Many serious coffee aficionados will aspire to owning a barista machine. In some ways it’s possibly like an economy car owner wishing for a Porsche. But is the extra performance in each case worth the extra expense?
A top of the range barista coffee machine can cost in the thousands (pounds or dollars – but not quite as much as a new Porsche) but it will also take up a lot of space on the counter top.
So, budget, space and there is also the point that many of us really can’t justify spending so much on a small kitchen appliance when there are bills to pay, cars to run or kids to put through college. No matter how much we love a good cup of coffee.
Barista or bust?
Choosing a coffee machine is always a tricky decision. While a lot of people opt for a barista style coffee machine, as we’ve already mentioned others may not have the inclination, budget, or space for this advanced piece of equipment.
But never fear, the world of coffee always has an alternative and a different type of coffee machine doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality. In this guide, we will be exploring your options and giving you a realistic idea of whether choosing one of these alternatives is worthwhile and listing some of our favourite alternatives to barista style coffee machines.
What are the pros and cons here?
Before we get into the different types of coffee machine, we wanted to take a more general look at the pros and cons of these alternatives.
For starters, using any of the methods we will discuss in this guide is likely going to be far more cost effective. While it’s true you can get a basic style barista machine for a few hundred pounds, some of the more advanced machines can cost thousands.
Now, if you’re a serious coffee fan and want the convenience of only having to use one appliance, then this might be worth the investment. But for most people, picking up a pod machine or filter coffee maker for a price that is still in double digits is much more realistic.
What you should also keep in mind is that while your barista machine might look amazing in your kitchen, it could be pricey to repair. If any of the components of the machine were to break, you’re going to be totally out of action and will need to repair or return the entire thing.
Think about all those mornings and evenings without a coffee while you wait for the machine to be returned to you. Not to mention the cost of paying for the repairs if the machine is out of warranty.
On the other hand, using a different type of coffee machine along with other handy appliances like a milk frother means if there is an issue with one appliance it won’t be such a pain to put right.
Finally, if you want to be really involved in the coffee making process, these alternatives are a must. A barista machine pretty much takes care of everything for you. But for those of us who want to feel the coffee making process, these methods let you do a lot of the work and the reward of sitting back with your hot drink feels so much better!
Different types of coffee machines
The number of different ways that there are to make coffee is enough to send your head into a spin. Most people will fall in love with one method but if you are just beginning your home-barista journey, then it is important to understand the differences between the various types of machines.
A coffee pod machine is one of the quickest and most convenient ways to get a cup of coffee. They don’t take up much space, they are very simple to use and the great thing about them is that you have access to a whole host of different types of drinks.
The pod is inserted into the machine and hot water is forced through the grounds that are inside the plastic container. Perhaps the biggest attraction of the coffee pod machine is that it delivers consistency which is not something you can guarantee when using a barista machine, not because of the machine but because of the skills of the user.
In terms of the quality of the coffee you will get, there is no denying that a pod machine is not going to give you something quite as fresh and delicious as a barista style machine. The main reason for this is that barista machines rely on the use of freshly ground coffee beans whereas a coffee pod contains ready ground coffee which is never going to be as fresh.
But if you want something that is quick, then a pod machine is the obvious choice. While you can choose to also buy a milk frother so that you can add texture to certain drinks like the cappuccino. Or you could simply take the drink from the machine and consume it as is. For busy mornings, this is incredibly convenient.
Where price is concerned, there is no comparison. Even if you purchase things like thermometers and frothers, you’ll still be spending vastly less than you would when buying a barista machine. This makes the pod coffee machine very attractive to those on a budget.
Of course, you must consider the ongoing cost of purchasing the pods, which can be done as part of a subscription, depending on the brand. But this is no different to having to buy fresh beans when using a barista machine.
Top 3 coffee pod machines
An espresso maker is a convenient way to get a rich, strong shot of espresso without the need to install a large barista style machine. Compared to the pod machine, the espresso maker gives you a much fresher and more flavoursome drink because you can grind your own beans before making your drink.
These machines force high pressure water through the ground coffee, quickly extracting the coffee for that classic espresso taste. The shot can then be consumed on its own or as a base for one of the many espresso-based coffees out there.
Unlike the barista machine, you won’t typically have everything else built in so you will need to buy things like milk jugs, thermometers and of course you will need a separate milk frother. You can read more about using your espresso shots as a base for all different types of coffee on our milk frother recipes page.
But much like the pod machine, an espresso maker is generally much cheaper and even with the accessories added on, it isn’t going to cost anywhere near as much as a barista style machine. Although the cost will depend on what machine you go for as some espresso makers will have an integrated milk frother.
An espresso machine may take some getting used to and is not as user friendly as the pod machine, but it isn’t rocket science either. There is a good deal of involvement from the user, so you benefit from having an enjoyable experience making the coffee. But it isn’t so labour intensive that making your morning cuppa becomes a chore.
Drip coffee machine
The drip machine (filter machine in the UK) is perhaps one of the most popular barista style coffee machine alternatives. What’s great about them is that they are so affordable. While there are some that might give your bank balance a bit of a knock, you can pick a decent one up for less than £30 ($40). Again, you will need to consider the fact that you’ll have to also purchase additional equipment if you want a complete barista style coffee.
One of the biggest downfalls of the drip coffee machine, sometimes called a filter coffee machine is that it takes longer than other methods. This is because the water slowly runs through the coffee grounds which are placed into a filter. It then drips through into the jug ready for you to drink.
Typically speaking, a good drip coffee maker will be ready in anywhere between three and ten minutes.
However, since the brewing method takes more time, you end up with a much more vibrant and tastier cup of coffee, so you could say it is worth the wait. Moreover, you have the option to freshly grind your coffee before every cup; of course, you’ll need a separate grinder for this.
If you often entertain guests and want a machine that will cater to more than one person at a time, the drip coffee maker might be a viable choice. Whereas a pod machine and an espresso maker only have the capacity to make a single cup each time, the filter coffee machine could make up to 12 cups at once.
What’s more, the machine will keep any remaining coffee warm should you want another cup down the line. However, leaving brewed coffee for some time can cause it to ‘stew’ and become bitter.
Is it worth using a barista style coffee machine alternative?
This is a question that largely depends on your personal circumstances and what you want out of your equipment. The most important point to consider is that a barista coffee machine comes with everything you need to make your drink.
There’s no need for extra equipment and while you will need to brush up on your coffee-making skills, there is a professional feel to these machines that simply cannot be beaten.
But since the barista style coffee machine is such an expensive piece of kit, not to mention the large size, other methods may be more practical. Although you will need to purchase the coffee machine as well as accessories like milk jugs and frothers, you still won’t spend as much.
Furthermore, if you are looking for a more convenient way to make coffee, these alternatives usually require much less effort, particularly the pod machine.
At the end of the day, a barista machine is a smart bit of kit but when you can spend much less money and still get a warm, tasty, professional cup of coffee, it seems like a no brainer!
Although barista machines are expensive – all things are relative. And, although you can be looking in the low thousands there are other models which are much more affordable. You can learn more in our article – Best barista coffee machines under £200 – and see the top machines in the table below.
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