Best buy: Coffee machines
De Longhi Icona (€150) THE De Longhi Icona has been around for a while now, but that should not deter you from buying it. If anything, its longevity is a testament to its quality.
It can make espressos and cappuccinos from either ground coffee or ESE pods, and both taste great.
We found that espresso made with pods tended to have a strong, sweet aroma, but make no mistake, the coffee retained the kick most caffeine addicts are looking for first thing in the morning. They may have to wait a while for that kick, however. The Icona takes a bit of time to warm up -- as much as 15 minutes. From that point an espresso can be made in as little as 20 or 30 seconds. That is fine on a leisurely Saturday or Sunday afternoon, but at 7am on a Tuesday morning harried workers are unlikely to have the time or the inclination to set a quarter of an hour aside for a coffee. On the plus side cappuccinos were terrific, with the steam pipe working tremendously well.
At €150 this machine provides excellent value for money. For most readers it passes the most important test -- the quality of the cup of coffee. You will have to be prepared to wait though.
KRUPS GRAN MAESTRIA (€550)
ON the face of it, it would be easy to dismiss the Krups Gran Maestria as a waste of money, a gimmick. Why fork out €550 for a Nespresso machine when I can get a perfectly adequate one for a fifth of the price?
Well, there are a few key differences between this machine and the basic coffee maker. The Gran Maestria comes with a few bells and whistles, including an Aeroccino milk frother for the likes of lattes and flat whites, as well as an instant cup warmer to make the would-be barista's job a touch easier.
As you would expect, the machine makes an excellent espresso, and does so consistently. The aroma is strong, the flavours smooth. If there is one criticism, it is that the espresso may not be hot enough for some, but that is a minor quibble as far as we are concerned.
Inevitably with all the additional features, there is more that could potentially go wrong, and cleaning is a more onerous task than less advanced machines.
If you have €550 spare, and really value your cup of Joe, then you could do worse than buy this product. You will have to really love your coffee to get the value out of it however.
MAGIMIX COFFEE NESPRESSO U (€140)
ONE of the most compact coffee makers on the market, the Magimix Nespresso U is aimed squarely at consumers who love coffee, but don't have the space in their kitchen for a full service machine.
Its main feature is its simplicity, and it is true to its word. The machine is definitely idiot-proof, and you most certainly don't have to be a qualified barista to be able to use it.
It also "remembers" your favourite coffee after 11 uses. If you take a small one every day, it can get to the point where all you have to do is insert the capsule. You don't actually have to press any buttons.
The espresso is good, if a little sharp at times. That is a product of the Nespresso pods used as much as anything, though.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a machine that sells itself as a compact, the "U" only makes espresso. Any milk-based coffees can only be made with other add-ons such as a foamer.
This is a fairly basic machine, but for some people, especially those who are using a cramped kitchenette in an apartment, this will give them the taste of good coffee without taking up a huge amount of space.