Best coffee machines

Five of the latest espresso machines meet the thirsty CNET UK team, who judge which is the best one to serve your Sunday morning brew.

We find it impossible to keep focused on testing and writing about the latest technology without at least seven or eight strong espressos down the hatch. Until now, coffee has always been in the background at CNET UK, fuelling us with its caffeinated genius as we go about our day, but it's time we brought it to the fore to thank it for all its hard work.

We put five of the latest espresso machines to the ultimate test: a gang of thirsty, caffeine-jonesing hacks. Are any of them are worth your time and money? Let's find out.

Illy FrancisFrancis X7.1

Illy FrancisFrancis X7.1

£199 from John Lewis
Price of capsules: From £7.50 for 21 (36p each)

The X7.1 is an interesting looking machine to have sat on your kitchen sideboard. It has a very modern look about it and the bright red of our model (it's also in black or white) certainly brightened up the place, although the shape and button placement did remind us quite strongly of an alien.

The espresso holder -- that's the handle bit you pop the espresso in -- makes it seem like a classic espresso machine, but it actually holds the Illy capsules rather than standard espresso grounds. It's only tricking you into thinking you're a bearded, sandal-wearing barista in a fashionable San Francisco coffee bar.

Setup and operation is pretty straight-forward: fill it with water, turn it on and wait until the boiler hits the right temperature. What you decide to do while you're waiting is entirely up to you, so go nuts. Maybe play some Angry Birds or learn the dance routine to Will Smith's Nod Ya Head.

The range of Illy capsules is limited, but will appeal to those who just want a standard espresso boost in the morning. Sadly, they're made of a thick plastic and are only single-serving -- throwing away individual plastic pods after each use seems incredibly wasteful.

Thankfully though, the espresso flavour is pretty good whether as a plain espresso or as a longer drink, although we sometimes found it tasted a little bitter, which suggests that the water temperature was too high. The machine attempts to control that by stopping you making an espresso for 10 minutes after frothing milk as the boiler will then be too hot for espresso. While sensible, it's pretty annoying if you have to wait for your perfectly frothed milk to go cold before you can pour an espresso out.

Verdict
The Illy FrancisFrancis X7.1 offers a decent coffee, has an attractive body and is simple to operate. The relatively poor range of espresso pods certainly won't appeal to purists, but it does the job adequately for those after a quick and simple morning pick-up -- just so long as you don't mind throwing all that plastic away.

Nescafe Piccolo

Nescafe Dolce Gusto Piccolo by Krups

£99 from Tesco
Price of capsules: From £4 for 16 (25p each)

The Piccolo is by far the smallest machine in our group test -- it's not much bigger than an average cafetiere. If you have a limited amount of sideboard space in your kitchen, rest assured finding a spot for this little chap won't be much of a headache.

Our model had an attractive glossy white finish that looked good sat in the CNET UK kitchen, although won't stay that way for long if you splatter it cooking bolognese.

Setup and operation with the Piccolo was the easiest of all the machines. The only button is the power button, so there aren't a load of awkward dials to get to grips with.

The Piccolo uses the Dolce Gusto by Nescafe pods, which come in a wide variety of flavours that can be mixed and matched to create different drinks. A cappuccino required us to use one espresso capsule and another capsule that sent out frothed milk on top. The capsules are relatively cheap, but bear in mind you'll need more than one if you want some froth.

The taste was alright, but it certainly didn't have the quality of the other machines. It was clear with some of the milky drinks that it was made with sweetened, powdered milk, which is never as good frothing your own fresh milk.

With neat espresso, we didn't get the smooth, rich taste we found in the other machines, possibly because of extra flavourings. For those reasons, it ranked at the bottom of the machines we tested for taste.

Verdict
If you're a latte connoisseur used to only the best velvety smooth milk atop rich espresso, the Piccolo won't cut the mustard. Instead, it's more suited to those who just want a quick hot drink. The simple operation and low-mess approach of the Piccolo makes it a fair option if speed and price are more important factors than incredible-tasting coffee.

Magimix Citiz&Milk


 

Nespresso Citiz and Milk by Magimix M190

£199 from John Lewis
Price of capsules: From £2.90 for 10 (29p each)

The creamy metal, matte black plastic and shiny chrome of the Citiz and Milk from Magimix looked incredibly stylish in our kitchen and would probably look at home in the most swanky penthouse in Milan. It could even add a touch of class to a bedsit in Rotherham if you positioned it well.

The Nespresso range of capsules the machine uses are available in a wide variety of blends and strengths. They don't contain added flavourings or frothy extras, so you're getting pure espresso with each pod.

A pack of 10 of the premium espresso capsules costs £2.90 on the Nespresso official website when you sign up to the free Nespresso members club. That works out at 29p per cup, which is considerably cheaper than heading down for a brew at your nearest coffee shop. Make sure you're careful where you buy them from though -- a pack of 10 capsules on Amazon will cost you £8, which is enough to make you choke on your morning croissant and spill your pricey brew all over your Financial Times.

Making lattes and cappuccinos is a dream. Simply pour a measure of milk into the milk tank on the back, press a button, and it will automatically heat and whisk your milk until you're left with velvety smooth warm froth.

The Citiz and Milk is the top of the pile in terms of taste -- the quality of espresso coupled with the perfectly frothed milk easily rivalled many coffee shops we've been to and was a great way to shift a nightmare hangover start a wonderful working day.

Verdict
The attractive design and retina-friendly pastel colour, the incredibly handy automatic milk frother and general ease of use put the Citiz&Milk above its fellows.

Gaggia Baby Twin

Gaggia Baby Twin RI8159/40

£399 from Tesco
Price of espresso: from £3 for a 227g bag

The Gaggia is much more of a traditional espresso machine -- it doesn't use specific capsules, instead allowing you to pour in any ground espresso you like.

It's the biggest -- and heaviest -- of the five machines and its brushed metal finish is a smart touch, but it would probably look better in a commercial setting rather than your homely kitchen.

Setting up the Gaggia is simple, but the operation is more of a hassle. As it doesn't use individual pods, you need to pour the ground coffee into the espresso holder -- with a steady hand if you don't want to make a huge mess -- squash it down with the supplied tamper and fit it into place. You have to clear it out and rinse it afterwards too, which is the sort of hassle we can never be bothered with.

True coffee elitists will appreciate the level of control you have over your coffee, but if you're just after a quick and easy cup of coffee before your commute, you won't enjoy the level of effort involved.

The other advantage of using a machine like this is that you aren't limited to what espresso you can use. The whole wide world of espresso blends are open to you, and if you're feeling particularly adventurous you could even grind your own beans, which sounds dangerous but isn't.

The taste is largely dependent on what sort of espresso you buy, but whichever you opt for, the Gaggia should do a good job of bringing out the flavour. Temperature and pressure -- the two important factors in good espresso -- are well regulated by the internal boiler, resulting in a smooth and rich coffee.

Verdict
The Gaggia is a great machine for the coffee purist, providing a level of control not offered by the other machines. Its complex and often messy operation, however, means it's not going to go down well with those just after a quick cuppa.

Lavazza A Modo Mio

Lavazza A Modo Mio

£125 from John Lewis
Price of capsules: From £3.80 for 16 (24p each) 

The A Modo Mio is the oddest-looking of the five machines we had. It's basically a big cube -- a design you'll probably either love or hate. It certainly looked quite striking in our kitchen in CNET UK Towers, but we wouldn't want it sat in our grand mansions tiny London flats in place of the Citiz and Milk or Illy X7.1.

It's available in a massive range of colours, so finding a shade to fit in with your kitchen's decor shouldn't be much trouble -- although we're not sure we want to see the kitchen that would match the luminous pink or retina-searing lime green shades.

The A Modo Mio requires very little preparation before you lift up the large chrome handle, pop a capsule into the slot on top and push the handle back down -- in a way that kind of makes us think we're loading a tank shell.

When it's ready, pressing one button will bring your espresso streaming happily out into your dinky little cup. You can turn the shelf upside down so you don't have to stand there holding your regular chipped mug at an angle like a fool.

The taste from the A Modo Mio capsules was very pleasing. A variety of blends are available, from pure intense espresso to more balanced blends. The pods work very well with the temperature and pressure of the machine, resulting in a rich flavour that was free of the bitterness or acidity found when the coffee is burnt by too-hot water.

A small milk steamer and handy knob on the side allows you to froth your milk, but it takes some getting used to. It's certainly not as easy to use as the automatic frothing tower on the Citiz and Milk machine.

Verdict
The A Modo Mio offers a good-tasting coffee from the various espresso blends with minimal fuss. It may not have the stunning design of other machines and the milk steamer isn't particularly user-friendly, but it does the job well for a speedy and tasty drink.

Test winner

The classic design and attractive pastel colours of the Citiz and Milk machine coupled with the great tasting -- and wide range -- of espressos available instantly won it favour. The excellent automatic milk frother was just enough to tip it over the edge to be crowned the CNET UK Essentials winner.

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Gadgets
About the author

Andrew is a senior editor at CNET and has always been fascinated by tech. When not getting up close and personal with the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

 

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