Smeg ECF01 Espresso Coffee Maker full review

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The Smeg espresso coffee maker is gorgeous. All of Smeg’s retro appliances are handsome in a retro-futuristic, ‘50s diner-meets-proto-rocket kind of way, but the coffee machine has a particularly pleasing design. The only problem is that when you place it on your countertop, your other appliances immediately start to look a bit sad by comparison.

Price and availability

The ECF01 comes in a number of colours: black, white, red, various pastels and a special edition decorated in a traditional Sicilian design, courtesy of a collaboration with Dolce & Gabanna. Apart from the D&G model, which is rare and more expensive, the regular price is £319 and the machine is widely available from online retailers from £299.

It’s not cheap, admittedly, but this is actually a good price for a very high-quality manual espresso maker.

AO.com has the pastel blue model for £299. John Lewis is selling the range for £319-£320, depending on the model’s colour. The best price we can currently find is on ecookshop.co.uk, which is selling the red model for £287.95. If you’re looking for a particular colour, we recommend checking a few sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal available.

If you’re in the US, you can buy the machine from Amazon for $489.95, while in France it’ll set you back €321.

Front view of machine

Design and performance

It’s a slim, elegant machine, all rounded edges and chrome accents, including a steam lever, drip tray and a textured cup warmer on top. It has a small countertop footprint, measuring just 35 x 17 x 35cm, although you’ll need a bit of space above and around it to fill the water reservoir, wield the portafilter and work the milk frother.

If I had to take issue with one aspect of the design, it would be with the position of the water reservoir. It's at the back of the machine, as it is on all coffee makers. Can't really blame Smeg for this, though. The coffee machine industry apparently took a collective decision at some point that we all need to drag our coffee machines forward across the counter every time we need to refill the reservoir.

Smeg coffee machine water reservoir

Smeg’s appliance is an espresso machine that can be used with either ground coffee or, for the less committed, ESE pods. Easy serve espresso pods, unlike more commonly available pods, aren’t encased in metal or plastic. Instead, they’re a bit like a one-shot espresso teabag, with about 7g of ground coffee in a perforated paper bag. They won’t stay quite as fresh as foil-packaged pod coffee but they’re biodegradable, which is a big plus.

You can buy ground coffee, but if you want to grind the beans yourself, you'll need a separate bean grinder. We reviewed Smeg's co-ordinating grinder, which is an excellent if pricey buy.

As the espresso maker also has a milk frother – which doubles as a hot water dispenser for Americanos and the like – you can also make Cappuccinos, Lattes, Macchiatos and more.

The Smeg coffee maker is a manual machine and that means that it’s not a simple matter of pressing a couple of buttons to get your morning brew. Instead, this is an old-school, hands-on process that involves filling the portafilter and tamping down coffee, heating and frothing milk.

It’s worth noting that if your morning routine is already on the rushed side of things, with children to deposit at school and dogs to walk, you’d be better off going for a straightforward pod machine or an automatic bean-to-cup coffee maker, which won’t require as much manual labour.

And if, like me, you’re the kind of person whose brain function would be barely measurable before their first caffeine hit of the day, what a manual espresso machine means is mess. You will almost certainly scatter a few coffee grounds over your counter and these will soon be joined by at least a small eruption of milk.

That brings me to the milk frother. I won’t beat about the bush here. I was afraid of it. Dealing with a hissing jet of steam first thing in the morning is far too nerve-jangling for my liking.

It was the last part of the machine I tested, choosing instead to rely on my trusted Lavazza MilkUp (available for £59.99). Smeg also makes a matching, jug-style milk frother, although as it’s priced at £149.95, it’s a bit more of an investment.

But, when I finally braved it, it was easy to use and produced a thick, creamy foam without scalding the milk. I never quite got over the hissing, though.

The machine has adjustable settings for water temperature, coffee quantity and water hardness, so you can tinker to get the perfect brew.

To do this, you'll need to use the multifunction settings buttons. In an ideal world, this appliance would have a display screen and single-function buttons.

Multifunction buttons

But then, I really hate multifunction buttons. You may not. I often leave the cooker clock set to the wrong time for days after a power cut, as I can never remember whether I’m supposed to be pressing and holding buttons A and B, or B and C or something else entirely. For some reason, the idea of finding the manual and looking it up is just too oppressive.  

To change the water temperature and hardness settings on the machine, you’ll need to use a sequence of presses of the three multifunction buttons. The good news is that it’s easy if you have the manual in front of you, and once you get the settings to your liking, you can leave them alone.

The day-to-day operation of the machine is otherwise very easy, once you know what you're doing.

Verdict

This is a beautiful machine that’s really satisfying to use. Yes, a manual espresso maker is a little more demanding than a pod or automatic bean-to-cup machine, but making a good cup of coffee with it is a pleasure and a bit of an art. At the end of the day, this is a lifestyle appliance. You need to be able to make a bit of time to make coffee.

The coffee this machine produces is truly excellent. It's well worth it.

For more coffee machine options and to see how the Smeg machine measures up, check out our round-up of the best coffee machines we've tested

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