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How to Choose a Coffee Maker or Espresso Machine - Buying Guide

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of coffee makers and espresso machines on the market from as basic as a percolator to as advanced as the super automatic espresso machines that grind the beans, brew the cup, discard the brewed beans and froth milk with a touch of one button. While we sell all kinds of coffee makers and espresso machines, we want you to be aware of what we think. This buyer's guide is not for the coffee geek, but for the everyman who needs a little guidance.

Word to the wise: You get what you pay for. Be a smart shopper. Don't expect a bargain store or wholesale club coffeemaker to heat as well, brew as well or last as long as one sold in a gourmet kitchen store--even if it is the same brand name. Check item codes and model numbers. Many name brands have made similar looking products with lesser parts to meet the price demands of the bargain stores and warehouse wholesale clubs. It may look the same or similar from the outside, but the inside (the part that really matters) is an economy version.

Automatic drip coffee machines are still the best sellers. Why? Because they are simple and provide the cup of Joe that most US customers grew up with and like.

Coffee is brewed by hot water being showered or poured over the grounds beans. The water strips the grounds of their coffee flavor and color. The drip process is actually a long brewing process which means the water stays in contact with the grounds for a longer period of time stripping the grounds of much more caffeine than with pressure and steam brewing methods that espresso machines employ.

If you want to purchase an automatic drip coffee machine you need to determine how much coffee you want per pot, how long the coffee will sit in the pot before consumption and if the machine has a water filter (especially those who live in areas with hard water).

If your coffee is consumed within an hour or two after being brewed a glass carafe is fine for you--any longer and the warming plate below the glass carafe will begin to burn the coffee and alter the flavor (usually more bitter). If this is happening to you, look to a thermal coffee carafe which keeps the coffee hot for long periods of time with no risk of burning. To keep your coffee extra hot, "charge" the carafe first. Fill the carafe with hot water and allow it to preheat the carafe for a minute or two and then brew.

Prices vary on auto drip coffee makers based on the outer case and carafe material, internal grinder and program-ability. If the outer case and carafe are stainless steel the cost will be more. If the maker comes with a built-in grinder the cost will be more, but your coffee will be much fresher. Remember, you get what you pay for.

So what do you really need? Well, outer color and materials used in the design is up to you, but you should look for the best warranty and you should purchase a maker with a water filter.

Coffee Pod Machines are fast brewing stations that brew one cup at a time. They are great time savers and create virtually no mess since you brew in and discard the same enclosed cup. There are a variety of coffee variations and flavors made for pod machines--most machines will brew tea and hot cocoa, too.

If you drink only a couple of cups of coffee per day a pod machine will work nicely. The only drawback is that the coffee can cost more than $0.50 per cup. Pod machine manufacturers have caught on to this and most offer a personal open-topped pod that you can use with your store bought regular coffee.

Espresso Makers/Machines, semi-automatic machines and Lever Espresso Machines vary wildly in price. Entry level versions can be purchased for less than $100. These are manual machines that take a little work. You must grind the coffee or buy ground coffee, fill the group, tamp, brew, allow the machine to build up pressure again and then manually froth milk. We find them to be a bit messy, but they produce great tasting coffee. Again, you get what you pay for. There is a significant difference between and entry-level model and one that will cost around $500. Overall, semi automatics and lever machines let you control the brewing process.

Lever Espresso Machines are for the coffee purists. Purists who want to control the draw of the espresso. These machines take practice to master, but once mastery has been accomplished they make the best shot of espresso of all machines or makers. Lever machines are handsome but don't underestimate the technical side to drawing the perfect shot. Be hesitant to purchase one that does not have a video showing you how to use it.

Super Automatic Espresso Makers/Machines are technological wonders. They grind the beans, tamp (pack) them, pressurize, brew and dispose of the used grounds with a singular touch of a button. They tell you when they need to be descaled, when the tray needs to be emptied, when they need to be cleaned, when to fill the water tank and when to rinse. They are also programmable down the strength of the espresso shot, ounce of shot you want and how much milk you want in your cappuccino and whether you want it steamed or frothed.

Super Automatic Machines are really cool, perform well and require little effort to produce great tasting coffee. Coffee connoisseurs generally do not like these machines because the water flow is controlled by the machine. Super automatics are not for control freaks! We have a super automatic machine at home and one in our store. To be really honest, we have a $1,900.00 machine at home and it works every bit as well as the $3,200 machine. The one in the store allows for one touch cappuccino making without moving the cup whereas with the $1,900 machine the cup must be moved from the coffee group (spout) a whole 4 inches to the frother (and you have to push another button). What we are trying to say is that you can get most the benefits of a super automatic without buying the top dollar machine. You can get into a really nice machine for around $900.

Super automatics really do it all as far as coffee making goes. For those who want a machine like this it can pay for itself in less than 10 months if you are in the habit of buying one large fancy coffee per day with an average cost of $4.00. Additionally, by making coffee at home or in the office you can control the type of coffee used and the amount of calories you put into the cup.

Here is what you need to look for and know when buying any espresso machine: How easy is it to use? How long is the warranty? What is the machine made of? What are people saying about the machine in which I am interested? (A Google search should get you a lot of information) Is the machine new or refurbished?

While this guide is not exhaustive I hope that we have taken a little mystery out of the whole process. Feel free to email me at marcus@distinctive-decor.com if you have any questions.

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