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26 Feb 2021

Five mistakes you could be making with your coffee machine

Is one of these common errors ruining the hard work your machine is putting in?
Lidl Silvercrest ground coffee machine with automa

If your morning espresso isn't quite hitting the spot anymore, one of these simple steps will help make your coffee great again.

Coffee machine sales went through the roof last year, as many of us stayed home during the pandemic and swapped our usual coffee shop caffeine creation for a home-brewed cup of coffee. Retailer Currys PC World even reported one coffee machine being sold every minute during August, last summer.

But, nearly a year on and three lockdowns later, if you're struggling to get a perfect espresso out of your machine, the answer could be as simple as rereading the instructions it came with.

Many of us, in the excitement of testing a new machine, skim-read the manufacturer's recommendations, missing out on the finer details that can help to take a morning brew from bland to barista-quality.

We've rounded up some easy-to-miss pointers from the instruction manuals of coffee machines we've recently tested, to help improve your coffee-making skills.

Head to our coffee machine buying guide and make sure you get the best coffee machine for your home.

1. Using a cold cup

Espresso temperature is a hot topic. If you're the sort of person who grabs a cold mug and gets your espresso into it as fast as possible, then hold fire. To improve your daily brew, and prevent it becoming cool too quickly, warm your coffee cup first.

Some coffee machines come with a cup warmer specifically for this purpose, but this feature isn't essential. Use the hot water created when you prime your machine, ready for the first use of the day, to warm your coffee cup before you make your espresso. Or simply warm it with hot tap water. Not only will it help improve the temperature, it can help improve the taste, too.

Tap water
2. Using tap water...

...without checking the instructions first. While using tap water is perfectly fine in most cases, the instructions with the Krups Evidence One say the quality of your tap water will affect the taste, as limescale and chlorine can alter the taste of an espresso.

Boring as it may seem, a quick check of the instructions will also reveal whether you need to use a water filter with your machine or not, for the best quality espresso.

The Swan Retro coffee machine instructions go so far as to advise using bottled water if your water supply is prone to creating limescale.

And some bean-to-cup machines have a water hardness setting, so if yours does, make sure this is set. To help beat issues caused by limescale build-up, regularly descale your coffee machine.

Our coffee machine reviews will tell you if descaling is a particularly lengthy process, or is quick and easy to do. So there's no excuse.

filling portafilter with ground coffee
3. Using any old ground coffee

The fineness of the coffee grind you use can affect the strength of flavour, and the crema of your espresso. Espresso machines generally needed a finer grind of coffee than a cafetiu00e8re or filter coffee machine.

The Breville Barista Mini VCF125 instructions say that too coarse a grind can cause under-extraction, leading to a sour or watery espresso, while too fine a grind can lead to a bitter, grainy coffee.

Avoid using ground coffee that's old or has been open for a while, as this can also affect the quality and taste of your coffee.

Coffee beans
4. Using any old beans

Both Krups and Siemens warn about using oily or caramalised coffee beans in a bean-to-cup machine, as these can potentially damage both the mill and your machine. Beans that are too oily can also get stuck in the bean hopper.

Some machines warn about using green or unroasted beans so if you prefer using something a little different to the more common coffee beans, it may be better to use a dedicated coffee grinder which can be easier to clean.

Need a good coffee grinder? Discover the best coffee grinders of 2021, plus get expert advice on how to keep ground coffee fresh.

5. Not cleaning your machine's steam pipe or milk system

A steam pipe or milk system is used to create wonderfully creamy cappuccinos or warming lattes, but make sure you spend a little extra time cleaning them after use. Most coffee machines advise cleaning and purging the pipe or milk system every time you use them, to avoid a milky residue or build-up.

If left, a mucky build-up will affect how well the milk froths for subsequent drinks. Some machines have an automatic cleaning program which will do this for you, while some just have a button to press which runs steam or hot water through the pipe.

At the very least, make sure you have a clean cloth handy to give your machine's pipe a quick wipe and run some steam through it.

Find out all you need to know about cleaning your coffee machine, to keep it in tip top condition and working for longer.

Our latest coffee machine reviews

Ready to make a perfect coffee? We've picked out three of our latest coffee machines reviews, giving you the low down on each machine.

But will these stylish kitchen gadgets make the best brew or will you be left with an insipid espresso or a flat cappuccino?

The links below will take you to our full test reviews to find out before you buy.

Breville Barista Mini VCF125 coffee machine, £315

Type: Ground coffee

Breville Barista Mini VCF125
The Breville Mini is a smaller and less fancy version of the Breville Barista Max VCF126. There's no built-in bean grinder, but this smart-looking traditional coffee machine has a simple control panel and a steam wand to make frothed milk. It features a pre-infusion system that's designed to gently extract the full flavour from ground coffee.

Breville says the larger 58mm machine is similar to the ones used in cafes, and means you'll get a better coffee due to improved extraction and even water flow through the coffee grinds. This machine can make two cups of espresso at the same time.

Can it delivery a decent coffee, quickly and easily?

Read our Breville Barista Mini review.

DeLonghi ECAM250.33TB Magnifica S Smart coffee machine, £450

Type: Bean-to-cup

Delonghi bean to cup coffee machine
Don't be fooled by the word Smart in the name; this coffee machine doesn't have wi-fi connectivity - although it's smart in that it allows you to tailor the grind and aroma of your drinks. It comes with an adjustable bean grinder, for the freshest brew, and has four one-touch buttons that will dispense one or two cups of espresso, a single coffee or a long coffee (lungo). It also has a manually-controlled steam wand for frothing milk.

This is a big and heavy bean-to-cup machine, but will you be rewarded with a well-balanced espresso and velvety cappuccinos at the touch of a button?

Read our DeLonghi ECAM250.33TB Magnifica S Smartreview.

Lavazza A Modo Mio Smeg coffee machine, £199

Type: Pod

Lavazza A Modo Mio
This retro-looking pod coffee machine with it's shiny chrome exterior will easily smarten up your kitchen. Its straightforward control panel adds to the sleek look and it's compact too, so won't take up much space on your countertop.

There's no steam pipe on this machine, so if you're a fan of cappuccinos or lattes you'll need to buy a dedicated milk frother to create them. This machine uses Lavazza coffee pods which are convenient, but not the cheapest or most environmentally-friendly way to enjoy an espresso, though.

Is this coffee machine as easy-to-use as it looks and will it deliver an espresso as good as it looks?

Read our Lavazza A Modo Mio Smegreview.

All prices correct at the time of publishing. Prices may change.