s really no need to switch .
There’s only 7.2 grams of coffee in a standard 40ml Nespresso Vertuo capsule, which is roughly a third the amount of coffee a café would use to produce a similar shot. Nespresso have done a great job in stretching the flavour of these shots, but these kinds of proportions are only going to be able to take you so far towards good tasting coffee. If you’re looking for café quality coffee at home, you'll have to look elsewhere.
The Vertuo Next delivers coffee that's a major step forward from instant or plunger coffee for a fraction of the price of a manual or automatic bean-to-cup device.
Full review inbound.
If you're ready to spend big on an all-star coffee machine, you may want to consider the (deep breath) 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.
This coffee maker is semi-automatic, grinding and tamping by itself, while it leaves coffee strength and milk texture down to you. The Oracle Touch will fill your kitchen with that unmistakable coffee aroma of fresh ground coffee, 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 coffee machine in between appliances, though. 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.
Read our full review: Sage by Heston Blumenthal: The Oracle Touch
The Wacaco Nanopresso is a pocket-sized coffee 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 Minipresso predecessor, 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.
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, as it does involve boiling water and finding a flat spot if you’re outside, but the end result is seriously impressive.
Read our full review: Wacaco Nanopresso
After weeks of trying out the Sage, Nespresso Vertuo and Melitta, Gaggia’s Classic 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.
Day after day, we missed the weight of a heftier coffee maker. 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.
Aside from design, the Gaggia Classic is a traditional 15 bar 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 if you know how to get the most out of a coffee machine.
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 much less than an Oracle Touch, learning the traditional espresso method may be worth the savings.
Read our review of the: Gaggia Gran Deluxe
If you want your coffee machine to be more than just a tool then you’ve probably already been tempted by Smeg’s Espresso Coffee Machine. The classically designed Espresso Coffee Machine fits neatly into Smeg’s 50’s retro appliance range — making a great statement piece in any kitchen. While it’s definitely up there with our favourite looking machines, if you know how to use it you can actually make a half decent cuppa’ too.
The ECF01 comes with an integrated milk frother, water tank and a group head with a single or double shot basket, which is impressive considering it’s half the size of most manual coffee machines on the market.
While being compact is immediately appealing, the Smeg Espresso Coffee Machine shares a single boiler between the milk wand and group head and it only currently works with double walled coffee baskets. This means that it takes more than 10 seconds to build up a head of steam to start milk frothing and you won’t get as much flavour from your coffee as you would using a traditional single wall espresso basket.
That said, we were still able to get decent coffee shots with plenty of crema, but the machine only includes a soft plastic tamper which caused some less experienced coffee makers to struggle to get the basket tightly packed enough — leading to some disappointing results.
The milk wand, on the other hand, has been designed to help first time coffee makers get more air folded into the milk. While this is great for anyone who hasn’t mastered latte art, it doesn’t offer the control required for those that have.
If looks are the most critical component in your coffee machine considerations then Smeg is the machine to beat, but you can get better results from some of the manual machines listed above and you’ll get comparable coffee from some automatic pod machines.
The De'Longhi La Specialista is the classic semi-manual home espresso machine — Something that gets you as close to cafe level coffee whilst keeping everything as simplistic and skill-free as it can. Like most simple home coffee machines it operates as if it were using a single boiler and it comes with a built-in grinder for a compact overall footprint.
The system also opts for double-walled coffee baskets which makes the coffee grind size and freshness less critical — much easier for first-time users to regularly make reasonably good coffee. It also features a simplified steam wand which is great for those that don’t know how to fold milk with a commercial steam wand.
De'Longhi has gone further than most by streamlining the grinding process to speed everything up and minimise mess. The La Specialista uses a second portafilter grip next to the regular group head that grinds directly into the basket. This combines with the inbuilt tamper arm to ensure your coffee is compacted before any can escape and make a mess.
This process is quicker if you use the exact workflow, as intended, but any experienced manual machine users will find the lack of control when starting and stopping the grind frustrating. The inability to remove beans from the hopper without grinding them is also a disappointing oversight.
The same double edged sword is present for the milk wand. The bulky head is designed to be inserted fully into the milk and will froth it to the desired texture based on the setting you use. For the uninitiated this gets about 70% of the way to good milk texture without needing any attention or training, but it also prevents anyone who actually knows how to froth milk from doing it properly.
The La Specialista can’t steam milk while the coffee pump is engaged, which isn’t abnormal for this sized machine, but it’s something that is annoying when you consider some outlets are marketing it as the ‘De'Longhi La Specialista Dual Pump Manual Coffee Machine’ with “2 Independent Heating Systems for coffee and milk”. Generally the dual-boiler description is used to identify machines capable of having the group head and milk wand engaged simultaneously.
Lastly, because the machine only uses double walled baskets rather than perfectly ground coffee to create pressure, the grinder doesn't need to be the highest quality, but it still can't grind as fine as it should be able to, which means without super fresh coffee you'll struggle to get crema.
If you already know your way around a commercial or full-manual coffee machine we wouldn’t recommend La Specialista, but for those who don’t want coffee badly enough to dedicate a bit of time to learning how to froth milk and grind coffee properly, then this machine is a decent option that’ll get you close for a bit less effort.