How to choose the best coffee machine :
In the low range you will find your domestic brands such as Delonghi, Nespresso and other pod style machines where the cost of the machine is offset by the ongoing cost of buying the pods to suit the style. If you’re after the convenience of simply waking up and enjoying coffee then this is for you. Some pod style machines allow you to grind your own beans and add them to custom pods, for the most part you are locked into buying pods to suit your brand, and all the limitations t
hat come with that. The pods are pre-ground, and most pods don’t include a grind date so you are running a gamble on the quality of the coffee you will get. For the most part though, these machines don’t produce a bad cup of coffee, but you will never be able to achieve a true cafe quality fresh ground espresso.
To keep costs down, these machines typically employ thermoblock technology, this is a block of metal, typically alloy, that has a spiral channel cut into it, the block is heated directly as the water flows through the block. The limitation with this technology is that it is very hard to accurately maintain a constant water temperature, with the results varying widely along side.
In this area there’s no bad choice, simply choose a pod manufacturer you prefer and buy the machine within your range and enjoy.
In the mid range, you will find machines like the Rancilio Silvia, and Gaggia Classic, both excellent machines with which to enter the “boiler” class of home espresso. Their boilers aren’t very big, or accurate, but they are both considerably better than your thermoblock class of machines with excellent steam volume and relatively consistent water temperature. They can be improved considerably with a PID modification which regulates the water temperature to a more consistent range.
At the higher end of the mid range you get into the entry level heat exchange and double boiler coffee machines from companies like Isomac, Expobar, Diadema, and ECM. These machines differ from the lower offerings by having dual boilers or heat exchangers which for the most part produce a more reliable water and steam output.
This is the range that most people will aim for, offering by far the best value for your dollar, while still being expensive a dedicated home barista will usually never need to go beyond the offerings in this range, the quality of the coffee they produce when coupled with a quality grinder and you would quite easily produce acceptable, and even exceptional results with consistent quality.
The machines in this level typically employ a vibratory pump which while easily sufficient at producing the pressure required, can sometimes struggle with water volume, although this should not be an essential part of the decision process. The main factors to consider in this area are after sales support, and quality reputation as most machines will serve you quite well.
At the high end of the spectrum you begin talking brands such as Synesso, La Marzocco, Londinium, and other commercial branded machines in single group configurations from the mid range.
The main factors separating the mid range from the high range is the water and steam boiler volumes (considerably larger in the high range for better temperature control), also they quite often start shipping with either internal or external rotary pumps which produce the volumes that the vibratory pumps miss. Finally they ship with much better electronics for temperature control and other factors.
At this level there is less focus on achieving consistency as the machine begins taking much more of the fluctuating variables out of the equation with over engineering and better quality components, allowing the home barista to begin focusing on perfecting the cup with micro adjustments of grind, water temperature and other variables that the barista has now been given better control of.
At the low end of the spectrum you have the high level Isomac, ECM, Expobar, etc machines that have usually added larger boilers and better electronics, while at the high end you have genuine high volume commercial equipment stripped back such as the Synesso and La Marzocco single group offerings. At the higher end, most machines will require plumbing and higher amperage electrical circuits for the larger boilers, pump(s) and additional electronics.
Of course, if money isn’t the question, then the Speedster from Kees Van Der Westen is already the answer, which is simply a better engineered La Marzocco.