In this post I’m attempting to help you to discover which is the best coffee maker for you, for home, for in the office & for when you’re out and about. I’m going to be talking about the various different types of both manual coffee makers, and electric coffee makers. I say ‘for you’, because we’re all different, and I hope this post will help you to decide which is the best specifically for you.
The Best Manual Coffee Makers
Electric coffee makers are hugely popular, and many people completely ignore the manual option when they’re thinking of buying a coffee maker – but it may actually be that the perfect coffee maker for home, for you, is a manual brewer. Most of the manual coffee makers I’m about to discuss, are sturdy brewers which will probably last for years, and are unlikely to require much in the way of maintenance. They don’t use power (other than that used when you boil the kettle of course), they’re mainly small and portable, they’re usually much cheaper, and the best manual coffee makers make coffee as good if not better than most electric coffee makers!
You might have seen this coffee maker recently on Dragons Den [spoiler alert if you’re going to watch it on catch up], there was some drama, of course, it’s a TV show after all, but they gained a new investor.
A couple of years ago when it was first launched via a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, I pre-ordered two (one for me, and one that was given to a reader in a competition), based on the portability. What surprised me the most when I brewed with the oomph for the first time, though, was the taste! The Oomph quickly became my favourite manual coffee brewer, and I use it at least four or five times per day, and have been doing for just over a year at the time of writing.
There are lots of brilliant things about The Oomph, but the number one reason this is my favourite manual coffee maker, is taste – and the fact that it’s so easy to achieve a great taste, even with pre-ground coffee, as it is very forgiving on the grind size.
The Oomph is a manual pressured full immersion filter brewer. As with Aeropress (which I’ll talk about shortly) the ground coffee is immersed in hot water (note to the Dragons Den production company, you don’t brew coffee with lukewarm water…) and manual pressure is applied by plunging, which filters the coffee under pressure. This kind of coffee maker shares similarities with more traditional coffee brewing processes such as Espresso, cafetiere and filter coffee, and the resulting coffee is kind of a hybrid of the coffee produced with these processes, and for me, it produces one of the most enjoyable kinds of coffee for everyday coffee drinking.
If you’ve read anything negative about The Oomph, just keep in mind that these comments will be about the first version of the brewer. The newer model now being sold on Amazon and via the-oomph.com are void of the few initial quirks of the first version.
After the taste, the other major positives of the Oomph, in my opinion, are:
- Volume – brews and holds up to 13 oz / 380ml of coffee. This is one big cup of coffee, or two flat white size cups.
- Grind Correction – The Oomph is tolerant of a wide range of grind sizes, which means little or no time spent dialling in new beans if you’re grinding your own, and better results with pre-ground beans.
- Re-Brew – If you’re not happy with the taste, you can adjust the strength to your liking by re-brewing to whatever level you like, this is a feature completely unique to The Oomph.
- Plunge and go – The Oomph takes portability to another level, as it’s a coffee maker and travel cup in one, so you can simply plunge and then take the oomph with you.
- Stays Hot – The insulated design means that The Oomph keeps your coffee at a nice drinking temperature. I’ve regularly been in situations where I’ve brewed with The Oomph but then something has come up which has meant I’ve had to to go out somewhere, and it’s still at a nice drinking temperature up to around an hour later.
- Easy & Fast to Clean – All you do is give it a plunge to dry out the puck of ground beans, pour away the excess, knock the grounds out, and give it a rinse. You can take it apart very easily to get to the filter if you want to give it a more thorough clean, and it’s all completely dishwasher safe.
Aeropress is a versatile coffee brewer, with plenty of room for your own individual twist. You can choose to brew the original way as per the instructions, in which you place the Aeropress on top of the cup from the start, add the coffee and the water, stir and then plunge.
You may, as many pro and home Baristas do, prefer the inverted method, in which the plunger is placed into the chamber and the Aeropress is placed upside down, the water added, stirred and left to brew (depending on your chosen recipe), before placing onto the cup, flipping over and then plunging.
Aeropress makes great coffee, it is very quick if you follow the original instructions and don’t add extra brewing time, it’s small, lightweight and portable, and it’s very easy to clean.
It comes with 350 paper filters, which should last you a while, and when you need more, they’re not expensive. You can get a pack of 350 here for £3.50 as an add-on item (meaning that you can tag this on to any Amazon order over £20). You can also get metal reusable filters such as the Koffi disk, which are fairly inexpensive.
I tend to use Aeropress when I want an Espresso style coffee and don’t have access to an espresso machine. It’s also a great coffee maker for camping etc., as it’s very small and lightweight. In fact there’s an episode of “Bear Grylls Wild Weekends” where Bear makes a coffee for the two of them using Aeropres.
The reason I say Espresso style, by the way – is that coffee made with Aeropress isn’t true Espresso. I don’t say that in a snobby way, “ooh, if it’s not made with an Espresso machine, you can’t call it Espresso”, you can call it whatever you like ;-). I mean that it’s just not quite Espresso in taste and mouthfeel. It’s close, but it’s not quite there, there is no crema, and the taste just isn’t quite there. I
t’s the same with Nespresso “Espresso”, they call it Espresso but it isn’t, it’s a short coffee which is based on Espresso but is brewed differently, and tastes different. See Nespresso Vs Espresso. But, I digress – going back to Aeropress, to be able to make anything remotely similar to Espresso using a portable lightweight coffee maker which costs twenty odd quid, is amazing.
V60 is a pourover coffee dripper, or drip coffee brewer. There are several different drippers that a similar to V60, and I’ll cover these briefly in a sec, but I’m focusing on V60 as it’s my preferred manual drip filter brewer.
V60, made by Hario Japan, is named due to the V shape of the brewer, and the 60 degree angle of the V. You insert a paper filter, place ground coffee into the filter, and then pour water over it, basically. How geeky you get with it is up to you of course ;-). If you jump on YouTube and search for V60 brewing techniques and recipes, you’ll see some really geeky stuff – but you don’t have be a scientist to use a V60.
You can place the V60 directly on top of your cup, or over a jug, whatever floats your boat. The 01 size V60 is meant for 1-2 cups, 02 is for up to 4, and 03 is for up to 6 – although keep in mind that this depends on the size of your cups! ;-).
V60 is a very popular drip brewer in the speciality coffee world, it’s commonly found in high-quality speciality coffee shops worldwide. It’s an inexpensive brewer (unless you go for one of the posh options such as the copper or wooden V60, and it’s brilliant, in my opinion. I have several of these, I’ve used them for coffee mornings for charity events etc., and for parties, they’re so easy to use, and the filter coffee they produce is fantastic – as long as you use freshly roasted high quality coffee beans of course.
The shape is slightly different to V60, but the main design difference is that the Kalita has a flat base, which they claim extracts more evenly that the conical bottom shape of the V60.
I must confess that I can’t tell the difference between the two in terms of taste. If you ask the experts, it just depends on who you ask – some championship Baristas use V60 – some use Kalita Wave, so it just appears to be a preference thing. Kalita wave tends to be slightly slower, which is due to the flat bottom design with three small holes vs the V60 with one larger hole in the centre, but there’s not much in it – maybe 20 – 30 seconds difference. V60 tends to be slightly cheaper too but obviously it depends on which version you go for.
Chemex is a pourover drip filter coffee maker and coffee jug in one. So instead of placing the brewer on top of a jug, the brewer is the jug. Chemex was invented in the States in the late 30s by a clever German inventor called Peter Schlumbohm.
He was clever, by the way, not just in the invention of Chemex (which he’d initially intended to be used for other processes in addition to coffee brewing, including filtering in laboratories) but also in the way that he sold the coffee maker to some big American retailers including Macy’s, and then managed to get it manufactured.
Finding a manufacturer to create a new product is a difficult enough task at any time, but during war-time it was even more tricky, he had to get approval from the US War Production Board even before he could find a firm who were up to the task.
Chemex looks elegant, but it’s not just pretty – which is probably why it’s earned itself a place in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC! It is one of the most popular pourover drip filter methods worldwide.
Personally, I think V60 or Kalita wave are the better option if it’s for single cup, and for portable use – and Chemex is the more obvious answer for making coffee in larger volume (available 3 cup, to 10 cup). Chemex has something going for it aesthetically, though, that I think trumps other pour-over brewers, especially when it comes to impressing guests or customers, as I think visually Chemex is so eye-catching, and pouring from it adds some drama to the experience.
It’s glass of course, so there’s more chance of breaking it as there is with the plastic and metal options with the V60 and Kalita wave. Price wise, it costs from about £40 – £55 depending on the size option, but they’re often on offer on Amazon.
Clever dripper also comes from Japan. Similar to The Oomph and Aeropress it’s a hybrid immersion and filter process, rather than being a standard drip brewer. It has a valve, which allows you to achieve whatever brew time you prefer before beginning the drip process.
With the clever dripper, you just pour the water all in at once, leave it to brew, then once brewed you put it ontop of the mug or jug, and the “draw down” process begins, which is where the coffee very quickly (about 45 seconds) pours into the cup / jug.
I’m not really sure why this is called a dripper though, it doesn’t drip ;-). The ‘drawdown’ when you place the clever onto the cup or jug, is a gush rather than a drip.
It depends on what recipe you go for, but most guides give quite a bit longer total brew time for clever dripper verses straight pour-over drip brewing – of between 3 and 4 minutes.
Obviously, I can’t talk about manual coffee brewers and not talk about Cafetiere! My first experience of proper freshly brewed coffee, as with most Brits aged 30 or over, was via cafetiere, and it’s thanks to a cafetiere that I started this blog. My wife bought me this stainless steel cafetiere for my Birthday in 2015 to replace my smaller glass one, and I reviewed it – I then decided to review V60, Aeropress and other coffee brewers, and I decide to start the blog as a result.
Known also as French press / press pot coffee makers or coffee plungers, depending on where in the world you happen to be, the cafetièrewas first patented in France in the late 20s, and went from strength to strength since then, and possibly owes at least some of its worldwide success during the 60s and 70s, to Michael Caine using one in the movie The Ipcress File.
Cafetiere is a full immersion coffee brewing process which works by pouring water onto coarsely ground coffee, leaving to brew, and then plunging – which separates the grinds from the extracted coffee.
While cafetieres have a filter, it’s a much more coarse mesh than with drip filter, so it’s not what we’d class as filter coffee, and the resulting coffee via cafetiere is heavier, in that it contains more of the coffee solids and oils. Cafetiere coffee tends to have a bigger mouthfeel and bolder taste, but doesn’t have the same kind of clarity that you tend to get with pour-over.
I still really like cafetiere coffee, I don’t drink it often these days, but there are times when I think ‘hmm, I just fancy a cafetiere’ and I’ll reach into the cupboard for it.
Stove top coffee pots, also known as moka pots or caffettiera, are coffee makers which create an Espresso style coffee with steam pressure. They’re also known as Bailetti (similar to the fact that many Brits call Vacuum cleaners Hoovers), as Alfonso Bialetti is behind the success of the coffee maker, being the first to produce it. Although many assume Bialetti invented the moka pot, he actually bought the invention from Luigi De Ponti, who patented this coffee brewer in 1933.
Bialetti are still the most popular producer of stove top coffee brewers, as far as I’m aware, although there are lots of other companies who now produce stove top brewers.
You put water in them, and coffee, obviously, and put them on a heat source – steam pressure is created, which forces the water through the coffee. The pressure isn’t anywhere near as high as it is with a traditional espresso machine, but still, the resulting coffee is strong, thick and Espresso-like. It doesn’t taste exactly the same as Espresso, it’s similar though, and it’s an enjoyable process with great aromas.
As you don’t need electric, they work for camping trips & when you’re out and about, as long as you have something which can create heat such as a camping stove.
I think this brewer is a great option for anyone who wants an inexpensive way to brew something similar to Espresso at home, but without the expense and the learning curve of making true Espresso. If you’re after convenience though, this coffee maker probably isn’t the best option in that regard, the total brew time is around 5 mins, which is generally much longer than it is with Aeropress, and Aeropress is easier to clean too.
Vacuum / Syphon Coffee Makers / Vac Pots
They’re actually one of the earliest coffee brewing devices, having been developed in the 1830s, which is even earlier than Melitta Bentz invented pour-over filter coffee. Other processes such as pour-over, stove top and cafetiere became much more popular though, probably because of the complexity, or at least the perceived complexity, of the Syphon process (as it’s not really as complex as it looks).
A glass chamber is filled with water, and heated, while coffee grounds are placed into a separate glass container which fits into to the one containing the water. The hot water is forced up the stem into the chamber containing the ground coffee, given a stir then allowed time to brew, then taken off the heat source. As the glass cools, the brewed coffee is pulled through the filter due to the difference in pressure, and you’re left with a (often bowl shaped) jug of coffee.
It looks scientific and complex, but it’s not actually as difficult as it looks, and it’s not a particularly lengthy process either, total brew time around 3 to 4 minutes, so similar to Cafetiere.
I think syphon is a great process, especially due to the theatrics, which makes it a great process for speciality coffee shops.
ROK is a manual Espresso maker. It works in a similar way to traditional lever Espresso machines, where a piston creates pressure via manual force, but there’s no boiler, you pour hot water into the chamber on the top.
I really like ROK, it’s capable of making very nice Espresso, it’s compact and lightweight, it looks great, and it’s relatively inexpensive in comparison to Espresso machines. See my ROK Espresso Maker Review for more.
Flair is another manual Espresso maker, which has recently been released.
Unlike ROK, Flair doesn’t have a traditional portafilter, and it seems to have a few more parts – but it’s an interesting looking manual Espresso maker. It’s single lever reminds me of traditional lever machines, and the pressure it creates is allegedly between 9-16 Bar, which I find incredible from a manual machine! I’ve not yet had the opportunity to try this machine though I’ve not reviewed it as of yet.
It comes in a cool looking travel case, which I think is a great idea – and there are two versions of the brewer, standard and signature. I love the look of the Signature in particular.
It’s slightly more expensive for the standard version, than ROK, but it comes with a solid metal tamper, and a travel case.
The Best Electric Coffee Makers
Although Electric coffee makers are hugely popular, and there’s a good chance that you came to this post searching for info on electric coffee makers, I put manual brewers first as I wanted to highlight to the uninitiated just how many great manual coffee makers there are, and that it’s not electric or nothing.
Prosumer Espresso Machines
If you see yourself as a home Barista, investing fairly serious money, time and effort into making the very best Espresso you can at home, then you’ll be looking at Prosumer machines.
There’s a world of difference between these machines and the cheaper domestic Espresso machines that I’ll come to shortly – and they’re fine if that’s what you want, but if you’ve caught the Home Barista bug and you’re embarking on a new Espresso making hobby, then it’s going to be prosumer for you.
I’m not being a snob, and suggesting that you need to invest in a prosumer machine, on the contrary, it may well not be for you, not everyone wants to go to the trouble to learn to make Espresso using a traditional machine. Even if you do want to, you may just not practically be able to invest what it costs at the moment (as I wasn’t when I first started looking), in which case there are other options. One of which is, or course, to savour the amazing Espresso you can enjoy at your favourite speciality coffee shop, and don’t even try to make Espresso at home, or explore the options re making as close as you can to great espresso using a cheaper option – such as one of the manual options above, or one of the other options I’m about to discuss.
Domestic Espresso Machines
If you’re just after Espresso at home, and you’re not about to embark on a new hobby – then a cheaper domestic espresso machine may be what you’re after.
These aren’t the same as prosumer machines, they’re made using much lower cost parts, in fact one part used on a prosumer machine may cost more than some of the cheaper Espresso machines, so it’s not fair to expect the same kind of machine, or the same kind of results and reliability.
Just keep in mind though that regardless of whether you go for a domestic Espresso machine or a prosumer one, the quality of your grinder is going to limit you, and if you’re planning on using pre-ground coffee with a domestic Espresso machine, then you’re probably not going to get great results.
For greater convenience and consistency if you don’t want to be grinding your own coffee beans, a Nespresso machine may actually be the best bet, which I’ll discuss in a sec. See best cheap Espresso machines.
Bean to cup coffee machines
Bean to cup Espresso machines aim to add convenience to making Espresso based coffees. You put coffee beans in the hopper, and if it’s machine with a steam wand such as the De’Longhi ESAM (which is a very popular bean to cup machine) you would then steam the milk yourself if required.
If it’s a fully automatic machine such as the Delonghi Etam or one of the JURA machines, then it will do the whole thing, you just select what drink you want. The fully automatic machines require a bit more cleaning and maintaining, in order to keep all the milk containers and tubes etc., clean, and you don’t usually have the same level of control as you would with a machine which has a steam wand, but this is why there are so many different kinds of machine on the market, as there are so many different individuals with different preferences.
As with all coffee machines, I think bean to cup machines are perfect for whoever they’re perfect for ;-). In other words, if you want to be able to just put the beans in the top and select your drink, but you don’t want to be using a pod or disk machine, then bean to cup espresso may be for you.
Nespresso Machines aren’t exactly Espresso machines, they’re very clever coffee makers which bring to the consumer an incredibly convenient option for very quickly and simply creating something which looks and tastes very similar to Espresso, without the same investment and without the required skill. There’s nothing to grind, there’s nothing to weigh, there’s not much to consider other than slapping a pod in the machine and pressing a button. Don’t forget the cup though ;-).
As I mentioned when discussing domestic Espresso machines, these machines require more effort, and the results if you don’t grind your own beans, or if you grind beans using a grinder which isn’t up to the task, may be not only not on a parr with prosumer Espresso machines, but also may not be on a parr with the quality and consistency you could get from a Nespresso machine with far less messing about.
There are lots of compatible Nespresso pods available now, so you’re not tied in to Nestle products, and the price per cup is actually very good. I’m not saying that the coffee you’ll get from a Nespresso machine is proper Espresso, or can compete with a home barista using a decent prosumer espresso machine and grinder, but a Nespresso machine can easily compete with someone getting terrible results from a domestic or even a prosumer machine, so they’re potentially the best machine depending on the user.
Tassimo and Dolce’ Gusto
These capsule/disk coffee machines are a bit different to Nespresso machines, as they give the option of creating the entire drink via the pod, not just the coffee element. So if you want to be able to just stick in a pod for the coffee and one for the milk, then you can do this with Tassimo and Dolce’ Gusto – but not with Nespresso.
I prefer real milk, fresh, from our local milkman – but each to their own ;-). The other thing to just keep in mind, is that while most Tassimo and Dolce’ Gusto pods are made from ground coffee, they’re not all. Dolce’ Gusto do state on their website that a couple of their pods are made from instant coffee.
These aren’t quite the same as other pod and disk machines, they take bags which look like large tea bags, full of ground coffee beans, and they make large cups of filter type coffee. So if you enjoy large cups of coffee, and you’re quite happy to add anything in addition such as milk, yourself, then this might be an option for you.
Personally, I’d prefer to use a manual brewer such as V60, or The Oomph, or an Aeropress, or a Cafetiere, along with freshly ground coffee beans, but again – each to their own, we’re not all the same. If you want to use pods / capsules, and you want large cups of black coffee to either drink as is or to add milk/sugar to, then Phlips Senseo is worth a look .
Electric Filter Coffee Machines
If you like filter coffee, then an electric filter coffee machine is, of course, an option. There are standard drip filter machines that work with ground beans, there are also bean to cup filter machines, which work in a similar way to bean to cup espresso machines in that they grind and then brew.
After Cafetiere, Electric filter coffee was the next fresh coffee brewer I experienced, as a sales rep in my late teens / early 20s.
I bought an electric filter machine in 2004 when I started a new business, it was just me in a small office – with a pot of fresh coffee constantly available, and again I realise now that the taste that I remember so well from that period, was the taste of overly bitter coffee thanks to making a huge jug of it and then leaving it on the hot plate.
So the only negative thing I’d say about electric filter coffee machines, is that the idea of making a big jug and leaving it to stay hot on a hotplate, isn’t the best if you want the best taste. If you like filter, and you mainly make one cup at a time just for you, a manual drip filter such as a V60 or Kalita wave may be a better bet.
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