When it comes to choosing a coffee maker, the options can be overwhelming. The market is flooded with various types, from simple drip coffee makers to high-end espresso machines. All at different price points, with different features for different coffee drinkers.
Do you prefer a quick on-the-go coffee or the entire process of making a coffee? Do you enjoy the simplicity of pods or the freshness of beans?
To help you decide which of the best coffee makers is right for you, your needs, and your kitchen, we spoke to Anna Batten, Product Manager at Smeg UK, and Michael Strickland, De’Longhi UK & Ireland’s Coffee Training Lead and Expert. They explain what to look for when shopping for a coffee maker, how to know which is the best machine for you, and what to avoid. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a casual drinker.
And once you’ve made your choice, keep an eye on our Black Friday Coffee Maker Deals hub for the latest discounts and offers on coffee makers.
How to choose a coffee maker
1. Type of coffee maker
The first step in choosing a coffee maker is deciding which type suits you and your needs best.
“The main types of makers are manual espresso machines, automatic machines, drip filter machines, and pod machines,” explained Batten. “The key differences are the method and simplicity of making the coffee. They all give completely different results too.”
Drip coffee makers: Drip coffee makers run hot water through a filter full of coffee grounds causing the coffee to drip into a coffee mug.
Espresso machines: Espresso machines are typically much larger and come with a variety of complex features like a steam wand, portafilter, and high-pressure pump. They come in manual, semi-automatic, and automatic models.
Pod coffee machines: Made famous by the likes of Nespresso, Keurig and Tassimo, these coffee makers use pods to make a range of coffee types, from espresso to mochas and more.
Pour-over: With pour-over coffee brewers, hot water is manually poured over the grounds rather than automatically, as is the case with drip coffee machines.
French press: Also known as a cafetière or coffee press, a French press is a fully manual coffee maker that makes coffee by pushing hot water through coffee grounds using a plunger.
“Drip coffee machines are great for entertaining, but produce very strong coffee and are best for americanos,” continued Batten.
“Manual machines offer the option of adjusting the amount of coffee dispensed, or adjusting the grind of the coffee, depending on if you prefer it fine or coarse.”
Semi-automatic espresso machines allow you to tweak various settings, such as grind size, filter size, water temperature, and more (depending on the model), but the machine itself controls the pressure and extraction process.
Automatic espresso machines are similar to the large coffee machines found in hospital waiting rooms, offices, or hotels and make different types of coffee – latte, cappuccino, macchiato, and so on – at the touch of a button.
Finally, pod machines are simple and easy to use, with minimal mess, but offer less customizable control.
“All these machines will make a great cup of coffee, and all serve a purpose,” added Strickland. “Theoretically, manual bean-to-cup makers offer the best result and are as close to the coffee shop experience as possible. Yet this is in theory because should you get any of the variables wrong, you can ruin the taste of the final result.”
If you’re keen to learn more about the differences between the machines, read our drip coffee vs espresso guide.
2. Coffee type
Drip coffee makers, as well as the manual pour-over and French press makers, all work with coffee grounds and you can either buy the coffee already grounded in bags at the store, or you can buy beans and turn them into grounds via a separate, standalone grinder.
Espresso machines also use grounds for the extraction but you can choose between bean-to-cup models with built-in grinders – meaning they work with beans – or those without, meaning you’ll need to buy or make coffee grounds first.
The positive thing is that there are numerous ways to reuse coffee grounds in your garden and around your home so opting for a coffee maker that uses grounds can have knock-on positive effects.
Pod coffee machines, as the name implies, use pods. You usually have to buy the pods that correspond with the brand of pod machine you own but this makes it easy because you only need to choose the pod that corresponds with your favorite type of coffee drink – latte, cappuccino, macchiato, etc.
When shopping for beans, you’re mainly concerned with the flavor type and strength and this will depend on your personal tastes. When shopping for grounds, however, you also need to check the grind size as this determines how much pressure is created when making the espresso.
Medium grind tends to work best with paper filters on drip and pour-over makers, although you can experiment with different filter types and grind sizes. Espresso machines tend to come with different filter sizes and require much more time experimenting with grind and size to get this right.
3. Price and hidden costs
Coffee makers range wildly in price. You can spend as little as $19.99, for a single and compact drip coffee machine, such as the Elite Gourmet Coffeemaker. Or you can spend $350+ for Moccamaster and Breville models.
Simple espresso machines start at $150, in the case of the Geek Chef Espresso Machine, up to $24,000 for the LaCimbali S60. However, the majority sit in the $700-$800 price range for machines like the Breville Barista Express up to $2,000-$3,000 for larger, more complex machines like Breville’s Oracle Touch.
You can get a cheap pod machine for around $40-$60, such as the Mixpresso 2-in-1 or the Cafe Valet Barista yet popular models from the likes of L’Or, Keurig, and Nespresso typically retail for between $100-$300, or you can spend up to $650 for machines such as those in the De’Longhi Latissima Pro range.
When considering price, it’s also important to factor in additional costs such as the price of the coffee, as well as filters (in the case of drip coffee machines) and capsules (in the case of pod makers).
Ground coffee tends to be cheaper than buying beans, for instance. Coffee subscription services can be a cost-effective way to buy beans or grounds, but it depends on how much coffee you drink and the service you choose.
“A pod machine, while low on initial cost, more often than not works out more per cup than buying beans,” explained Strickland. You also need to factor in how much you’ll need to spend to maintain or repair the type of machine you choose, should something go wrong.
4. Brewing capacity
The brewing capacity of a coffee maker is another important factor to consider. Single-serve machines are convenient for those who only need to make one cup at a time, while coffee makers with larger water tanks and dual extraction are ideal for households with multiple coffee drinkers.
An average drip coffee machine, with a 1.25-liter capacity, makes around 10 cups of coffee per filter. An average espresso machine with a 2-liter capacity will hold enough water for around 20 cups.
Additionally, the speed at which the machine can brew coffee is also worth considering. Some high-end drip coffee models can brew a pot of coffee in just a few minutes, while the best espresso machines can brew coffee in seconds. If timing is of the essence when it comes to getting your coffee fix, this will be an important factor to consider.
5. Ease of Use
How easy a coffee maker is to use will largely come down to your coffee-making skills and patience but there are some key differences that make some machines easier than others.
“Automatic coffee makers are extremely simple to use and produce high-quality coffee without much effort,” added Batten.
Once they’re full of water and coffee beans they will run and run until they need topping up again. These machines also tend to have intuitive touchscreen displays or buttons and produce consistent coffee every time within seconds.
Next up are pod coffee machines. Put your desired pod in the machine, press the brew button and your coffee will be dispensed. The only additional step is remembering to remove the pod each time.
Drip coffee makers are equally simple but less versatile. The only things you really need to concern yourself with are topping up the water and coffee, and switching it on. The machine handles the rest. The downside to this ease of use, though, is that the coffee itself is simple too.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are when things start getting trickier. You need to spend time setting up the machine to the best filter-to-grind size ratio for the beans or grounds to achieve the optimal espresso pressure shot.
Manual espresso machines are the most difficult to use because you’re responsible for every element of the grinding and extraction process. They are the most customizable, though, and can come with the greatest rewards.
If you’re buying an espresso machine, it’s also worth taking note of its advertised pressure level.
The flavor profile and texture of an espresso shot are directly linked to the pressure at which the water passes through the coffee grounds. This is because the water pressure is what pulls the oils, and thus the full flavor, from the grounds.
“If you are a coffee connoisseur the amount of pressure being forced through the coffee puck can dramatically affect the end result,” said Batten.
This pressure is measured in bars, and the sweet spot sits between 8 and 9. You can still get a great-tasting shot between 7 and 11 bars but because it’s difficult to achieve such bars on at-home machines, most coffee makers are typically sold in 15-bar and 20-bar versions.
Generally speaking, 15-bar machines are considered the next best thing for home brewing but as both 15-bar and 20-bar machines can be used to reach between 7 and 11, the difference will only really be discernible to coffee fanatics.
In summary, it’s worth noting the pressure but it’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker.
Additional features can enhance your coffee-making experience but can also add to the cost and complexity of the machine. It’s therefore seriously worth considering whether you’ll actually use them and whether they’re worth the additional cost.
Built-in grinders, for instance, allow you to grind fresh coffee beans right before brewing. Making coffee with freshly ground coffee can significantly improve its taste. However, these grinders typically add $100-$200+ to the price of the machine. By comparison, a standalone grinder can cost as little as $30 but is unlikely to offer the same precision.
“If you prefer to drink lattes and cappuccinos, a milk frother attachment is a great feature as frothy and hot milk can often be overlooked,” said Batten. However, they can be challenging to clean.
Smart features like WiFi and Bluetooth can add a level of convenience to your morning ritual by letting you control your coffee maker from your smartphone. Yet, again, you need to decide if you’ll actually use these features. They can add a significant amount of money to the price of a machine and such smart features can sometimes make the machine more complicated to set up and use.
Conversely, programmable timers are a convenient feature that can have your coffee ready when you wake up. This is especially useful if you want your drip coffee ready when you are, and this feature doesn’t tend to add too much more to the price of the machine in my experience.
Most modern coffee machines come with energy-saving features like auto shut-off, or ‘keep warm’ features that use less energy than a hot plate. Thermal carafes are another energy-efficient option; they can keep coffee hot for several hours without using any electricity. When choosing a machine, look for energy ratings or certifications that indicate its energy efficiency.
8. Noise Levels
The noise level of a coffee maker can be a dealbreaker, especially if your kitchen is close to living or sleeping areas.
Espresso machines with high-pressure pumps can be particularly noisy, averaging between 70-80 decibels. To be considered a quiet machine, the decibel levels need to sit around the 45db mark.
Anything above 80 decibels is considered loud. Some models are designed to be quieter and may use technologies like quiet brew or silent pump to reduce noise. However, quieter models can sometimes be more expensive.
Drip coffee makers and pod coffee machines are, by their nature, quieter so noise is rarely an issue for these types.
Safety should never be overlooked when choosing a coffee maker. Features like auto shut-off can prevent the machine from overheating and causing a fire hazard. Some models also come with thermal protection that shuts off the machine if it gets too hot. Given their design and the fact they’re harder to use makes espresso machines safer than drip coffee makers but it depends on the model.
When shopping for a coffee maker, a flat and stable base should be the number one safety feature to consider, according to Batten.
“You don’t want the machine wobbling when boiling water is being dispensed,” she said. “Another vital thing to look for when purchasing your machine is the silicone handle on steam wands, this will ensure you or someone else doesn’t burn their hands while frothing milk.”
In addition, some machines feature a safety cut-off in the bean grinder, meaning if the hopper isn’t locked in place the grinder will not function.
As a general rule, the more complex the machine, the more maintenance it needs.
The easiest machines to maintain are pod coffee makers. There are very few things that can go wrong and they only really need descaling every six months or so.
Drip coffee makers have few moving parts meaning they’re easy to clean and maintain, too. Replacement parts are relatively cheap to replace as well.
Espresso machines, by comparison, require more maintenance. Over time, coffee oils and mineral deposits from water can build up inside the machine, affecting the taste of your coffee and potentially damaging the machine. It’s worth descaling and cleaning at least monthly to extend the machine’s lifespan.
Some models come with built-in cleaning cycles that make maintenance easier but you usually end up paying more for the privilege. The availability and cost of replacement parts and repairs tend to be higher, too.
“Cleaning your coffee machine really is key to its longevity,” said Strickland. “It’s a chore but limescale build-up not only impacts the taste of the coffee in the short-term but it will impact your machine’s performance in the long-term.”
11. Customer reviews and ratings
Once you’ve narrowed down your options, don’t forget to check customer reviews and ratings. These can offer invaluable insights into the coffee maker’s real-world performance.
Customer reviews can reveal potential drawbacks that could influence your buying decision. Some criticisms might be minor and irrelevant to your needs, while others could point out significant issues that you’ll want to avoid.
As you sift through these reviews though, be vigilant about fake ones, especially during the Black Friday sales. Some retailers or websites fabricate reviews so you need to be on your guard.
12. Quality of deals
Black Friday is an excellent opportunity to invest in a quality coffee maker without breaking the bank.
However, the key lies in understanding your needs and doing your homework. This is because, during Black Friday, it can tempting to jump on the best Black Friday coffee maker deal that you see.
However, some retailers increase prices before the sale. Always compare prices across various stores and check historical data to ensure you’re getting a genuine bargain. Price comparison sites like Honey and CamelCamelCamel are also saviors.
“You must consider the type of coffee you prefer and the investment you would like to make in your machine. All machines aren’t equal, so it’s worthwhile comparing features and specs before purchasing, so you match the right machine with your needs and your coffee preference,” said Batten.