Smeg Coffee Machines – What are They & Should You buy one?

So this is a post about the Smeg coffee machine, well actually – it’s about two Smeg coffee machines, their traditional espresso machine, and their bean to cup coffee machine, so regardless of which one you’re interested in, I’ve got you covered with this post.

Oh and I mean Smeg the kitchen appliance brand, I’m not referring to the derogatory term often used by Lester in Red Dwarf ;-). I’ve met him, by the way – Craig Charles, down-to-earth guy, when he’s not in a spaceship.

Smeg Coffee Machine

Smeg Coffee Machine

If you don’t know what I’m on about, you’re probably too young, or too old, or too sophisticated to know what Red Dwarf is, and if that’s the case you’ve missed out, go find it and watch it from the start, but not until you’ve finished reading this post!

Anyway, back to coffee machines – you’re probably here because you’ve heard of Smeg coffee machines, and you’re wondering if they’re any good, should you buy one, are smeg coffee machines worth it, or something along these lines?

If you’re concerned that this is going to be one of those articles you read which seems to be a wild goose chase, never providing you with the info you’re looking for – fear not.

I don’t write posts like this, I’m quite a simple person ;-), and I write quite simple posts – you will find the answer you’re looking for on this page.

Before I go on I need to make it very clear that what I’m about to tell you is purely my opinions and observations. I am not making any particular statement about any particular machine or any particular company or brand. I’m just passing my opinion – the decision is completely yours.

At the time of writing, Smeg offers a traditional espresso machine, and a bean to cup coffee machine.

Both very nice looking, and very cleverly marketed coffee machines, I have to say. They make a Lavazza capsule machine, and a filter coffee machine too, and more on them in a bit.

If you buy based on style and looks alone, then you may already be in a rush to unholster your credit card. Whoah, though – just hang on until you’ve read the rest of this post.

You might not change your mind, but at least you’ll be properly informed about exactly what you’re investing in.

The ECF01 is, at its heart, a 15 bar pump thermoblock domestic espresso machine with a pressured basket, 1L water tank and a panarello steam wand. 

The BCC01 is, at its heart, a 19 bar pump thermolock bean to cup coffee machine with a 1.4L water tank and a panarello steam wand.

On the face of things, both of these machines seem strangely expensive compared to other machines with similar specs and features. But more on this shortly.

What the heck is Kev going on about??

Haha, I know – I’m talking gibberish.

Before I talk more specifically about the Smeg coffee machines, I’ll give you a quick lesson in espresso machine speak – it’s worth the few minutes it’ll take you to skim through this by the way, as you should then have a much better idea what you’re looking at, regardless of which coffee machine you’re looking at buying.

Bars of pressure

OK so when I say 15 bar or 19 bar, this is how many bars of pressure the pump generates. 

Are you with me still? Not nodded off? OK.

This is an area that catches some people out, as invariably marketing people will use whatever they can to build the perceived value of a product, even – in fact, I’d say especially 😉 – when it’s complete nonsense.

I read through marketing blurb for some products in fits of laughter. Honestly, you couldn’t make some of it up.

I’m sure you’re the same, if there’s a type of product you’re as familiar with as I am with coffee machines, you’ll probably see straight through it.

The fact is, all this refers to is the pressure that the pump generates, and having more pressure, for an espresso machine (and these are both espresso machines, the bean to cup machine also) in my opinion is quite a big negative and not a positive.

The major difference between a lot of the “domestic” kitchen appliance grade espresso machines (which often cost a lot less than the Smeg machines) and the entry-level prosumer or “home barista” espresso machines, is something called an overpressure valve, or OPV.

For example, the Gaggia Classic Pro, and the Sage Bambino Plus, two of the most popular entry-level home barista espresso machines, do have 15 bar pumps, BUT they have overpressure valves that limit the pressure to a pre-set value.

Sage Bambino Plus ReviewGaggia Classic Pro Review

The widely accepted ideal espresso pressure is, and practically always has been 9 bars of pressure.

The Bambino plus, and most other home espresso machines are set to 9 bars via an OPV. Actually, the Gaggia Classic comes set at a bit higher, 12 bars I think off the top of my head, for some strange reason – but they’re very easy to mod to 9 bars.

So, just keep in mind that as a 15 bar machine, the Smeg ECF01 is in the same league as much cheaper home espresso machines and that as a 19 bar machine, the Smeg BCC02 doesn’t have anything more going for it than other bean to cup coffee machines, which can have either 15 bar or 19 bar pumps. 

So that’s pressure explained.

Thermoblock Heaters

So that’s bars of pressure demystified, next to simply explain what thermoblocks are.

The traditional way to produce hot water for espresso and for steam for texturing milk, is with a brew boiler.

This is a stainless steel, Aluminium, Copper or whatever boiler which is fed with water from the tank or from the plumbing with higher-end and commercial machines, which is heated with either an internal or external heating element.

Thermoblock heaters aren’t actually boilers, they’re on demand water heaters that work by passing water through a heated block that has a coil-shaped void that the water passes through. 

Thermocoil heaters are very similar, but they have an actual metal coil (copper usually) sitting inside the heated block, rather than a coil-shaped void.

Thermocoils are slightly more modern, and you’ll find them on the clever Sage espresso machines, well, with their more entry level machines anyway, they use dual boilers on their flagship machines the Oracle & Oracle Touch, and the Dual Boiler.

Sage Oracle & Oracle Touch ReviewSage Dual Boiler Review

Another thing you’ll find in common with nearly all of the cheaper espresso machines and bean to cup machines, is thermoblock heaters.

So that’s two things these smeg coffee machines have in common with the entry-level machines. Although, to be fair, this is more of note with the Smeg ECF01, traditional machine, than it is with the BCC02, bean to cup machine.

This is simply because the vast majority of domestic bean to cup coffee machines use thermoblocks, rather than traditional brew boilers. 

Pressurized Baskets

Finally let’s talk about pressurized baskets, as I know you’re desperate to find out more about this exciting-sounding topic ;-). Again, this is mainly in relation to the Smeg ECF01 traditional espresso machine, as bean to cup machines have internal brewing units, it’s a slightly different ball game.

OK, I’ll be brief, I can see your eyes glazing over. Only kidding, I’ve not hacked your webcam, there’s a spooky thought!

Traditional filter baskets are a basket full of holes, and they are demanding when it comes to the requirements for grind size and also what’s known as puck prep, which is the barista skill associated with dialing in the grind and properly prepping the coffee in the basket to ensure a properly extracted shot.

See also  What The Heck Is A Bone Dry Cappuccino?

Many underestimate the importance of this, but actually, dialing in the grind and getting the puck prep nailed is the only real key to espresso quality other than the capability of the gear, and the quality of the coffee beans being used.

I’m not saying that pressurized portafilters or pressurized baskets (Gaggia call them “perfect crema” baskets, Sage refer to them as “Dual Walled” baskets) are bad, in fact I don’t think they are at all.

This is a statement that will earn me discredit from the home barista community, but I don’t care – the fact is, pressured baskets have their uses.

Yes, OK some will say their uses are as hats for rats, or as huge tiddlywinks, but in my humble opinion they also work as a halfway house between bean to cup and home barista espresso.

Bean to cup machines are super convenient, but they don’t quite give the authentic espresso-making experience that some people crave, and they also don’t have the potential for espresso quality that traditional machines have, although this is a bit of a generalisation.

Traditional espresso machines, though, are the polar opposite of bean-to-cup machines, from a user-friendliness and convenience perspective. 

A traditional espresso machine with a traditional basket, and not pressurized, needs:

  • An investment of about £350 upwards just for the espresso machine. This is very much entry-level. Some would say it’s more like £1000+ 
  • An espresso capable grinder, and for this you’re looking at around £200 and upwards – and this is entry-level, if you want mid-range, you’re looking at £400/£500 or so.
  • The development of home barista skill. Anyone can learn these skills, and I’m speaking from experience – if I can learn to do this I can assure you, you can. I’m as thick as two short planks!  But, it takes time and effort.
  • Dialing in, which means wasting quite a lot of coffee. This is is something that seems alien to many people, but if you’re using a traditional machine, you’ll be spending time and wasting coffee  “dialing in” which means adjusting the grind size until you get the extraction as close to perfect as possible

The above is just not for everyone, in fact, it’s for a very small percentage of the population. Using a setup like this is really a hobby, it’s the “Home Barista” hobby – and most people don’t want to embark on a hobby to make coffee, they just want a coffee machine as means to an end.

But what if you want the authentic home barista experience, but you don’t want the hobby side of things?

Well if you have a massive wad of cash burning a hole in your skyrocket, then the Sage Oracle and Oracle Touch that I’ve mentioned already, are well worth a look.

These machines are similar to one-touch bean to cup coffee machines, in that they’ll do everything for you, including the milk, but with infinitely better results, both with the coffee and with the milk, than any home bean to cup coffee machine I’ve ever used.

Check Price – Amazon UKCheck Price – Sage Appliances 

Check Price – Amazon UKCheck Price – Sage Appliances 

Well, I say “everything”, nearly everything. The user has to move the coffee around, in the portafilter, pour the milk into the jug and then pour the milk into the coffee, but this also provides the more authentic home barista experience. 

These machines are almost like hiring a full-time barista to do everything for you while wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, so everyone thinks this amazing coffee is coming from you ;-). There’s a downside, though – these machines probably have more working parts than Elon Musks’ rockets, let alone his cars.

So just keep in mind that with such amazingly clever machines, a few years down the line when outside of the warranty period, you may have to reach deeper into your pockets for repairs etc., than you would have with a more old school machine. 

If you have a smaller wad of cash you need to do something with and don’t mind doing a little bit more of the leg work, then the Sage Barista Touch is worth a look.

This has the same kind of swipe and touch screen display as the oracle touch, and the automatic milk steaming (which produces amazing microfoam by the way), but it doesn’t have the inbuilt stuff the Oracle range has when it comes to dosing and tamping, so there is a bit of work to do there. 

Check Price - Amazon UKCheck Price - Sage Appliances

But if you’re reading this and shaking your head, and muttering something under your breath like “Kev, you’re a complete lunatic, I’m not about to get a mortgage for a coffee machine” – then fear not, I’ll get my feet back on terrestrial soil.

If you don’t want bean to cup, if you want the more authentic espresso-making experience from home – but if you don’t want to go the full home-barista slog, buying brew scales & wasting coffee beans, taking part in weird-sounding ceremonies like “dialing in” and “Weiss Distribution”…

Also, if you’ve not just cashed in your crypto or matched 5 plus the bonus ball, and you’re only looking at spending a few hundred quid, then this is what – in my humble opinion – pressured basket machines are for.

Entry level home barista machines including the Sage Bambino, Bambino Plus, Barista Express, Barista Pro & Gaggia Classic, come with both pressured baskets and standard baskets, so you have the choice of which way to use them.

So if you can afford around £350 upwards, it may be an idea to look at the likes of these machines.

The technical difference, by the way, between one of the machines above, and the cheaper domestic machines which usually come only with pressured baskets, is that these machines also usually come with 15 bar pumps and no over pressure valve, and generally aren’t as good when it comes to temperature stability.

The Sage Bambino or Bambino Plus, for example – you can choose to use this with pressured baskets, but everything else about the machine is leaning towards the home barista side of things.  

It has a PID (digital temperature control) to keep the brew temp right, and to take it up to the right steam temp and then straight back down to the pre-set brew temp again afterwards.

It has an over pressure valve, set to pull the shot at 9 bars of pressure, it has a proper steam wand which is very easy to use to learn to properly texture milk for velvety flat whites.

Plus, if you wanted to at any time, you could take your home espresso up a gear by switching to the standard baskets. 

They’ve recently released the “Bambino” base-level version in the UK, which is sligtly cheaper – the main difference is that it doesn’t have the clever auto milk steaming that the plus has, and it has a slightly smaller water tank, and is even more petit.

Check Price - Amazon UKCheck Price - Sage Appliances

Check Price - Amazon UKCheck Price - Sage Appliances

Panarello Steam Wand

OK, this is the final bit of translation, and then I’ll carry on talking about the Smeg coffee machines ;-).

A Panarello steam wand is a pipe, usually plastic or sometimes metal, which covers the main steam pipe, and which has a hole on the side.

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You stick this in your milk jug, with milk in of course, or milk alternatives – definitely not eggs, we’re not talking about eggspresso machines here ;-), and the milk is aerated via this hole.

These kind of steam wands are basically for the untrained barista to use in order to steam milk.

They nearly all only create thick, large bubble froth for “old school” cappuccino. I say “nearly” because one of the only things the Smeg ECF01 doesn’t share with the DeLonghi EC685 (and more on that shortly) is that the DeLonghi has the only panarello wand I’ve ever used, which is actually capable of proper microfoam. 

A Panarello steam wand is something you’ll find on nearly all bean to cup coffee machines, and all of the cheaper domestic espresso machines.

A proper steam wand, which has a proper steam tip, and which – with some practice – can deliver much better milk texture, is something you’ll find on professional espresso machines, and on home barista espresso machines.

OK, so you have a bit of knowledge about bean to cup coffee machines and traditional espresso machines now, and this will help you to understand the rest of this post about Smeg espresso machines.

So we’ll start out with the traditional machine from Smeg:

Check Price – Amazon UK

So what we’ve just discussed about the low cost domestic espresso machines having 15 bar pumps, no over pressure valve, thermoblock boilers, pressured baskets and panarello steam wands?

Well – the Smeg ECF01 isn’t a low cost espresso machine, not really. You can get the Sage Bambino for only a few quid more than this, it’s at around the entry level home barista machine price.

But, look at the specs:

Pressure: 15 bars
Overpressure valve at 9 bars? No
Baskets: Pressurized
Water heater: Thermoblock

For example:

And as I’ve said, they both have pressured baskets, panarello steam wand, thermoblock boiler & 15 bar pumps with no overpressure valve.

So, if you buy the Smeg ECF01 instead of the DeLonghi Dedica EC685 – what are you getting for the (around double the cost at the time of writing looking at best deals for both) extra money?

As far as I can see, purely the Smeg style.

It does look cool, it looks very retro, very much like the fridges Smeg are most well known for. It’s slightly heavier than the DeLonghi Dedica, and I think the outer build quality seems a bit nicer – the steam level looks quirky too. 

But, when all is said & done – it’s a thermoblock machine with a 15 bar pump, no overpressure valve, pressurized baskets and a panarello steam wand.

You don’t have to pay this kind of money for this level of machine – in fact the DeLonghi machines are usually among the most expensive of that kind of machine, you can get them from around £80!

The sub £100 espresso machines aren’t as good as the DeLonghi Dedica in my humble opinion, I actually think that for the price you can get the Dedica for now they’re not a bad shout at all. 

Does the DeLonghi Dedica or any of the other cheaper domestic machines look as pretty as the Smeg espresso machine? Maybe not. Would you pay double just for the looks?

Well many do, and I’ve certainly got no problem with that, I’d just prefer that people were aware that this is what they’re doing.

If you’re aware that there are much cheaper machines but they don’t look as nice (in your opinion, remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder), and you’re happy with paying for the way the machine looks in your kitchen, go for it.

Now to talk about the Smeg bean to cup machine in a bit more detail. 

Check Price – Amazon UK

So this is a bean to cup coffee machine, an espresso machine with an integrated grinder. You put beans in the top, press a button, and you get freshly brewed coffee out of the bottom. 

It’s a semi-auto bean to cup machine, or “one-touch coffee”, and not a fully auto or “one-touch cappuccino” bean to cup machine. 

So bean to cup machines are different to the traditional machines we’ve just been talking about. 

Instead of having an external portafilter that the user has to put ground coffee beans into, you have a machine with an integrated grinder, and what’s called a brewing unit. Other than this, you have a pump, and a water heater – and then the buttons or control panel. 

So the dosing and tamping, and the espresso brewing, is all controlled within the brewing unit itself.

What many people don’t realize is that when it comes to domestic bean to cup coffee machines, all of these machines are very similar when it comes to the coffee side of things, because these brewing units are all very similar, and they all tend to have very similar grinders with few grind adjustments. 

This is where the Sage machines differ from bean to cup machines. The Sage Oracle and Oracle touch, and to some degree the Barista touch, which are almost bean to cup machines in the way that they’re used, deliver espresso in the traditional way, even though the user doesn’t have to interact with the machine in the traditional way. 

This is why, in my humble opinion, these machines will make better (or, to put it more fairly, more similar to traditional espresso, and it’s up to you whether you think that’s better or not) espresso than any domestic bean to cup coffee machine.

It’s a bit more difficult to categorize bean to cup machines into entry level, mid level and so on, as nearly all these kind of machines are so similar in the way they brew coffee. 

The Smeg bean to cup coffee machine, is a semi auto bean to cup machine, one-touch only for coffee, with a panarello steam wand. Well, the BCC02 has a panarello steam wand – the BCC01 model doesn’t have a steam wand at all, so that’s just for coffee, but I can’t see that this version is currently available. 

This is a small, minimalist looking machine, with very standard looking specs and features:

Thermoblock machine, as to be expected as most bean to cup machines are. 
19 bar pump
1.4 L water tank
Dreg drawer with a capacity for 8 used pucks of coffee. 

So surely, for the price you’ll have to pay for this – there must be something amazing that I’m missing?

The Gaggia Cadorna, for example,  has 4 separate user profiles you can completely customise for each user, including coffee temperature. 

This machine from smeg is more expensive than the Cadorna Style, the very well-known Gaggia Anima & the Gaggia Magenta.

It’s also more expensive than many of the popular DeLonghi options, looking at the current prices for machines such as the Eletta, Autentica Plus, and the feature-packed Dinamica Plus is only about twenty quid more.

So what’s the crack, am I missing something here – why does this machine appear to punch so far under its weight in terms of features?

I’m going to crack out another comparison…

So as you can see, as with the traditional Smeg machine, there are very similar machines to the Smeg bean to cup coffee machine, which are available at much lower prices, and the only obvious difference is the Smeg retro design. 

The machines from Beko, and from Scott, are very similar in terms of features and specs, as you can see above, they even all have a version available with no steam wand – which is quite rare for bean to cup coffee machines.

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The Beko machine, though, is less than half the price of the Smeg bean to cup machine. 

Unless I’m missing something massive, there’s no amazing feature the Smeg is giving you for this price point, and just keep in mind that if you spend this kind of money on a Gaggia,  DeLonghi or Melitta bean to cup coffee machine, you really do get a shed load of features. 

Things like LCD screens, personalisation, different user profiles and so on.

To be fair, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to bean to cup machines the coffee side of things is a grinder and a brewing unit, so you’re not going to get a massive difference with the espresso regardless of which machine you go for. 

But many people if they’re spending this much money on a bean to cup machine will think they’re buying a special machine in terms of the drinks it can make, and/or the features it delivers, but again, in my humble opinion what you’re investing in with this machine is the look and feel of the Smeg design. 

Again, I’m not putting anyone down for making that choice. Some people are very particular about what they put in their kitchens and the way their appliances look in the same space.

If this is you, and if you have other appliances that this would fit well with, and if you’re aware that you could get very similar specs, features and results cheaper, but you decide not to, then of course that’s fine, and you’re not alone, many people make very similar buying decisions when it comes to the stuff they’re putting in their homes. 

So there we go. Hopefully now not only are you much more informed about the Smeg coffee machines, but in the process, you’ve also learned some stuff about traditional espresso machines and bean to cup coffee machines which I hope will help you going forward, both when it comes to buying coffee machines, and annoying your friends and family with geeky coffee machine information :-).

As I mentioned earlier, Smeg also have a Lavazza coffee machine:

Check Price – Amazon UK

There’s not a massive amount I can say about Lavazza machines, they’re built around the brewing unit designed by the same guy who invented the Nespresso machine, so in short, it’s a Lavazza A Modo Mio Coffee Machine, with the Smeg design and branding. 

As with bean to cup machines all being very similar in that the coffee side of things is dealt with via a brewing unit, it’s the same kind of thing with these machines, in that usually, you spend more money for more features, but that in the case of Smeg it’s usually a case of spending more money for the smeg design & aesthetics.

The only reason I can see that anyone would want to pay the kind of price these sell for, vs the lower cost options including the Lavazza A Modo Mio Deséa Espresso – which is slightly cheaper and has a tonne of features including one touch cappuccino, is fo the unique Smeg design and build.

There’s also a Smeg filter coffee machine:

Check Price – Amazon UK

Again, it all appears to be about the Smeg style.

This isn’t a cheap filter coffee machine, but there’s nothing about the features of this coffee machine that jump off the page and tell me that spending this amount of money on a filter coffee machine will result in better-tasting coffee, or give any other kind of benefit.

It has a glass carafe, a max capacity of 1.25L, an auto wake-up timer via an LCD screen, two aroma settings, and a setting for smaller brews. 

These are fairly standard features, in fact if you see my best filter coffee machines post, you’ll find other filter coffee machines with similar features for a fraction of the price. 

Best Filter Coffee Machines

So again, it’s just a case of being aware of what you’re buying, which appears to be the specific smeg style, as opposed to paying a premium for an improvement in coffee quality or features.

Just a few commonly asked questions to deal with before I shoot:

Are Smeg and DeLonghi The Same

I’ve been asked this in the past, it’s a commonly searched question on Google, and the simple answer is no. Smeg and DeLonghi are two completely separate brands. 

Smeg was founded in 1948 in Guastalla in the province of Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy. SMEG, in case you were wondering, stands for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla, which means Metallurgical Enameling Emiliane Guastalla. The first product released under the Smeg brand was a cooker, called Elisabeth, in 1956. 

DeLonghi was founded in 1902 in Treviso in northeastern Italy, as a small manufacturing workshop for industrial parts. The first actual product launched under the DeLonghi brand name was an oil-filled radiator, in 1974.

While DeLonghi has acquired a number of other companies and brands, including Kenwood & Braun, they don’t (at the time of writing) have any publicly declared interest in Smeg. 

DeLonghi isn’t the only firm growing by acquisition, Smeg acquired La Pavoni in 2019 – but no, there’s no record of any kind of acquisition either way between DeLonghi and Smeg. 

I can understand why someone would ask this from reading through the specs of the DeLonghi Dedica and the Smeg ECF01, there are several similarities when it comes to the internals of these two espresso machines – but these are definitely two separate brands.

Is the Smeg Coffee Machine Good?

As you’ll know now if you’ve read this post, Smeg don’t just make one coffee machine, they make a few – at the time of writing, a couple of options of bean to cup coffee machine (with or without steam wand), a traditional espresso machine, a Lavazza capsule machine and a filter coffee machine. 

Whether they’re good, is a difficult question, it depends what you mean. Words like good, best, better & so on are very subjective.

If you mean are Smeg coffee machines worth it in terms of how much more they tend to cost than similar machines with similar features, I think that just comes down to how important style is when purchasing kitchen appliances. 

Someone who couldn’t a <whatever> about how a coffee machine looks in their kitchen, and how much it adds to the overall look and feel of whatever space they’re using the machine, would probably be looking for gains in the cup from the extra cash. 

For example, if you’re buying a traditional espresso machine, you might be willing to spend a bit more money for a machine because it has better thermal stability, as it has a PID controlling the temperature, and because it has an overpressure valve so it’s pulling shots at 9 bars of pressure, all things which potentially impact on cup quality. 

But some people are willing to pay more for kitchen appliances purely because of style, the way they’ll look in their kitchens, so if that’s what you mean when you say good, or worth it, then who’s to argue?

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This article firstly appeared at Coffee Blog – The UK Specialty Coffee Blog – For Lovers of REAL Coffee!