The Different Types of Coffee Machines
This guide explains some of the most common kinds of coffee machines you'll see for sale, outlining the benefits and suitability of each. A good coffee machine lasts for years, and once you're used to the real stuff you'll never go back to instant!
Filter coffee machines
This is one of the most affordable types of coffee maker, and it's a great option if you need to brew coffee in large quantities - for instance, in the office. Water trickles down through a basket of ground coffee and then through a paper or reusable filter which gets rid of any bits. The glass jar is usually stood on a hot plate, so there's no need to boil the water.
While they're fairly simple devices and won't be replacing your local barista any time soon, filter coffee machines are a simple and effective way to make great-tasting coffee.
In a percolator, water is boiled in a chamber and passed through a vertical tube in the device before seeping down through ground coffee and a filter. In this way, the water in the chamber gradually becomes more coffee-like depending on how long the process continues. Some percolators come with a heating element, allowing them to function without being placed on a stove.
A percolator is a good choice for people who like to vary the strength of their coffee, although it's not recommended for the absent-minded - percolate too long and you end up with an extremely strong and bitter drink!
Espresso and cappuccino machines
Espresso machines are used in many diners and cafés, and offer a convenient way to make espresso and cappuccino (although you can make regular coffee with them by adding hot water!) There are two main varieties - pressure machines boil water in a chamber before forcing it through the coffee, which is often in a disposable ESE or Nespresso pod. Pump-driven machines are more expensive but generally make superior espresso, as the temperature and pressure are exactly right.
They typically come with attached milk steamers, which are great for generating a bit of froth for the top of your cappuccino. The type of pump also varies from model to model - some are hand-driven, others are motorised or even use canisters of pressurised air.
Bean-to-cup Coffee machines
These are the Rolls Royce of the coffee machine world - the fresh beans are ground before your eyes and immediately turned into espresso. These machines are usually completely automatic, and come with a range of settings and options to allow you to get your coffee exactly how you want it. Some will even warm your mug for you! Bean-to-cup models may be pricey (and a little noisy), but they're indispensable for true connoisseurs of great coffee.
Bean-to-cup machines need to be topped up with a supply of coffee beans and fresh milk, but apart from that there's very little maintenance - no messy filters to worry about and the milk is warmed and frothed for you.
For those who want the freshest possible coffee without the expense of a bean-to-cup machine, one option is to grind the beans yourself. Coffee grinders can be motorised or hand-driven, blade or burr, and some have settings that can be adjusted to produce different grades of coarseness. A coarse grind is generally used for cafetieres and percolators, medium grinds are best for filter coffee makers and fine (or super-fine) grinds are ideally suited to espresso machines.
Hopefully this guide has made it a little easier to decide what kind of coffee machine you need, and you may be surprised to learn that coffee connoisseurship is taken very seriously indeed in some circles - dedicated fans consider coffee appreciation on the same level as fine wine or single malt whiskey! If you're interested in this, it's worth looking into specialist suppliers who can provide you with high-quality beans from all over the world - and ensure you're making the coffee properly, as the flavours are delicate and can be spoiled by excessive heat or pressure.