What to look for in a coffee machine

Anula Wiwatowska
Jun 14, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read
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Buzzing for an at-home coffee fix, but don’t quite know what to look for? No stress, we’ve got you. Picking a coffee machine can be tricky, there are plenty of different options and if you’re not familiar with the specs it can be hard to see through all the jargon.

In this guide we break down the most important specs in a coffee machine to help you find the best one for your budget.

Bar pressure

Bar pressure is one of the most important specs in a coffee machine. This number indicates the speed that water is pressed through the coffee, which in itself indicates how effectively a machine can extract both coffee and flavour.

Barometric pressure, or Bar pressure refers to the amount of atmospheres of pressure being pressed onto the coffee grounds. Every bar of pressure is the equivalent of Earth’s atmospheric pressure, so baristas really do hold the weight of the world many times over, in each cup of coffee. The amount of pressure required to extract a proper shot of coffee varies depending on the coffee type, but generally a machine that hits pressures between seven and 11 bars will do the trick.

Note that pump coffee machines like Kmart’s cheap espresso machines, will require a much higher Bar rating. Pump coffee machines tend to advertise 15-19 bars, but this isn’t the actual amount hitting the beans, moreso the amount created by the pump. From the pump, the water needs to travel through the machine and loses pressure in this time which gets you to the ideal extraction point.

Wattage

Not only does the wattage indicate how much electricity the coffee machine will use, but it is also a good measure for how quickly the machine will come to temperature. Wattage is used across a range of products like heaters and hair dryers to indicate the amount of heat expelled. The higher the wattage, the higher the heat.

When it comes to coffee machines, a more powerful heating element will mean less warm up time on start up.

Grinder

Depending on what kind of coffee machine you’re looking at, you may want to consider if an integrated grinder is right for you. Espresso machines require your coffee beans to be ground, and you can either buy ground coffee or grind your own beans. Grinding the beans fresh is preferable as it helps to retain the flavour and complexity of the bean, otherwise those more refined elements will be gone in a couple of weeks.

Having an integrated grinder means you can enjoy the benefits of freshly ground coffee without the extra mess that comes with a separate grinder. Usually machines with integrated grinders will automatically temper and extract the coffee for you, making them quick and easy to operate. The downside is their price. These fully automatic espresso machines are pricier than their semi-automatic or manual counterparts, but you do save time and money so you’ll need to figured out what your priorities are.

Milk frothing

Most coffee machines come with some kind of milk heating element these days, but there are two kinds of milk frothing options on the market; frothers and steaming wands. Both add air into the milk but in entirely different ways.

Steamers use steam to add both heat and air into the milk, while frothers whip the milk around, aerating it by allowing the external air in, and using an electric heating element to warm it up. Steamed milk gets its lovely velvety texture as the steam penetrates the fatty molecules, creating micro foam and thickening the texture. Frothed milk on the other hand works similar to blowing bubbles. It adds a lot of air to create a thicker layer of bubbles.

Steamed milk really is the way to go if you want that barista coffee experience at home, but it is also more effort. Learning to steam milk can take some practice, and it is more difficult to achieve on milks with a lower fat content like plant-based options. Frothers are no-brainer devices. You’ll get warm milk with a good layer of froth, but it won’t stand up to what you can get at your local cafe.

Filter holder

This aspect is only applicable if you’re a filter coffee fiend, but if you are you’ll want to pick something with good heat retention. Making filter coffee takes longer than an espresso, so unless you want a lukewarm cuppa you’re better off opting for a brass filter holder.

Brass has far superior heat retention than plastic or other metals, so it should help you end up with a warmer brew.

Coffee choice

Last, but certainly amongst the most important is coffee choice. You could have the best coffee machine in the world, but if you’re stuck using garbage coffee then it isn’t worth it.

If you’re opting for an espresso or filter machine then you’ll have all the possible choices. Pretty much every coffee shop sells beans and most of them will happily grind them for you as well if you choose to go without an integrated grinder. When coffee choice becomes more of an issue is with pod coffee machines.

Many pod coffee machines have the typical Nespresso-sized capsules. Due to Nespresso’s dominance and this capsule’s prevalence, they also have the widest range of coffee options. You can even get reusable ones and pack your own ground coffee into them. However there are still some coffee machines out there with bespoke pod shapes which can really limit you. 

Nespresso is, funnily enough, another example here. The coffee giant released their new Vertuo range which is said to brew better coffee. The machine reads the pods and changes brew time and water temperature automatically to create the best version of that coffee. Sounds great on paper, but it also means you’re stuck with only those coffee pods since the design is proprietary. For Nespresso loyalists this works just fine, but if you’re after a larger selection of coffee stay away from unique pod shapes like Vertuo, and Aldi.

Coffee machines compared

Compare coffee machines

We have drunk countless cups of coffee in the search for the best coffee machine you can get. Here are how products from leading brands like Breville, De'Longhi, and Nespresso stack up.
Product
Our score
Price
Coffee type
More info
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
🔥From $399
$169
Manual espresso
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
From
$1599
Automatic espresso
3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5
🔥From $1,099
$835.24
Pod coffee
3 out of 5 stars
3
🔥From $1,899
$1698
Pod coffee
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
🔥From $1,399
$998
Pod coffee
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
🔥From $229
$159
Pod coffee
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
From
$399
Manual espresso
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
🔥From $649
$469
Manual espresso w/ grinder
4.3 out of 5 stars
4.25
🔥From $1,499
$1396
Manual espresso w/ grinder
3.8 out of 5 stars
3.75
🔥From $269
$204.10
Pod coffee
4 out of 5 stars
4
🔥 From $699
$499
Automatic espresso w/ grinder
4 out of 5 stars
4
🔥 From $899
$777.39
Automatic espresso w/ grinder
3 out of 5 stars
3
🔥From $299
$199
Manual espresso
Anula Wiwatowska
Written by
Anula is the Content and Social Media Editor within the Reviews.org extended universe. Working in the tech space since 2020, she covers phone and internet plans, gadgets, smart devices, and the intersection of technology and culture. Anula was a finalist for Best Feature Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards, and an eight time finalist across categories at the IT Journalism Awards. Her work contributed to WhistleOut's Best Consumer Coverage win in 2023.

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