Useful coffee-making gadgets
By Yvette Fletcher
Our guide to handy coffee-making accessories, and cheap alternative coffee-makers.
From coffee grinders that blitz coffee beans to the best consistency to milk frothers that give you light and foamy milk, we talk you through useful coffee-related gadgets available in the shops and online.
We also explain the different types of manual coffee-maker, from traditional stove-top pots to whizzy new instant espresso makers. If you're looking for an alternative to a high-pressure, pump-driven, espresso machine, we've rounded up your options – whatever your coffee preference.
The guide below covers:
- Filter coffee machines
- Manual coffee-makers
- Coffee grinders
- Stove-top moka pots
- Milk frothers and thermometers
- Other handy gadgets
If you just want an espresso machine that does all the hard work for you, at the best possible price, head to our coffee machine reviews to find your dream model.
Filter coffee machines
If you prefer the taste of filter coffee to the punch of an espresso, you might want to try a filter coffee-maker. Filter coffee machines can easily brew a jugful of drip-filtered coffee, without you watching over them. Handy for dinner parties or large family gatherings when you don't want to spend half the evening at your espresso machine making cup after cup.
If you're looking to invest in a filter coffee machine, make sure you check out our filter coffee machine reviews. We've found Best Buys for under £40.
Filter coffee is more delicate than espresso, so you'll need to ensure that you buy good-quality beans or ground coffee - and to check that you're using the correct grind level (see below).
We've blind taste-tested ground coffees to make this job easy. Find out which supermarket coffee was named our Best Buy ground coffee.
Manual coffee makers
This popular gadget has been billed as a new – and affordable – way to make espresso-style coffee, and it's also very quick. The AeroPress costs around £25 and sits on top of your cup. To make a coffee, you put coffee into the plastic chamber, add water and stir, before pushing down the plunger (which requires some force).
The plunger seal is designed to make air pressure in the chamber build up, which should shorten the filtering time and squeeze additional flavour from the coffee.
Ceramic filter cones
A simple ceramic (or thermoplastic) filter cone is still a very reliable way to make a decent cup of filter coffee (aka 'drip coffee'). These cones sit on top of your cup while coffee drips into it, filtering through filter paper that lines the cone. The whole process takes around three minutes. They are available in specialist coffee shops, online and some department stores, and normally cost less than £10.
To get a decent brew from ceramic filter cones, wet the filter paper with hot water before lining the cone with it. Once you've added the coffee grounds to the cone (about one tablespoon per cup), it's best to pre-wet them with a small amount of just-boiled water for 30 seconds or so, before slowly pouring in the rest of the hot water. It's best to use a medium or fine grind for filter coffee.
If you're something of a coffee aficionado, you may want to consider investing in a coffee grinder. Experts say that the best coffee comes from beans that have been freshly ground minutes before you use them.
Burr grinders (which crush the beans) rather than blade grinders (which chop them) are best for espresso machines. Espresso machines require a very fine, consistent grind. Coarser grinds work well for cafetières (see below).
Electric coffee grinders
Coffee grinders can be manual or electric. Electric grinders vary in price enormously – you can find models from manufacturers such as Bodum, Dualit and Krups that cost from around £35 up to £100, although it's also possible to spend much more than this – some coffee grinders can set you back more than £200.
Manual coffee grinders
Manual grinders are more suited to grinding a small amount of coffee for one person and are also good for travelling, as they tend to be small and portable. They come in various guises, from the traditional wooden box mill to slimline stainless-steel hand mills.
Stove-top moka pots
Stove-top moka pots (also called stove-top espresso pots or makers) are a standard fixture in Italian and Latin American kitchens and also now have a strong following in the UK, partly because of their iconic design. By far the best-known moka pots are made by Italian brand Bialetti, which are available in department stores and specialist coffee shops.
Normally made of aluminium or stainless steel, moka pots sit on top of the hob and work by a method where pressurised steam passes through the ground coffee. As coffee is brewed at a high pressure and low temperature, the coffee a moka pot makes is similar to espresso. However, it lacks the distinctive crema of a proper espresso made with an espresso machine.
Stove-top coffee makers are quite an affordable option, usually costing between £15-45 depending on size. When using a moka pot, be careful not to burn the coffee by brewing at too high a temperature.
Many households have a cafetière – also known as a French press – lurking somewhere in the kitchen. Often made of glass and stainless steel, they work by leaving the coffee to brew, then filtering it by a plunging method. The coffee they make is heavier in texture than espresso and filter brews due to the fact that more sediment remains in the final cup.
While some people are put off by the dregs that are often to be found at the bottom of the cup (avoid the last mouthful!), the advantage of this style of coffee is that some of the flavourful oils that are lost to filter paper remain in the cup. If you're grinding beans yourself to use in a cafetière, be sure to use a burr grinder that produces evenly ground coffee and that's more coarsely ground than espresso coffee.
You can pick up a cafetière and still have change from a five pound note, but pricier models (up to £20) will usually be made of more premium materials, or have features such as double-wall insulation – to keep your coffee warmer for longer.
Milk frothers for cappuccino, latte and more
Cappuccinos, lattes, flat whites, and other milky coffee drinks are made by combining espresso with perfectly steamed milk. If you aren't sure how to tell a latte from a flat white, let alone how to make one, our guide to the popular types of coffee explains how each coffee is made.
Many espresso machines come with a milk frother or steam wand, but if not, or if you have a different type of coffee-maker, you'll need to buy a separate one if you would like to make steamed milk at home.
70°CThe temperature at which steamed milk has the best flavour.
You can get automatic milk frothers, ranging from around £50 to more than £100, that will froth your milk in a sealed jug. Nespresso makes an automatic milk frother called the Aeroccino, which comes with some of its machines and is also sold separately. Similar products are also available from Dualit, Krups and Lavazza, amongst others.
Manual milk frothers are also available – these are essentially a miniature whisk, which you will have to work into the milk. You'll ideally need to buy a metal jug to do this in as they conduct heat better and so will allow you to froth the milk more efficiently.
Some coffee machines will do all the hard work for you. If you're keen on a fuss-free cappuccino, head to our coffee machine reviews to see which models aced our milk-frothing tests. On machines that froth milk, we time how long it takes before steam is produced from the steam pipe, how long it takes for the milk to be heated to 70°C and how well the frothed milk combines with espresso to make a cappuccino.
To ensure that your milk is steamed to a temperature of around 70°C – the temperature at which steamed milk is said to have the best flavour – you might want to consider investing in a milk thermometer. Both digital and stainless-steel thermometers are widely available online and in department stores, with most costing less than £10.
Other useful coffee gadgets
There's a wealth of coffee-related gadgets in the shops for coffee enthusiasts. Two especially useful ones for helping to make the best espresso and freshest coffee are a tamper and a good coffee canister.
If you use a traditional coffee machine to make espresso, you might want to buy a coffee tamper to get the best results. This is a heavy metal object that is used to manually press down on the coffee in the portafilter (the device that holds the ground coffee in an espresso machine) to ensure that it's tightly compacted into a flat pellet.
The hot water that penetrates through the portafilter then has to force its way through a uniformly dense 'cake' of coffee and this creates a better flavour.
Airtight coffee canisters
Keeping coffee fresh is vital for the best flavour. It's important to store coffee beans or ground coffee in an airtight container that will shield it from excessive air, moisture, heat and light. It's worth investing in a good glass or ceramic canister with an airtight seal and then storing it in a cool, dark location. Some coffee aficionados advise against storing it in the fridge, however, because of the moisture levels.