If you’re reading this you’ve been thinking about buying a coffee maker. My advice is to do it. Now. Even if you can’t afford it. But not before you’ve read the rest of this article and bookmarked it.
Keep in mind that the key benefit of a coffee maker is that you are actually going to save money. If you’re in the habit of going out for coffee or ordering in, you’ve already spent enough to buy a couple of them.
Which coffee maker suits my needs? Should I get a 15- or a 20-bar? How important is a steam wand? Which kind of grinder is the best? These are the questions you should be asking, to which I’m going to provide the answers.
But first, we need to cover the basics so that, when it comes to comparing various makes and models, you understand the differences.
In this article, we will look at the top choices for a coffee maker with grinder and frother that will bring your kitchen to life and provide pristine coffee whenever you want.
Coffee makers are intimidating. At first glance, they’re a mass of buttons, blinking lights, taps, spinners, and dials. Take a closer look and you’ll see that they’re actually just three units mounted in the same housing.
In an effort to make their wares as affordable (and profitable) as possible, manufacturers have taken to substituting polished aluminum and silver plastic for stainless steel.
Not that there’s anything wrong with these materials – they’re durable and heat-resistant – but it’s better to know in advance what you’re buying than to get home and find out that what you thought was stainless steel is actually a composite.
Grinders don’t just grind beans, they grind them to exactly the right consistency.
Although some coffee makers ‘sense’ the bean size and adjust the grind automatically and the recommended default settings on others produce more than acceptable results, the day is going to come when you want to adjust the grind yourself.
There are two types of grinder: the kind that uses blades and the kind that uses burrs. Blades get hot and that cooks the grounds, changing the coffee’s flavor profile: the kind of difference that only becomes apparent after some time when your palate has developed enough to appreciate it.
There’s actually a rule of thumb for the right grind size. It should take a coffee maker between 20 and 30 seconds to produce 2 oz of espresso. If it makes those 2 ozs in less than 20 seconds, the grind is too coarse. If, after 30 seconds, it still hasn’t produced 2 oz, the grind is too fine.
The grind size is usually controlled by a spinner wheel on the side of the coffee maker.
Before I forget, don’t use oily beans. Oily beans will clog the grinder’s burrs and then it won’t matter what grind size you set.
There’s a reservoir on the back of the coffee maker that you fill with water. The boiler heats this up and pumps it through the coffee grounds to make your espresso.
The big circular dial on the front of the coffee maker is a pressure gauge. To make a proper espresso, the needle needs to be pointing straight up. The gauge measures pressure in bars, that’s why you’ll see some machines are 15-bar while others are 20.
By the way, coffee makers are prone to scaling. This happens when minerals leach from the water, forming a hard crust on surfaces. This needs to be checked and remedied on a regular basis with the tools (usually a descaling fluid) and techniques described in the handbook.
The Steam Wand
A long, thin wand-like device that both heats and vibrates your milk to make it thick and creamy. You bring the tip closer to the surface to increase the frothing and plunge it deeper to slow it down.
When the milk container gets too hot to handle, it’s time to stop.
Wipe the wand clean with a damp cloth every time you use it or the milk will congeal as it cools, forming a crust.
Our Choices For The Best Coffee Maker With Grinder And Frother
Now that we’ve covered the basics, comparing makes will make more sense to you, starting with an excellent coffee maker from one of the most reliable makers of coffee machines, the DeLonghi EC9335R La Specialista, retailing for around $700.
1. DeLonghi La Specialista
- A stainless steel casing that ensures durability and minimal heat loss.
- 19 bars of pump pressure is more than enough for perfect espressos, taking into account the drop between the reservoir and the infuser, usually in the vicinity of 5-6 bars.
- The tamping lever is a feature that really makes this model stand out. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you’ve owned a coffee machine for a while and had to do it yourself.
- Most coffee makers come with a little round hammer thing that you use to tamp down the grounds before infusing the water. Suffice it to say, no matter how deft and handy you are, you wind up making a mess.
- The tamping lever on the La Specialista is a bit like the lever on a slot machine: it’s spring-loaded and makes a series of satisfying clicks as it engages the mechanism. Pull it three times and you’re done. A real boon if you have a neurological disorder, the shakes from a bout of flu, or just a very bad hangover.
- Another feature is pre-infusion when making espressos. A small quantity of hot water under low pressure is added to the portafilter, loosening up fat molecules in the grounds which are then freed up and added to the espresso during infusion, enriching the flavor profile.
- Twin boilers: the steam wand and the infuser each have their own heating element.
- A memo function so you can save your settings for each of the available options: latte, cappuccino, or espresso.
- The La Specialista heats up in seconds, not minutes.
- The grinding is done with burrs, not blades.
- This model comes with a descaling fluid, a water hardness test strip (to assess the concentration of minerals), a stainless steel milk jug, and a cleaning brush.
- Disappointingly, the memo function only saves one preset per option, so either you or your spouse is going to have to settle for the default settings while the other enjoys the preset.
To appreciate this coffee maker in all its glory, watch the setup and installation of a De’Longhi EC9335R La Specialista Espresso Machine on YouTube.
2. Breville Barista Express BES870XL
Now, for a change of pace, how about a feature-rich coffee maker from Australian high-end brand Breville that does pretty much the same thing as the La Specialista for around $600?
- A brew water temperature control to fine-tune flavor.
- A large-capacity thermocoil heating element.
- A PID temperature controller applies only as much power as is necessary to reach the desired temperature in the shortest amount of time.
- A removable hopper: unground beans can be removed and stored in an airtight container to preserve their freshness (the key to great coffee!). It also saves you from having to remove beans by hand.
- Pre-infusion for espresso.
- A built-in water spout means that you can make tall black coffees by adding hot water to your espresso.
- The water reservoir has a built-in carbon resin filter to reduce scale build-up.
- Buttons get stuck and break. What most of these coffee makers need is a touchscreen.
- Slow to warm up. The only way to make up for a 10-minute delay is to include a timer that auto-starts the machine before you wake up.
- Possibly the worst-designed distributor I’ve ever seen, a credit card-looking thingy that just pushes the grounds around instead of spreading them.
A distributor is a gizmo similar to a tamper that spreads the coffee grounds evenly across the portafilter. This one has the added disadvantage of being even messier than the tamper.
3. Casabrews 5700 GENSE
Another stainless steel coffee maker with all the essential features, this time for around $450 is the Casabrews 5700 GENSE.
- 23-second warm-up.
- A 20-bar Italian pressure pump.
- PID temperature controller.
- This distributor has wavy protuberances on the underside that are supposed to spread the coffee grounds evenly. As far as I can tell, the only type of distributor that stands a chance of working is going to have to have pins that reach down into the grounds and stir them up.
Watch Youtube health and fitness guru Nick Dompierre make lattés with almond milk here.
4. Philips Saeco Xelsis SM7684/04 Titanium
For under $2300, you too can be the proud owner of a Saeco Xelsis Titanium coffee maker.
I know that some websites say that this coffee maker is made of titanium. It’s not. The front panels are titanium, the rest is stainless steel, plastic, and aluminum.
The specs on this one are as eye-watering as the price. It would be a lot easier to enumerate what it can’t do, which is precisely nothing, but here goes:
- No portafilter! ← insert dancing emoji
- A 2-year global warranty.
- A front-loading LED-illuminated reservoir so that you can always see how much water is left in the tank.
- A custom AquaFilter water filter so you only have to descale once every 5 000 cups (some coffee makers are dead long before then).
- An adjustable brew head that will accommodate even the tallest cup, glass, or pitcher.
- A ceramic grind head for a gentle grind with the least noise.
- The best part is that this one is not only programmable, it saves up to 6 presets, all accessible via a touchscreen menu. So now you and your significant other can have separate presets for each coffee styling.
- You can also adjust the brew settings from the touchscreen menu so no more fiddling about with knobs and spinners. Plus, there are a host of additional tweaks and options available from the touchscreen menu, like adding milk first.
- Everything is customizable.
- The Saeco Xelsis Titanium employs a system called HygieSteam, a series of automated purge-and-clean cycles that reduce maintenance to a minimum.
- In 2018, Saeco won an iF Design award. Founded in 1952, the iF International Forum Design GmbH in Hannover, Germany, is the world’s oldest independent design organization.
- This is more of a quibble than a con: the touchscreen could be nicer. A higher resolution with better color and well-drawn icons. Compare this display with the Dr. Coffee touchscreen (see below).
5. Cyetus Cubic
Cyetus has been making kitchen appliances for 20 years. They launched their line of coffee makers in 2021.
- Around the $600 mark
- Stainless steel housing.
- A 2.8l water tank.
- An Italian Ulka Gold pump that delivers 15 bars going in and 9 bars coming out.
- A Hall pulse flowmeter from Switzerland.
- NTC PID temperature control.
- Touchscreen menu.
- Less popular brands can make any troubleshooting with the machine through videos online more difficult.
Darbin Orvar offers a nice introduction to the Cubic in this video.
6. Dr Coffee F11 Big
Dr. Coffee has made it their business to learn from other people’s mistakes. The F11 China’s smart, sleek good looks and full-color touchscreen belie the fact that it was designed primarily for the workplace and is capable of delivering 100 cups of coffee a day. That said, it won’t look out of place in your kitchen.
If its outward appearance is anything to go by, this is an excellent coffee maker. Dr. Coffee’s marketing hasn’t done the brand any favors.
The English translations on their website are barely adequate, and technical data and specifications are scant, to say the least.
- An 8-liter water tank. You can also get a version that pipes in its own water so you never have to fill the water tank again.
- A flat, ceramic burr grinder.
- In a domestic setting, any coffee that can make 100 cups a day should last a lifetime.
- Hard to say since the info is short on specifics. This coffee maker only came on the market in July this year so the reviews are mostly by Dr. Coffee itself.
Coffee Maker Roundup
|Make & Model||Temperature Control||Grinder||Pressure pump||Programmable||Standout Features||Style & Finish|
|DeLonghi La Specialista||Pre-infusion and water temperature||Stainless steel conical burr with 6 grind levels||19-bar||Default settings and one memo function preset per coffee style||Smart tamping||Stainless steel casing, solid construction with a black, retro-feel control panel|
|Breville Barista Express BES870XL||Low-pressure pre-infusion and brew water temperature control||Stainless steel conical burr with 16 grind levels||15-bar Italian pump with 9-bar extraction||Default settings and one memo function preset per coffee style||Brew water temperature control||Brushed stainless steel casing, stylishly minimal|
|Casabrews 5700 GENSE||PID temperature control delivers water at exactly 200°F||Steel conical burrs with 15 grind settings||20-bar Italian pump||Default settings and one memo function preset per coffee style||Thermocoil heating system||Rounded brushed stainless steel casing, a clean design, ergonomically arranged with grinding on the left and extraction on the right|
|Philips Saeco Xelsis SM7684/04||Pre-infusion and water temperature||Flat ceramic burrs for a quieter, gentler grind||A 15-bar pump||6 presets that include a range of coffee styles||No portafilter||The control panel bears a striking resemblance to that of a BMW|
|CYETUS Cubic||15s warm-up, PID temperature control||Stainless steel conical burr grinder with 15 levels||Ulka Gold pump and a Swiss Hall pulse flowmeter||Default settings and one memo function preset per coffee style||n/a||Stylish and modern with a classic 50s feel|
|Dr Coffee F11 Big||A proprietary brewing system||Flat ceramic burrs, 9 grind options||A proprietary brewing system||Some presets are available through the touchscreen menu||n/a||Fresh, clean, outstanding design|
Know this: pricing is extremely fluid and flexible. With a little effort, you can buy any of these coffee makers for hundreds of dollars less than the list price.
This is especially true of slightly older models. Distributors make room in their inventory for new models by discounting older ones.
The most obvious saving is simply to buy from a website. Online retailers can afford to pass on bigger discounts because they don’t have the same overheads as a walk-in store. Very often, the more expensive the item, the bigger the discount.
Another viable option is to buy the grinder and extractor separately.
There are several excellent extractors on the market, most notably Gevi and Ninja. Paired with a good grinder, they are capable of producing a beverage every bit as good as anything an all-in-one machine can produce.
Some coffee makers require assembly and installation. Read the manual and follow its instructions carefully.
Trying to figure things out on your own is a waste of time. If something isn’t clear to you, Google it. Watch YouTube videos. Visit the manufacturer’s website. Read the reviews.
Above all, take your time. Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the controls and the overall look and feel of the machine, once you know where everything is and what it does, you can set about making your first cup with pride and confidence.
There’s one rule that applies across the board where any piece of equipment is concerned, whether it be a car, a computer, or a coffee maker: Respect the hardware!
Be gentle. Don’t force it to perform outside of its design parameters. Treat it like a member of the family, not an inanimate object. And if you’re not getting the desired results, don’t automatically assume that the product is somehow inferior. Chances are, it’s your fault. You’re not doing it right.
With the proper care and regular maintenance, your coffee maker will still be hissing and steaming along happily long after
The Bottom Line
It’s not all about money. Once you’ve developed the requisite set of skills (being able to determine the right grind size and a palate that can distinguish between coffee brewed at different temperatures) you will be able to get a decent cup of coffee from almost any coffee maker.
Whatever make and model you choose, the more time and effort you put in, the greater the reward.
Coffee makers are a lot like cameras. The fully-automatic point-and-shoot option might take perfectly good pictures but you won’t get really great results until you’ve mastered the manual settings.
What’s the secret to making a good cup of coffee?
First and foremost, it’s the freshness of the beans.
Is it alright to leave water in the coffee maker?
Although it’s very doubtful that bacteria could survive water that hot, it’s probably not a good idea to let it stand for more than one night.
Should I unplug my coffee maker when I’m not using it?
Only if you live in an area that is prone to outages. If a substation that hasn’t been earthed properly is brought online, the power surge could damage your coffeemaker’s motor.
Can I use warm water instead of cold?
No. If you boil water that is already warm, it will lose most, if not all, of its oxygen and your coffee will taste stale and flat.