Report: Espresso machines
Crema of the crop
Become a home barista with an espresso machine of your own. We've
tested 11 models in our search for excellent home-brewed coffee.
Café-style coffee at home sounds ideal - but can a home espresso machine
deliver it? We find out.
We also bring you tips for making great coffee, explain what to look for in an
espresso machine, and interview local personality Oscar Kightley about his love of
a good coffee.
Models we tested
This report gives test results and recommendations for the
following manual and semi-automatic espresso machines,
Breville BarVista BES200
Breville Ikon BES400
DeLonghi Le Cube EN185.M + Aeroccino
Krups Pump Espresso XP 4020
Krups XP 4050
Sunbeam Café Espresso Stainless EM3800
Sunbeam Café Latte EM5600
Sunbeam Café Series Twin Thermoblock System EM6910
If you're thinking of buying an espresso machine, here's
what you should look for.
Manual or automatic?
Automatic espresso machines have one big advantage over
manual models - convenience. You simply pour the coffee
beans into the hopper, fill the tank with water and press the
But, the automatic models we've tested in the past were
disappointing. If café quality espresso is more important to you than convenience,
a manual model is probably a better bet.
Semi-automatic machines pour a preset amount of coffee (usually 30mls) into
your cup before switching off. "Manual" means that you have to judge the level of
coffee in the cup and then cut off the flow. Semi-automatic machines tend to be
pricier than manuals, so it's a case of cost vs convenience.
Pump or steam?
Several types of machine claim to make espresso-based coffee, but only one
really can - the pump type. Pump machines operate at higher pressure than
steam machines and employ a thermostat to control the water temperature. The
pump both makes the coffee and froths the milk.
Pump machines typically have large, removable water tanks that let you make 10
or more small (demitasse) cups consecutively without having to refill the tank. You
can also froth milk for other drinks without making coffee first, as you must with
Thermoblock or boiler?
A thermoblock is a metal block through which water passes (and is heated) on the
way to the pump. It only holds a little water, so it's supposed to keep a constant
water temperature that's not too hot. A boiler, on the other hand, contains a larger
body of water. It works in the same way as your hot water tank at home.
A tamper turns the loose coffee into a firm, evenly distributed pellet in the filter
basket. A good tamper allows you to pack the coffee down evenly. Tampers fixed
to the machine are poor substitutes for solid-metal hand-held tampers.
In our experience, froth enhancers and separate "frothing jugs" aren't particularly
good. It's better to search out a machine with a well-built steam wand. Ask a
salesperson to froth some milk on a demonstration model in the shop before you
buy. Look for a model that produces a very fine froth.
Coffee making can be messy. A relatively groove-less exterior will be easier to
keep clean. Stainless steel and matte finishes show up finger-prints and grime -
although they do look stylish.
Some additional features to look for:
A water-level indicator: It should be easy to check (some are almost
A removable drip tray: Prevents messy spills on the bench.
A cup warming area on top: Espresso is better served in a warm cup.
Cord storage: Helpful for keeping long cords out of the way.
Five buying tips
Ask the salesperson if there's a demonstration model. Get them to make an
espresso so you can check the quality before you buy.
Check the milk-frothing mechanism to make sure you can create good-
quality creamy froth without large bubbles.
Look for an easy-to-clean exterior, without too many grooves that can trap
dirt. Stainless steel looks good but takes more effort to clean. How easy is it
to clean the drip tray and dregs container?
Look for a water tank with a large capacity - it will be easier to fill.
Make sure the controls are easy to operate (particularly on automatic
models). A digital display is better than indicator lights, especially if you
need to programme the machine. Also, check that the fineness of the
grinder is easy to adjust.
What we found
About our test
Our test results include 2 semi-automatic and 5 manual
espresso machines tested in February 2008, and one semi-
automatic and 3 manual machines from our 2007 test which
are still available in shops. We rated them on their espresso,
milk-frothing ability, coffee temperature, consistency of
temperature from cup to cup, and how easy they were to use.
We also retested the Breville Café Roma (right), which was used as a reference
machine in previous tests. It's a benchmark for the taste test, so we can see how
an older machine compares with newer models. The Café Roma is not included in
the test results, but it's still available in shops.
When it came to taste, the Café Roma held its own at the beginning of the test,
and then recorded the highest score of all machines once it had heated up.
What we found
The Krups XP4020 made the best-tasting espresso. Coffee quality constitutes a
large part of the final score in our espresso test, but the Krups didn't quite beat the
Sunbeam Café Latte from our 2007 test for best overall.
As well as recommending the Sunbeam Café Latte, we'd recommend either the
Krups XP4020 or the Sunbeam Café Espresso Stainless machine - depending
on how you like your coffee. The Krups is the best if you drink black coffee, as it
froths milk poorly. The Sunbeam Café Espresso scored consistently well across
our test; it's the best buy if you like a latte or a 'cino.
Frothing milk is the most fun outside of drinking the coffee. That's the only good
news for the otherwise poor-scoring Isomac Viper, which has a powerful steam
delivery system that heats the milk with a smooth consistency.
The Sunbeam Twin Thermoblock System also scored well in this part of our test.
It was the only model that could simultaneously make coffee and froth milk.
Some models came with froth enhancers. With the exception of the Krups models,
all performed better without their froth enhancers, but the Krups (the worst
performing models for frothing) couldn't froth milk without the enhancer in place.
The problem with the enhancers we tested is that they pump too much air through
the milk, leaving large bubbles in your latte.
For a good cup of coffee, the water temperature should be around 92°C as it
passes through the packed grinds. Temperature is an important factor in taste:
too low and the coffee tastes weak, too high and the beans are burnt. We made
four consecutive espressos on each machine to test which of them produced the
best and most consistent temperature.
The Breville Ikon had the highest average temperature at 70.5°C. We measure
coffee temperature in the cup, which explains why the temperature results are
lower than the optimal 92°C (it's too hard to measure water temperature at the
machine). But like most of the machines in our test, the Breville recorded a higher
and more consistent temperature after it had been left to heat up for fifteen
Ease of use
The three semi-automatic machines - the Sunbeam Twin Thermoblock System,
Sunbeam Café Latte and the DeLonghi Le Cube -
were the easiest to use in our test. All models switch
off automatically after making your coffee.
The DeLonghi Le Cube (right) is a new take on the
typical espresso machine. While others use ground
coffee beans, the Le Cube uses Nespresso "capsules"
that are available in 12 flavours. To make a coffee on
the DeLonghi you simply drop a capsule in the
machine, pull a lever, push a button, and empty the
spent capsule after use.
While the DeLonghi Le Cube is easy to use, it didn't do so well in other areas we
tested. For example, it only scored average marks in our taste test.
All of the models we tested were easy to clean. None of them had too many
nooks and crannies where grime could build up.
The Isomac Viper ranked lowest in our test. Even worse, our testers discovered
several operational problems.
The Viper's two-cup pouring system was uneven. The right-hand cup filled up
twice as fast as the left-hand cup. And the water container lid on our machine
rattled incessantly when the pump was on.
Espresso Italia Ltd, the New Zealand supplier of Isomac machines, tells us that
the Viper's design faults are being dealt with. We have another suggestion. The
Viper has a big sister, the Isomac Venus, which we'd love to see available here. It
topped the Australian espresso-machine test conducted by Choice, the Australian
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Report: Coffee grinders
A good coffee grinder is an integral part of making great coffee. We put 9
burr-grinders to the test and found 3 to recommend.
Many interrelated factors matter when making a great espresso - good beans,
freshly roasted to taste; the correct amount of coffee, freshly ground to the perfect
fineness; water at the right temperature and pressure; extraction for just the right
amount of time into warm cups - but perfect results are worth the hassle.
Burr grinders produce the uniform grounds essential for espresso machines. Find
out which models we recommend - plus see our seven steps to a great espresso.
Models we tested
This report contains test results and recommendations for the following coffee
grinders (listed alphabetically):
Breville BarAroma Coffee & Spice Grinder BCG450
Kitchen Aid Artisan Burr Grinder 5 KCG100
Rancillo Rocky No Doser
Starbucks Burr Grinder EL60
Sunbeam Conical Burr EMD450
If you are thinking about buying a coffee grinder, here's
what you need to consider.
Choosing the right grinder
Burr vs blade
A burr grinder works by crushing the beans between outer and inner cones.
The cones are made of a hard material and are ribbed to grip the beans.
The inner cone rotates, while the outer cone is stationary. Grind fineness is
set by adjusting the distance between the cones.
Burr grinders produce a more even grind and are essential for making
A blade grinder (pictured above right) works like a blender: A high-speed
rotating blade chops the beans up. The fineness of the chopping is
dependent on how long the grinder runs for.
Blade grinders produce a more uneven-sized grind.
Getting the grind right...
If you don't have an espresso machine ... a coarse grind suits percolators,
medium is for plungers, and fine for filters.
Grind only as much coffee as you need at a time. Ground coffee
Seven steps to a great espresso
There are many interrelated factors that matter when it
comes to making a great espresso - it's a good job perfect
results are worth the hassle.
A standard espresso shot requires 7gm of ground
coffee, and 30ml of water.
Use beans no older than 10 days from roasting.
The grind fineness should be adjusted until you have 30ml of coffee after
around 20 seconds of extraction time. This time doesn't include the few
seconds of "preinfusion" some coffee makers go through.
Pre-warm the cups.
If you want a "long black" style coffee, add an espresso shot to hot water
rather than extract for a long time. Over extraction causes bitterness.
The crema should be a dark reddish-brown colour. Crema that is too thin,
with a paler white/cream colour indicates a dirty machine, the beans being
stale, or the grind too coarse.
Drink the espresso within a few minutes of it being made.
What we found
We assessed the grinders on two tasks: how finely they ground the
beans, and how quickly they ground them.
A good grinder has to be able to produce grounds fine enough to allow
the espresso machine to extract the maximum flavours from the
beans. All the models with the exception of the DeLonghi KG59 could
grind the coffee fine enough for espresso machines.
There was quite a difference between fastest and slowest: the Kitchen Aid took a
mere 20 seconds to grind 30 grams of beans (enough for about three to four
standard espressos), while the DeLonghi KG59 took 58 seconds. If you have a
round of coffees to make - say after a dinner party - waiting around for the grinder
to do its thing could be annoying.
We looked at a number of features and tasks to assess ease of use.
The Sunbeam (pictured top right) rated best here. The supplied container was
easy to empty, and the model also had the ability to grind-on-demand directly into
an espresso filter-basket when you pressed the filter-basket onto a special switch
below the outlet spout. The Rancilio was not supplied with a grounds container.
There were only minor differences between the other models.
Both DeLonghis, the Starbucks, Breville and Krups have timers which run the
grinder for a pre-determined interval. The Sunbeam has a grind-on-demand
switch (see Removing grounds, above); the rest, manual switches. For home use,
we think a timer is best. Once set up they allow you to grind a precise amount of
coffee consistently - without waste.
Cleaning the hopper regularly is important because oils from the beans can
collect, get sticky and go rancid. Both DeLonghis, the Starbucks, Breville,
Sunbeam and Kitchen Aid had removable hoppers which make cleaning easier.
You may need to adjust the fineness control if you make different types of coffee
(for example, filter and espresso) or if you change the type of beans you use for
making espresso. Setting is done with a rotating wheel or knob, or by rotating the
bean hopper. All the mechanisms were good. The Rancilio had a bit of a problem,
though: its wheel adjuster turned easily enough but didn't "click" nicely from
setting to setting, so the adjustments a bit "hit and miss".
Overall the DeLonghi KG100 and the identical-looking Starbucks EL60 gained
the highest ease-of-use score.
See the test results for detailed profiles of all the models we tested.
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For a full profile of an item, click on the item name.
Report: Coffee beans
Our tasting of fresh coffee beans found too many that were stale and had a
disappointing caffeine hit. But one of our top 3 was a major surprise.
Our panel tasted 12 espresso coffees made from freshly ground beans. We
included pre-packaged coffee beans from brands available in supermarkets, and
also top sellers from Moore Wilson in Wellington. Find out which beans hit the
Plus: Read about the Consumers International coffee campaign and view their
award-winning documentary. See Coffee with a conscience.
About our tasting
Our tasting differed from other coffee-bean tastings. We bought our beans from
shops, just as consumers do. Each brand was freshly ground and made into an
espresso coffee by an expert barista.
The panel tasted each espresso coffee "blind", so they didn't know the brand. They
were looking for aroma, flavour, acidity, body, after-taste, and balance. Our panel
included an international coffee judge, an experienced barista, and a food and
hospitality academic. As well, our expert barista made sure that each espresso in
the tasting was as consistent as possible
Thanks to our panel, who did an outstanding job.
Acting Head of Centre for Service Industries at Wellington
Institute of Technology's Hospitality School. A practised
coffee drinker around town.
Manages the coffee production for Coffee Supreme and has worked in the coffee
industry for nearly 10 years. Was a judge in the Cup of Excellence in Central
America in 2003 and 2004, and at the Ecafe Gold Competition in Ethiopia in 2005.
Barista at Beaujolais Wine Bar. Has worked in the hospitality industry for five years
and been a barista for two years. Loves a good flat white.
What we found
Our panel was impressed with three brands:
Scarborough Fair Fairtrade Organic Beans
Signature Range Whole Bean Espresso
Coffee Supreme's Supreme Blend
All are roasted in New Zealand.
The Scarborough Fair beans were clean and toasty and
had a distinctive caramel flavour. The Supreme Blend had a rich pleasant smell
with lots of malt and caramel.
One of the big surprises was the Signature Range (available from Countdown,
Foodtown and Woolworths supermarkets). These beans were fresh and made a
coffee that was full-bodied, and nicely balanced.
Robert Harris Harris Blend Beans got the lowest rating. Our panel thought it was
unbalanced and overall too harsh, with no finesse. It also had a bitter aftertaste.
Local roasters in your area may also produce great coffee beans. Ask them for
their "roasted" dates.
Don't rely on price
Price isn't always an indicator of good coffee beans.
Although Scarborough Fair beans were one of the best and most expensive in the
tasting, other expensive brands such as Illy Espresso Roasted Coffee Beans
weren't great. Signature Range was the cheapest in the tasting and got the thumbs
The most common complaint about the espressos was that they were made with
stale beans. Coffee beans are at their best when they're fresh - but most brands'
labels don't give you enough information to let you judge.
Hummingbird Fair Trade Organic Crave gave no indication of a best-before date.
However, checking the best-before date is still no guarantee of freshness. Many of
the stale beans were well within this. Illy Espresso had a best-before date of
January 2009 - nearly one year after we bought it.
Supreme Blend was the only product to have a "packed on" date.
According to the New Zealand Coffee Roasters Association, beans should be used
no more than 10 days after roasting. We'd like to see "packed on" or "roasted"
dates on all coffee beans.
Coffee beans compared
Our panel tasted 12 espresso coffees made from freshly ground beans. For more
about our panel and how we conducted the tasting, see About our tasting.
Guide to the table
Our tasting was conducted at Bistro 107, Wellington Institute of Technology. The
espressos were prepared by a trainer of baristas.
Coffee beans are listed alphabetically within ratings. Country of roasting is in
Coffee with a conscience
You want to buy coffee with a conscience? The two Fairtrade organic products
(Scarborough Fair and Hummingbird) did well in our tasting - although the
Hummingbird beans could've been fresher.
The Fairtrade mark claims to guarantee "farmers a fair and stable price for their
products ... extra income for farmers and workers to improve their lives ... and a
greater respect for the environment".
Consumers International coffee campaign
The Consumers International coffee project looks at
the ways consumer choice impacts upon coffee
producers and the environment.
They've looked at a number of certified coffee
schemes - including Fairtrade, Organic, Rainforest
Allaince and Utz Kapeh - and found that these
sustainable initiatives really did make a difference to
You can read more about Consumers International
and their coffee campaign, including which coffee to
buy and how you can make a difference, on their website
As part of the coffee campaign, Consumers International has produced a
documentary film tracking the impact of certification on coffee farmers.
"Just Coffee" is available to view here - please note that this film is 21 minutes
Making great coffee
Four steps to a great cup of coffee
Buy fresh beans: Look for a "roasted" or "packed on"
date so you know how old the beans are. Use beans
no later than 10 days from roasting. Grind them just
Get a grinder: Of course you can buy ground coffee -
but by the time you get around to brewing it, most of the good qualities will
be gone. Check out our Coffee grinders report for more information.
Practice, practice, practice! Pick a brewing method and perfect it. A plunger
makes great coffee if you use freshly ground beans. Espresso machines are
trickier to use and (as our espresso-machine report shows) many home
espresso machines aren't up to scratch.
Enjoy! Drink the espresso within a few minutes of it being made.
What happens if you can't perfect your morning caffeine fix? Here are some
common traps to avoid:
Stale beans. Roasted coffee beans are best when they're fresh - no more
than 10 days after roasting.
Dirty equipment. A dirty grinder, plunger or espresso machine will just make
dirty coffee. Clean it like you mean it.
Boiling water. Don't use boiling water to make your coffee. Wait for it to cool
for a minute or add a shot of cold water to the kettle.
The wrong grind. Depending on how you make your brew, the coffee needs
to be fine enough to let the water dissolve all the flavours. Too coarse and
the flavour stays in the grounds; too fine and the coffee will be sludge.
Weak as water. Weak coffee is a common problem, so use a bit more coffee
and experiment with the strength.
Keep your beans fresh by buying in small quantities
from a store that has a high turnover. Keep them in
an airtight container somewhere cool, dark and dry.
Don't refrigerate or freeze them.
Don't buy from the bulk bin at the supermarket. You'll
have no idea how long the beans have been sitting there - nor whether old
stock's been completely replaced or just topped up.
Buy from a local roaster and ask them for a "packed on" or "roasted" date. If
you don't have local roasters in your area, ask your local café if you can buy
some of their fresh beans.
We'd like to see "packed on" or "roasted" dates on all coffee beans.