Picking up coffee while you’re out and about can be an expensive habit. But with the right machine and a reusable travel cup, barista-style coffee can easily be brewed in the comfort of your own kitchen, just in time for the commute.
Pod machines win on the convenience front, as you don’t need to grind your own beans – meaning they’re a good way to ensure freshness, too. However, the capsules used in pod machines aren’t always recyclable, so they lose points on the sustainability front.
An espresso machine is good for just that – creating a rich, condensed, short coffee with a perfect crema. They’re a good buy for an aspiring barista, as they allow for playing around with your method. But, they tend to be much bigger, and are therefore only suitable for larger kitchens.
Or, you can make your coffee using a drip machine, air press, stovetop coffee maker or cafetière. All have different benefits and pitfalls and provide varying results, so your choice will depend on personal preference.
Here, we’ve looked at espresso and pod machines – read on to discover which we rated as best. For more, visit our review section and find over 200 practical buyer’s guides offering unbiased advice on what equipment is worth investing in. For more on coffee, we’ve reviewed coffee grinders and reusable coffee cups, too.
The best espresso machines
Sage by Heston The Barista Express
Best espresso machine for gadget lovers
Top functions: a professional-standard machine with all the requisite functions you’ll need
This machine comes with a heavy caveat – it’s a huge investment. However, lots of the other machines we tried were clunky and confusing, and this one – as you’d expect for the price tag – is a smooth operator. It grinds fresh beans, distributes them to the perfect weight, creates a professional-standard espresso and features a milk-foaming nozzle. If you know an aspiring barista, this is the machine for them.
Flair Signature espresso maker bundle
Best hand-pump espresso maker
This machine stands out for one obvious reason – it’s operated by hand rather than being electric, meaning it has obvious environmental benefits. It also produces a high standard of coffee to rival any traditional machine. Once you’ve got used to the functionality, making coffee is simple. It’s easy to clean, too, nicely compact and well-engineered.
Swan SK22110 retro pump espresso coffee machine
Best espresso machine under £100
Our favourite espresso machine under £100, this vintage-look Swan machine produces good results for its reasonable price tag – though we recommend really packing the filter with ground coffee if you like a strong brew. It ticks a lot of boxes, as it’s easy to use and clean, and it comes with a milk frother and temperature gauge. The aesthetic might not be to everyone’s taste, but it does come in various colourways.
The best coffee pod machines
A note on pod machines and the environment: If you like pod machines but are concerned about the environmental impact of using disposable capsules, it’s worth noting that Nespresso operates a recycling service. We also have a coffee gadget review that gives some alternative coffee-making options that don’t involve pods or machines.
Krups Citiz Red and Milk
Best budget coffee pod machine
Top functions: small kitchen footprint, reasonable price point and excellent milk frother
We were really impressed by this unassuming model. It’s easy to set up, slim (even with the milk jug attachment) and intuitive. It’s compatible with Nespresso pods (as are many pod machines on the market), and the coffee has an excellent crema. We were most impressed with the milk attachment – it works silently to heat milk to the perfect consistency for making cappuccinos, lattes or flat whites.
Dualit Café Cino capsule coffee machine
Best for families
Top functions: multifunctional milk attachment and slimline shape
Another model with an impressively small kitchen footprint, this capsule machine has a glossy black-and-chrome finish that’s a touch on the ostentatious side. However, this affordable machine heats up quickly, is easy to use and has a very handy milk attachment that not only heats, but also blends milkshakes – ideal for coffee mornings with little ones in tow.
KitchenAid Nespresso artisan
Most stylish coffee pod machine
Top functions: beautiful aesthetic and vintage-style, level-operated pod chamber
KitchenAid specialise in handsome kit, and this is no different – provided you have the counter space. This pod machine doesn’t have a milk attachment, but the coffee extraction is excellent. It’s quite large for a pod machine – it’s almost as big as a manual home espresso maker – but the water chamber is built-in, so the whole thing feels neat and tidy.
Which coffee machine should I buy?
There are dozens of coffee machines on the market starting at around £50, but price doesn’t always mean better quality.
Coffee pod machines have become incredibly popular. On the plus side, they’re convenient and you’re guaranteed to have fresh coffee every day (beans and ground coffee quickly go stale once a bag is exposed to open air). On the other hand, the pods aren’t always recyclable, and you’re limited to coffee from certain brands.
Home espresso machines employ the same tap-and-pack method that you see in cafés and coffee shops. You put the coffee in a chamber and fasten it into the machine, then it drips out a condensed espresso with crema top. Espresso machines are usually bulky and can cost well over £1000. This is a choice for the serious coffee devotee with a larger kitchens.
Filter machines are an affordable option as they operate on a simple dripper function, so prices start at around £50. They’re good for making coffee in bulk, and they can be left to their own devices.
Certain brands dominate the coffee machine market. Pod machines are generally compatible with either Tassimo or Nespresso capsules. Lavazza, De’Longhi, Gaggia, Krups and Dualit all offer multiple models, but other electronic brands like Morphy Richards and Russell Hobbs sell their own versions too.
How we tested coffee machines
We tested pod and espresso machines, asking brands to send us their chosen model for each category. In testing, we used the pods or espresso provided, or our own ground coffee. If there was a milk frother attachment or nozzle, we tested the heat function using semi-skimmed milk.
What to look for in a coffee machine
Ease of set up: as with all electronic kit we test, we looked for clear instruction manuals and a quick, simple set-up.
Kitchen footprint: coffee machines can be extremely bulky and not always worth the space they take up. We looked for slim kit that could be packed back away in the cupboard if necessary.
Ease of use: one of the big bonuses of choosing a coffee machine over a cafetière or stovetop pot is the convenience factor – if a machine was difficult to understand or had pointless features, it was marked down.
Coffee result: we looked for a coffee shop-standard brew with a good mouthfeel, professional crema and smooth flavour, paying attention to the varying flavour profiles of the different coffees provided.
Milk result: we heated milk according to instructions and judged based on the result – cappuccino milk on its foam and latte milk for its consistency.
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This review was last updated in May 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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