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Which coffee machine?

Need help choosing the type of coffee maker that best suits your needs?

From the cheapest and easiest to the all-singing all-dancing, we give you the low-down on how to choose the right system for you.

Cafetières

The cafetière is the quickest, simplest and most cost effective way to make a cup of great tasting coffee. A cafetière, hot water and a medium or coarse grind of coffee are all you need to make 3 to12 cups of great coffee. Cafetières (aka french press, coffee press or plunger) produce a rich full-bodied cup of coffee. The grounds are steeped in hot water and this extracts more compounds from the coffee giving much more flavour. The steeping process extracts oils, which add a creamy/buttery rich flavour which has no bitterness.

Having selected, and preferably freshly ground your coffee (espresso fine ground is not suitable for use in cafetières) add one rounded dessert spoonful per person to a warmed pot, pour the freshly boiled water over the coffee grounds (use water that has just come off the boil as boiled water will scald the coffee and affect the flavour). Stir the coffee and position the plunger but don’t push down yet. Allow the coffee to stand for 3-5 minutes letting the flavours develop, then slowly depress the plunger. This ultra-fast inexpensive way to make great tasting coffee is favoured by many professional coffee connoisseurs.


 

Stove Pots

A stove pot (aka espresso pot/moka pot) is an Italian steam-based hob espresso maker that can generally brew 2-8 cups of short, strong coffee. It is composed of two separate parts which simply screw together. The base is filled with cold water which, when heated, filters up into the top part through the coffee grains.

After choosing a suitable fine ground espresso coffee, the secret to making a good cup of coffee with a stove pot is to mound the coffee grounds high in the filter basket before screwing the two pieces together – do not compact or tamp the coffee first! To ensure a tight seal, be sure to wipe the rim of the bottom of the pot with your finger to remove any grounds. When the top half of the pot is screwed on, the grounds will be compacted by the filter screen and you should end up with a dry, compacted puck of coffee grounds at the end of brewing. Bring to the boil until the first splurt of coffee hits the top container then turn the heat down. When the top container is full, the coffee is ready. Beware when you take a stove pot off the hob as it can stay hot for quite awhile, so you won’t be able to brew back to back batches of coffee. Remember also, that you can take your stove pot on your camping or caravan holiday, thus enjoying great coffee whilst relaxing.


 

Percolators

Let’s start with a caveat – nearly any coffee expert will tell you that a percolator is about the worst possible way to make coffee. As the water is heated to boiling in order to perk, it’s really too hot for the coffee – it can become over-extracted, and you end up with a bitterness and acidity that makes the coffee a ‘grown-ups only’ drink. That said, there are people who still prefer perked coffee to any other kind. Taste is, after all, a matter of taste! The larger urn also means more cups of coffee!

A coffee percolator consists of five parts. There is the percolator coffee pot, into which you put your coffee. There is the stem, a hollow metal tube that fits into the bottom of the pot. In non-electric percolators, this has a flat, round bottom. There is the filter basket, which slides onto the tube and holds the ground coffee. There is the filter basket cover, a round perforated lid that fits on top of the filter basket and makes sure that the water showers the entire basket of coffee evenly. Finally, there is the coffee pot lid, which often has a glass bubble in it. The glass bubble just might be the most fun part of the entire contraption. It lets you watch the coffee splurting up from the tube and splashing inside before it spills back down onto the basket cover. Nothing beats the sounds of a coffee percolator plop plop plopping away, giving off that lovely coffee aroma!

Keep all parts of the percolator clean – that means washing the entire thing in hot soapy water after every use. To clean the inside of the stem, use a long thin brush. Use freshly ground coffee – this is a must with all coffee makers. Storing coffee in a vacuum container will help in keeping your coffee fresh and avoid spoiling the flavours. Method – disassemble the percolator and put the stem in place. Fill with water to just below the line on the stem where the filter basket will rest. Put the basket in place and fill with one heaped tablespoon of coffee for each cup of water in the pot. Plug in, turn on, and when ready, sit back and enjoy.


 

Filter

What could be better than starting the day with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee? With a filter coffee machine (aka drip coffee maker) the hot water slowly filters through the coffee into a glass carafe on a hot plate or an insulated pot, bringing out all of its most subtle flavours drop by drop. A filter coffee machine is ideal for anyone who drinks a lot of coffee or needs to make large quantities, as it can brew 2 to 12 cups at a time.

Models have either a permanent or a paper filter holder. Permanent filters save you money but they can be messy to clean and can taint. Paper holders are more hygienic and can simply be thrown away after use. Some filter coffee makers use a ‘pod’ system. These pods are essentially round ‘tea bags’ which produce a cup of filter coffee without any mess. A programmable model can be incredibly handy because you can set it to wake you up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or have your coffee ready for the end of a meal.

Filter coffee machines are also ideal for keeping a constant supply of hot coffee to hand in your workplace. Place a filter paper (if using) in the filter holder. Select a suitable, medium grind coffee allowing one rounded dessert spoonful per cup (adjust according to taste) and place in the filter. Top the water reservoir with fresh cold water, press start and away you go! Whilst many machines have a brew-pause (or drip-stop) facility, it’s best to avoid the temptation to use this as the first cup will carry most of the flavour and strength, leaving the remainder of the brew, when fully filtered, very weak.


 

Capsule

Over the last few years, capsule-based coffee machines have revolutionised the world of coffee. From espresso, decaff and cappuccino to tea and hot chocolate, these machines can make hot drinks for the whole family.

These machines are incredibly easy to use: simply insert the hermetically sealed capsule, push the button when the water has reached temperature, and hey presto – fresh coffee in a flash! This makes them ideal for anyone who doesn’t have time to wait around and wants a mess-free method of making coffee. Capsule machines use a built-in percolator system which, instead of letting the water filter through the coffee slowly, projects it at high pressure through the capsule to make a great-tasting cup of coffee in a matter of seconds. Although capsules are cup-for-cup more expensive than ground coffee, they offer unrivalled speed and efficiency, with no need to measure out the coffee or keep buying filters. These great-looking and incredibly practical machines can be used to make a quick cup of coffee at any time.  However, if you’re looking for a coffee-making ‘experience’ these are not the machines for you.

When using a capsule-based machine for the first time, you will need to test the output of water in relation to your cup size, some models have an adjustment to allow you to pre-set the amount of water used per cup. Technically, for an authentic espresso, you will need a machine that offers 10 bars of pressure, although less powerful models still make great all-round coffee. Be advised that most coffee capsules are machine-brand specific, that said there are now a wide variety of compatible capsules available.


 

Espresso

For those of you who like your coffee short, strong and authentic, nothing can rival an espresso machine!

Espresso is a concentrated beverage brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso often has a thicker consistency than coffee brewed by other methods with a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and crema (foam). Espresso is the base for other drinks such as latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha, lungo and americano to name but a few! (see our Which Drink? guide). Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most beverages, but the usual serving size is smaller – a 30ml shot of espresso has 40-75 mg of caffeine, which is less than half the caffeine of a standard 240 ml cup of filter coffee.

Whether automatic or semi-professional, espresso machines are no longer reserved for the elite – you can now pick up a fully functional machine without breaking the bank as our site will testify. They use ground coffee or coffee beans, and some can also be used with coffee pods (E.S.E.). So now you can savour the flavour of a rich espresso with its delicious creamy foam, without even leaving the house!

Espresso machines are steam driven and there are two basic types with pump machines being the more expensive – this said, they are far and away the most popular. Pressure machines boil water in a chamber and this builds up pressure and steam, eventually forcing the boiling water through to the coffee. The steam can be used for frothing. Pump machines use a steam system as well but have a separate tank and a thermostatically controlled boiler with a ‘thermoblock’ system that heats the water to between 85-92° C – the optimum coffee making temperature. Most of our machines are pump machines. To create the perfect, authentic, espresso your machine must have a minimum pressure of 10 bars, a percolation time of 25-30 seconds, and should also heat the water to between 85-92°C. Once that’s covered, all you need to do is choose the type of machine and model! If you like experimenting with your own blends and dosing your coffee to perfection, you should consider investing in a semi-automatic espresso machine. With one of these it’s over to you to grind, dose, measure and then decide how tightly to pack in (tamp) your coffee. The machine has an automated pump, automated boiler temperature controls and an on-off switch that activates and deactivates the pump. They are “semi-automatic” because you control when the pump is turned on and off, thereby controlling the strength of each shot. They also have a high pressure steam hose to froth milk for creamy cappuccinos. Twin boiler machines like Gaggia’s Baby Twin, reduces the waiting time between coffee production and steam delivery, to just a few seconds.

Automatic espresso machines do the same as semi-automatics with the addition of automated brewing time and volume. They deliver a pre-determined amount of water with each use. Essentially you need only load the porta-filter (coffee filter holder), lock it into place, press a button and your involvement is done – the machine will stop brewing on its own. You will need to take into account the size of the machine you are considering in relation to the space you have available, and the accessibility of the water container if space is an issue. For the style conscious there are happily many different colours and shapes to compliment your kitchen – check out our Ascaso and Bugatti machines for amazing colours.


 

Bean to Cup

If you enjoy seriously good coffee but you’re not sure how to grind and dose your coffee or you don’t have the time nor inclination, then a bean to cup espresso machine (aka fully automatic machine or super-automatic) although more expensive, really does do everything for you! You only need to fill the bean hopper and fill the water reservoir (if not plumbed in). The machine will select the pressure level, grind and tamp the coffee, heat and dispense the water, apply the pressure, extract the shot, and then dispose of the puck (left over coffee) into an internal dump box. The popularity of this style of machine is the fastest growing in the market.

Some bean to cup machines also have automatic milk frothers where the milk is sucked from a milk jug and foamed directly into your cup; some the ability to change the coffee strength; some will help you maintain the machine and are self-cleaning, and may have decalcification and auto-rinse cycles too; some have adjustable dispenser heads to allow for different cup sizes and some will even provide a bypass doser enabling you to bypass the grinder with pre-ground coffee, most commonly needed for decaffeinated coffee. Bean to Cup machines are unique in that they don’t use boilers for heating water, brewing and steaming.They use thermoblock technology that heats the water as it passes through a tube encased in an aluminium block – it reacts very quickly and is capable of steaming continuously. The machine will also indicate when it is out of water and the expelled coffee ground box is full. What you don’t get with a bean to cup machine is the ‘theatre’ or ritual of producing your own unique espresso,but this is heavily outweighed by the ease of use and consistancy of drink quality that an automatic machine offers.


 

Grinders

If you do nothing else, choose a good grinder! A decent grinder is integral to the making of a good cup of espresso and a must-have for anyone who loves coffee for two simple reasons – freshness and control over the coarseness of the grind.

Never grind more coffee than you will use for immediate brewing. Once beans are ground the flavourful oils are exposed to damaging air and as these oils dissipate, so will the flavour of your coffee. Typically coffee used for filter machine brewing should be ground to the consistency of granulated sugar. The complete filter cycle should take four to six minutes. If the cycle is completed in less than four minutes, grind your coffee finer. If it takes longer than six minutes, grind your beans coarser. A cafetiere requires a very coarse grind whilst an espresso requires a very fine grind … almost powder-like with a slight grittiness. The key to the proper espresso grind is the extraction time. After the proper dose and tamp, one ounce of espresso should be extracted in approximately 25-30 seconds.

There are basically two different types of grinder – blade or burr. Blade grinders are the most inexpensive grinders, using a metal blade to chop the beans. The blade cuts up the beans and you control the fineness by how long you let the grinder run. Unfortunately the resulting grounds can be uneven in size, leading to inconsistent brew quality. Another possible pitfall is that if you are grinding finely, and therefore leaving the beans in the grinder for a longer period of time, there can be significant heat created by the blades, potentially giving your coffee a burnt taste. These grinders are fine for basic use, but that’s about it. Burr grinders crush the beans between a moving grinding wheel and a non-moving surface.The positioning of the burr is what regulates the ground size,which allows for more consistency. Within the burr category there are two different types – wheel or conical. Wheel burrs – the least expensive of the two -with a wheel which spins very fast, and can be very noisy. The higher speed rotation can make these grinders messier as well. The other is the Conical burr – the best grinders you can get are usually conical burr grinders.The burr spins slower than the wheel model, which makes it quieter and less messy.You can use a conical burr grinder for oily or flavoured coffees and it is not likely to clog. Whilst this is the best type, you will have to pay a little more for it.


 

Milk Frothers

The milk frother is somewhat self explanatory! Frothers like the Graef and Dualit Latteccino are button operated to froth and heat the milk. Features vary but can include automatic shut off, and an internal level filling indicator.

All you need to do is fill the container with fresh milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed is recommended), secure the lid and press the button, for frothed milk to make your speciality coffee of choice.