I've been testing and reviewing the best coffee machines for Realhomes.com for some time now and am something of an expert. So when I last met up with the team, they asked me which one is the best – and not just the best performer (because there are plenty of those), but the one coffee machine I'd choose to put on my Boxing Day shopping list.
Here's what I told them (it wasn't a short answer because I've got more than one favourite). I gave the team a few shopping tips, which you might find handy, too.
1. Testing coffee machines in my home makes me think more than just 'functionality'
When appliances like coffee machines are tested on TV, you’ll often see this done in a lab. Interestingly, when appliances are lab tested, the final verdicts can be very different from those of homeowners given the same machines to test.
Why? Because at home, it’s not just raw statistics that matter, but the day to day. Criteria such as how easy an appliance is to use, how simple it is to maintain, and how much space it takes up matter a lot in real life.
Let’s not forget either that looks count when we’re talking coffee machines. If it’s going to be a feature on your worktop, it shouldn’t let the side down, so whether it’s a looker is another element I assess.
(If you are after a looker, check out the KitchenAid Artisan Nespresso 5KES0503 – it makes a great range of different length coffees to boot. Discover the details in my review.
2. Testing lots of coffee machines in batches means I can compare how easy each one is to set up and use
When I test coffee machines for Realhomes.com, I test them in my own kitchen. Setting up a coffee machine from scratch on a worksurface that’s necessarily home to other things is rather different from setting one up in an empty lab. However, it’s exactly what you’re going to be doing when you get a new coffee machine out of the box at home.
If a machine has confusing instructions, takes a while to get your first coffee out of, or is only going to suit kitchens of generous proportions, I want to be able to tell you that, along with which coffees it will make and how those drinks taste.
The Melitta Barista TS Smart bean-to-cup is in my top three. It’s really sophisticated but brilliantly simple to use and my favourite for ease of use.
3. I test the same coffee machines for days on end
Using each coffee machine I review from day to day rather than as a one-off is what I do because that's what you'll be doing. In other words, if the coffee maker is noisy enough to disturb my husband who's trying to have a lie-in, awkward to fill with water because of the tank’s position, or it’s too easy to push a button by mistake, these are the things that will get found out in my reviews.
The maintenance required by a particular coffee machine is another real-life issue that lab tests might fail to put enough emphasis on. I cover it so you can see if the machine is really for you before you buy. For the record, it’s not because cleaning’s my hobby, but because if you neglect what’s necessary for the machine, it could stop delivering the drinks it used to. That, or you’ll simply swerve the chore of cleaning it by avoiding using it altogether and the machine will gather dust – expensively.
We think capsule coffee machines can be a brilliant option for anyone who wants to spend the minimum of time on cleaning. I gave the capsule Lavazza A Modo Mio Idola a five-star rating in my test. Read the review here.
4. I think cost – but value for money, too
Cost is often a consideration apart in lab tests, too. Yes, testers will let you know what the machine’s price tag is, but we reckon it’s value you want to hear about as well. The value might come from a low price point accompanied by coffees as good as those from the local high street, for instance.
But value can come in other ways, too. For example, if the coffee maker can deliver more than coffee, it could be a far better buy for you than one that’s only going to make you an espresso and its variations.
The Nescafé Dolce Gusto Lumio creates a range of drinks, including teas and hot chocolates, in addition to coffee. Get in the know with my review.
So those are my top four. Clicking the links will take you through to today's best prices – you can find tons more coffee machine deals on our dedicated page.