How to buy the best coffee machine
By Yvette Fletcher
We explain the differences between ground coffee, bean-to-cup and capsule machines. Use our guide to find your perfect coffee machine.
Which? has tested more than 100 different coffee machines – from brands including Gaggia, DeLonghi, Dualit, Lavazza and Nespresso – to help you make an espresso, cappuccino, latte or flat white at home, just the way you like it.
But which coffee maker is right for you and your caffeine preferences? With prices ranging from as little as £30 to more than £1,000, it's worth working out what you need first, and then using our expert reviews to find the best coffee machine for your budget.
In this guide you can:
- Find out how to buy the best coffee machine in less than four minutes with the video above.
- Use our choosing tool to select the best type of coffee machine for you.
- Find out about the pros and cons of ground coffee, bean-to-cup and capsule coffee machines.
- Get a handy coffee machine buying checklist.
Just want to compare the best coffee machines? Head to our coffee machine reviews to find your ideal model.
Choosing the best coffee machine
Trying to decide which type of coffee machine will suit you best? We explain the different types available below, as well as the features to look out for. And to help you choose, our interactive tool explores the key features of each type of coffee machine as well as the advantages and disadvantages you need to weigh up.
Read on to find out more about the three types of espresso coffee machine and get tips on what to look out for when you're shopping for a new one.
Above (left to right): Bean-to-cup, ground coffee, and capsule coffee machines
Bean-to-cup coffee machines
If you want a coffee machine that grinds coffee beans on demand, this is the type for you. Bean-to-cup coffee machines have an in-built grinder meaning they produce the freshest coffee possible.
In addition to making the freshest coffee out there they:
- tend to be easier to use than traditional models, as coffee is dispensed at the press of button
- can use any coffee beans you want and many also take ground coffee as well.
However, bean-to-cup models tend to be more expensive than other coffee machine types, with some costing more than £1,000. But we've found Best Buys for less than £300.
Find out more about these machines and whether one could be right for you by reading how to buy the best bean-to-cup coffee machine.
Ground coffee machines
If you want to make espresso using a wide range of ground coffee, then a traditional espresso machine is likely to suit you.
Their main advantages are:
- Tend to be significantly cheaper and lighter than bean-to-cup machines.
- Offer more flexibility than capsule coffee machines, as you aren't tied to a particular coffee brand.
- Using ground coffee is cheaper than using coffee capsules.
- Espresso machines give you more control over your drink: you choose how much ground coffee and water you use, so you can easily adjust the strength of your drink to suit your tastes.
However, the level of control you have over your coffee also means they can require more patience and effort than bean-to-cup and capsule machines.
To learn more about the pros and cons of these coffee machines, read how to buy the best ground coffee machine.
Capsule coffee machines
If you want a quick and mess-free way to make coffee at home, a capsule coffee machine is likely to suit you.
The main benefits of owning a capsule machine are:
- Capsule machines such as those from the Nespresso, Tassimo and Dolce Gusto ranges tend to be very convenient to use and clean.
- They're a particularly good option if you think you won't use your coffee machine too often, as their sealed capsules help to keep coffee fresh.
However, choosing a capsule coffee machine means you're often limited to one brand of capsule and they're more expensive than coffee beans and ground coffee per cup.
If you're tempted by one of these machines, learn more about choosing the right machine for you in how to buy the best capsule coffee machine.
Upfront vs ongoing cost of coffee
It's not just the price of the coffee machine you'll need to think about, but also the ongoing cost of coffee for your chosen type of machine.
We've totted up the average amount you'll spend on each type, and compared it with getting your daily fix in a café.
As you can see, capsule coffee machines are the most costly to use at home, and traditional machines are the cheapest.
Coffee machine shopping checklist
Once you know what type of coffee machine you want, use our coffee machine reviews to find your perfect model. You can filter by type of coffee machine, and see which models topped our tough taste tests.
Plus, use our handy checklist of things to look out for when choosing a coffee machine to help narrow down your options.
Water-tank capacity is important if you want to make lots of espressos in quick succession, or don't want to be constantly reaching behind the coffee machine to refill the water tank.
More compact models will have smaller water tanks, so if you prefer a longer coffee, it's worth considering opting for a larger capacity model.
Coffee machine brand
A coffee machine is a luxury product - so it's unsurprising that premium brands including Lavazza, Dualit, DeLonghi, Gaggia, Kitchenaid and Cuisinart offer ranges of machines.
But you'll also find coffee machines from high street and supermarket brands such as Argos and Tesco. We've found cheap models that can make great coffee - and some shockers too - but you'll need to decide if looks matter to you, as budget options won't necessarily shine on your worktop.
Make sure you check our guide to coffee brands to pick a model from a reliable brand, too.
Coffee machine style and colour
Retro machines, red or blue ones, stainless steel finishes... you'll find a plethora of styles, colours and finishes to match your kitchen.
Plus, some machines also have kettles and toasters to match, such as the DeLonghi Scultura or KitchenAid Artisan ranges.
Use our coffee machine reviews to filter options by colour.
Ease of use
A coffee shop barista might make it look easy, but getting to grips with a coffee machine - complete with levers, buttons and filters - can be a daunting task. A key element of our testing is rating how easy each machine is to use, and we award a star rating for ease of use to each model we test.
Find out more about how we test coffee machines.
Speed is important for time-stretched coffee lovers - and the average time it takes for your machine to brew up isn't something you'll know until you try it out.
Good machines take less than 15 seconds to make 30ml and stop dripping, while poor ones can take up to 30 seconds to release 30ml and a further 30 seconds before they stop dripping completely.
We time each coffee machine during our lab tests and our reviews reveal the winners and losers.
Coffee machine accessories
It's worth seeing which accessories, if any, you get with the model you're considering buying. Items such as milk frothers, milk jugs, coffee grinders and matching spoons and cups, all add to the coffee-making experience - so if there aren't any complementary accessories it's worth seeing if you can haggle with the salesperson to throw one in.
- Drip trays These should be easy to lift and remove without spilling leftover coffee everywhere. Stainless-steel trays require polishing as well as cleaning.
- Portafilter When you're in the shop, see whether you can easily fit and remove the machine's portafilter (this holds the filter containing the coffee and has a handle). Some models have tricky, stiff mechanisms which means wrestling with the machine every time you want to make a coffee.
Your coffee preferences
With bean-to-cup and traditional espresso (ground coffee) machines, you can use any ground coffee or beans you like, though some bean-to-cup models have exceptions. Our coffee expert Giles Hilton recommends a strong, dark roast and favours Arabica, which offers warmth and richness.
If you're shopping for a capsule machine, it's worth checking which drinks are available in the range to ensure your tastes are catered for, as you're limited to capsules compatible with the machine, which can often be just one brand.
Now you know what to look for, head to our coffee machine reviews to find your perfect model.