If you are considering buying a coffee machine then you are faced with a huge degree of choice: a pod machine, manual expresso, bean to cup, filter, or French press? The list goes on. But how do you know which machine will be right for you and avoid wasting money on the wrong machine? Let’s start with what these different machines actually do.
Definitions of Coffee Machines
Pod or capsule coffee machines have become very popular recently. Essentially these coffee machines use disposable pods or capsules filled with coffee. The coffee beans have been roasted, blended, ground and then sealed within the pod. You simply insert the pod, water is heated and then forced through the coffee, releasing the flavour. There are a wide variety of different machines on the market, some of which come with a fresh milk option.
These machines will be the ones you are most familiar with from coffee shops. Here you create your expresso entirely on your own. But within this category there are a few variations. Firstly there are steam driven espresso machines and pump driven. Most of the machines you see now are the pump driven expresso machines. This is where water is pumped from the boiler and forced through the ground coffee. Within this category you then have semi-automatic and automatic.
Semi-Automatic/Automatic Manual Espresso
You grind the beans and put them in the porta filter then you press a button to start the process and then press the button again when you want the coffee to stop. In automatic machines you still grind and tamper and press the button to start the process but it will then automatically stop itself, you don’t have the press a button a second time.
Bean to Cup
The essential difference between a traditional espresso machine and a bean to cup is that in the latter the bean grinder is an integral part of the coffee machine. This one machine grinds your beans compresses them and then brews the espresso. The coffee beans sit on top of the machine, the key difference is that the grinding is done within the espresso machine.
Filter Coffee Machine
This may be the type of machine you have seen in board rooms and meeting rooms before. The water slowly drips through a container holding ground coffee using either a paper or permanent reusable filter. As the water flows through it absorbs the flavours. The filter coffee is then served from the carafe which sits under it and is usually kept warm on a hot plate.
The French Press
This is possibly the simplest method alongside the pod machines. The French press is essentially a glass jar with a push down plunger. You simply let hot water steep over coarse ground coffee for 3-4 minutes before pressing down the filter.
Disadvantages and Advantages of Pod Machines, Espresso and Bean to Cup
This is a tricky one, as one person’s advantage is not another’s. So do bear that in mind.
The main advantage of the pod machines, and possibly the reason they have sold so well, is that they are extremely easy to use. It’s all done for you and there is little mess. You don’t have to buy coffee beans and grind them. You simply pop in the pod and press a button. The manufacturers claim that the sealing of the pods ensures that the coffee is kept fresh for up to 6 months. These machines also tend to be smaller than traditional espresso machines so can suit smaller kitchens. There is also little waste. Another positive is that the coffee is consistent every time.
The main disadvantages are that not all pods will work in any pod machine. So for example Nespresso pods can only be used in Nespresso machines. So you may really like a pod that you can’t use in your machine. Some people find the cost of the pods quite pricey. Another concern raised is whilst there is no coffee grain waste there are questions over what happens to the pods after they’ve been used. Some capsules cannot be recycled, others you have to return to one of the stores, so a concern for the environment.
But the main concern some people have with these machines is all about the taste. Whilst the coffee in pods is kept as fresh as possible some believe there is still nothing as fresh tasting as coffee that has been ground and then used immediately. Another concern is that the coffee in pods is brewed very quickly so the flow rate is faster than that used in a manual espresso machine. For this reason many believe you never get as full a flavour with these types of machines.
Manual Espresso Machines
The advantages of a really good manual espresso machine is that put bluntly you can have your coffee exactly the way you want it. You can also vary it every time you use the machine. And for many yes it does take practise but you can enjoy that process, the grinding of the beans, learning how to tamper properly and then froth the milk. There’s the fresh taste and flavour of coffee that has just been made from fresh coffee beans. And whilst some coffee machines are expensive there are long term cost savings to be made. If we do the crude maths, let’s take a machine that costs £2,500, the average costs of a cup of coffee is say £2.60. If you have two coffees each day from your new coffee machine at home then it would take you 16 months to repay the initial outlay of £2,500. And a good quality coffee machine should last more than 16 months. So in the long term you will save money on coffee from coffee shops. In addition, buy the right model and it will make a design statement in your kitchen.
The disadvantages are clear. A good machine will cost money and you need to learn how to do it. You will need to learn how to use a grinder and get the grinding right. You will also need to learn how to tamper the coffee and then of course know how to froth milk. If you don’t want to learn all these skills you won’t get it right. There is also the need to get rid of the mess from the left over coffee grains.
Bean to Cup
The bean to cup will have the same advantages of the manual espresso machines but will also have two other main advantages. They can be cleaner, you have less messy coffee grains over your work surface. Another advantage is that you don’t have to buy a separate grinder and get to grips with how to use that. But you still get all the great taste as your coffee is made immediately after the grinding process.
The main disadvantages of bean to cup is that for many the grinding is what they want to do! They want to take control of that stage of the process and not have it done for them. In addition, as these machines contain an in built grinder, they do work out more expensive
How to Decide Which Machine is Right For You
There is no easy answer here as it is so personal. For some people who live busy lives and don’t have the time or inclination to learn a barista skill then a pod machine may be perfect. For those obsessed with the taste and who don’t mind investing some time, then an espresso machine may be better for you.
Key Questions to Ask Before You Buy
· How much room do you have in your kitchen? Some machines and grinders will take up space so be careful.
· Do you want to learn how to grind, tamper and froth? There are courses you can go on or simply have a look on line, there are plenty of videos available to get you started. If you don’t then a pod machine may be for you
· What is your budget?
· How fussy are you about the quality of your coffee?
· How many people will use the machine each day and how many coffees do you want it you make. This will influence the machine you buy
· What coffees do you want the machine to make, there is no point investing in a machine that makes 5 different coffees and has two frothing wands if you intend to make black espressos every day