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A guide to choosing your coffee machine

5 Aug 2015, 16:09

Choosing a coffee maker is an important decision, and with the wide range of coffee makers on the market, offering all sorts of functions and features, it can be a little confusing.  So here is our essential guide to coffee and coffee makers ... giving you the basics you need to start making a decision on which machine is the right one for you!

Firstly we’ll start with what’s in the cup. These days the menus in coffee shops can be as long as your arm and as baffling as quantum mechanics if you don’t know much about coffee, so here’s a few of the drinks available.

Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed by forcing hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee.

Characteristics of properly made espresso, which distinguish it from coffee brewed by drip and most other processes, include a thicker consistency, higher concentration of dissolved solids, and crema, a brown foam that floats on the surface. As a result of the pressurized brewing process, all of the flavors in a typical cup of coffee are very concentrated. For this reason, espresso is the base for many other drinks, such as lattes, cappuccino, macchiato and mochas etc.

While there can be significant variation, on a per-volume basis, espresso contains approximately two to three times the caffeine content of regular drip brewed coffee. Compared on the basis of usual serving size a 30 ml (1 fluid ounce) ‘shot’ of espresso has about half the caffeine of a standard 180 ml (6 fluid ounce) cup of drip brewed coffee.  There are many variations of espresso coffee - straight shot, short shot etc.

Cappuccino is made with a fluffy, milk foam, mixed with espresso coffee while pouring to create a blend of the two flavors. Cappuccino has a large volume of foam making it a light weight drink and less filling.

Caffé Latté is similar to the cappuccino but with much less foam and more steamed milk. A latté is made by holding back the foam with a spoon while pouring the frothed milk from the steaming pitcher. The caffé latté is completed by being topped with a small amount of the held back foam. Caffé latté gets its name from the addition of coffee to milk. For an iced latté, cold milk is combined with the espresso and then the ice is added.

Macchiato starts with a shot of espresso and then a small amount of foamed milk is spooned over the shot. Macchiato in Italian means "marked," as the espresso is marked with foam.

Espresso con panna is an Espresso Macchiato using whipped cream in place of the foamed milk. The drink gets its name Con Panna which means "with cream."

Caffé Americano is a drink similar to American brewed coffee. It is made with a single or double shot of espresso combined with 6 to 8 ounces of hot water out of an espresso machine. The result is a very smooth cup of coffee that is much hotter than brewed coffee.

Caffé mocha is made by adding powdered or chocolate syrup to a hot shot of espresso and blended. Steamed milk is then be added to the espresso-chocolate mixture and usually it is topped with whipped cream. Iced mocha’s are made with cold milk and the ice added after the coffee and chocolate have been blended.

Flavoured coffee, some popular flavors are: vanilla, Irish creme, almond, hazelnut, caramel and fruit flavors such as orange and raspberry. These drinks usually start with a flavored syrup that is mixed with hot espresso and stirred. Then steamed milk is stirred in like in a latté. Iced flavored coffees are made with cold milk instead of steamed makes a delicious cold drink in the summer months.

Right that’s the basic drinks out of the way!  Of course there are any number of combinations or variations of any of them, some even unique to a particular coffee shop, chain, or machine manufacturer. So now how to get your favorite coffee in the comfort of your own home?

Firstly, you need to think about what it is you want.  Do you want just some good basic fresh filter coffee?  Or is espresso your drink of choice?  Do you want to wow your dinner guests with spectacular coffee creations?  Or do you dream of curling up on the settee in the evening with a delicious cappuccino?  Deciding what coffee drink or range of coffee drinks is critical in your first step towards a new coffee maker.

Next, how many drinks will you need to make at once?  Do you want a quick easy single serve coffee machine or something capable of supplying a full table with after dinner drinks?  Do you need fresh coffee, made and ready to pour all day long, or maybe you have a family who all like different drinks?  Do you have time to spend getting your coffee ready, or do you want the convenience of single serve pods and capsules?

Once you have decided exactly what it is you want from a coffee machine, the fun starts!

Here we’re going to try and explain some of the different types of coffee maker and some of the features and gadgets found on today’s coffee machines.

Filter Coffee Makers are the most basic filter coffee maker.  The desired quantity of water is poured into the water tank of the pot and the desired amount of ground coffee is placed in the filter basket. As the water heats up, its passes through the filter basket, where it seeps through the coffee, extracting the flavours and drips into the coffee pot underneath.

These type of coffee maker usually make between 2 and 10 cups at a time, and have a hot plate which keeps the pot of coffee warm for a period of time. 

Note - it only keeps the coffee warm and not hot!  If you like your coffee piping hot, you will need to adapt your coffee making or look for one with extra features such as a thermal insulated jug.  

Pump espresso machines are the most common type of espresso machine, which can typically be used with both ground and pod coffee. They are suitable if you want to make several cups of coffee at a time.

They use a motor-driven pump to force the exact amount of water needed for one espresso through a thermo block, which heats the water quickly then forces it through the coffee. Usually, they generate 10 to 19 bar of pressure.

Most have removable tanks, which you can fill directly from the tap or in situ with a jug. As the tank on a pump machine is quite large, you could make enough espresso for all your dinner party guests before it would need refilling.

Look out for cup hotplates, which are kept warm with heat from the thermo block.

Pressurised espresso machines are cheaper to buy than pump espresso machines, but do not perform as well.

You fill a pressure machine using a jug (the water tank is fixed, so you can't fill it straight from the tap). Once the lid is clamped down, an element heats the water and pressure builds to force the water through the coffee. Generally, the pressure is a low 3 to 5 bars.

Don't expect a wealth of features: in general pressure machines lack cup warmers and aren't automatic you turn the coffee flow off manually. They have only a small water tank, and you'll need to wait for the machine to cool before refilling.

Combination or ‘Combi’ Coffee Machines allow you prepare regular coffee and espresso coffee as your mood dictates. A good machine has separate controls and water tanks for each function, enabling you to make espresso and drip coffee simultaneously, or separately as you need. Most of these machines come with timer and pause functions.

Pod/capsule coffee makers can be a little confusing.  Basically they work by serving a single drink from a capsule or pod.  There are a wide range of different capsules and pods ... dolce gusto, tassimo, nespresso ... to name but a few.  Some machines will accept a range of different pods, whereas others are restricted purely to the manufacturers capsule, so take the time to be sure what you can use in the machine before you spend your money! 

ESE pods (Easy Serve Espresso) tend to be more standard and different makes are likely to fit into the one machine, meaning you can shop around more for the pods that suit both your taste buds and your pocket.  One benefit of pods and capsules is that they usually come in a wide variety of coffee's and even other drinks like hot chocolate!

Nespresso coffee machines (worth a mention on their own due to their growing popularity) use only Nespresso capsules.  Made with convenience in mind, there is no measuring or weighing, just pop the pod into the machine and away you go!  There is a very wide range of different coffees available in Nespresso capsules, so there is something for everyone.
The capsule is inserted into the machine which pierces the top of the capsule. When the machine is activated, the machine pumps hot water under pressure into the top of the capsule.  The capsule holder (on which the capsule sits) has a number of raised squares, which causes the foil of the capsule to rupture, and the brewed coffee then exits the capsule, and flows into the cup.

Depending on the particular machine being used, the spent capsule may then be ejected into a holding chamber within the machine. This ejection process is automated on certain higher end machines.

Now we’ve established which kind of machine would benefit your basic coffee needs, now for the features and gadgets you may like to put the finishing touches to that perfect cuppa you’re looking for.

Cup warmers are featured on a number of coffee machines these days. However, they can take up to 20 minutes to warm the cups; this might not be practical if you are only making a single cup for yourself. If you do prefer to use a warm cup simply fill the cup with hot water prior to making the coffee and leave to stand for a couple of minutes.

Filter baskets; Chances are your espresso machine will come with one or more removable baskets which you fill with coffee. Filter baskets come in different sizes dependent on the machine make/model etc: generally there are two baskets one for single and one for double shots but some machines also have a third basket for a pod. The filter baskets hold the ground coffee/pod and allow water/steam to pass through it creating your drink.

Milk steamers are an essential gadget if you like frothy milk, most espresso machines come with a steam wand, which shoots steam through milk, heating and frothing it for use in cappuccinos and lattes, again this is very much a personal taste issue and should be considered before buying a coffee machine.

Bar pressure defines at what pressure the steam meets the coffee granules at the optimum speed. If it's too slow, it could result in a bitter taste. 15 - 19 bar is the optimum, though some suppliers claim 9-11 bar is enough if the beans have been ground correctly.  Pump machines have better bar pressure than steam machines.

With the growing demand for good coffee and the ever important issue of convenience in today’s busy lifestyle, we have seen the development of some clever devices to make the journey from coffee bean to cup as easy as possible.

ESE pods or easy serve espresso pods are a pad of coffee wrapped in filter paper. Each pod holds about 7g of ground coffee that is pre-compacted or 'tamped', ready for use. One pod makes one shot and is thrown away after use, leaving no messy residue. If you occasionally make espresso, look for individual foil-packed pods for maximum freshness.

Some coffee makers are versatile enough for use with either pods or ground coffee, and have filter basket adaptors to get the best out of pods. Do check before you buy, though, as pressure machines take only ground coffee, while ranges such as the Philips Senseo are compatible only with pods.

Coffee capsules are hermetically sealed pots of ground coffee that are inserted into an espresso machine. The machine pierces the capsule and forces hot water through to make espresso.

Capsules stay fresh for up to nine months, which is ideal if you're an occasional espresso drinker. Like pods they contain just enough coffee for one shot and are mess-free.

Note that most machines are only compatible with the coffee capsules produced by their manufacturer. So Nespresso machines use Nespresso capsules, Dolce Gusto machines use Dolce Gusto capsules. If you want flexibility, the exception to this rule is Caffitaly which allows coffee capsules to be filled by different companies, providing a wealth of different blends.

Coffee capsules are thrown away after use, which can seem wasteful. Recycling facilities for Nespresso capsules aren't available in the UK, but this could change as the company does recycle them in other parts of Europe.

Coffee beans; the flavours in espresso are created first by roasting the coffee beans and then grinding them to expose the coffee’s essential oils. However, the oils begin to evaporate immediately after grinding so using freshly ground beans is the best way of capturing the better flavored coffee. So, if you want the freshest and the best you can get, one option is to invest in an espresso machine with a built-in bean grinder. These machines grind the beans for you and then compact the newly ground coffee inside the machine ready for brewing.

Ground coffee is the most commonly used type. You can choose from a huge variety of blends and, for some coffee lovers, the espresso-making ritual is an intrinsic element of espresso enjoyment. When using ground coffee, preparation is everything.

Burr coffee grinders have coffee beans fed into a grinding mechanism (burrs), then the ground coffee is deposited into a receptacle or directly into your portafilter depending on the model. The primary advantage of burr coffee grinders is uniform grind fineness which is optimal for any brewing process. Higher quality burr grinders also feature gear reduction or a heavy-duty, slow speed motor which reduces heat generated and preserves the coffee's natural flavor.

Now after all that I’m sure you are ready for a nice cuppa. Hope you’ve found this useful in you search for the perfect cup of coffee! Below you’ll find some links to a selection of our coffee related products ranging from burrs to Nespresso machines.

And remember, our staff are always on hand should you require any additional information .... just give us a call or send us an email and we will be happy to help

Coffee Machines

Coffee Grinders
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