Swan Retro Espresso Machine review (2022)

At a Glance

Expert's Rating

Pros

  • Retro design
  • Various colour options
  • Powerful, adjustable steam wand

Cons

  • Manual dispense
  • Additional warming stage
  • Plasticky build

Our Verdict

Swan’s retro espresso machine brings vintage style in an array colours – for a third of the cost of a Smeg. But espresso machines are expensive and the compromise for this budget-friendly price is some ease of use and build sturdiness.

Price When Reviewed

RRP £99.99

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£69.99

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£81.99

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£81.99

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£99.00

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109.99

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£124.99

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£129.00

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If you’re a fan of vintage-style kitchen appliances, Swan’s range fits the bill. We’re reviewing the brand’s retro espresso coffee machine, which comes in nine different colours.

Although it’s not available in the US, we’ve found a very similar model on Amazon, which retails for $149.99.

Design & appearance

  • 1.2 litre tank
  • Temperature gauge
  • Steam wand

Weighing 3kg, this machine is a lightweight appliance with a coloured plastic body and a chrome dial, buttons, and trim. Topped with a metal cup rack, it also has a metal drip tray and metal steam wand. Okay, the rest of the build is slightly plasticky and the chrome trim might not last forever, but what you lose in sturdiness, you gain in style.

In the box, you’ll get a 15-bar machine, a scoop and tamper tool, a pair of 1-shot and 2-shot filter baskets, a portafilter, a brush and a manual.

The machine itself is neat at 31cm high, 20cm wide and 27cm deep, although you must add another 8cm for the portafilter handle. Its body colour – in our case, cream, but you could opt for sage, pastel blue, grey, pink, purple and more – means the machine’s presence feels far less imposing than it might have done in black or stainless steel. Indeed, it blended in with our cream tiles, which calms the sense of worktop clutter.

The transparent tank slots into the back and fits 1.2 litres of water. You can fill from the tap or in situ; the tank has a swing-back hinge that can be confusing at first, but means you never accidentally lose the lid. The cable is also a decent 97cm long.

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The drip tray has a useful float valve, so you can see when it’s full, and the grill is removable for easy cleaning. You can also fit a 250ml mug under the portafilter spout, so there’s capacity to dispense an espresso directly into your latte or cappuccino mug.

Interestingly, the manual gives you suggested dispensing volumes for both an espresso and a cappuccino, with the latter carrying milk volume suggestions. We noticed this specifically because manual dispense coffee machines don’t always come with a helpful manual and this will save you some research time.

The machine is controlled from three buttons on the front: steam, pump, and power. You can also control the steam wand’s power via a dial, which is incredibly useful and gives you a touch of barista authenticity.

The front panel also has three indicator lights for pump, power, and steam, which tell you when the machine is on and whether the temperature of the water is high enough to dispense coffee or steam milk. There’s also a temperature gauge, which takes the guessing out of the heating-up game.

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Using the Swan Retro Espresso Machine

  • Pre-heating process adds another stage to espresso making
  • Compatible with ESE pods or ground coffee
  • No pre-set volumes for dispensing

Before you do anything, you need to wash the accessories and pre-clean the machine, which involves running water through the machine and portafilter. Once it has been properly cleaned according to the instructions, you’re ready to use it.

Every time you turn on the machine, your first step is to pump some water through into a cup to ensure the heating process kicks in. This is where the temperature gauge comes in handy, as you can see it heating up.

Swan then suggests preheating the machine, portafilter and your cup. When the temperature gauge has reached the red “cup” region, you dispense hot water into your cup for twenty seconds before shutting it off and throwing the hot water away.

At that point, you fill the filter basket, tamp it down, place the filter basket in the heated portafilter, fix the portafilter back in place and press the pump button to allow the coffee to run through. When you’ve dispensed for long enough, simply press the pump button again to stop the flow.

So, from a cold start, you’d turn the machine on, pump a spot of water through to set the water heating, then wait until the temperature was appropriate for coffee, pump more water through to heat the machine, portafilter and your cup, throw that water away, and then fill the basket with coffee and dispense your drink.

It’s a three-stage process, which means it takes longer and is a bit more demanding than you might expect.

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However, the resulting coffee was impressive: dark body, excellent crema, Guinness presentation. The smell was fragrant and the drink a good temperature with a rich, potent taste.

What was noticeable was the compacted nature of the grinds when it came to empty the filter basket, which suggested the machine’s pump works effectively to penetrate through the coffee.

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Steaming milk

  • Adjustable steam wand
  • Dial control
  • Milk jug not included

To steam milk, switch off the pump dispense button, depress the steam button, and then wait until the steam indicator light comes on. You can see the temperature needle rising, which is useful.

Swan suggests you then turn the steam knob on for fifteen seconds to clear out cold water in the system before you insert it into your milk jug (a metal jug is best because you can assess the heat of your milk on the side).

When you have done that, put the wand into your jug and slowly turn the dial to steam your milk. The dial makes the process of steaming very controllable, and we have to say it’s a very effective milk steamer: fast and frothy. There’s a pull-off cylinder at the end of the wand; we guess this is to protect against steam spray.

The result was a very fine cappuccino indeed: one that rivalled most coffee shop offerings.

Price and availability

You can’t buy it from US retailers, but we spotted a dupe on Amazon for $149.99.

The Swan Retro Espresso Machine is available in the UK from a number of retailers. The best price we could find is on Amazon, where it’s currently available for £75. It’s also available from AO.com at the same price, although Amazon has more colour options. Currently all (black, blue, cream, green, grey, orange, pink, purple, yellow) are in stock.

This espresso coffee machine is part of an enormous retro range that includes (wait for it) pans, jugs, kettles, toasters, slow cookers, air fryers, fans, salt and pepper mills, mixers, bread bins, microwaves, canisters, scales, mugs and mug trees, fridges, freezers, fridge freezers, roasting trays, casserole dishes and more, all available in the same colours. You can browse the full range on the Swan website.

It’s an extraordinarily comprehensive range that will allow you to kit out your kitchen with matching appliances and accessories.

As well as this machine, Swan also makes a retro style One-Touch Espresso Machine. It’s available from Amazon for £125, and is a little larger, with an attached milk tank and more automatic functions.

Swan espresso machines also come in the Nordic (simpler lines and a wood-effect trim) and Gatsby (gold trim, slightly steampunk) styles.

Verdict

The Swan Retro Espresso Coffee Machine is a stylish appliance that makes a good cup of coffee and steams milk well. Okay, there’s an additional stage and a bit of fuss to the process, and you might prefer the One-Touch for ease of use, but if style is important to you, you’re unlikely to find this kind of design and range of colour options at a similar price point elsewhere.

For more espresso machine options, have a look at out round-up of the best espresso machines we’ve tested. If you’d like to see wider variety of coffee makers, check out our best coffee machines of all kinds: pod, espresso, filter and bean-to-cup.

Specs

Swan Retro Espresso Machine: Specs

  • Manual dispensing espresso machine
  • 15-bar pressure
  • 1.2 litre tank
  • Compatible with ground coffee & ESE pods
  • Comes with portafilter, tamper & one- and two-shot filter baskets

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