Our Unpretentious Guide to Buying the Right Coffee Maker for You
So you love your cup of joe and are looking to shell out some moolah to finally get that coffee maker you’ve always wanted. But with so many options out there, you don’t know where to start. And asking your coffee aficionado friend will probably get you a withering stare, a long lecture using words you’ve never heard of and snide remarks about capsule machines.
Design: Lemonfridge Studio
To save you from eye-rolls and your friendship, we’ve put together an unpretentious guide with information on popular types of coffee makers, ranging from traditional espresso machines for the barista aspirant to capsule makers for folks who just want decent coffee without any hard work. What we don’t have in this guide is judgement. Read on, coffee lover!
Espresso machines come with different varieties of control.
Image: Chevanon Photography from Pexels
So you are a purist, or you aspire to be. You like your coffee strong, full-bodied and full of flavour. Then the espresso machine is for you. It extracts coffee via the pressure method, where at high pressure, water is pushed through a filter to finely ground coffee to result in espresso.
There are various types of espresso machines, which varies in ease of usage and price.
Go with a full manual (pump/lever) machine like the Bezzera Strega to control the entire coffee-making process. Control is via a lever, which has a lot of room for error. Speed in which you pull down and release can affect the taste of your espresso. With the manual machine, you also get to adjust variables like the temperature, time and tamping pressure (the act of distributing coffee in the portafilter to create a dense, uniformed surface) in the brewing process. Manual machines have a steep learning curve, and you will want to have some knowledge about coffee making before deciding to invest in one. But once you get the hang of it, you will get to experiment with different brews or customise your coffee to exactly how you like it.
If you want a machine that is easier to pick up, get a semi-automatic that lets you control the tamp and grind size. Temperature is usually adjusted for you and extracting the espresso shot is via a push of a button rather than a lever. You don’t get to control everything, but you will still get to play around with the taste of your brew.
Then there are super automatic machines like those from Jura that do everything for you, right down to the frothing or steaming of milk. It’s convenient and consistent, giving you the same coffee you’ve had yesterday, today and forever.
When going with an espresso machine, choose one that has at least a 9 bar pressure as that is known as the optimal pressure to extract the best espresso.
Coffee Produced: Espresso-based drinks such as latte, Americano and cappuccino.
When Is Coffee Ready: Depending on the type of espresso machines you get. The fiddling around with manual and semi-automatic machines mean you won’t get your coffee as quickly as with a super automatic.
Ease of Use: Difficult for manual and semi-automatic machines and super easy for super automatic.
Price: Around $300-$1,200 for a manual machine, although commercial grade ones can go to the thousands. Super automatic machines are priced around $2,000-$3,000. Price for a domestic semi-automatic is somewhere in between, although commercial grade ones like the Rocket Espresso Milano R58 can cost upwards of $3,000.
Drip Coffee Maker
Espresso-based drinks are well and good, but you prefer a simpler brew for an everyday coffee, one that has a less intense flavour and is clear and smooth. Enter the drip coffee maker. A drip coffee maker, as its name suggests, extracts coffee using the dripping method, where water is filtered through ground coffee.
This Philips automatic drip coffee machine comes with a timer so you can prep coffee even before you wake up.
There are automatic drip coffee machines that handle the process for you, allowing you to make plenty of coffee at a go and at however strong you want it. Water in the tank is heated and channelled through the ground beans. The coffee is extracted into a pot that usually sits on a heated plate so that it will stay warm for a while. Some machines even come with settings that let you programme when you want your coffee to be ready, so you can awake to freshly brewed java.
For a more artisanal method, consider the pour over coffee maker like the Chemex. You start by placing a filter and coffee grounds in the funnel of the coffee maker. The funnel is then placed over the given carafe or your coffee mug. You then pour water at regular intervals in a circular motion to extract the coffee. There are a lot more intricacies to take note of in this method compared to using an automatic drip machine. But because the extraction process is a lot slower, it will produce a more flavourful brew than regular drip, although consistency really depends on your skill.
A pour over coffee maker.
Image: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Coffee Produced: Light-bodied, less intense and concentrated. Clear and smooth flavour profile.
When Is Coffee Ready: A couple of minutes with an automatic drip machine, but around 5-10 minutes if you know what you are doing with a pour over coffee maker.
Ease of Use: Easy with an automatic, but a learning curve to get it right with the pour over.
Price: You can get auto drip coffee machines for less than $100, although higher end models can go for around $300. Pour over coffee makers range from $30-$150.
If you like fancy flavours in your coffee, then get a capsule/pod machine. The most well-known brand out there is the Nespresso, but there are other brands you can opt for and popular coffee chains like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf also carry their own brands.
The great thing about the capsule coffee machine is that it’s really convenient—there’s no need to get separate coffee beans and you don’t need to roast or grind your coffee. There are also no filters to clean. All you need to do is pop in a capsule and the machine does all the work for you.
Capsule coffee machines are all about the convenience.
Design: Van Hus
A pod or capsule comprises a pre-measured amount of ground coffee that is pressed between two layers of filtered paper. Hot, pressured water is then pumped through the grounded coffee in the pod to release the flavour, with each capsule making one cup. Consistent results every.single.time.
The one real disadvantage to getting a capsule machine is that you can’t quite enjoy the varieties of blends out there, unlike with an espresso machine. But the upside is you will get coffee with different flavours. So it really depends on what you are looking for.
Coffee Produced: A wide variety of coffee-based drinks. From espresso-based types to fancy types like green tea latte.
When Is Coffee Ready: In a couple of minutes.
Ease of Use: Super easy. Pop in a capsule, press a button and the machine does everything else.
Price: Around $200, not including the capsules, which cost slightly less than a dollar each.
Moka pots, also known as an espresso pot, is a stovetop coffee maker that is popular with the Italians and for folks who want a decent coffee maker at an affordable price. Despite their name, they don’t exactly produce espresso, seeing as there isn’t enough pressure applied. As mentioned earlier, espresso needs at least 9 bar of pressure, whereas moka pots are only able to produce 1 to 2 bar.
While moka pots don’t produce standard espresso, they produce a strong enough concentrate for that caffeine hit.
Image: Eric Barbeau on Unsplash
The coffee that is brewed is decent if you get the grind right (a quality burr grinder will give you more consistent grinds) and flavour-wise, it falls somewhere between espresso and dripped coffee. The brew has a sharp, bittersweet taste and is great for espresso-based drinks like cappuccino or latte. But not so, if you want the intense flavours of pure espresso.
This stovetop machine uses steam to force boiling water through finely grounded coffee up to the spout to collect the coffee extract. Bialetti is one of the most popular brands for a moka pot and it comes in a variety of sizes. A 3-cup moka pot for instance is suitable for a couple or even a single person, as it makes about 150ml of coffee. When sourcing for one, make sure your moka pot works with your cooktop, whether it’s an induction or a gas hob.
Coffee Produced: A bittersweet coffee that is between an espresso and dripped coffee.
When Is Coffee Ready: 5 mins or so.
Ease of Use: Relatively easy to operate, although you will need to get the right level of grind.
Price: Around $60-$200.
A French Press retains all the aromatic oils from the coffee beans.
Image: Pratik Gupta from Pexels
For frequent travellers, a French press or plunger pot, might be a better investment. These are super portable coffee makers that come in a no-fuss flask with a press and handle. It’s popular also with homeowners who don’t have that much space in the home, since its compact size mean it will take up minimal space on the countertop.
With a French press, ground beans (coarse grind) are mixed with hot water and then steeped for a few minutes. The press (plunger) is then pushed down to separate the grinds from the coffee that can be enjoyed.
Coffee made from a French press is aromatic and flavourful, as there are no filters involved so all flavours from the beans, including the oils, gets to the extracted java. You will have to transfer the brew after extraction as having it sit too long in the flask will risk your coffee from becoming too bitter.
Coffee Produced: Strong, aromatic coffee
When Is Coffee Ready: Not so fast since you will need to spend time boiling water and wait during the steeping.
Ease of Use: Easy, although you will need to monitor each step.
Price: You can get them for less than $50.
Cold Brew Coffee Maker
This cold brew maker features a top container that holds ice or cold water. A valve slowly drips water into the ground beans and collects extracted coffee at the bottom.
Image: Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
If you like iced coffee, meet cold brew, its superior cousin. Cold brew coffee is made by steeping coarsely ground beans in cold water for at least 12 hours. Some cold brew makers have to be kept in the refrigerator during this steeping time, while others can be left out at room temperature.
Because of this long extraction process and because it doesn’t rely on heat, you get a strong concentrate that is less acidic and bitter. If you like dark roasts with complex flavour profiles, get the cold brew maker since you will definitely taste the nuances with it.
Coffee can be prepared overnight and it stays fresh for more than a week, so there isn’t a need to wake up early every day to brew your cup of joe.
Coffee Produced: A strong-tasting, smooth and clean brew that tastes less acidic and bitter than traditional iced coffee.
When Is Coffee Ready: In 12 hours, after your initial batch. Then, it’s almost instant satisfaction.
Ease of Use: Really easy. All you need to do is prep cold water or ice cubes beforehand.
Price: They can go anywhere from $30 for travel-friendly tumblers to $200 cold brew devices.