Welcome to CoffeeSnobs.
Fear not - this is by no means an easy question.
Ill try to add some responses to the list. Im sure others will join in too.
- Ive tried to do a little research already
- I have a budget of about £400 GBP (around $900 AUD)
In the right ballpark - sorry, cricket stadium.
- Im based in the UK and as far as I know cant buy Sunbeam coffee machines, which get good reviews on here
No - I think the Sunbeam EM6910 is an Australia only product at present, but rumors have been floated that Sunbeam are going to roll it out to other markets. Although, probably not in the timeframe you need.
- I think I want to get a Burr grinder(?) as well, with a doser (although Im not sure what a doser is, I think shell need one?)
A doser is a chamber attached to the front of the grinder. The idea with a proper doser is that you can set each click of the doser to deliver specific weights of ground coffee. In grinders without a proper doser, its just a chamber to catch the grinding coffee. Many and varied opinions on their value, but in the end it seems to be a personal choice for people whether to go doser or doserless. I personally have owned 2 decent grinders, both with dosers and I like grinders with a doser.
- Do I need the grinder, or are they any good pre-ground coffees thats make do?
HELL YES YOU NEED A GRINDER. Its actually more important than the machine. A good grinder / bad machine will still probably produce decent coffee. A good machine / bad grinder will not.
- The top contender so far, from looking around this price range, is the Rancilio Silvia.
I used to own one and thought it was a good machine
- I ve found the Silvia with a Rancilio Rocky grinder(good?) for £450 ($1033 AUD)
Sounds like a good price for the combo. Yes, the Rocky is a good grinder. I also used to own one of them.
- My wife used to a be a pretty good barrista (so she says!) so technical issues shouldnt be an issue
- Are there any machines comparable machines, quality wise, to the Silvia that are easier to use?
Im sure there are and others are better qualified to answer that one.
- We have have 2 children under two years old - hence her need for coffee, but also a huge lack of time to spend half an hour every morning making the perfect cup
I use a timer and my machine comes on 30 minutes before I get up. If the machine is up to temperature, it should only take 5 minutes to make 2 coffees (with milk) using a Silvia or similar.
- Am I been silly even looking at a Silvia - am I jumping on a bandwagon?
Nope - the bandwagon exists because they are a good machine. BUT, they are not the only thing out there in the price range.
- Are there any machines at say half the price of my budget that even you coffeesnobs think makes a decent, better-than-caffetiere coffee?
Hmmm.. Id say no, but its all a matter of taste.
- Do I even need an espresso machine, considering the fact that ease will be a greater factor over a sligh drop in quality of the outcome for the next year ro two while the kids grow up and arent so dependant on their mum?
There are other options. Aeropress, presso, plunger etc. Again, it comes down to taste.
- Would a perculator be a good, very cheap compromise to get better-than-caffetiere coffee?
Possibly, but only if you have access to good fresh beans. And it really depends on a number of factors.
Hope that helps.
One thing you didnt mention - what type of coffee does the wife drink? Espresso, short black, long black, cappuccinos?