The two main types of electrical machine are filter coffee machines and machines designed for making espresso and/or cappuccino. Within these categories are those machines which take loose coffee and those which take pre-packed pods or capsules, which are also called ESE (Easy Serving Espresso) pods. The pod machines are generally more expensive, often over half as much per cup as ground coffee. They are however easier and more convenient to use, as well as less tricky to clean than traditional coffee machines. The coffee also stays fresh for a long period so are handy for occasional as well as frequent use.
There are some machines that can also be used with both pods and ground coffee.
Filter Coffee Machines
The first choice for filter coffee is whether to go for a manual filter coffee maker (cafetière) or an electrical one.
A cafetière is the least expensive option and it is extremely easy to use and easy to clean. The user simply puts the hot water and ground coffee in the cafetière for a few minutes then presses it down with a plunger, pushing all the coffee grains to the bottom. One disadvantage of a manual filter coffee maker as opposed to an electrical one is that the coffee gets cold very quickly (although some manufacturers do make thermal cafetières). Another disadvantage is that as the pressed coffee grounds are left in the bottom of the cafetière, the coffee can become very bitter after the first cup.
There are two main types of electrical coffee machines, the traditional filter machines and those using a pod system. The traditional coffee machines can make several cups in one go whereas the pod machines prepare one cup at a time.
The traditional filter coffee machines are easy to use and usually relatively inexpensive. Loose filter coffee is placed in a basket containing a filter and then water from a reservoir, heated on route, is dripped though the basket into a pot. Filter coffee machines vary in the amount of cups that they will make in one go but the basic functionality is the same for all models. Many models have a hot plate to keep the coffee warm. Some machines use a disposable paper filter which is replaced after each use and others use permanent filters that should be washed each time. The disposable filters are more expensive but easier to use and dispose of the coffee grains. Permanent filters, while saving you money, can be difficult and messy to clean.
The pod or capsule system is becoming increasingly popular and there are some machines on the market, including Philips Senseo machines, offering this type of filter coffee. The coffee is encased in a foil or plastic pod which also acts as the filter and each pod is used once before being discarded. The type of system is very quick and easy to use and does not produce any mess, but the machines and the coffee are often more expensive than with the traditional types. They are also less environmentally friendly.
Espresso and Cappuccino Machines
Espresso coffee differs from regular filter coffee in that it is stronger and more concentrated than filter coffee. It is often taken black and in smaller quantities due to the strength, but is also used as the base for cappuccino and latte coffees which are becoming increasingly popular. Most traditional espresso machines use ground coffee, although there are ones which also grind the beans first (called 'Bean to Cup' machines), though these tend to be more expensive to buy. Some will make one cup at a time, although others have two spouts.
While many espresso machines just offer the basic coffee making function, high end models can include additional functions such as:
- Pre-set function so that you can programme your favourite strength and cup size
- Hot water function for tea
- Programmable timer
- Water hardness setting
- Descale warning light
- LED illumination
The 3 main types of espresso and cappuccino machines are:
1. Pressure Machines
ith this type of machine the hot water is forced through the coffee by means of pressure created from boiling water. The downside is that the water is often too hot and the pressure too low to make a really good cup of espresso - the usual range for a pressure coffee machines is 3-5 bars.
2. Pump Machines
Although they are generally more expensive than pressure machines, the temperature and bar pressure (usually between 10 and 19) are better suited to making a good espresso.
3. Pod Machines
This is the simplest way to make espresso or cappuccino coffee. As with the filter coffee pod system, the coffee is encased in a foil or plastic pod which is used once. It can be more difficult with some brands to buy the coffee pods as they have to be bought from specialist shops or over the internet.
Some of the more basic machines can only make espresso, while others also have the capability to make cappuccino and latte coffee.
Nespresso pod machines are currently the most popular on the market and are available from several manufacturers. The pods however are only available from Nespresso shops or on-line, but they do offer a wide and sometimes unusual variety of coffees.
Another popular alternative is the Tassimo machines. Although not dedicated coffee machines as such, as the pods also include hot chocolate and tea, they do offer a selection of filter coffee, espresso and cappuccino; however the range on offer is fairly limited.
In-Built Coffee Machines
Some manufacturers offer in-built coffee machines which integrate into the kitchen units. Whilst these score highly on the design front, they can be expensive and may not necessarily be the best coffee machine for your requirements.
There are many criteria for deciding on which coffee machine to buy, it is a question of deciding which are most important to you.
This is on the of the most important factors to consider as the prices vary enormously for coffee machines from about £20 for the most basic filter coffee machines to nearly £1000 for the high end authentic espresso makers. However price is not necessarily a good indication of the quality of the coffee or the ease of use.
If buying an espresso machine, you should consider the bar pressure. Look for a machine with a high pressure, as this will produce a better espresso.
It is of course necessary to consider the quality and reliability of the machine, but in the case of the pod machines which are tied to a particular brand you must also take into account the quality and taste of the coffee. As pod machines are becoming increasingly widespread, many people have them in their home, so if you have a friend or relative with one you are advised to check that you like the coffee before buying.
Decide whether functionality or style is more important to you. There are many designer coffee machines on the market, including both retro and modern designs and in a huge range of colours but they do not necessarily make the best coffee. Some manufacturers also offer a range of matching kitchen appliances in the same design and colour.
The size of the water tank should be considered for two reasons. For all types of coffee makers consider how often it will need to be re-filled. For filter coffee makers the amount of cups that it can make may make a difference in your choice of machine. There are filter coffee makers that can make between 1 and 10 cups so you must also decide the preferred capacity.
Unless you are a serious coffee lover who is prepared to spend time to produce the best results, you may wish to choose a model which is easy to use and easy to clean. Check that the drip trays are easy to remove and to clean.
Some espresso machines can make coffee in under a minute whereas others can take over 5 minutes.
The footprint of a coffee machine can be important especially in a smaller kitchen. The more basic filter coffee makers or single function pod espresso makers generally have the smallest footprint. If it is not to be used on a regular basis check that it will fit easily into cupboard space.
Some models have optional accessories such as:
- Froth Attachment
- Coffee grinders
- Matching coffee cups
- Pod storage containers in various shapes and sizes