BEAN-TO-CUP Espresso MACHINES
Krups espresso machines usually sport a longer than average operating lifespan so do consider the brand if reliability is an important factor. This mid-priced bean-to-cup machine has a much smaller footprint than the Gaggia and most other similarly-styled models in this roundup so bear that in mind if worktop space is an issue.
This machine is excellent on all fronts. It’s just so easy to use and the interface is a dream to navigate. Everything is self evident, from the simple mode selection button to the plus/minus signs when making various adjustments, like how many milliliters of espresso you require per cup and whether or not you live in a soft or hard water area. Above all, it produced consistently excellent espressos time after time and some pretty impressive cappuccinos, too. A top three position is assured.
Gaggia’s been producing espresso machines since 1938 so it probably knows a thing or two about the subject. The Naviglio is its entry-level bean-to-cup model, and a damn fine espresso maker it is too. For a start, it’s got nice big squidgy buttons with clearly defined icons – single shot, double shot, cappuccino steam, hot water – that are easy to follow without reference to the manual. It comes with a raft of custom options, too, including the ability to select the amount of coffee to be ground, the texture of the grinds (from course to fine) and the length of extraction.
Given that this writer enjoys a very rich, aromatic elixir, I set it to the highest level on all settings and out poured a thick, golden stream of gloriously creamy espresso with a kick like a mule that’s just had its arse smacked with a thorn bush. The fact it did it all automatically – including dumping the used grounds into a container – just made it all the more satisfying. Figure in the low price and Gaggia’s renowned after sales service and, well, what’s not to like?
Sage is well respected for its wide range of appliances – many of them endorsed by food sorcerer Heston Blumenthal – and this highly regarded bean-to-cup effort is a case in point. Actually, the Barista Express isn’t entirely automatic since you will be responsible for tamping down the freshly ground coffee once it’s deposited into the unit’s conventional espresso filter arm. This does allow scope for a bit more mess but the end result speaks volumes because this machine really does produce an exquisite espresso and a smooth creamy crema. It makes excellent cappuccinos, too.
However, it should also be pointed out that there are other aspects to this machine that might well scare some prospective users away. Unless you plan to dig deep into the manual and study the art of pressure adjustment, flow rate and precise coffee measurement, you might wish to give it a miss. But for the wannabe barista, the Sage punches way above its weight. And weighty it is, too.
Sage Barista Express
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DeLonghi is a lead player in the realm of bean-to-cup machines (15 and counting) and this model is positioned somewhere between their mid and high-end price points. As with all bean-to-cuppers it’s a big old beast, so bear that in mind if you don’t have much worktop space. The Dinamica features a touch-control, recipe-based interface panel that is fiddly to use and not without issues. For instance, once you’ve selected the personalized ‘My Function’ mode, there’s no back button to take you out again. So you have to switch the whole caboodle off and start again.
However, that’s not the only foible we found. Much more pressing was the fact that, try as we might (including adjusting the grind and extraction time) we just couldn’t get it to make as strong a brew as the similar Gaggia and Krups. It wasn’t bad by any means; just not as strong as some might prefer. Its ‘LatteCrema’ cappuccino system, though, performed admirably, as did its overall automation. The Dinamica is still worth a gander but maybe pop it further down your list. As, indeed, we have.
DeLonghi Dinamica ECAM 350.35.W
The Swiss don’t just do banks, fancy watches and trains that run on time. The first thing you’re drawn to is the A1’s aesthetically elegant design; it really is a beautifully crafted machine with no visible controls on the front panel (instead, everything’s controlled from the top via a touch-sensitive key pad). The proof is in the tasting and this machine delivered in spades, producing a wonderfully aromatic espresso with a thick caramel-like crema almost as deep as the head of a Guinness draft bitter. If Apple produced espresso machines…