There are so many all-singing, all-dancing coffee machines on the market these days it can be hard to figure out which is right for you. And although many will give you a decent cup of coffee, the type you choose could well dictate whether you start your days from now on in a mediocre mood or firing on all cylinders.
Because let's face it, instant coffee often just doesn't cut it. So ditch the cheap jar and (if you have the money and the space) get yourself a great coffee machine that'll serve up a range of blends, flavors and features at your price point, and which could well become the most-used appliance in your kitchen.
Back in the day, your cafetière or percolator was all you needed for your morning caffeine kick. But with the growing influence of single-origin beans, microfoam, pour-over brewing, and latte art, the humble drink was raised from mere commodity to artisanal foodstuff, and we need the at-home technology to match.
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.
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 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 a high-end steel machine that'll make any kind of caffeinated beverage or a hand-powered espresso that will fit in your rucksack, these are the best domestic coffee machines fueling the TechRadar team.
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 recyclable 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.
The Vertuo machine will only read Nespresso pods, though, 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.
- Read our full review: Nespresso Virtuo Plus review
Iced Nitros, Mochas, Cappuccinos and more at the push of a button
The Nespresso Barista is the perfect accompaniment to a budding coffee lover's growing arsenal of kitchen gadgets. Simple to use, easy to clean, and armed with a whole library's worth of recipes to enjoy, it'll let you make perfect, frothy hot drinks in moments.
Using a conductive heating system, the Nespresso Barista can be used to make anything from a simple latte to a complicated iced nitro, aerating milk to add froth and texture, leading to smooth brews every time.
It's liquid volume capacity is limited, and it can't make the actual espresso itself (you'll need another machine or to brew a shot manually), but the versatility of its recipes and its foolproof design make it easy to recommend.
Sage by Heston Blumenthal: The Oracle Touch
Perfect lattes, no skill required
If you're ready to spend big on an all-star 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.
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. 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 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 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. You can pre-program four personal preferences, alongside making a consistently good espresso and milk foam. At its £849.99 price point, 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.
We’d think it actually surpasses the Oracle Touch 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 two.
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 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- Our complete guide to the best smart home devices of the year