Want to know how to make good coffee? We’re here to spill the (coffee) beans. Not only will you need the best coffee machine for the type of drink you want to make, but you’ll also have to brew it right in that particular type of machine. Keeping your coffee machine clean and free of limescale is important, too.
Here, we take you through the basics of using your coffee machine to best effect. Not got a decent machine? Browse our pick of the best coffee machines to find a brilliant buy.
- After a deal? Check our round up of the best coffee machine sales right now
- How to clean a coffee machine: a step by step guide
How to make good coffee with an espresso machine
An espresso machine uses ground coffee, so it offers you a choice of coffees from all over the world. Some take ESE pods as an alternative. These contain a portion of coffee in filter paper ready to put into the compatible machine. You could also buy a separate grinder and prepare coffee beans freshly when you’re ready for a brew.
Coffee for an espresso machine should be finely ground, so look for this on the label, or opt for those marked as being suitable for espresso.
Use the measure that comes with your machine to put the right amount of ground coffee into the filter.
Tamp the coffee when you’ve added it to the filter of an espresso machine – in other words, press it down so it’s even, but don’t compact it. There may be a device to do this on the other end of the measure, or separately, with the machine.
You may be able to warm the cups with an espresso machine before you make the coffee (check the instructions), or use the cup warmer if it has one so the espresso doesn’t lose heat in a cool cup.
To force the water through the coffee to make an espresso pressure is required. When you’re buying look for a machine that offers at least 9 bars of pressure. You’ll find many modern machines offer 15 bars.
If you only want to brew espresso, you can opt for a model without a milk frother. If you like to make latte or cappuccino, for example, you’ll need a machine that has a steam wand. Alternatively, you could buy a milk frother separately.
To ensure an espresso machine produces consistently good coffee, you’ll need to descale it regularly, as well as clean it. If it has a steam wand, it’s vital to clean this each time it’s used, too.
How to make good coffee with a bean-to-cup machine
A bean-to-cup machine allows you to place coffee beans for your brew in the built-in grinder, and these are then used fresh to make your coffee, ensuring it has maximum flavour and complexity.
Bear in mind that most bean-to-cup machines are espresso machines. However, you can find bean-to-cup filter coffee makers (see below).
Investing in a bean-to-cup coffee machine means you can pick from coffee beans from around the world to make coffees with the tastes you like the most. Some bean-to-cup espresso models let you use ground coffee as an alternative to beans, so although the flavour won’t be as full, your coffee buying options are widened as you can shop from the ground coffee selection, too.
When you’re using a bean-to-cup machine, follow the instructions to get the right grind level for your coffees.
Look for a machine with customisable and saveable settings if you want to perfect your brews yourself.
As with an espresso maker, you should opt for a bean-to-cup machine that offers sufficient pressure when forcing the water through the ground coffee in order to get a good espresso: look for 15 bars.
Check out machines with higher wattages if you want to make several coffees at once. And if you want to get the coffee started when you’re not in the room, opt for a smart machine.
As with an espresso machine, if you prefer to create more than black coffee, you’ll need a model with a milk frother. This can either be within the machine, or in the form of a steam wand. If you want to practise your barista skills, a wand will allow you to have fine control of the foaming. Prefer to leave it to the machine? Choose a model that will produce milk foam of the right texture automatically when you choose the coffee you want.
Bear in mind that these machines need thorough cleaning plus descaling to keep producing good coffee, so if you don’t have the time for maintenance, a less demanding type of machine will be preferable.
How to make good coffee with a pod coffee machine
There’s no buying beans or ground coffee with a pod machine, but you will still be able to find coffees from around the world available in pod form. The quality of coffees you make from one of these machines should be consistent, so if you find pods that produce coffee with a taste you like, you’re on to a winner.
When you buy a pod coffee machine, you’re opting for the compatible pods at the same time, so make sure your machine will produce the type of coffee you prefer. Nespresso machines are great for espresso coffees, and you can go for a machine with a milk frother to expand your repertoire of coffee drinks. You could also check out Lavazza or Illy machines to make authentic espresso using pods.
Other capsule systems, such as Tassimo or Dolce Gusto, will also make a variety of coffees, including espresso, cappuccino and latte. However, if your idea of a good cup of coffee is an espresso with a brown crema on top, be aware that the lower pressure of a Tassimo machine may not give you a coffee shop style drink. Equally, you won’t be frothing your own milk for the drinks with foam, so your coffee won’t look just-as-a-barista-made.
Pod coffee machines need very little maintenance aside from regular descaling
How to make good coffee with a filter coffee machine
You might prefer the taste of filter coffee to espresso, and the cappuccino, latte, and so on that are based on espresso. If so, a filter coffee machine that simply heats and drips water through ground coffee and delivers it into a jug can produce a good cup of coffee for you.
There’s a huge range of ground coffees out there to choose from, so you can suit your tastes. Alternatively, as we mentioned above, there are bean-to-cup filter coffee machines on the market where the machine grinds beans then brews immediately so you can take advantage of freshly ground coffee’s flavour.
Buying ready ground coffee? Medium ground is appropriate for a filter coffee machine. As with an espresso machine, use the measure that comes with the machine to get the right amount for your brew.
Filter coffee machines don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. The warming plate, er, keeps coffee warm, as does an insulated jug, but our advice is not to leave it too long as it’ll do the flavour no favours. In any case, the most recent models have automatic shut-off to save energy.
Some machines come with a shower head, which promises to dispense water evenly over the ground coffee for maximum flavour.
Descaling and cleaning are important for continuing tasty coffees, but this won’t be too onerous with one of these machines.