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.
We carry out our tests ourselves and test all products as they are intended to be used in reality. Our tests were carried out by a coffee enthusiast who uses slightly larger manual espresso machines in their everyday life. So the ribbon is high for the test machines and the question is whether they can measure up against real, manual espresso machines.
As an espresso forms the basis for many types of coffee, such as cappuccino, lungo, latte etc., we have focused in particular on testing the espresso produced by these machines. A classic espresso is brewed from perfectly ground coffee, at the right temperature and with the right quantity of coffee and water. The smallest deviation in these parameters means that the espresso can be anything but good. Our test products consist of both simple manual machines and slightly more advanced fully automatic types. Some can cope with coffee pods, while the majority use whole coffee beans. In order to make an impartial assessment, we have included the following parameters
Flavour: Did all of the espressos taste as good? Is the flavour comparable with real espresso machines?
Temperature: Nobody wants lukewarm coffee – is the drink a good temperature? Do we get major temperature differences if we brew several cups in a row? Can you set the temperature?
Use & Time: Are there clear buttons or complicated menu systems? Can absolutely anyone froth the milk? Does the machine clearly show when the water etc. needs refilling? How long does it take to produce the first cup? Can the machines cope with a stress test of eight cups?
The coffee machines are tested in a domestic environment and have been used to brew a number of different types of coffee, everything that the coffee machine can produce. We have used a number of different types of beans for the test, and all machines were tested with the same types of beans. Our score is based on the overall experience of the machine in relation to its price.
The DeLonghi Dedica EC 680 really stands out among other semi-automatic espresso machines with its extremely compact design. It has a slightly broader lower section to increase stability, but in general the size is similar to the smallest capsule machines. It 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. You can 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 also warmed up via the indirect heat. At the back is the water tank, which can be topped up in situ through a lid on the top. You can even remove the entire water tank to fill it directly from the tap.
The espresso machine can be left on, because it automatically turns itself off after a set time. Next time you use it, you simply press any button to wake the machine up again. The three buttons flash as the machine is turned on, and when the lights remain on you can brew the first cup. Something that half asleep or stressed coffee lovers will appreciate is the quickness of the machine. We hadn't even inserted our E.S.E. pod into the portafilter before it had warmed up. Just like other espresso machines with portafilters, the espresso is made first. You then add hot water via the steam wand for an Americano or lungo, or alternatively froth milk with the steam wand for a cappuccino or latte. The actual steam function is sufficiently powerful and the machine is quick to heat up to produce steam. The steam nozzle is a simpler model and no prior knowledge is required to froth the milk. The texture of the foam is thick and there's just the right amount for a cappuccino. When the steam function has been used, it needs to cool down for a while before the next cup can be brewed. When you're brewing several cups, you need to plan ahead a little so that the person who asked for the cappuccino gets theirs last.
The size of the DeLonghi Dedica has some impact on the coffee when we brew several cups in a row. It doesn't always manage to reset the correct temperature – instead the coffee gets hotter and hotter every cup and reaches 80° in the eighth cup during the stress test.Obviously this isn't likely to be a problem for a normal household, but for a small office where everybody wants good coffee in their coffee break, it's going to be more difficult, particularly if you're the last person in the queue. Other than having to empty the drip tray, the machine doesn't need much maintenance. After every use the pods or coffee puck can be thrown in the compost bin, which means that you don't have to do major cleaning. So the DeLonghi Dedica is perfect for anyone looking for a compact machine with as little maintenance as possible. We'd have preferred the drip tray to be slightly larger, but the DeLonghi Dedica already exceeds our expectations in many ways. This machine's size, speed and the perfect espressos it produces – and above all the price – make this a fantastic espresso machine.
The DeLonghi Magnifica S isn't particularly big given that it's a semi-automatic espresso machine. Despite its compact dimensions, the manufacturer has managed to find space for relatively large containers for coffee, water and grounds. This gives you a machine that can handle several cups in a row without irritating you by something having to be emptied or topped up. The Magnifica S also has a water container that you can take out from the front, which makes 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 activate the manual steam nozzle. The steam nozzle is located on the left-hand side and makes you look like a professional barista when you froth the milk. Actually, the nozzle both froths and heats the milk without you needing any previous experience at all. And it's quick too. Making two cappuccinos is quite simply quicker than with 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 draw this off through the steam nozzle.
Our espressos taste perfect and the machine can deal with brewing cup after cup without any major temperature differences. A knob on the front allows you to set how strong you want the coffee, almost steplessly, and if you want to make fine adjustments the grinder has a number of settings. You can store five normal espresso cups on top of the machine. Unfortunately the cups are only heated up by the waste heat from the machine, which doesn't make them very warm. But being able to store the espresso cups on the machine makes it feel more like a café and is very handy.
Overall, the DeLonghi Magnifica S gives a very positive impression. Despite its relatively low price, the machine delivers great tasting espresso in the simplest possible way. The fact that you have to froth the milk manually doesn't need to be a disadvantage – in fact it's often much easier as you can adapt the amount of milk to each cup size. It also gives you the chance to step into the world of latte art and perhaps surprise your partner with a beautiful latte heart first thing in the morning. The Magnifica S has a number of maintenance requirements, but its large containers mean that you will rarely need to top up the water and beans or empty the grounds drawer. This gives you more cups to enjoy without interruption, and together with a fantastic price, this takes the DeLonghi Magnifica S to an almost perfect score.
It says "Gaggia Classic Manual Espresso Machine" on the packaging, and that's the best description of this machine too. Here there are no pre-programmed coffee selections or automatic milk frothing. Instead the Gaggia Classic offers perfect espresso made pretty well like your local café would do it. The design largely consists of stainless steel with relatively few plastic parts. The portafilter is of the same type as in large espresso machines, 58 mm, and the steam nozzle gives plenty of powerful steam like larger machines. The drip tray is ample and gives you space for spilling up to half a litre of water. On the top of the machine there is space for about four espresso cups, which are warmed up indirectly from the heat given off by the machine. Behind the cup storage there is a hatch that means you can easily top up the espresso machine without having to remove the water container. But you can also remove the water container to top it up or clean it if necessary. The size of the water tank is impressive – more than 2 L – which means you don't need to top it up very often. Despite large containers, the Gaggia Classic doesn't take up more space than a normal coffee machine.
It's simple to use but requires a little practice, which is also hinted at in the manual. There are only two buttons, one for brewing and one for steam, and the manual is clear. If you want to make it as easy as possible, you can use the filter for E.S.E. pods. You insert the pod in the filter holder and easily start brewing by pressing a button. After a few seconds you have a perfect cup of espresso. The machine has no automatic water dosing, so you have to choose for yourself how much water the espresso should use. The espresso can then easily be made an Americano or lungo by topping it up with water via the steam nozzle. If you want a cappuccino or latte, you start 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 result is froth with a fine texture, no large bubbles and which you can make a great heart in after you've practised a little.
A filter insert for normal espresso ground coffee is included, which is perfect if you want to learn to make espresso in the classic way. You add the coffee to the filter and then press it down with the tamper, which is also included. The espresso machine then brews a double espresso with perfect crema. So the machine can be used with both coffee pods or fully manually. The Gaggia Classic is the perfect machine if you prioritise as genuine an espresso as possible but don't have enough space in your kitchen for a big machine. A long start-up time and the lack of programmable water dosing means that the machine fails to get full marks, but its power and solid construction mean that it's simultaneously an obvious choice for the espresso enthusiast.
The Philips HD8829 resembles Philips' premium machines but lacks some functions such as a display and quality design. This needn't be a disadvantage – in fact it can mean that the machine is both simple to use and slightly cheaper to buy. Three large, clear buttons, one for espresso, one for cappuccino and one for normal coffee, light up when the machine is started. The espresso machine runs a short cleaning programme and heats up, and then when the lights stop flashing it's ready to serve coffee. The built-in grinder grinds the beans to order and regardless of whether you choose espresso or cappuccino, the machine does the job for you 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. The nozzle has a hose which connects to a milk container that you place next to the machine. The positioning takes no space away from the cups, which means that you have room for your favourite cup. The frothed milk has a perfect temperature and good texture without large bubbles. Just as we expected, the coffee and milk stratifies, which is normal in simpler, fully automatic espresso machines. A quick stir with a spoon and the coffee is perfect.
The flavour is when you become aware of 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. If you'd like to adjust something, there are many settings to experiment with. 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 normally always take two extra scoops when you brew coffee, there's an "Aroma plus" shortcut – a small button on the front – which gives you extra strong coffee. The espresso machine doesn't take up much more room than a large normal coffee machine. It has a squarish design in black plastic with a coffee nozzle in chromium and a stainless style drip tray. Other than the buttons on the front, there are also four indicator lights that show what needs to be done, such as topping up the water or emptying the grounds drawer.
The lights light up relatively often, which means that the machine needs quite a bit of work. The compact design simply 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 compact design over high capacity, making the HD8829 an espresso machine for the small kitchen and minor coffee consumer. The score also drops a little as a result of the recurring maintenance, topping up and cleaning, and the high noise level during milk frothing. But the great coffee aromas and the perfect espresso also mean that this machine does quite well in terms of score.
The Saeco HD8916 focuses on compact design, which means that this fully automatic coffee machine is one of the most straightforward. Its small outer dimensions make it easy to find space for it in even a small kitchen and the chromed details give a premium feel. This feel also continues during use. A clear display shows what needs to be done or what's happening: that 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 means of 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, there is space for the milk container on the front, where it clicks neatly into place. The design doesn't leave much room for large cappuccino cups, but tall glasses fit perfectly.
The Saeco machine fills the cup with great tasting coffee. A lovely crema tops our espressos and for the straightforward coffee drinker, no settings need to be changed. But for the enthusiastic home barista, there are a number of settings such as water temperature, degree of grinding and quantity of water. You can also easily adjust the strength of the coffee, in five steps, using a button on the front. Despite the fact that the strongest setting makes your hair stand on end, our older guests are extremely happy with it. In other words, this coffee machine produces flavours for the whole family.
The coffee machine needs relatively frequent maintenance as its dimensions leave limited space for water, coffee beans and a grounds drawer. The display changes to red and shows what must be done using simple images. The water container and beans can be topped from above and if you have the machine below a wall-mounted cabinet, you have to have steady hands not to cause spills. The practical grounds drawer can be pulled out forwards and has separate containers for water and coffee grounds. If the milk container is installed, this must be removed before you can empty the grounds drawer. The Saeco HD8916 is perfect if you don't want to do anything but press a button when you fancy a coffee. But regardless of how much you want to avoid cleaning and topping up, the machine will go on strike once it's urged you to top up the coffee or empty the grounds drawer. So every couple of days you need to spend a little more time on the machine. Great tasting coffee and easy selection together with the other settings raise the score for the Saeco HD8916, but the frequent maintenance prevent it from hitting the bullseye.