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How we review coffee machines
Taking Nespresso's latest for a test-drive is only part of our approach to reviewing coffee machines.
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While our coffee machine reviews do involve making (and drinking) a lot of coffee, taking Nespresso's latest for a test drive isn't the only part of the process.
When we review a coffee machine like the Sunbeam Barista Max, we don't just spend serious time using the machine. We do in-depth research to get a sense of the context around it. By taking stock of what the larger coffee machine landscape looks like, and how a given product fits into it, we're better able to understand the ways in which it succeeds or fails and why.
Even if there are clear differences between home espresso machines, fully automatic ones, and cheaper pod-based solutions, many of these divergences can be bridged by a thorough assessment of how successful both approaches are when it comes to solving the core problem that all coffee machines are trying to solve: delivering the best homemade coffee experience at the best price with as much consistency and as little effort as possible.
The short version: by getting a better sense of both the type of coffee drinker the review machine is best suited to, and what their other options are, we're able to offer insights that go far beyond just regurgitating a spec-sheet.
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|15 bars||Manual espresso w/ grinder||See it at Amazon|
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|19||Manual espresso w/ grinder||See at Bing Lee|
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|15 bars||Pod coffee||See it at Amazon|
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|15 bars||Automatic espresso w/ grinder||See it at Delonghi|
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|15 bars||Automatic espresso w/ grinder||See at Amazon|
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|15 bars||Manual espresso||See at Amazon|
Design and features
When we review coffee machines, we usually start by taking a look at the design and features that a given machine brings to bear.
Our review process incorporates practical considerations like like how much bench space that a product takes up relative to the alternatives, how many pre-programmed buttons it boasts, whether the overall layout is friendly to larger containers like mugs and jugs. Whether a coffee machine has features like automatic cleaning or a built-in steam wand or frother - and whether they work and actively add value to the end user experience - is another thing our review process covers.
Some of the other questions we consider as part of our review include but are not limited to:
- Does the coffee machine have a descaling alarm?
- Does the coffee machine have a foam wand?
- Does the coffee machine have precision temperature control, and if so, how precise is it?
- Is the coffee machine designed to work with a companion app? What value does this add?
- Does the coffee machine ship with support for a dedicated power-saving setting or other energy consumption related features?
While an analysis of the larger consumer context is a big part of our coffee machine review process, editorial testing remains vital. When it comes to coffee machines, there's no substitute for putting the hardware to the test. Specifically, our approach spends as much time fact-checking the smaller promises made by the manufacturer involved as it does assessing whether the larger pitch or product story being told here lives up to the reality. Some of the questions we consider as part of our editorial testing include:
- How long does it take to make a cup of coffee?
- How noisy is the process?
- How long does the machine take to clean?
- How frequently does the coffee machine need to be cleaned?
- How much warm-up time is needed before usage?
It’s not merely enough that a given coffee machine has a bean grinder built-in. When it comes to coffee grinders, the details matter. We consider the following when it comes to our coffee machine reviews:
- Does it have a built-in grinder?
- Is it a conical burr grinder?
- How precise is this grinder?
- What's the bean capacity like?
- How do the above specs compare to the competition?
Although less important and exciting than the areas assessed above, we also take a closer look at some of the more mundane specifications involved with any coffee machine we review.
This covers practical details like cable length and pump pressure, as well as more ancillary factors like how much electricity a given machine consumes and whether or not the size of the water tank is competitive or comparable to similarly-priced machines. These aspects of the product don't influence our final score as much as some of the other stages of our review process, but they're still an important part nevertheless.
The final thing we consider when it comes to reviewing coffee machines is the presence of any accessories.
The assumption here is that any accessory included with a coffee machine is one less accessory that a given consumer will have to track down and spend money on later down the line. Freebies are nice, and the more the better. Examples of value-add accessories when it comes to coffee machines include the following:
- Milk mug
- Group handle
- Free pod coffee
- Additional filters
- Cleaning kit