Shopping for the best coffee maker can be quite the task. There are numerous different ways of making coffee and the result is a wide spectrum of price, taste, style and functionality. Choosing the right coffee maker or coffee machine – the terminology varies between UK and USA – can lead to a headache almost as severe as the one some people get from drinking too much coffee.
Do you prefer a short, strong espresso or a milky cappuccino? And do you want to make it yourself using coffee grounds or would you prefer to have it dispensed automatically from a bean-to-cup machine or a fuss-free capsule espresso maker? If espresso’s too strong for the palette and in too small a portion, how about a mug of filtered or pour-over coffee, or even one made in a French press? Can you see where this is going?
Whatever budget you have and whatever you’re looking for, there will be something to suit. The most expensive machines aren’t necessarily better than lower priced models. Some of the best traditional coffee makers are the cheapest, like the AeroPress or a basic Melitta funnel and a paper filter.
So, dear afiocionados de café, after much deliberation, research and a rather large overdose of caffeine, we’ve alighted on this bunch of kitchen heroes that extract, filter, steep, press and drip their way to a mighty fine brew.
The best coffee makers to buy today
Top espresso machine
A lot of Sage's coffee machines may be a few quid too far or about a foot too big for many people, but this compact little bro’ is easy to fit and relatively affordable to boot, whilst retaining most of the finer qualities of Sage's flaship machines.
The Sage (Breville outside of the UK) Bambino Plus is quite a looker and, like its stablemates, it delivers a perfectly measured espresso replete with velvety microfoam.
Available in five classy liveries – brushed steel, smoked hickory, black, ivory and navy blue – the Bambino Plus has a three-second heat up time, which is frankly phenomenal, and a fuss-free interface containing just two main extraction buttons – one for a one-cup espressos and the other for two. Two more buttons allow for customised temperature control and froth consistency and volume.
For as little as £200/$200, this little machine is an exemplary performer that impresses on all fronts. It's the best espresso machine we've tried when it comes to ease of use and quality of coffee produced.
First up, if you are looking for this outside of the UK and certain parts of Europe, the Sage Dual Boiler is known as the Breville Dual Boiler. It's a long story. That goes for all other 'Sage' products on this list.
If you’re after a barista-style manual espresso machine that does all the number crunching for you – but admittedly costs a small packet – then plump for this handsome mammoth from the house of Sage. It gets its name from the two boilers hidden within its brushed-metal facade; one for the espresso making and the other for frothing milk. This means it can do two jobs at once, cutting down the time considerably if making two of more cappuccinos or lattes at the same time.
Espresso prepping and extraction is an art form but thankfully this machine pretty much does all the work for you. The frothing wand, used manually, can produce a super silky microfoam that’s on par with most commercial machines and perfect for creating one’s own cappuccino art. You will, however, have to put in a bit of practice and, potentially, change a few temperature settings to achieve the very best results, however. Still, if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well. It's also the reason this is way cheaper than the Sage/Breville Oracle Touch further down the list – that uses computer power to do all the texturing, dosing and so on for you.
This is easily the best premium, domestic espresso machine on the market right now, anyway.
Best hand-operated espresso maker
This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing manual espresso makers we’ve reviewed and one of the funkiest looking. Furthermore, it doesn’t require electricity to work, just access to some hot water. Like other hand-operated espresso makers – La Pavoni and ROK, for instance – the Flair Pro 2 requires muscle power to pull a shot and a good dose of trial and error during initial use.
To start with, don’t even consider using this shot puller with packaged pre-ground coffee (even those labelled espresso) because the grounds mostly likely won’t be fine enough and when you come to pull down the handle, the piston will have almost zero resistance and all you’ll get is a cup of black dishwater.
The folks at Flair suggested I try the new Niche Zero (opens in new tab) coffee grinder which turned out to be quite phenomenal (this beauty grinds coffee all the way down to talcum powder consistency). After a few experimental grinding sessions I eventually found the perfect consistency for the Flair and, after four attempts in total, finally extracted an espresso that looked as appealing as those on the numerous demonstration videos I’d seen. It was a true eureka moment – a stream of piano black liquid gold topped with an amazingly deep and silky crema. Proper barista stuff that tasted amazing.
The Flair Pro 2 could be considered portable because it arrives in several parts that all lie flat in a natty nylon transport case. It’s not as portable as the Minipresso reviewed above (it’s much bigger and heavier for a start), but then the quality of its extraction is on a different level.
The Flair is simple to assemble but it uses quite a few different loose parts – including a pressure gauge – for the espresso-making process. Indeed, it’s quite a rigmarole setting it all up which won’t appeal to anyone who just wants an espresso and wants it quickly. The brew chamber needs to be preheated with boiled water while you carefully load the heavy-duty portafilter with your favourite blend. You then need to tamp it down lightly using the beautifully designed steel tamper – too much pressure on the coffee grounds and the water might not pass through when you come to extract it by slowly pulling the handle down.
Granted, the learning curve with this model is steep but once you’ve got it dialled, you’ll be pulling barista-style shots till the cows come home.
Our top Nespresso coffee machine (Vertuo)
If you think Nespresso’s current pods are simply too small in stature for a decent caffeine hit, then consider this different type of system that uses a range of larger, different sized pods to suit a wide range of tastes, from espresso to extra large Alto. Rather cleverly, each pod is equipped with a unique barcode which tells the machine the amount of water required and the length of extraction.
Unlike standard espresso machines that use steamy water under pressure to extract the coffee flavour and accompanying crema, the Vertuo system uses centrifugal spinning technology (the pod spins at a phenomenal 7,000rpm) which creates the same strong flavour but with a much deeper, albeit slightly frothy crema.
Each machine includes a welcome set with 12 Nespresso Vertuo capsules containing individual aromas. The pods themselves start at a fairly reasonable 39p with prices rising to a rather steep 62p for the Alto blend. This machine regularly receives big discounts, but even at full price it's the best Nespresso machine we've tried.
• Read our full Nespresso Vertuo Plus review
T3's pick of the Nespresso coffee machines (standard pods)
Here’s another Sage espresso maker that’s well worth a look. Unlike the aforementioned manual espresso models, this one uses Nespresso pods and very nice it is too. The Creatista Uno is superbly built, with a reassuringly large amount of metal used in the construction, but what impresses most here is the typically Sage-like intuitive interface which allows for up to eight different coffee styles, from short-shot ristretto to cappuccino and latte macchiato. In fact, it’s so easy to use, my Labrador managed to whip up a ristretto without even a glance at the instruction manual.
If you like the convenience and wide choice of blends that Nespresso offers, then put this one near the top of your list. UNless you feel it's not expensive enough for you – in which case read our Sage Creatista Pro review – you won’t be disappointed.
Top pod coffee maker (NOT by Nespresso)
Lavazza’s Modo Mio capsule system isn’t as popular as Nespresso but for this writer’s money its coffee blends are more authentic and closer to what you might sip at a typical European café.
Aside from making an excellent single or double espresso, this machine also features a brilliant automatic milk frothing system that doesn’t take up any extra room and doesn’t require any input from the user. Simply load in a capsule and the milk goes through the whole frothing and heating process on its own before a single dose of espresso is automatically added to the mix. Now pour the contents into your favourite cup, sit back and enjoy an authentic Italian espresso without leaving the kitchen.
Best cheap capsule coffee machine (NOT Nespresso)
For basic hassle-free capsule-delivered Lavazza, this budget-priced option passes much muster. It’s tiny for a start so you will find space for it on both the worktop and perhaps in your luggage, if heading to a hotel that serves percolated mud.
It couldn’t be easier to use since it only has two buttons – one for short shots and one for long. Yes, the spent capsule box is ridiculously small and will need emptying after about six uses but, hey, it’s not that difficult to walk a few paces to the bin. And speaking of bins, you’ll be pleased to know that most Lavazza capsules are compostable and therefore much more environment friendly.
- Our full guide to the Best pod coffee machine
The very finest bean to cup coffee machine
From our experience, most bean-to-cup machines dispense espresso that isn’t especially strong. Not this one. The café-grade Oracle Touch may cost a fortune but it makes consistently excellent espressos that will blow your socks off if the grind setting is set to its finest.
To be perfectly honest, the Oracle Touch isn’t a true, fully-automated bean-to-cup machine like most other models because is does require some input from the user. Where bona fide models perform everything from grinding to tamping to extraction, this one requires human input just after the automatic tamping stage. It’s hardly a major task, mind, because all it involves is removing the portafilter from the tamper and twisting it into the group head.
• Read our full Sage Oracle Touch review
In tests, this machine delivered exquisite espressos time after time, though the jury’s out on the silkiness of its milk froth which may be a bit too foamy for aficionados. Other than that, it truly excelled for the entire three-month period we had it on the kitchen worktop.
A more traditional bean to cup pick
For households with different coffee blend preferences, this handsome mid-priced bean-to-cup comes with two bean hoppers – one for dark, strong roasts and the other for lighter blends. It also has a separate container for pre-ground coffee that could serve as a backup for when the beans run out.
The Barista TS Smart comes with a slick touch-and-slide interface and is capable of making 21 different varieties of coffee in five different strengths, from extra mild to extra strong. However, you can also save up to eight separate preferences so different members of the family can enjoy their own strengths at the touch of a button.
If you enjoy sipping on a variety of different coffee strengths and styles and have a worktop big enough to accommodate it, then waltz this way.
- Our full guide to the Best bean-to-cup coffee machine
T3's favourite filter coffee machine (or pour over coffee maker)
This exceptional filter coffee machine produces barista-style filter coffee that meets the Speciality Coffee Association’s ‘Golden Cup’ standard. In other words, the water it uses is carefully dispensed at around 93˚C, which is the optimum temperature that most filter coffee aficionados would recommend.
The Precision Thermal Brewer is super easy to use because it comes with a selection of user presets that take the guesswork out of the entire process. Simply choose your preferred style – from fast, strong or Gold standard – and hit the start button. Alternatively if you fancy something cooler on a hot summer’s day, consider the ‘Over Ice’ or ‘Cold Brew’ settings. The latter is a function that usually requires a different set of equipment so having all of these options in one machine can be considered a major bonus.
If you’re looking for a coffee filter machine that delivers consistent results on a regular basis, then this could be the one for you.
Most excellent manual pour over coffee maker
All you need to make a decent filtered coffee is a funnel, a filter cone and a mug. Or you could splash out a little more and procure this quaint porcelain table-top option from Melitta, the inventor of filtered coffee.
The Melitta Pour Over Set is comprised of a porcelain filter holder, a small jug (0.6l capacity) and a lid to keep the coffee warm. Alternatively, you can straddle the filter over two cups instead. To prevent overfilling, viewing slots on either side of the holder allow you to keep tabs on coffee levels.
Available in blue, rose, yellow and grey, the Melitta is admittedly a bit twee in appearance but it’s still a lot more appealing than a plastic funnel and an old mug.
- Our full guide to the Best pour over coffee machine
Top coffee press
The hugely popular, one-to-four cup AeroPress is an ingeniously simple concept that uses light air pressure to force coffee-infused water through a paper filter. It’s as perfect for home use as it is on the camping ground, a hotel room or the top of a mountain. All you need is some ground coffee and a mug of hot water.
For the finest tasting brew, load the main chamber with two scoops of a good quality fine to medium grind blend and some pre-boiled water, stir the contents for a while and wait for a minute before slowly pushing the plunger down over a period of about 30 seconds.
Voila, a palette smacking espresso-like brew with a hint of crema floating on top. The AeroPress is arguably the ugliest looking product here but it sure as hell makes a damn fine coffee.
A very fine portable hand-operated espresso maker
Once you have a taste for real espresso nothing else will do, least of all instant coffee. So, next time you’re on your travels, pack this remarkable little finger-powered invention in your suitcase and you’ll never have to endure hideous hotel coffee ever again.
The Nanopresso may seem complicated at first but it’s easy to get a handle on. To make a surprisingly authentic espresso replete with proper crema, just load a scoop of your favourite blend into the coffee chamber, fill the small 0.80ml reservoir with hot water (most hotels have a kettle in the room and if you’re camping, simply boil some on the gas stove), tighten everything up and pump the piston a few times using your fingers. For mess-free espresso, this model can also be adapted to use Nespresso capsules.
Given that espresso is made using pressurised hot water, it shouldn’t matter whether the pressure is created by an electric pump or muscle power. The results should be the same – and with this little pocket titan, they are. Warmly recommended.
Coffee steeper #1
This four-cup device uses a two-stage filtration system and the power of gravity to make a smooth, clear brew with no sludge or grits. It’s comprised of just three parts: a stainless steel upper section, a brewing chamber and a borosilicate glass pot.
Fill the chamber with some coarse coffee grounds, add boiled water, give it a stir and wait about four minutes. Now twist the lid and watch in amazement as a stream of pure sediment-free bean juice is deposited into the pot below.
To drink, simply tip and pour from the top-mounted spout. The Duo Coffee Steeper requires no electricity so you could feasibly take it anywhere with access to hot water. However, it is a bit of a faff to clean.
Ooh la la: premiére French press or cafetiere
The French press system is a popular coffee making method made famous by Bodum. You probably remember using one of these glass carafes at some point. You might also remember the time you dropped one and it smashed into a zillion pieces.
Some of you might even remember the time you pressed too hard on the plunger and the ensuing volcano of hot coffee that spewed all over the table.
User error issues aside, the Bodum system is a simple way to make a good strong brew and this three-cup Jesper model is an excellent introduction. Simply shove in a few spoons of coarse ground coffee, pour in some boiling water and wait about five minutes.
Now slowly press down on the handle until the plunger stops. Presto, a stonkingly rich, black blend with a kick like a mule. Just be sure to avoid drinking the last inch or so of liquid because it can be quite muddy down there. The Bodum Jesper can make eight cups at a time so consider it if entertaining on a grander scale.
Pick of the percolators
Percolation is one of the oldest forms of coffee making and was hugely popular during the ’50s and ’60s before the filtered drip method and espresso took hold.
This tactile and classy-looking percolator from Dualit produces up to 10 cups of black gold in around ten minutes and can even be used to brew tea.
It uses the same percolation method of old: boiled water is shoved up a narrow tube where it suffuses the coffee in a metal filter before dripping back down for a repeat of the process.
This means the coffee is extracted several times, the result being a coffee often strong enough to blow the head off a goose. Once brewed, simply lift the jug off its plinth and take it to the table.
• Read our full guide to the best coffee percolator