Barista’s guide to the best home coffee machines

Living Well | Tianna Nadalin | Posted on 31 March 2020

Learn how to espresso yourself with our guide to the best home coffee machines.

Victorians love their coffee. In fact, we are the country’s biggest coffee addicts, with reports showing we have the highest coffee consumption per capita in the country. Now, in the age of social distancing, our daily bean juice ritual has come under threat. But just because you’re escaping the daily grind it doesn’t mean you have to kick your coffee habit, too.

The home coffee market has exploded over the last decade, with everything from capsule machines to manual brewing gadgets pouring onto the DIY espresso scene. So, if you want cafe quality drops at home, we caught up with award-winning barista Courtney Joel, owner of cult Melbourne coffee shop Cup of Truth to find out the best home coffee machines and how to use them.

Three steps of using pourover coffee machine


Six of the best at-home coffee makers



1. Bialetti Moka Pot 

If you’re a fan of a strong coffee, the moka pot (or stovetop) is the machine for you. It was first made in Italy – the birthplace of espresso – in the 1930s and, nearly a century later, is still going strong. You can pick up one of these classic stovetop espresso makers with change from a pineapple and, trust us, it’s a worthwhile investment. The Bialetti Moka Express comes in a range of sizes, and is easy to use, clean and store. 

Which coffee is best? 

Coffee, like wine, comes down to personal preference. Generally speaking, however, beans that have a rich, nutty, chocolatey profile are a safe choice. If you don’t have a grinder at home, ask your local bean dealer to grind them slightly coarser for your moka pot than for a standard espresso machine.

How do I use it?
  1. The moka pot has three key parts; the base, coffee basket and filter, and the top. Unscrew the base from the top and take out the coffee basket. 
  2. Boil the kettle and let it sit for a couple of minutes.
  3. Fill the base with hot water until it reaches just below the small knob on the side (the steam valve). Using hot water instead of cold reduces time on the flame and stops the beans from becoming burnt.
  4. Put the basket back on the base and fill it with coffee grounds. Unlike a regular espresso machine, you shouldn’t pack the grounds too tightly as this creates excess pressure. Tap the side so the coffee is evenly spread, then wipe away any excess grounds.
  5. Screw on the top. You might need to use oven mitts or wrap the base in a tea-towel so it doesn’t burn your fingers.
  6. Place on the stove over low heat. It’s ready when it stops gurgling. 
  7. Take it off the heat, et voila. Coffee is ready.

2. Pour-over (aka V60)

The popularity of filter coffee has been brewing for a while now. And it’s easy to understand why. “This coffee-making method extracts maximum flavour and richness from the coffee, without the bitterness, making it great for super-delicate or expressive blends,” Courtney says. “I have had some of the best coffee in the world through a V60.”

It requires a little more precision than the moka pot, but it’s still an easy and affordable DIY option. 

Which coffee is best?

Courtney says lighter roasts are better for filtration coffees as the gentler extraction method allows the delicate flavours to shine.

How do I use it?

“When it comes to filter coffee, it’s not so much about how you use the pour-over, it’s about ratios,” Courtney explains. To get started with filter coffee, you’ll need a filter cup (dripper), base, pourer and paper filters. You can opt for a basic kit, like this Hario V60 Brewing Kit, or go all-out with copper cups and stainless-steel kettles (these would make a great gift for any coffee lover and also look stunning sitting on your bench top). Or, you can go the cheat’s method and use the Clever Dripper

Method
  1. Boil the kettle then let is sit for a couple of minutes.
  2. Place a paper filter in the dripper and rinse it with hot water.
  3. Put the dripper on top of the base.
  4. For a more delicate coffee, spoon 11 to 13 grams of coffee into the dripper or, for a more robust coffee, around 15 grams. (If you have a kit, you should have a measuring cup). 
  5. Slowly and evenly, pour enough hot water to cover the grounds (about 20 to 30 millilitres) and let it sit for about 30 seconds. This is called the bloom.
  6. Start with about 180 millilitres of boiling water.
  7. Using a swirling motion, pour the first 100 millilitres of boiling water over the grinds. Start from the centre and slowly work your way to the edge, then repeat this process with the remaining water. 
  8. The total brew time should be about 2.5 minutes (if yours takes significantly more or less, adjust the grind).
Close up of Aeropress coffee machine
Shot of espresso pouring from machine
Close up of moka pot on stove

Aeropress (left), easy-as latte (centre) and fresh espresso from the moka pot (right).


3. AeroPress 

When it comes to home coffees, the simplicity of the AeroPress makes it popular among camping enthusiasts and coffee cognoscenti alike. It was invented about 10 years ago by American engineer and physicist Alan Adler, who just wanted a fast and foolproof way to get his morning cup of Joe. The Aeropress creates more pressure than a regular plunger, producing a stronger, richer brew. Plus, it makes one cup at a time, which is great if you’re working from home and want to limit your caffeine intake (or ration your coffee beans). You can get a basic kit for less than $50

Which coffee is best? 

Choose a lighter roast ground for filter. If you don’t have a grinder at home, your local cafe or coffee shop will be able to do this for you. 

How do I use it? 
  1. It has a few moving parts – the chamber, plunger and filter cap. Some starter kits come with a stirrer (often called a paddle) and scoop. You’ll also need paper filters. 
  2. Boil a kettle then let it sit for a couple of minutes. 
  3. Pull the plunger out of the base (chamber) and assemble the AeroPress upside down. 
  4. Wet a paper filter and put it into the filter cap so it’s ready to go.  
  5. Add 15 to 18 grams of coffee (light roast, filter grind) to the AeroPress. 
  6. Pour the first lot of hot water until it reaches two below the max line on the AeroPress. 
  7. Whack your stirrer (or paddle) in and stir for 10 seconds. 
  8. Add the rest of the hot water, until it reaches the max pour line. 
  9. Let it steep for about two minutes. 
  10. Screw the filter cap onto the chamber. 
  11. Carefully flip the full AeroPress over (so the cap is down), and place on top of your cup or mug.   
  12. Gently press down the plunger until you hear a hiss. This should take about 20 seconds. 
  13. The total brew time should be about 2.5 minutes. 

4. French press / plunger  

If you’re into the classics, look no further than the old faithful; a French press (or, if you’re from the UK, cafetiere). Invented in 1929, the simplicity of this tried and true brewing device has seen the plunger stand the test of time. “I love plunger coffee,” Courtney says. “It’s one of the easiest for the at-home coffee maker to use and you’re still going to get some amazing flavours.” Not only are they cheap (you can pick up a pretty schmancy one for less than $40), they make a great cup of coffee and they’re a cinch to clean. 

Which coffee is best? 

They key to great filter coffee, Courtney says, is the grind. “You want your coffee ground to the coarsest available setting,” he says. It should be similar in texture to coarse salt. This is because finer grounds tend to over-extract, which will make your coffee taste bitter. They are also more likely to escape through the mesh filter. “The bigger the flavours, the better, so choose a blend with the most bold tasting notes,” Courtney says. “Anything with blackcurrant is delicious in a plunger.”  

How do I use it? 
  1. No matter what size your plunger is, Courtney says to always aim for a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:5. So if you’re using 60 grams of coffee, you’ll need 300 millilitres of water. 
  2. Boil the kettle then let it sit for a couple of minutes.  
  3. Take out the plunger and add coffee to the pot. 
  4. Pour half the amount of water over the coffee and give it a stir then top it up with the remaining water.  
  5. Carefully place the plunger on top, but don’t push.  
  6. Let it steep for about 2.30. 
  7. Push the plunger down slowly.  
  8. Remember, there are always going to be some grinds that get through because there is no paper filter, so don’t drink the last 20 millilitres.  
Close up of beans and coffee grinds in portafilter.
Person pouring frothed milk into shot of espresso
Close up of espresso shot pouring from espresso machine

If you haven't got a grinder at home, get your local bean dealer to grind the beans for you.


5. Coffee pod machines 

It was Swiss aerodynamics engineer Eric Favre who first thought of shaking up the espresso industry. Though it was invented in 1975, the first Nespresso machine didn’t hit the market until 1986 because, at the time, Nestle wasn’t convinced people would give up the granules.  

Fast-forward to now and the coffee capsule machine has become ubiquitous. “A lot people don’t have the time to spend making a pour-over or filter coffee so these machines have hit the market very well,” he says. “They are quick and easy to use – and you can’t beat that. They are also a great option if you’re a fan of milk-based coffees.”  

Unlike manual coffee makers, though, Courtney says pod machines can be a bit higher maintenance. “You need to change the filter quite often,” he advises. “That’s about every 10 to 20 pods.”  

The Nespresso had the monopoly until 2012 (when the patent expired) and, since then, the market for coffee capsule machines has exploded. Nowadays, as well as a rane of machines at various price points, there are also myriad local coffee roasters producing Nespresso-compatible pods. From specialty blends to single origin, there’s a coffee capsule to suit all tastes.  

Where can I get local coffee pods? 

If you want to keep your coffee habit close to home, there are plenty of local pod dealers and pod subscriptions (a great option if you're trying to lay low at home). Some of our favourites include St AliVenezianoPod CoPod and Parcel, The Pod LabGenoveseDimattina Coffee and Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee.

How do I use it? 

Once your machine is set up, making coffee is easy.  

  1. Choose your espresso capsule.
  2. If you’re a cappuccino or latte lover, fill up your frother and let it create velvety magic.  
  3. Put your pod into the machine. 
  4. Select your preferred coffee (single shot, double shot, short, long). et voila. Instant happiness.
  5. Top up your coffee with milk, if desired.  

6. Espresso machines  

If you really want to replicate the café experience – and you have the bench space, and the barista skills – why not go all out with a home espresso machine. The Beanery owner Con Mingos, who has been importing and selling home espresso machines from his Brighton-based store for more than 35 years, says domestic coffee makers generally fall into three categories: 

  • Automatic: These require simply the push of a button for fresh espresso. You don’t have to worry about grinding, dosing, tamping or steaming as the shot is extracted and milk is frothed all within one nifty machine. “With automatic machines, you’ll always get a consistently good coffee,” Con says.
  • Semi-automatic: Much like the fully automated machines, these will generally grind your beans and extract the espresso for you, but have a separate steam wand for heating and frothing milk. If you like the idea of fast and fuss-free coffee, while retaining a little latte flair, these can be a great option.  
  • Manual: As the name suggests, these machines are completely manual, which means it’s all you from start to finish. “With manual machines you could get a 10/10 coffee or a 1/10 coffee,” Con says. “It all depends on the skill of the person using it. But, if you’re wanting café-quality coffee at home, these are your best bet. They’re also a lot less maintenance than automatic machines.”
Is there a minimum pump pressure I should look for?

Many manufacturers highlight the bar pressure rating of an espresso machine, which measures how much pressure is used to force water through the coffee grounds. Con says pump pressure is pretty much “irrelevant” for many home machines. “The industry standard is nine-bar,” he says. “Many [of the cheaper] espresso machines will say they have a 15-bar pump, but they’ll only be able to push out a maximum of nine so you’re paying for something that won’t make any real difference.”

With the right coffee and grind, Con says the sweet spot is between eight and 10 bar. “Anything below 8 will be under-extracted so the coffee will be weak, and anything above 10 is over-extracted, which will make the coffee bitter.”

So what is the best gauge of quality?

The most important thing to look at is the boiler. “The boiler is so critical,” Con says. “The bigger the boiler, the more pressure the machine can create. If you have a boiler that’s 1.2 litres or larger, you’re going to get a commercial-quality coffee.”

Most machines have either a single or double boiler. If you want to make espressos or black coffees only, a single boiler is fine. If you want to make espressos and steam milk, you’ll need a double boiler. 

Close up of person frothing milk on steam wand
Close up of espresso shot pouring from coffee machine group head

Give it your best shot with a manual or semi-automatic espresso machine.


What about instant coffee? 

If you’re looking for the ultimate in convenience – but also a great cuppa – innovative Melbourne coffee roasters have you covered. Specialty instant coffee is a thing and, yes, what a time to be alive. 

“St Ali do an instant coffee in a packet,” Courtney says. “And it’s as good as a plunger or AeroPress coffee.” You can also order instant sachets from Proud Mary and Black Board Coffee. “It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s super convenient,” Courtney says. “All you need is a mug.” 

How do I store coffee beans?

To maintain optimum freshness, store coffee beans in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry place away from heat and direct sunlight (such as a pantry). Use your coffee within four to six weeks of roasting (if whole beans) or within the first two to three weeks if you've purchased ground coffee. After this, it is still fine to use but will start to lose some of its brightness and intensity.

Courtney’s top tips for beginners  

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – all coffee is amazing.  
  • Practice makes perfect, especially with alternative brewing methods like pour-over. 
  • Boiling water (100 degrees) burns anything so after you boil your kettle, let it sit for a couple of minutes to take the edge off.  
  • If you’re a fan of milky coffees, you might not love filter.  
  • If you have a grinder at home, always grind your beans just before you're ready to start making your coffee to retain optimum freshness.

What do I do with the excess coffee grounds? 

  • Fertilise your plants or garden: Coffee grounds are high in potassium and nitrogen, which make them a great organic fertiliser. “Put some into your indoor plants,” Courtney suggests. “Just a little bit, every three or four weeks – works wonders.”  
  • Turn them into body scrubs or face masks: You might not be able to go to a beauty salon, but you can still indulge your skin. Simply mix used coffee grounds with a bit of water, coconut oil and a few drops of your favourite essential oil (we love orange or mint) for an all-natural and totally nourishing body scrub.  
  • Compost them: Coffee grounds and used coffee filters can be added to your compost bin. Just remember that coffee grounds are considered green compost material (like grass clippings or kitchen scraps) and will need to be balanced with the addition of some brown compost material (like dried leaves, paper, straw). 
  • Donate them: Don’t throw your used coffee in the bin. Local business Reground is diverting coffee from landfill by delivering the nutrient-rich waste to private gardeners who use it for composting, mushroom farming and worm growing. 
  • Make a cleaning scrub to scour your pots and pans: The coarse texture of coffee grounds makes them ideal for scrubbing hard-to-clean kitchen utensils.  
  • Tenderise meat: Forget buying expensive coffee rubs. The enzymes in coffee make it an ideal meat tenderiser, while the natural acids can enhance meat’s flavour. 
  • Use them as a natural flea repellent: Apparently fleas are not as taken with coffee as we humans, which makes it a natural flea treatment. Rub the grounds through your pet’s fur after shampooing, then rinse them off and dry as usual. Just make sure your fur baby doesn’t eat any as they can be toxic to dogs. 
  • Get creative: Looking for fun things to do with your kids? How about using re-wet coffee grounds to make tie-dyed T-shirts or vintage-looking paper for a treasure map? Or get into the Easter spirit and use them to make dyed Easter eggs. 
  • Turn them into air freshener: Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, which can help eliminate and absorb odours from the air. Missing that fresh-ground coffee scent from your local cafe? Spoon used grounds into pieces of scrap fabric, tie them off, and hang them around the house as air fresheners.