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Combining unmatched versatility and an affordable price, the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker (view at Amazon) is the best place to start when looking for a coffee-and-espresso combo machine. Another worthwhile option, especially for those who lean more toward the espresso side, is the Nespresso Lattissima Pro, a pricier device that offers the convenience of pods and one-touch brewing.
Grounds or Pods
Some machines are compatible with both coffee pods and coffee grounds, but customers must typically choose between the two. Which option is best for you? If taste is your primary concern, go with grounds. Freshly ground coffee beans produce a stronger and more intricate flavor than pods; plus, you can adjust the amount of grounds to make your coffee stronger or weaker as you see fit. Grounds are also more affordable than pods over time and can be purchased in a wider array of flavors and blends. For those interested in pod-based machines, however, you’ll see a big advantage in convenience. Pods speed up the brewing process, make cleanup easier, and eliminate the hassle of pulling an espresso shot by hand. Keurig and Nespresso are the two most popular pod-based brands, but others are in the mix as well, often manufacturing machines that use E.S.E. pods. One last detail to consider is that pod-based machines are predominantly single serve, while brewers that use ground coffee can often make multiple servings at once.
Espresso or Coffee Concentrate
Many machines actually brew a beverage called “coffee concentrate” instead of real espresso. The key difference between the two is pressure. To make espresso, highly pressurized water is rapidly forced through finely ground coffee beans, resulting in the delicious little shots we know and love. Coffee concentrate (not to be confused with cold brew coffee concentrate) is made more like standard drip coffee, as the water is slowly filtered through coarse and loosely packed grounds. Think of it as a cross between coffee and espresso. Brands are generally transparent about the difference in product descriptions, but it’s worth keeping an eye out because all machines in this category are called coffee-and-espresso makers regardless of whether they make espresso or concentrate. Which one is right for your coffee needs? If you want the most flavor and most control of your coffee, go with espresso. Nothing beats the real thing, after all. For those who prefer convenience, want to save some money, and don’t mind a slightly weaker taste, coffee concentrate may be your best option.
The Spruce Eats / Donna Currie
The main appeal of combination coffee-and-espresso makers is that they blend two great devices together. However, some models favor one brewing method over the other. Many specialize in espresso and just happen to make regular coffee too. Others can whip up a full pot of joe but are a letdown in the espresso department. You can occasionally tell if a machine leans one way or the other simply by looking at it. For example, a robust group head and sturdy portafilter indicate high-quality espresso. Another easy trick is to check a machine’s list of drink options. Machines that can make lattes and cappuccinos may also lean toward the espresso side, while ones that make coffee concentrate skew toward a standard coffee maker. Consider what beverages are most important to you before buying, and it will be much easier to narrow down the options.
A coffee-and-espresso maker that can froth or steam milk opens up an array of drink options, like lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos. There isn’t a major difference between frothing and steaming—the former provides more aeration, the latter always uses heat—so don’t get bogged down by that when buying. What’s more important is understanding how machines incorporate frothing/steaming capabilities. A frother/steamer comes in two forms. First, it can be built into the machine itself, typically in the form of a wand. Second, it can be an entirely separate device included with your purchase—this is frequently seen with Keurig products. A built-in frother is more powerful, leading to richer drinks, but it can also be loud, messy, and more rigorous to clean. In contrast, separate frothers are typically weaker—if so, try running them multiple times—but many are dishwasher safe and can be stored in the cupboard when you’re done. If you buy a machine that doesn’t come with a frother/steamer, it’s easy to purchase one separately should you change your mind.
Ease of Use
Coffee-and-espresso machines can be sorted into three categories based on their level of automation: semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic. Let’s start with semi-automatic machines. They are the most hands-on and, as result, the most affordable. Users have to pack the portafilter by hand and pull espresso shots themselves. It’s messier and more time consuming, but it offers a lot of control over your coffee, all while making you feel like a real barista. Next are automatic machines, sometimes also referred to as “fully automatic.” It’s the middle-tier option and typically the hardest to identify. The category is similar to semi-automatic, as users still have to pack the portafilter by hand, but the key difference is that automatic machines stop the flow of water for you when the espresso is finished. With this kind of machine, your espresso shot will never be over-extracted. The final category, super-automatic, is the most convenient but also the most expensive. These machines make every drink at the touch of a button, from regular coffee to cappuccinos—they can even froth the milk for you. How much control do you want over your coffee? Or are you more interested in easy, one-touch brewing? Just be prepared to pay more for added convenience.
Coffee-and-espresso makers are a double-edged sword when it comes to size. On one hand, they save space for those who would otherwise buy two separate brewing devices. On the other, they are usually larger than standard drip coffee makers, so they could still take up valuable real estate on the countertop. Sometimes, a machine’s size is associated with its level of automation. More automated machines are more compact because drinks come from the same spout. Machines that require hands-on brewing are larger because they have to accommodate more parts, like an espresso filter, steaming wand, and so on. There are a few coffee-and-espresso makers that completely defy this trend and are, in fact, able to be stored in cupboards; the downside is that these devices tend to be less versatile. Make sure to measure your counter space beforehand—and don’t forget to measure the height of your cupboards!
Temperature and Pressure Control
Some machines allow users to control key espresso factors like pressure and water temperature. No matter the type of machine you use, from semi-automatic to super-automatic, it’s worth knowing the optimal brew settings. Just like drip coffee, espresso tastes best when the water is between 195 and 204 degrees. Less than that and it’s hard for espresso to reach the proper extraction percentage, meaning it will be weak and watery. Pressure is a more complicated matter. Keep two numbers in mind when buying or brewing: 9 and 15. Brands love advertising that a product can reach 20-plus bars of pressure, but all you actually need is 15 bars. Anything higher is superfluous. A 15-bar machine is able to create the perfect amount of pressure at the brew head, which is 9 bars.
The Spruce Eats / Donna Currie
We all want our coffee fast, especially on those early pre-work mornings, but quality coffee can take awhile. When buying, you’ll come across items that work at all different speeds. Pod-based machines brew very quickly but don’t usually achieve the flavor of real coffee grounds. It takes around 30 seconds to adequately pull an espresso shot by hand, but a machine may need anywhere from five minutes to half an hour to preheat. What is more important to you, speed or flavor? There are products that strike a middle ground, but you may have to choose between the two. One last detail to look for when buying is if a machine is programmable or not. Some can be preset to brew coffee or espresso right when you wake up, saving you time and starting the day off right. This luxury is actually common in many different price ranges.
This is certainly a key consideration when buying any household appliance, but coffee-and-espresso makers come in an especially wide range of prices. Some basic coffee-and-espresso makers start as low as $25, while super-automatic machines can easily break the $1,000 mark. Of course, the majority of devices fall somewhere in the middle of this range. Searching by a specific brand can be a useful tactic when buying, particularly if you’re already familiar with it. For instance, Keurig is a widely known and generally affordable name in this category, while products from Miele and Saeco are largely high-end. Before making your decision, it’s helpful to understand the price landscape and zero in on a budget that works for you.
This is the most hands-on type of coffee-and-espresso maker. Users have to do a lot of work themselves, like filling the filter for drip coffee, pulling an espresso shot, and steaming milk. Even though it’s more of a hassle, many customers prefer this type of machine because it provides a lot of control over the coffee, as well as a barista-like experience. Semi-automatic machines are also cheaper than the other two types, automatic and super-automatic. Those new to coffee or espresso may be daunted upon seeing the many parts, knobs, and gauges, but after a quick learning curve, it will be easy to create café-worthy drinks right from home.
The Spruce Eats / Cheyenne Elwell
This category is, unfortunately, quite vague at times. It’s natural to assume that a coffee-and-espresso maker labeled “automatic” would do every step of the process for you. In reality, automatic machines are very similar to semi-automatic ones. For both, users have to grind and tamp coffee by hand. The main difference is that automatic machines stop the flow of stops by itself when the coffee is ready. It’s only a slight upgrade over semi-automatic machines, but it does make the brewing process that much easier. These often come at a similar price to semi-automatic machines or are a little more expensive.
Super-automatic is the top tier of coffee-and-espresso makers. Virtually every aspect of the brewing process is controlled by the machine. While features vary, a super-automatic machine usually has a built-in grinder to start your coffee off with fresh beans. Then all you have to do is touch a button on the machine’s digital display and it can create a number of drinks in seconds. Super-automatic machines often even steam milk for you, so you can be sipping a latte or cappuccino without having to deal with espresso filters or frothing wands. Sometimes you can adjust a number of details like water temperature, coffee strength, and drink size.
The Italian manufacturer Bialetti has a number of coffee makers to offer, but we’re highlighting the company specifically because of its popular stovetop brewer, the Moka Express. It stands out in comparison to other coffee-and-espresso makers because, well, it’s not exactly a coffee-and-espresso maker. The Moka Express brews a cross between drip coffee and espresso. You can drink the coffee by itself—it will naturally taste like an Americano—or mix it with milk for a latte. Other benefits of the unique brewing device include its compact size and budget prize, both of which far outshines the majority of options in the coffee-and-espresso category.
With its signature K-Cups, Keurig is a beloved brand already found in many households. The company is primarily known for quick drip coffee, but it also manufactures a small number of coffee-and-espresso makers. Two worth checking out are the K-Café and K-Latte. As expected, the main advantage of Keurig is ease of use. As an added bonus, its products tend to be more affordable than competitors in this category. Just keep in mind that Keurig machines don’t produce real espresso. They use a condensed, bolder form of coffee known as coffee concentrate.
The Spruce Eats / Cheyenne Elwell
Nespresso has long been known for its high-quality espresso machines. The Swiss company was founded in 1986 and, for many years, espresso was its primary focus. That changed in 2014 when Nespresso released its VertuoLine machines, designed to brew coffee in multiple sizes along with its classic espresso. The brand often adds and discontinues different models, but between its Vertuo machines and Original machines, there are always many great options to choose from. Several are affordably priced around the $200 mark, but others quickly move into higher price echelons. And, of course, the company’s defining characteristic is its patented coffee capsules, which are quick, easy to use, and available in dozens of varieties.
This a trusted, century-old brand that manufactures far more than coffee makers. Its products are on the more expensive side, especially compared to other popular names like Keurig and Nespresso, but the quality makes up for the cost. Customers interested in automatic and super-automatic machines should check out the 2200 Series and the 3200 LatteGo. Philips also owns the brand Saeco, which manufactures a number of high-end options in its own right.
The proper routine to maintain a coffee-and-espresso maker is similar to that of a standard coffee maker. Both machines require regular descaling, which is a more thorough and rigorous process than normal hand washing. Descaling is when you remove the mineral residue that builds up in a machine over time. Some manufacturers recommend descaling once a month, but you can likely get away with doing it every three months. The easiest way to descale is by wiping all parts and pieces with a combination of vinegar and warm soapy water. If your coffee-and-espresso maker has a coffee pot, pour the vinegar solution into the water reservoir, run the brew setting, and let it sit in the pot for 30 minutes. Just check your product manual beforehand, as some manufacturers advise not to use vinegar. Many brands even sell specialized descaling solutions to make the process easier. If you don’t regularly descale, the machine will likely face a number of issues, like clogging, altered coffee taste, not getting hot enough, or not running altogether.
One factor that determines mineral buildup is the kind of water that you use. Hard water contains a high amount of dissolved minerals, especially calcium and magnesium, so it will naturally lead to faster mineral buildup in your coffee maker. Soft or filtered water, on the other hand, is easier on your machine and will cut down on the frequency with which you need to descale. But keep in mind that minerals are also an important factor in the taste of your coffee, and a moderate amount is necessary for proper extraction. Like most things in life, balance is key. Lots of minerals will overpower coffee; too few and you’ll get a weaker, even salty cup of joe. Experiment with different kinds of water to see what suits your taste buds.
Those who own a more advanced product may have a separate (and simpler) maintenance routine. Some machines have a light-up sensor that notifies users when it’s time to clean. Others may even have an auto-clean function that eliminates the hassle altogether.
Finally, those whose machines have a traditional espresso group head should use a cleaning process known as backflushing. Start by rinsing all the coffee grounds out of your portafilter, then brush underneath the group head to remove stray grounds from there as well. After that, all you have to do is lock the portafilter into place and run the brewing cycle several times. Coffeehouses backflush machines at the end of each day, but home users only need to do it weekly. Several products are available to make the process easier, from chemical solutions to single-use tablets.
The Spruce Eats / Cheyenne Elwell
There are many wonderful tools and accessories to pair with a coffee-and-espresso maker, but one of the most useful is a coffee grinder. Some machines have built-in grinders, but the majority do not. Purchasing a separate one ensures the freshest possible roast and, subsequently, the tastiest cup of joe. There are two varieties of grinders out there: burr grinders and blade grinders. Burr is the superior option, offering the utmost evenness and consistency, though it’s also much more expensive. Grinders can also be manual (often relying on a hand crank) or electric. Hario is a go-to brand for a reliable manual grinder, while Breville and Bodum make top-grade electric grinders.
Another useful accessory is a milk frother. Many coffee-and-espresso makers naturally come with a milk frother, but if not it’s worth purchasing a separate one, as they add even greater drink variety. Some of the most popular milk-based coffee drinks include lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos. Milk frothers come in three varieties: manual, handheld, and electric. Expect manual and handheld frothers to be smaller, cheaper, and slightly less powerful. Electric frothers, on the other hand, can lead to café-quality drinks but are more expensive. Nespresso, Breville, and AeroLatte all manufacture reliable milk frothers.
What is coffee concentrate?
There are actually two kinds of coffee concentrate. The first is a condensed form of cold brew that’s meant to be diluted with milk or water. The second and most pertinent kind is what many coffee-and-espresso makers produce: a small, rich shot of coffee that’s somewhat of a cross between drip and espresso. It’s not quite as thick and bold as espresso, but it is strong enough to give you a similar jolt of caffeine and mix with steamed milk for a latte or cappuccino.
Are steamed milk and frothed milk different?
Many coffee-and-espresso machines come with steaming/frothing devices. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, steaming and frothing are actually different. Steaming involves the process of heating milk, typically via a steaming wand. Frothing involves heating milk too, but the key difference is that the milk is also injected with air, which gives it a lighter and fluffier texture. Both are essential in creating drinks like lattes and cappuccinos and are commonly used in conjunction with one another.
What is descaling?
Water is filled with minerals like magnesium and calcium. Over time, the mineral residue builds up inside of your coffee maker around parts that contact water. This can cause major issues with the machine if left untreated. Descaling is the way to avoid the problem. It’s the process of removing mineral buildup, typically done with vinegar or a special descaling solution. Brands may suggest descaling at different frequencies, but the basic rule of thumb is to do it every one to three months.
This piece was written by Derek Rose, the coffee and tea expert for The Spruce Eats. He uses the Bialetti Moka Express to shake up his everyday coffee routine and make café-style drinks, like lattes and Americanos, right from home. It’s the perfect partner to his primary coffee maker, the Bodum Brazil French Press.