Picking up coffee while you’re out and about can be an expensive habit. The British Coffee Association estimates that two billion cups of the stuff are drunk around the world every day, 95 million of which are by the UK.
But with the right machine and reusable travel cup, barista-style coffee can easily be brewed in the comfort of your own kitchen. It also gives you power to make consciously ethical and sustainable coffee choices over the beans or ground coffee you buy, the energy consumption of the machine and the reduction of waste. So which should you buy? The type of coffee machine depends on your favourite cup of coffee.
Espresso machines create the rich, condensed, short coffee staple that are characteristically topped by a hazelnut coloured crema. They’re a good buy for an aspiring barista, as they allow for playing around with your method and encourage creativity around steaming milk for latte art. They’re often a hands-on experience, requiring you to dose and tamper the ground coffee, then load the portafilter, but the more sophisticated machines will dose and tamper for you.
The best coffee pod machines win on the convenience front, as you don’t need to grind your own beans – meaning they’re a good way to ensure freshness, too. However, the capsules used in pod machines aren’t always recyclable, so they lose points on sustainability unless you invest in biodegradable and compostable versions; of which there are some delicious options. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coffee pods as different brand machines take different designs, so it’s important to be aware of this.
Bean-to-cup coffee machines take every element of coffee making out of your hands and are an excellent option if you like your beans freshly ground. Coffee-house classics are usually available to preselect at the touch of a button. They tend to be much bigger, more expensive and are therefore only suitable for kitchens with plenty of space on the countertop.
Or, you can make your coffee using a drip machine, air press, stovetop coffee maker or cafetière. All have different benefits and pitfalls and provide varying results, so your choice will depend on personal preference.
Our reviews experts test hundreds of appliances every year to bring you impartial advice and tried-and-tested recommendations of the best to spend your money on. This guide is regularly updated with models that impress with their performance in our category tests.
We’ve chosen three from each category to give you a taste of our favourite picks, but for the full roster of recommendations, visit our guides to the best espresso machines, the best coffee pod machines and the best bean-to-cup coffee machines.
This guide is also regularly updated with models that impress with their performance in our category tests. Find out more about how we test products.
Here, we’ve looked at espresso machines, pod machines and bean-to-cup coffee machines. For more, visit our reviews section and find over 400 practical buyer’s guides and product reviews offering unbiased advice on what equipment is worth investing in. For more on coffee, we’ve reviewed coffee grinders and reusable coffee cups, too.
Jump to section:
- What to look for in a coffee machine
- How much do coffee machines cost?
- How to choose the best coffee machine
- Best coffee machines at a glance
- The best coffee machines to buy in 2021
- How we tested coffee machines
Depending on your budget and desired amount of control over the coffee-making process, look out for these features.
- Milk steam wand: perfect for lovers of milky coffees, steam wands give you control over the quantity, temperature and froth level of your milk and are common features on espresso machines and bean-to-cup coffee machines.
- Multiple filter baskets: if you’re after an espresso machine that can make double shots as well as single, choose a machine that offers two or more filter baskets for loading into the portafilter.
- Coffee grind adjustability: different coffees are best with different grind levels. For example, espresso needs finely ground coffee, whereas filter coffee works well with a coarser grind. So if your machine is grinding the beans prior to brewing them, adjustability means better brews.
- Double cup functionality: some machines will comfortably make two cups of coffee at a time, which is a convenient function if you like drinking your cups with company. Coffee pod machines do not do this.
- Adjustable drip tray or espresso outlet: a silky layer of hazelnut foam called crema is one characteristic that defines espresso, so you don’t want the coffee to splash out! These will also mean the machine can accommodate your favourite mug, whatever the size.
- Cleaning functions: just like kettles, coffee machines are susceptible to the build up of limescale, but you also have lingering coffee oils to contend with and milk, if your machine has a frother. Modern machines should have self-cleaning functions to help you keep on top of this.
Again, this depends on the type of coffee you’re looking to make and desired level of control over the process. A basic coffee pod machine can be picked up for upwards of £40, although buying coffee pods can work out to be a more expensive in the long run.
Espresso machines that use ground coffee start at just under £100 but the ceiling for these depends on the brand and can be pushed upwards of £2000. Most on the market are pump-powered and generate bar-pressure to drive hot water through the compressed grounds. For a good automatic machine with presets, you can expect to pay between £100 and £400.
The most expensive home coffee machines on the market tend to be bean-to-cup. These are also the largest out there in terms of footprint and start at around £300.
Which coffee machine should I buy?
Coffee pod machines
- Pros: quick, convenient, less pricey than more sophisticated coffee machines and relatively mess-free, you’re guaranteed to have fresh coffee every day (beans and ground coffee quickly go stale once a bag is exposed to open air).
- Cons: the pods aren’t always recyclable, can work out as more expensive over time, you’re limited to coffee from certain brands and can only make on cup at a time.
See our review of the best coffee pod machines.
Home espresso machines
- Pros: this is a choice for the serious coffee devotee with a larger kitchens. They employ the same tamp-and-pack method that you see in cafés and coffee shops. You put the coffee in a portafilter and fasten it into the machine, then it drips out a condensed espresso with crema top.
- Cons: may or may not offer milk wands for steaming milk and require a hands-on approach
See our review of the best espresso machines.
Bean-to-cup coffee machines
- Pros: the major advantage of these machines is convenience – they can grind and press coffee beans as well as making an espresso all in one go. The quality of the coffee is almost unparalleled in terms of at-home brewing, as it is freshly ground for each cup, meaning the taste is as aromatic and fresh as it gets.There’s also the considerable plus of not having to buy new pods for it every few days – a costly and usually non-eco-friendly endeavour that more and more coffee drinkers are keen to avoid.
- Cons: they require regular cleaning if you are using daily, especially if the machine has a fresh milk operating system.
See our review of the best bean-to-cup coffee machines.
Filter coffee machines
- Pros: they are an affordable option as they operate on a simple dripper function, so prices start at around £50. They’re good for making coffee in bulk, and they can be left to their own devices.
- Cons: machines can vary widely in quality and get quite pricey.
- Best home espresso machine for aficionados: Smeg ECF01 espresso machine, £320
- Most stylish home espresso machine: De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker, £181.99
- Best mid-range espresso maker: Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker, £399.95
Coffee pod machines
- Best for pod versatility: Nespresso Vertuo Next, £149
- Best eco-buy: illy ESE coffee pod machine, £115
- Best affordable coffee pod machine: Lavazza Jolie, £49
Bean-to-cup coffee machines
- Best bean-to-cup espresso machine: Sage the Oracle Touch bean-to cup espresso machine, £1,999.95
- Best designed bean-to-cup coffee machine: Smeg BCC02 bean-to-cup coffee machine, £679.95
- Best smart bean-to-cup coffee machine: Smarter Coffee Machine, £179
Smeg ECF01 espresso machine
Best home espresso machine for aficionados
- Excellent espresso
- Advanced customisation features
- No accompanying milk steaming jug or scoop
Star rating: 4.5/5
Smeg’s 1950’s style home espresso machine is a statement slimline gadget that demands attention from the kitchen countertop. It has a broad selection of features for personalising each espresso to your taste whilst doing the fundamental job of producing top espresso, well. Read our full Smeg ECF01 espresso machine review.
De’Longhi Dedica EC685.M manual espresso maker
Most stylish espresso maker
- Giro milk wand
- A* energy rating
- Too unstable to make safe use of the cup warmer
- Easy to press button on loading the portafilter
Star rating: 4.5/5
De’Longhi has thrown everything at its elegantly designed manual Dedica espresso machine which sits just under £200. Single, double and ESE pod filters are included in the box. When tested between two espresso cups, the coffee split evenly and was topped with a silky hazelnut crema. Its compact footprint makes its and elegant option for kitchens of any size, although not the safest for storing or warming your espresso cup on. However, it’s definitely one we’d buy ourselves. Read our full De’Longhi Dedica espresso machine review.
Sage Bambino Plus espresso maker
Best mid-range coffee machine
- Easy to use
- Efficient milk frother
- Rickety drip try
Star rating: 4.5/5
Packed with power and sleekly styled, the Sage Bambino Plus is an efficient espresso machine that looks great on the countertop. Its buttons are tactile to use, its portafilter easy to load and milk wand, incredibly efficient at steaming milk. One downside is it’s slightly chunky footprint but compared to its sibling, the Sage Oracle Touch espresso machine, this is a diminutive alternative. Read our full espresso machine review to find more best buys
The best bean-to-cup coffee machines
Packed with power, these sophisticated gadgets take every part of the coffee making process off your hands, grinding, dosing, tamping and brewing coffee at the touch of a button.
Smeg BCC02 bean-to-cup coffee machine – Star Buy
Best designed bean-to-cup coffee machine
- Small countertop footprint
- Adjustable milk steam wand
- Simple and intuitive to use
- Steams milk separately using its wand
Star rating: 5/5
We would go as far as saying that Smeg’s first ever bean-to-cup coffee machine has completely changed the game with its compact footprint and lightweight body. The size makes it suitable for any kitchen without compromising on sophistication or the variety of drinks. Through its four-button interface, the machine offers eight functions across two menus; ristretto, espresso, coffee, hot water, light ristretto, light espresso, long coffee and a milk steam function with its adjustable wand. Above this are five alert icons. Of course, it also carries the brand’s iconic 1950’s style with brush aluminium and matte coloured outer. Both simple and sophisticated, this is deservedly a Star Buy.
Sage Oracle Touch bean-to-cup espresso machine – Star Buy
- Available from Sage (£1,999.95)
Best bean-to-cup espresso machine
- Extensive adjustability
- Great selection of pre-sets
- Noisy grinder
- Easy to drip water onto the touchscreen whilst filling the tank
Star rating: 5/5
It’s tricky to fault the Sage Oracle Touch espresso machine beyond the fact that it’s hard to keep free of finger marks. Its sophistication translates into usability which can fool you into thinking this is a simple machine, whereas in fact it balances full automation with excellent adjustability. If money is no object, this machine is as easy to use for beginners as it is exciting for coffee connoisseurs. Read our full Sage Oracle Touch bean-to-cup coffee machine review.
Smarter coffee machine – Star Buy
Best smart bean-to-cup coffee machine
- Scheduled wake-up and home modes
- Interchangeable front panel designs
- WiFi, app and voice-controlled compatibility
- Filter coffee only
- Minimum four-cup quantity (equated to two mugs)
Star rating: 5/5
This second generation Smarter coffee machine has some bells and whistles that may feel extravagant, but U-turned our cynical testers into converts of the app-activated coffee. It’s a filter coffee bean-to-cup machine with a glass carafe perfect for brewing multiple cups at a time. Once connected to the Smarter 3.0 App, the machine can be turned on from bed, your work, the gym or even set for a scheduled wake-up so that fresh coffee is waiting for you in the kitchen. Grind size of the beans is adjustable and the minimum four-cup quantity equated to two large mugs. Read our full Smarter coffee machine review.
The best coffee pod machines
A note on pod machines and the environment: If you like pod machines but are concerned about the environmental impact of using disposable capsules, it’s worth noting that Nespresso operates a recycling service. There is also now a great range of eco caps, biodegradable and compostable options. We also have a coffee gadget review that gives some alternative coffee-making options that don’t involve pods or machines.
Nespresso Vertuo Next coffee pod machine
Best coffee pod machine for drink versatility
- Reliable crema on every drink
- Made from 54% recycled plastic
- Short and long coffees all available
- Noise resembles a quiet vacuum cleaner
- You’re locked into buying Nespresso pods
Star rating: 4.5/5
When it comes to coffee technology, the Nespresso Vertuo Next machine is impressively sophisticated. It has a single button, but can prepare five different sized drinks (espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, mug, and alto) and this is because each UFO domed coffee pod has a barcode on its underside. The machine reads the pod, recognises the selection and sets about brewing it. Available in six colours and is WIFI and Bluetooth compatible.
Lavazza Jolie coffee pod machine – Star Buy
Best affordable coffee pod machine
- Small footprint on the countertop
- Sleek but statement design
- Manual stop for single espresso
Star rating: 5/5
The Lavazza Jolie does the basics really, really well. Its rounded statement handle lifts and lowers to lock the capsules into place. At just 33cm deep and 12cm wide, it’s countertop footprint is one of the smallest of all the coffee machines tested, yet brews single espresso with 10 bars of pressure to produce rich, flavourful coffee. If a longer short or lungo shots is your favourite, this is the perfect machine.
illy ESE coffee pod machine
- Available from illy (£115)
Best coffee pod machine for sustainability
- Uses biodegradable ESE coffee pods
- Low wattage
- The long coffee isn’t that long
- ESE pods are individually wrapped for freshness
Star rating: 4/5
illy as a brand is B-Corp certified which means it has committed to bettering its impact on the environment as well as its workers, customers and suppliers. Using just 800W, the illy ESE is one of its least consumptive coffee pod machines tested, developed to be an energy-saving alternative to traditional gadgets. Easy serving espresso pods are single-shot quantities of tampered coffee encased in biodegradable filter paper, and these can be thrown straight into your green kitchen waste bin.
Available from illy (£115)
The coffee machines featuring above were some of the best performing from within their category tests. Our reviews experts put products through their paces in controlled conditions and marked each against a set of core and contributing criteria. The average marks out of five across the following determined the overall star rating of each machine. Find our more about how we test products here.
- Coffee quality
For example, with espresso, we looked for a rich colour, bold aroma, intense flavour and a hazelnut coloured top of silky crema.
- Quality of materials
Coffee machines are big investments, so every element must be built to withstand daily use over a long period of time.
- Value for money
Overpriced? Cheap feel? The quality offered must feel like good return for the investment.
- Ease of use
Coffee machines shouldn’t require an hour of studying a convoluted instruction manual. They also need to be simple enough to use when half asleep or in a rush.
- Ease of assembly and packaging
We scored on the protective quality of the packaging, quantity of single-use plastic used and how simple each was to put together.
The following secondary criteria also played into our decision-making
- Extra features
- Energy efficiency and wattage
- Ease of cleaning
- Efficiency of extra features
- Footprint on the countertop
- Aesthetic design
Some of these factors carried more weight in our decision making depending on the category of machine. For example, Bean-to-cup coffee machines should allow for elements like grind size and water temperature to be adjusted depending on the coffee you’re making, which enables the tailoring of drinks to your taste.
Coffee pod machines use single-shot pods so their versatility isn’t as broad as espresso machines that can make two cups at the same time. Espresso machines may have milk frothing wands so these should have enough oomph to heat and froth milk without literally running out of steam.
Whatever your priorities, we’ve carefully, scrutinised and scored coffee machines so that only the best make it into our buyer’s guides. Find the best coffee machine for your budget and kitchen right here.
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