Coffee machines vary greatly in price, quality and functionality, and what you get depends a lot on what you want to be able to make with it. These variations are crucial when buying a home coffee machine and there are a few important things you need to know first.
Before you even start looking, you need to ask yourself 6 important questions. You can save yourself a lot of hassle, disappointment and money by asking yourself:
- 1. Are you or the people you are making coffee for, milk based or black coffee drinkers?
- 2. Do you entertain guests or family very often?
- 3. Do you have space restrictions?
- 4. Is a grinder important to you?
- 5. Do you have budget restrictions?
- 6. Most importantly, would you prefer to make it yourself or are you just wanting a machine that can do it all for you?
QUESTIONS 1 & 2
Espresso or Black Coffee Drinks; Only Making Coffee For You: Single Boiler!
If you are only an espresso or black coffee drinker, and you only make coffee for yourself, you will be fine with a single boiler coffee machine. You only require water for the espresso, so you don’t need any of the extra functions that require more power, or even another boiler, which would cost more money. Not to mention, a smaller machine with fewer parts means fewer breakages and replacements over the long term.
Milk Coffee Drinks; Only Making Coffee For You: Single Multifunction Boiler!
If you are a milk coffee drinker and want an inexpensive option, you could look at a multi-function single boiler option. These boilers have the capability to heat up to a level that can produce steam, as well as espresso temperature water. Single Multifunction Boilers are generally controlled by a switch or series of switches, and can be a great alternative to buying a more expensive heat exchanger or twin boiler machines.
A word of warning though: unless you have been shown properly how to use this type of machine it can be very difficult to get a quality cup of coffee. It can also take longer to make coffee with a single multifunction boiler and you may even need to wait between functions, as you may not be able to steam milk and extract coffee at the same time.
Milk Coffee Drinks; Suitable for Entertaining Family or Friends: Heat Exchange Boiler!
If you are a milk coffee drinker and you would like a coffee machine that the whole family can use or you would like to coffee when friends are around, you should consider a heat exchange boiler. These coffee machines provide more temperature stability than the single boiler units, and is set to steam milk and inject the correct temperature water for espresso.
When considering a heat exchange boiler for your coffee machine, you should check the boiler and heating element sizes, as this will affect the recovery rate of the machine – especially if you will be making up to 6 or more coffees regularly. In saying that, most heat exchangers have enough power and grit to handle as many coffee’s as you need at a reasonable speed. Unless you drain a good portion of hot water from the main boiler, you can achieve a very consistent and great quality coffee with minimal effort.
Any Coffee Drink; Large Family of Coffee Drinks or Entertain Regularly: Twin or Dual Boiler!
If you have a family of coffee drinks to rival the partridge family, or if you are an aficionado wanting a seriously tasty and consistent coffee at home, then you should get a twin boiler machine. Twin or dual boiler coffee machines provide enough power, with dedicated boilers to coffee and to steam, to make consistently great coffee. However, a twin boiler might be overkill if you just want to steam milk and extract coffee quickly or at the same time; a heat exchanger is more than proficient for that.
For more information about dfifferent boilers, check out our blog on Boilers VS Thermoblocks!
Most domestic coffee machines will need approximately 30cm to 45cm square of bench space, not including the coffee grinder. If you are looking for a coffee grinder, you should allow space for it to one side (bearing in mind grinders are generally much smaller than the coffee machine, not as deep and only around 10-15cm wide). It is best to work out what area you need and then see what fits, rather than waste time looking at coffee machines that won’t fit in your available space to begin with.
The importance of the coffee grinder to you will depend on different factors. For example, coffee grinders are a given component in an automatic machine, but they are important to consider in regards to manual coffee machines. In fact, we see coffee grinders as being so important for manual machine users that I would suggest not buying a machine if you can’t afford a grinder, and get the grinder first. The difference that fresh ground coffee beans makes to the quality of the cup is invaluable, simply because ground coffee depletes dramatically in quality once ground. This makes the experience of making quality coffee at home futile and disappointing, unless you have a coffee grinder and reasonably fresh beans.
The money you spend on a coffee machine doesn’t truly represent the quality of the machine - there are plenty of expensive pieces of garbage on the market! If you do your research and find that the most suitable coffee machine for you is over your budget, you can easily reassess models with less functions: do you really need the power to steam milk while brewing you espresso if you only want to make black coffee? Probably not, so go back to the drawing board and figure out exactly what you need, not just what you want. However, it’s important not to underestimate your needs either, so be prepared to put your money back in your pocket and save for the better quality unit if that’s what you require. Having a home coffee machine is as much about the experience as the quality of coffee.
Automatic and manual machines are worlds apart! How involved you wish to be in the ritual of coffee making will determine which type of coffee machine you need.
Automatic Coffee Machines
Automatic coffee machines are perfect if you just want to press a button and have the coffee appear for you. You don’t need to know how to grind, dose, tamp or steam, but please note that automatic machines do require you to empty the waste and run cleaning cycles for the milk frother and the coffee brewing sections.
Most automatic machines require this maintenance to be done daily, if not more often (possibly after every use to keep it in top notch condition), so don’t think of them necessarily as less work. Maintenance work aside, one thing to really love about an automatic machine is the consistency and great quality. While it’s not always the case, most automatic machines these days can make a pretty unbelievable cup of coffee.You will find that they can do a better job than most people could on a traditional coffee machine, and will do so with incredible consistency.
In saying that, we still believe that even the best automatic models mostly produce an 8/10 coffee at best, simply because traditional machines have the functionality and manual control that has yet to reproduced in an automatic machine.
Manual Coffee Machines
You should consider a manual coffee machine if:
- -You want to be a professional home barista;
- -You simply enjoy the idea of making your own coffee;
- -You have a particular way you like your coffee to be made; or,
- -You just want that 9-10/10 coffee.
Whatever your reason, it’s nice to have a traditional machine to make coffee on. Cleaning and maintenance is simple and quick, and most importantly, you can produce a fantastic coffee with a minimal training.
Related Resources: Boilers VS Thermal Blocks