How we test coffee machines
Spending more on a coffee machine doesn't guarantee great coffee. In fact, we've tested some models that cost less than £100 and make better espresso than others costing five times as much.
We've made thousands of espressos in our quest to find the , uncovering some brilliant models that are quick, user-friendly and (most importantly) able to make superb espresso. But others produce lukewarm and uninspiring espresso, or are needlessly complicated to use.
Each coffee machine we test is assessed in the same way and our tests are designed to answer the key questions you have about coffee machines, including:
How well does it make espressos and cappuccinos?
Our specially trained coffee tasting panel blind taste espresso from each coffee machine. Their expertise means they can tell the difference between coffees made by different models using the same coffee.
Taste is a big part of this test, but our panel also assess the appearance and aroma of the coffee. For cappuccinos, they rate the density of froth and how well it blends with the espresso.
Does it make coffee at the right temperature?
No one likes lukewarm coffee – that’s why we test the temperature of each espresso by inserting a digital thermometer into the centre of the cup.
We look for an average temperature no cooler than 60°C and no hotter than 88°C, as this is the ideal range for espresso coffee.
Is it quick to make coffees?
A good coffee machine will take up to 30 seconds to make a standard 30ml espresso and stop dripping. Poor coffee machines can take more than 30 seconds to make your espresso, and a further 30 seconds or more before they stop dripping completely, leaving you waiting longer for your drink.
We time how long you have to wait for a standard 30ml espresso, including the time the machine takes to heat up, and how long it continues to drip for afterwards so you won't have to hang about getting your morning coffee - or clearing up the mess.
Does it churn out consistent coffees?
For machines that can produce two cups of espresso simultaneously, we record the temperature and amount of coffee in each cup to make sure it’s even – so there’s no bickering over who gets the biggest brew first thing in the morning.
How well does it froth milk?
If a coffee machine can froth milk – whether that's via a steam pipe, automatic milk frother or milk pod – we test how well it works. It doesn't matter whether your favourite is a cappuccino, flat white or any of the latest fads – our milk froth rating will tell you how good the froth is and how well it blends with the coffee.
We time how long it takes for the milk to be frothed and record the temperature and amount of froth. After five minutes, we measure the amount of froth again to see how much has disappeared.
How easy is it to set up, clean and use?
Some coffee machines are a cinch to use while others are unnecessarily complicated – and it's tricky to know which is which before you get them home. We rate each coffee machine for ease-of-use to ensure you don't end up with a horror.
We check how simple the instructions are to understand and follow, how easy it is to prepare and set up the coffee machine, and how noisy it is to use.
We also look at how straightforward it is to , so you don’t end up with a machine that’s a pain to maintain. If there's a way of frothing milk, we consider how easy it is to adjust the froth properties and whether there is any risk of scalding from steam being released unexpectedly.
Should I buy it?
Each of the assessments described above contributes to the test score, the overall percentage figure we award to each machine.
We weight things that are more important to you more heavily, so for coffee machines it's essential that they do their core job of making an excellent espresso. However, we also ensure that models which are a faff to use – or horribly noisy – are marked down, so your morning coffee routine isn't a time-consuming nightmare.
Our total test score for coffee machines ignores price and is made up of the following factors:
- 50% taste test
- 25% machine performance
- 20% ease of use
- 5% energy consumption
While ultimately you just want the best coffee maker, we've found that the different types have their own pros and cons. Capsule machines, for example, are usually very simple to use and this can bump up their scores. To account for this, we have a different cut-off point for awarding Best Buys for each type of coffee machine, so you can easily find the best bean-to-cup, capsule or ground coffee machine – or use the percentage scores to find the best machine overall.
The percentage scores each type of machine needs to get to achieve a Best Buy are:
- Bean-to-cup coffee machines –75%
- Ground coffee machines – 72%
- Capsule coffee machines – 77%
Any machine that scores less than 45% is a Don't Buy. This means the machine is so poor at its core job of making espresso, or has another serious flaw, that we don't recommend you buy it.