We have tested 5 different espresso machines available on the market and name the DeLonghi Dedica EC 680 as our Best Choice. It is an extremely compact espresso machine with a high performance that can brew your coffee quickly. It is perfect for those who want a machine that is easy to use and requires little maintenance. Another espresso machine which stood out in the test is the DeLonghi Magnifica S, a simple espresso machine a with large capacity that also doesn't take up much space in the kitchen.
We tested all the products ourselves in conditions they are intended to be used in reality. Our tests were carried out by a coffee enthusiast who is used to using slightly larger manual espresso machines every day. The bar was high for the test machines as to whether they could measure up against proper, manual espresso machines.
As an espresso forms the basis of most types of coffee, such as the cappuccino, lungo or latte, we have particularly focused on testing the espresso produced by these machines. The key to making a great espresso is having perfectly ground coffee, brewing at the right temperature and using the right quantity of both coffee and water. The smallest deviations within these parameters can separate a good espresso from a bad espresso. Our test products consisted of both simpler manual machines and slightly more advanced fully automatic machines. While some machines could cope with coffee pods, the majority used whole coffee beans. In order to make an impartial assessment as to which is the best machine, we tested the following parameters:
Flavour: Did the espresso taste good? Is the flavour comparable with larger manual espresso machines?
Temperature: Nobody wants a lukewarm coffee – does it produce coffee at a good temperature? Are there major temperature differences in temperature when brewing several cups in a row? Can you set the temperature when brewing?
Use & Time: Does the machine have clear buttons or a complicated menu system? How simple is it to froth the milk? Does the machine clearly show when the water or coffee needs refilling? How long does it take to produce the first cup? Could the machines cope with our high stress test of producing eight cups of coffee in a row?
Maintenance: How often do you need to empty the grounds drawer, clean out the drip tray or top up the machine with water and beans? How often do you need to clean the machine and its parts? Is cleaning a fiddly process?
We tested the coffee machines in a domestic environment and brewed everything that the coffee machine can produce. While we used a number of different types of coffee beans for our test, all the machines were tested using the same types of beans. Our score is based on our overall experience with the machine in relation to its price.
An extremely compact espresso machine that's a rapid performer!
Time to first cup: 1.21 min Time for 8 cups: approx. 7.30 min Water lasts for (cups): 10 Coffee types: Pre-ground espresso coffee, E.S.E. pods Cup warmer/storage: Yes/Yes Auto off: Yes (Adjustable, 9 min, 30 min, 3 h) Size: 149 x 330 x 305 mm Water tank: 1100ml (1000ml usable)
The DeLonghi Dedica EC 680 really stands out amongst other semi-automatic espresso machines due to its extremely compact design. Its lower section is slightly broader in order to increase the machine’s stability, but in general its size is similar to even the smallest capsule machines. The machine uses a classic portafilter, with filters included for single and double espresso and for E.S.E. pods. On the top of the machine are three buttons with clearly indicated functions – single espresso, double espresso and steam. As well as steam you can also get hot water through the steam wand, which is neatly angled out from the right-hand side. On top of the machine is space for about three espresso cups, which are warmed up via indirect heat from the machine. At the back of the machine is the water tank which is topped up through a lid on the top. Alternatively you can remove the entire water tank in order to fill it directly from the tap.
The espresso machine can be left on after using it, as it automatically turns itself off after a set time. The next time you use the machine you can simply press any button to wake it up again. The three buttons flash as the machine wakes up. Once the lights remain lit, you can brew your first cup of coffee. If you are half asleep or stressed out, you will appreciate the quickness of the machine - we hadn't even inserted our E.S.E. pod into the portafilter and it had already warmed up. Just like other espresso machines with portafilters, you make the espresso first, then add hot water via the steam wand for an Americano or lungo or add frothed milk with the steam wand for a cappuccino or latte.
The machine is quick to heat when producing steam and the steam function is sufficiently powerful. Using the steam nozzle is so simple that no prior knowledge is required in order to froth milk. The texture of the foam is thick and the wand produces just the right amount for a cappuccino. However, when the steam function has been used, the machine does need to cool down for a while before the next cup can be brewed. So if you're making several cups of coffee you might need to plan ahead a little so that if someone wants a cappuccino they get their coffee last. The size of the DeLonghi Dedica did have some impact on the coffee when we brewed several cups in a row during our ‘stress test’. It didn’t always manage to reset to the correct temperature – instead the coffee got hotter and hotter with every cup and the temperature of the eighth cup reached an extremely high 80°. While this isn't likely to be a problem for a normal household, it could be more problematic in a small office where everybody wants to use the coffee machine in their coffee break, particularly if you're the last person in the queue! Thankfully, other than having to empty the drip tray, the machine doesn't need much maintenance. After each use the pods or coffee grounds can be thrown in the compost bin, meaning that you don't have to do much major cleaning.
The DeLonghi Dedica is perfect for anyone looking for a compact espresso machine that requires as little maintenance as possible. We'd have preferred the drip tray to be slightly larger, but other than that the DeLonghi Dedica exceeded our expectations in many ways. This machine's size, speed and the perfect espressos it produced – and above all its price – make this a fantastic espresso machine.
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A simple machine that doesn't take up too much space in the kitchen, despite its large capacity
Time to first cup: 1.55 min Time for 8 cups: approx. 7.00 min Water lasts for (cups): 12 Grounds drawer full after (cups): 14 Coffee types: Pre-ground coffee, whole coffee beans Cup warmer/storage: Yes (low heat)/Yes Auto off: 30 min Size: 238 × 351 × 238 mm Water tank: 2000 ml
The DeLonghi Magnifica S isn't particularly big given that it's a semi-automatic espresso machine. Despite the compact dimensions of the machine, the manufacturer has managed to find space for relatively large coffee, water and grounds containers. The result is a machine that can handle several cups of coffee in a row without having to be emptied or topped up. The Magnifica S also has a water container that you can take out from the front, making it one of the easiest machines to top up with water. The Magnifica S has a simple display that shows you what to do by means of a few red symbols. Below the display are buttons for a single or double espresso and for one or two cups of coffee. If you want a drink with milk, like a latte or cappuccino, you have to use the manual steam nozzle located on the left-hand side of the machine. While the steam nozzle may make you look like a professional barista when you froth the milk, the nozzle actually froths and heats the milk without requiring any previous practice. It's quick too – we found that we could make two cappuccinos faster than when using many fully automatic coffee machines. The results of the milk frothing are impressive, with a good texture and few large bubbles. If you need hot water, you can also get this through the steam nozzle.
The espressos from this machine tasted perfect and the machine could deal with brewing cup after cup without any major temperature differences. You can use a knob on the front to set how strong you want the coffee almost effortlessly, and the bean grinder has a number of settings if you want to make finer adjustments. You can also store five normal espresso cups on top of the machine. Unfortunately these cups are only heated up by the waste heat from the machine, so they don’t feel very warm when you come to use them. However, being able to store the espresso cups on the machine is very handy and makes the machine feel more like something you would find in a café.
Overall, we had a very positive experience with the DeLonghi Magnifica S. Despite its relatively low price, the machine delivered great tasting espresso in the simplest possible way. The fact that you have to froth the milk manually isn’t necessarily a disadvantage – in fact it's often a useful feature as you can adapt the amount of milk you use to each cup size. It also gives you the opportunity to step into the world of latte art and perhaps surprise your partner with a beautiful heart on their coffee first thing in the morning! The Magnifica S does require a little maintenance, but its large containers mean that you will rarely need to top up the water and beans or empty the grounds drawer. This allows you to enjoy more cups without interruption. Combined with a fantastic price, this high performance gives the DeLonghi Magnifica S an almost perfect score.
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A powerhouse in mini format that focuses on producing an authentic espresso
Time to first cup: approx. 3 min Time for 8 cups: approx. 8.20 min Water lasts for (cups): 17 Coffee types: Pre-ground espresso coffee, E.S.E. pods Cup warmer/storage: Yes/Yes Auto off: Yes (9 min) Size: 230 × 360 × 240 mm Water tank: 2250 ml (2150 ml usable)
This machine from Gaggia is described as a "Classic Manual Espresso Machine" on its packaging, which proves to be a fitting description. With this machine there is no pre-programmed coffee selections or automatic milk frother. Instead the Gaggia Classic offers a perfect espresso made pretty much as well as your local café could make it. The design consists mainly of stainless steel with a few plastic parts. The 58mm wide portafilter is the same as those found in larger espresso machines, and in a similar vein the steam nozzle also provides the same steam power as that of a larger machine. The drip tray size is ample and allows space for up to half a litre of water. On the top of the machine there is space for around four espresso cups, which are warmed up indirectly from the heat given off by the machine. Behind the cup storage is a hatch that allows you to easily top up the espresso machine without removing the water container. You can also remove the water container if you prefer to top it up this way or clean it if necessary. The size of the water tank is impressive – more than 2 litres – meaning you don't have to top it up very often. Despite having such large containers, the Gaggia Classic doesn't take up more space than a normal coffee machine.
The machine is simple to use but requires a little practice, which the manual hints at. There are only two buttons, one for brewing and one for steam. If you want to make the process as easy as possible, you can use the filter for E.S.E. pods. You insert the pod in the filter holder and start brewing by simply pressing a button - after a few seconds you will have a perfect cup of espresso. However, the machine has no automatic water dispenser, so you will have to choose for yourself how much water you want in the espresso. The espresso can then easily be made into an Americano or lungo by topping it up with hot water via the steam nozzle. If you want a cappuccino or latte, you prepare the steam function on the Gaggia Classic by pressing a button on the front and after around 15 seconds it's ready to froth the milk. The steam is in a class of its own and is extremely impressive as it froths the milk quickly and perfectly, with a great deal of power. The resulting froth has a fine texture and no large bubbles, which you can use to make a great decorative heart if you've practised a little latte art.
The machine can be used in both manual mode and with coffee pods. A filter insert for espresso grade ground coffee is included, which is perfect if you want to learn to make espresso in the classic way. You simply add the ground coffee to the filter and press it down with the included tamper. The espresso machine then brews a double espresso with perfect crema. The Gaggia Classic is the perfect machine if you prioritise brewing as genuine an espresso as possible, but don't have enough space in your kitchen for a big machine. While a long start-up time and the lack of programmable water dosing means that we can’t give the machine full marks, its power and solid construction simultaneously make it an obvious choice for an espresso enthusiast.
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A compact design that can still hold both tall glasses and wide cups
Time to first cup: 1.50 min Time for 8 cups: approx. 9.30 min Water lasts for (cups): 9 Grounds drawer full after (cups): 10 Coffee types: Only whole coffee beans Cup warmer/storage: No/No Auto off: 30 min Size: 215 x 330 x 429 mm Water tank: 1800 ml (1500 ml usable)
The Philips HD8829 resembles Philips' premium machines, yet its design lacks some premium functions such as a display. This needn't be a disadvantage – in fact it can mean that the machine is both simpler to use and slightly cheaper to buy. The machine has three large and clear buttons, one for espresso, one for cappuccino and one for normal coffee. The buttons light up when the espresso machine is started and runs a short cleaning programme before heating up, and the machine is ready to serve coffee when the lights stop flashing. Whether you choose espresso or cappuccino, the built-in grinder grinds the beans to order via a single press of a button. You can also order two cups of any type of coffee by double pressing the coffee selection buttons. The steam function consists of a nozzle which you attach to the machine's hot water tap, and the nozzle has a hose which you can connect to a milk container placed next to the machine. Thankfully this positioning takes away no space away from the cup tray, meaning that you still have room for your favourite cup. The frothed milk had a perfect temperature and a good texture without larger bubbles. However, as we expected the coffee and milk did form layers when served, which unfortunately is normal in simpler, fully automatic espresso machines. A quick stir with a spoon easily fixes this though. The flavour of the coffee it can produce is this machine's major advantage. Even using the basic settings, the flavour is pleasant and well balanced. Every cup of espresso has a fine layer of crema. There are many settings to experiment with if you'd like to adjust something. The grinder can be adjusted to five different settings and the quantity of water can be set and saved for each type of drink. If you are the kind of person who always uses an extra scoop or two of coffee when making coffee at home, there's an "Aroma Plus" button on the front which makes extra strong coffee.
The espresso machine doesn't take up much more room than a large drip coffee maker. It has a squarish design in black plastic highlighted by a chrome coffee nozzle and a stainless-steel drip tray. Other than the buttons on the front, there are also four indicator lights that show what maintenance needs to be done, such as topping up the water or emptying the grounds drawer. These lights light up relatively often, which means that the machine often needs a bit of work. Unfortunately its compact design also doesn't give much space for water, beans or grounds. Milk frothing also requires cleaning, but here there is a quick cleaning system that's activated manually using a button when you've finished preparing your cappuccino.
It's clear that Philips have prioritised making a machine with compact design over one with high capacity, making the HD8829 an espresso machine best for a small kitchen and not for an office full of frequent users. The score we gave this machine also dropped a little as a result of the frequent maintenance, topping up and cleaning that the machine required, and also the high level of noise it makes when frothing milk. However, the great coffee aromas and the perfect espresso that this machine can produce make this machine one to consider.
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A compact, fully automatic machine with an attractive design and shortcut buttons for available coffee choices
Time to first cup: 1.44 min Time for 8 cups: approx. 9.30 min Water lasts for (cups): 8 Grounds drawer full after (cups): 14 Coffee types: Whole beans, pre-ground coffee Cup warmer/storage: No/No Auto off: 215 x 429 x 330 mm Water tank: 1550 ml with water filter installed (1200-1300 ml usable)
The Saeco HD8916 prioritises compact design, which means that this fully automatic coffee machine is also one of the most straightforward. Its smaller outer dimensions make it easy to find space for it in even a small kitchen. The chromed details give the machine a premium feel, a feeling you’ll also experience when you use it. A clear display shows what needs to be done or what the machine is doing, such as the machine is warming up or that you need to attach the milk frother. When the machine starts it carries out a quick self-clean and heats up to the correct brewing temperature. You can then start making the coffee in the easiest possible way by using the preset buttons on the front. Here you can find everything the machine can produce, and you simply need to press a button for a great tasting espresso, espresso lungo, cappuccino or latte macchiatto. Despite the slim design of the coffee machine, the milk container clicks neatly onto the front. While the design of the machine doesn't leave much room for wider cappuccino cups, we found tall glasses to fit perfectly.
The Saeco machine easily makes cups of great tasting coffee. A lovely crema topped our espressos and we feel that for the straightforward coffee drinker, no settings need to be changed. If you are enthusiastic home barista, however, you can play with the settings including water temperature, degree of coffee grinding and quantity of water used. You can easily adjust the strength of the coffee to one of five levels using a button on the front. While the strongest setting may leave your hair standing on end, we found our older guests to be extremely happy with it. This coffee machine can make coffee for the whole family.
Unfortunately, the coffee machine needs relatively frequent maintenance as its dimensions leave limited space for water, coffee beans and a coffee grounds. Thankfully this process is quite simple: the display changes to red and the cleaning processes which need to be done are shown using simple images. The water container and beans can be topped from above, but if you have the machine below a wall-mounted cabinet you will need steady hands in order not to spill anything behind the machine. The well-designed grounds drawer can be pulled out forwards from the machine and has separate sections for water and coffee grounds. If the milk container is installed, you must remove it before you can empty the grounds drawer.
The Saeco HD8916 is perfect if you don't want to do anything more than press a button when you fancy a coffee. But regardless of how much you want to avoid cleaning the machine or topping it up, the machine will go on strike if you’ve ignored its pleas to top up the coffee or empty the grounds drawer. This means that every couple of days you will need to spend a little bit more time maintaining the machine. While great tasting coffee and easy coffee selection amongst other machine settings raise the score for the Saeco HD8916, the frequent maintenance it requires prevents it from hitting the bullseye.
Never before has the range of espresso machines available been as big as it is today. It's no longer simply professional baristas who can make a perfect espresso – with today's machines, every consumer can enjoy delicious coffee just like in a café.
The prices have also fallen a great deal, and even simpler machines now perform really well. Many people just want a coffee machine that serves up good coffee in the easiest possible way. At the same time they don't want to be forced to wash lots of accessories, have to empty coffee grounds every day or top up the water in the machine. And this is often what separates the professional machines from the simpler varieties. When espresso machines get smaller, the containers for water, beans and grounds suffer. There's a delicate balance between what's best for the consumer; a machine that takes up a bit more space but at the same time has larger containers, or a smaller coffee machine that instead requires more maintenance.
There are primarily three types of espresso machine – fully automatic, semi-automatic and manual. Fully automatic machines are often more expensive but can brew an espresso, cappuccino or other beverage through a single press of a button. If you choose a cappuccino or another coffee with milk, you insert a milk container which is stored in the fridge when it's not in use. This is a simple system that requires minimal work to brew coffee but which needs a little more cleaning than the semi-automatic and manual coffee machines. Fully automatic machines have built-in containers for beans and grind the beans in a coffee grinder when you want to brew your coffee. In this way you get as much of the aroma as possible from your coffee beans.
Semi-automatic machines often have pretty much the same functions as the fully automatic ones, but with a few differences. One difference is how the milk is frothed, and these machines instead use a steam wand. You fill a small jug with milk and insert the steam wand. The machine then steams the milk for a few seconds. It's often quicker, slightly quieter and gives slightly better results than the fully automatic coffee machines. At the same time there are fewer parts to clean, but it does also require you to get involved during the milk frothing stage.
Manual machines can make it possible to use either espresso coffee or pods. They don't have a built-in coffee grinder – instead they use ready ground coffee for espresso. The coffee is placed in a filter on a handle and is like the classic espresso machines you see in cafés. This requires a little more preparatory work but also gives you the most correct espresso. By inserting a special filter, E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pods can also be used, which makes these machines very handy. Just like the semi-automatic machines, manual ones have a steam wand on the side for manual milk frothing.
Choosing the right machine largely depends on how much work you want to do in terms of the brewing and cleaning processes, how much space you have and, of course, your budget.
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