The Best Espresso Machine For You In 2019
Espresso. If that one word makes your heart beat faster, you’re in good company. But paying for an espresso at the coffee shop… every day? That’s a problem. Right?
You need a good home espresso maker. But...how do you pick the best espresso machine? This is a big decision; you’re not buying a new toothbrush here!
This is our master list of espresso machine reviews of 2019. We cover a few different categories to help you find the right machine to fit your style, your kitchen, and budget; just see them listed below to navigate to the class that suits you most. If you're looking for something for your coffee shop, read our guide to the best commercial espresso machines here.
Best Budget Espresso Machines (Best Machines under $100)
If you're just getting into home espresso you may feel more comfortable buying an affordable machine. You can enjoy an espresso and learn to use the steam wand for milk frothing without committing to a high-end (and high-priced) coffee maker. Budget, affordable, inexpensive; whatever you want to call it, here are our picks for machines under $100 that are worth the money:
The DeLonghi EC155 is an extremely affordable entry-level option. This Italian-made machine combines accessibility and ease of use with the reputation of an established company. It comes with the patented DeLonghi Cappuccino Frothing Wand for easy milk frothing and a 3-in-1 filter holder that works for both ground coffee and espresso pods.
The black and stainless steel exterior is compact, making it a seamless fit for many modern kitchens. If you’re wondering where to buy a DeLonghi EC155, or want more information click the button below or read our full review here.
BEST SUITED FOR: This is a perfect option for a beginner. If you want to dive into the espresso world, this model is a great way to learn the ropes and get your personal taste figured out.
- Dimensions: 8 x 10 x 11
- Capacity: 35 oz.
- Pressure: 15 ba
This tiny, entry-level machine does only two things: make espresso and steam milk. But really, what else do you need?
The Bella lets you brew up to 4 ounces of espresso at once. Then, with its built-in milk frother, you can pimp it up to a cappuccino or latte. This is a manual, electric machine so all you need to do is turn the rotary switch to espresso and turn it off when finished. If you want to brew one espresso at a time simply place a cup under the portafilter. If you're making two 2-ounce shots or two cappuccinos (for you and your better half) just use the 4-ounce glass carafe the Bella comes with. Et voila!
Some say the rotary switch that turns it on and off feels a little delicate, so be gentle. Still, for the price, the Bella 13683 gives you espresso and cappuccino with a tiny footprint on your kitchen, shop, and workspace.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those looking for a quick espresso without spending a lot of time and money.
- Dimensions: 9.4" x 8.9" x 11.2"
- Capacity: 4 cups
- Pressure: 5 bar
Best Espresso Machines Under $200
If your budget permits, here's our list of best picks for machines under $200. Typically, these give you a little more functionality than the super-budget machines but still don't carry the price tag of a high-end espresso machine.
The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is all about convenience. Brewing options, an automatic frother, even the adjustable cup height on the tray make this ideal for anyone who wants to experiment without taking the plunge into more expensive machinery. The milk reservoir is removable, allowing you to store unused milk for next time, and the water reservoir also pops out easily, making refilling a cinch. Plus, the one-touch control panel makes selecting the kind of drink utterly convenient.
If you’re looking for a convenient, quick way to get a decent cup of espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc., this is a great choice.
BEST SUITED FOR: Espresso lovers who want a convenient and affordable home device with which to begin their espresso adventures.
- Dimensions: 12.6" x 8.9" x 11.2"
- Capacity: 1.7 liter (water), 0.5 liter (milk)
- Pressure: 15 bar
A 15-bar pump; filter baskets for single shots, double shots, and espresso pods; a milk frother that doesn't require movement - the DeLonghi ECP3420 is a low-price powerhouse. Adjustable controls let you find your favorite drink settings, and the removable drip tray gives you room under the dual-spout portafilter for tall mugs if you like lattes.
The self-priming feature cuts the time required to start up, a plus for impatient coffee lovers. And the Rapid Cappuccino System maintains the ideal temperature for making cup after cup.
Best suited for: Espresso lovers on a budget, looking for a little flexibility.
- Dimensions: 9.6" x 7.2" x 11.9"
- Capacity: 35 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
Best Espresso Machines Under $300
If you're stepping up to this price range, you can get some more sophisticated machinery without a huge layout of cash.
This is in many ways the "sweet spot" of the home espresso machine market: the higher-priced machines deliver more, but you can get solid features in this bracket.
The DeLonghi EC702 is a fantastic device that is sleek, simple, easy to operate and delivers great espresso. Using a unique, patented dual filter holder, you can brew with both your own ground coffee and espresso pods. It comes equipped with two separate thermostats to govern the temperatures of both the steam and the water, is self-priming, and its user-friendly frother is great for making cappuccinos and lattes.
It claims to have a no-drip design and to be a fairly clean machine, but many reviews point out that it can require quite a bit of cleaning and maintenance nonetheless. One powerful positive to this option is its stainless steel boiler, an upgrade from other lesser quality versions, which should keep you going for years to come.
BEST SUITED FOR: The EC702 is a great step upwards. If you feel confident in your understanding of espresso and are looking for a good, slightly more complex machine, you’ll want to check this one out.
- Dimensions: 11" x 9" x 11.6"
- Capacity: 44 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
Capresso is owned by Jura, who make some of the hottest (and priciest) semi-automatic and automatic machines in the home arena....Unless you buy a used or refurbished Jura. The Capresso 125 has a 15-bar pump, fed by an advanced boiler that maintains the right temperature for perfect extraction.
All of the machines so far could make you a good cup of coffee - the Capresso 125 Cafe PRO could make you a better barista.
Better still, the Capresso 125 comes with two portafilters. The first is a heavy-duty double spout unit, meant for beginners. This one is designed to produce delicious espresso without having to worry too much about your tamping or grind size. Want to step up your barista game? The bottomless filter, like those used in barista competitions, builds pressure based on grind size and tamp. The crema stays richer, and the espresso hotter, because of reduced contact with the portafilter.
BEST SUITED FOR: The espresso lover who wants to kick their game up a notch, but doesn't want to give up flavor and consistency while they're mastering the subtleties.
- Dimensions: 11" x 9" x 11.6"
- Capacity: 42 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
Best Espresso Machines Under $500
At this point, you can expect great espresso, with improvements to the technology and quality inside the product.
You'll also typically see more fine control over the output. Where a budget espresso machine makes decent, repeatable espresso easily and quickly; a high-end machine asks a little more of you, but delivers big-time if you're willing to put in the effort. Here are two we like for that reason:
The semi-automatic Gaggia 14101 Classic handles the basics of brewing espresso but gives you fine control over the end product. Want to keep it simple? The portafilter comes with a pressurized basket designed to take ESE pods. Want a little more involvement? There's also a pressurized basket for ground coffee.
Either one will give you a solid espresso with a decent crema, without weighing or tamping - all you have to do is fill the basket, then start and stop the pump.
Or you can take it to the next level with the professional, non-pressurized basket which is where you can start learning finesse. Grind size, grams, timing - the Gaggia Classic lets you develop your skills. And speaking of skills, the Pannarello wand on this and many other Gaggia products is a simple milk frother. The secret: air intake holes on the wand draw in air as the steam heats the milk, giving it a creamy consistency. Don't want the froth? Submerge the air intake holes and the steam will just heat the milk.
BEST SUITED FOR: Someone who wants the best of both worlds: the simplicity of pods and the skill of using a professional basket.
- Dimensions: 9.5" x 8" x 14.2"
- Capacity: 42 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
Real baristas know the importance of pre-infusing the grinds to get the best extraction. With the Breville BES 840XL, this is built into the machine. A steady, low-pressure pre-infusion - much like the "bloom" on a pour over - prepares the grinds for the optimal 9-bar extraction. The PID temperature controller is programmable in 2-degree increments and reduces fluctuations during extraction for consistent flavor.
The double-shot filter baskets take a dose up to 19-22 g (typically, filter baskets take 11-13 g) if you're looking for a higher coffee-to-water ratio. Combine this with flexible shot control (including manual shot control), and you are fully in charge. Read more about this little bad boy in our full review here.
BEST SUITED FOR: The knowledgeable espresso lover who gets the subtle aspects of pre-infusion, ratio, and temperature as part of the perfect shot.
- Dimensions: 13.7" x 11.5" x 13.2"
- Capacity: 61 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
For Serious Espresso Fanatics (Best Espresso Machines under $1000)
If you know you're crazy about espresso and have the budget, these three will give you the espresso of your dreams, with the option of steamed and frothed milk for cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, flat whites, and more. In my opinion, the best espresso machine for most of you will be one of the options below:
Our review of the Breville BES870XL Barista Express came up with a fairly common theme: a ton of people love this thing! It’s bigger than other machines, especially in width, and exudes espresso-making authority with a host of options and variations that give you more control over the brewing process.
This maker grinds beans fresh with a built-in grinder, has a 2L water tank with filter capability, and a stainless steel 360-degree swivel action steam wand – all tools that can allow you to make fresh, crafted coffee at a rapid rate. The unit even comes with a dedicated hot water outlet, making it more of an all-in-one device (and making up for some of the extra countertop space it requires). Click here to check it out now.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those ready to take their espresso-making prowess to the next level. This machine takes the power of a lower-priced automatic and places it in the user’s control. It is a perfect option for those looking to advance their espresso experience.
- Dimensions: 13.25" x 12.5" x 15.75"
- Capacity: 2 liters
- Pressure: 15 bar
The Rancilio Silvia M’s track record over the last decade has truly set it apart as a superior entry-level machine, yet it has the ability to satisfy the experienced barista. With an iron frame and stainless steel exterior, this sleek Italian machine is built to last. The unit is equipped with a forged marine brass group head boiler, leading to greater stability in heat and longer-lasting pieces, as well as a large 12-oz boiler, which gives an incredible steam capacity.
It has a commercial-sized portafilter and creates less mess with a 3-way solenoid valve that relieves pressure on the coffee grounds after an extraction. The one disappointment is the lack of a built-in grinder. Many users complain of having to work fairly intensively to find a grind that works. But seriously, if you’re going to invest in a machine as sweet as this one, learning how to grind coffee well should be a priority anyway.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those who want the capability and durability of a much more expensive machine without the cost or complexity.
- Dimensions: 9.2" x 11.4" x 13.3"
- Capacity: 1.8-liter reservoir. 0.3-liter boiler
- Pressure: Adjustable brew pressure (typically 11 bar as delivered)
Automatic Espresso Machines
So, you want to wake up every morning to the perfectly brewed, silky-smooth, flavor-bursting cup of coffee, without the complexity found in so many machines? What you want is the best automatic espresso machine. The biggest player in this space is probably Jura, but here are three of our favorites from all brands. Don't miss our detailed review of the best automatic machines here.
The Magnifica brings the capability and aroma of an Italian cafe right into your home. It grinds the beans for you in its built-in burr grinder and can brew the espresso at adjustable levels of strength. It also has a single or double shot espresso option. Be aware that it works best with medium roasts and is NOT good with oily coffee beans.
The unit comes equipped with the DeLonghi’s patented dual thermostat and frother as well. Read our full review of the Magnifica here.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those who want affordability, brewing convenience, and quality espresso all rolled into one.
- Dimensions: 17" x 13" x 18"
- Capacity: 1.8 liter reservoir. Bean capacity: 8.8 oz.
- Pressure: 15 bar
The Gaggia Brera is the Apple product of espresso. Stylish and compact, it just plain works. And not only that, it’s a workhorse. Its super user-friendly design makes it possible for those who want truly great espresso to make their own without taking a course on “how to be a barista.”
The Brera's pre-infusion brew system allows the machine to get more out of the beans before it starts brewing. It also comes with a 4-stage water filtration system (although the actual filters for the system are not included in the initial purchase), three varying strengths of espresso, and it even warns you when it needs to be cleaned and descaled.
All in all, this is a great mid-range option for those passionate about espresso and equipped with the palate to notice minor changes in water quality and coffee flavor.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those with slightly bigger budgets, less know-how, and a rabid desire for superb espresso!
- Dimensions: 12.4" x 10" x 17.5"
- Capacity: 40-oz. water, 250g beans
- Pressure: 15 bar
The DeLonghi Magnifica One Touch makes excellent espresso and allows you to customize the strength (5 settings) and volume (4 settings). It’s an impressively compact machine, given the large capacity and the fact that it has two boilers to keep both water and milk hot.
The machine’s removable parts give the user more control over care and maintenance, and the cup warmer is a nice perk, especially if you have nice cappuccino cups to serve in. Even with the removable parts, maintenance does take some time and work. The only other drawbacks are that the results from the manual steam wand aren’t very convenient and the grinder can be noisy.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those who like the convenience and quality of an automatic bean-to-cup machine but still want to retain a lot of control.
- Dimensions: 15.3" x 14.4" x, 11"
- Capacity: 60 oz. water, 8.8 oz. bean hopper
- Grinder: Conical, low-pitch burr grinder – customize the fineness of the grind too
Best Small Espresso Machines
Got a tiny kitchen with next-to-no counter space? Want to make espresso on your desk or in a workshop? Like to have a shot of great espresso when you're traveling or camping? These miniature machines could be the answer.
No, they won't have the same features as the automatic machines covered elsewhere (one of these doesn't even heat its own water), but for a minimalist kitchen or getting your daily espresso in a remote location, these do the job. Here's a full list of great portable espresso makers - but our favourites are below:
The Wacaco MiniPresso is a portable option to have an espresso “on-the-go”. Made of sturdy plastic, this cylindrical espresso maker comes apart into several pieces but goes back together into one piece that stores easily as a single unit.
Now, it should come as no surprise that this manual brewer requires you to provide your own water and grind your own coffee. However, once you have these and you’ve loaded the filter and water chamber, you’re ready to make some espresso and simultaneously get a nice little hand workout. The pump on the side of the cylinder pops out and after a few priming pumps, you should begin to get coffee out of the bottom.
While this is obviously not the perfect answer to an easy morning espresso in your kitchen, the Wacaco Portable MiniPresso can be a perfect and affordable addition to your coffee arsenal, equipping you with a predictable cup of espresso quite literally anywhere you might find yourself.
BEST SUITED FOR: Those who travel (either for business or recreation or both) will find this device very useful.
- Dimensions: 6.89" x 2.75" x 2.36"
- Capacity: 2.35 ounces
- Pressure: 8 bar (hand pumped)
The EC860M DEDICA is a compact, sleek machine that takes up less than six inches of counter space (in width), yet still has a 35-ounce water reservoir that holds enough water for 17 2-ounce shots. It's available in black and red, as well as stainless steel.
The dual-spout portafilter means you can brew two shots at once if you're starting the day with a friend, or a double if you need a little more coffee love in your morning. You can also fit an ESE pod. Plus you can remove the drip tray to fit a taller cup underneath the portafilter. It's built-in steam wand means you can froth milk for cappuccinos and lattes.
True, you'll need to provide your own steaming pitcher, and you'll need a grinder that gives you ground coffee fine enough for espresso. But that's true for most compact machines, especially at this price point.
BEST SUITED FOR: The espresso lover with a small kitchen counter and a big appetite for coffee and milk drinks.
- Dimensions: 13" x 5.9" x 13"
- Capacity: 35-oz tank (17 2-oz shots)
- Pressure: 15 bar
Manual Espresso Machines
A manual machine requires your commitment in every aspect, from grinding the beans finely enough to tamping them at the right pressure to pulling the shot at the right pace. But the rewards for getting everything right are more than just a beautiful cup of coffee: the personal touch and practice that lever machines require to make each shot a work of art, the result of your own skill, concentration, and perseverance.
Here are the top three products from our full review of manual machines. Read that if you're serious about going manual.
With its eagle-topped dome and elaborate mirror-finish platform, the Elektra S1 Micro Casa looks like something out of a Milanese café in the Belle Epoque.
The Micro Casa is available in two materials: chrome or copper and brass (the copper and brass one is super sexy - check it out). It has a steam pressure gauge and sight glass, allowing you to monitor the boiler’s pressure and water level. The spring piston is more forgiving to use than some other lever machines, as it will intuitively guide the extraction pressure in a more consistent way.
The machine has a thermal safety switch and an overpressure valve. However, many of its heating parts are fully exposed, so it needs to be used carefully.
BEST SUITED FOR: Someone who wants a machine with an elegant, retro flair, yet with good features.
- Dimensions: 21" (top of lever)/18" (top of eagle) x 10" x 10"
- Capacity: 1.8L
- Pressure: 3 bar in boiler, 8 bar at portafilter
Steampunk fans, your machine is ready. The Pavoni name is familiar to espresso connoisseurs around the world. A Milanese man called Desiderio Pavoni was the first to produce commercial espresso machines in 1905. Made from brass and copper, the La Pavoni Professional begs you to wear goggles and a leather flying cap while pulling a shot.
It doesn't have a spring lever but a piston, meaning it works purely on the user’s muscle power. This - well, let's say it - rewards practice. Pull too quickly and it blows bubbles out the portafilter; pull it just right and your espresso comes with an extra helping of well-deserved pride.
If the Chemex speaks to Mies Van der Rohe designs, the La Pavoni cries out for Art Deco china to sip your coffee from.
The Professional is also less bottom-heavy, meaning it can be difficult to keep in place in operation. (Get used to holding the base down while you lift the lever.) It has a capacity of about 32 single shots. However, as it is a piston-operated machine, achieving a consistent brew takes practice and attention. But isn't that half the reason you want a manual machine in the first place?
BEST SUITED FOR: Someone who appreciates espresso as part of a quest for spiritual perfection in the context of classic, timeless design.
- Dimensions: 12.6" x 17.9" x 11.4"
- Capacity: 38 oz.
- Pressure: 9 bar at 14 lb of lever pressure
And now, as they say, for something completely different: the ROK Presso Manual.
Compared to the other models on this list, the ROK Presso is austere. It is a no-frills machine that has clearly been designed with functionality in mind. It requires no electricity and is straightforward to use - just push down to build pressure. The resulting cup of espresso cannot compete with what you could brew with a lever machine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you have the right espresso beans and get the brewing process down to a T, you can get delicious espresso on the Presso.
BEST SUITED FOR: Espresso-loving travelers or people who spend time in locations without electricity.
- Dimensions: 5.1" x 8.6" x 11.8"
- Capacity: Up to 42g espresso (output)
- Pressure: 5-10 bar, depending on operator
Best Pod Espresso Machines
At Home Grounds, we're all about high-quality coffee beans, roasted fresh and ground seconds before brewing. Quality espresso deserves this, requires it, rewards it (1). But, sometimes you just want to pop in a pod, push a button, and let your eyes roll up in bliss as the coffee takes hold.
Maybe it's not for yourself. Maybe it's for an office where you don't want to be responsible for the brewing (and the cleaning) that a manual machine requires. Maybe you have a special friend or family member that you visit often and you want to drink something a step up from freeze-dried crystals.
For such people - and it's okay if you're one of them, we don't judge - the pod machine can be a life-saver. Here are three that we'd be happy to find in our hotel room, or as a holiday gift for our favorite aunt (who drinks tea, but offers us - shudder - instant coffee when we stop in).
No need to extol the virtues of Breville as a manufacturer of quality espresso machines. The BEC120 Inissia marries Breville's reputation with the popular Nespresso coffee pod format, offering a wide range of different roasts and flavors. You can select the size you want: an espresso (0.84 oz), or a lungo (1.35 oz). Just pop in a pod, push one of the two buttons and get ready to sip.
All this makes is espresso, so if you want a cappuccino or a latte, you'll need to provide your own way of steaming milk.
BEST SUITED FOR: A quick espresso with the absolute minimum of effort.
- Dimensions: 12.4" x 4.7" x 9.1"
- Capacity: 24 oz.
- Pressure: up to 19 bar
Keurig B70 Platinum K-Cup Brewing System
There's a reason K-cups are called K-cups and not E-cups - Keurig still dominates the U.S. coffee pods and capsules market (2). If you're still bitter because VHS obliterated Betamax, buy a Keurig and never feel the shame of owning an orphan appliance.
The Keurig B70 Platinum is a compact single-serve espresso and coffee maker, with all the simplicity pod lovers have come to expect. Five brewing size options let you make anything from a single espresso to a drip coffee. You can adjust the brew temperature if you want it hotter or cooler. There's a removable drip tray to help with cleanup. One thing missing: the B70 doesn't come with a way of steaming milk wand.
BEST SUITED FOR: Busy coffee drinkers who want a quick cup to start the day.
- Dimensions: 13.8" x 10.3" x 13"
- Capacity: 60 oz.
- Pressure: up to 19 bar
Types of Espresso Machines
The first thing you need to know before choosing is how espresso machines work and what type of machine best suits your needs. Here's the rundown:
- Manual/lever pump machines - The original espresso maker, introduced in 1905. These require - and reward - skill and practice. But if you want to control everything about your espresso shot and milk frothing, these are the benchmark.
- Electric machines - Consistency, consistency, consistency. If your electric espresso maker puts out 15 bar of pressure, it will do that for every cup. All you have to do is use the right amount of ground coffee (you do have a scale, right?) and the coffee machine does the rest.
- Semi-automatic espresso machines - if you like the satisfaction that comes from hands-on espresso making (but don't want to have to do every last step yourself), a semi-automatic machine could be just the thing. You choose how much coffee to put in the filter basket, you tamp the grinds to the right pressure, you start and stop the pump to control how much water you use.
- Automatic espresso machines - True one-touch operation is what these machines are all about. Many let you program in your preferences in coffee strength and milk frothing, but typically you do that once and then select your programmed drink later with no fuss.
- Super-automatic espresso machines - Are like automatic espresso machines on steroids. The best of these let you select a drink from a screen, push a button, and enjoy your selected beverage in seconds. You DO have to put a cup under the spout, but that's about it.
- Portable/compact espresso machines - Great for people with tiny kitchens or living the #vanlife, many of these don't require electricity for the ultimate in portability.
Espresso Machine Brands
Here's a look at some of the top names in the industry:
Established in 1932, Breville has manufactured some of the most respected small kitchen appliances on the market and is an award winner for creating innovative products that are equally affordable as they are high quality (3). You'll see Breville machines often being in the running for best espresso machine. For good reason.
Breville offers a one-year limited warranty on all products – meaning while you get to know your machine you’ll have no fear of showing it some tough love. Breville designs products with features for the espresso beginner to espresso expert. Not only are the features easy to use, but they allow for the perfect cup of coffee every time.
Check out the customer favourite Breville machines here.
Located in Treviso, Italy, DeLonghi manufactures a wide range of kitchen appliances (4). Originally incorporated as a machine-tool maker in 1902, they diversified in 1950 and bought the rights to manufacture Braun household products in 2013. DeLonghi produced their first espresso maker, the BAR5, in 1993. Their Magnifica, introduced in 2004, was the firm's first fully automatic espresso and cappuccino maker. In 2007, they launched their first product in partnership with Nespresso, the Lattissima.
Here are the best rated DeLonghi espresso machines.
Nespresso (a combination of the parent company name, Nestlé, with espresso) debuted the coffee-capsule concept in 1986. Four coffee flavors and two machines made up their original product line.
As early as 1991, questions about the aluminum coffee capsules led Nespresso to begin a recycling program in their native Switzerland, with 34 recycling centers around the country (5). They maintain programs in sustainability and environmental responsibility to this day, not only in ethical trading in coffee but in sourcing aluminum for their capsules. In 2015, Nespresso opened Switzerland's first LEED-certified manufacturing facility.
Beginning in 2010, competitors began making coffee capsules that would work in Nespresso machines. Nespresso also licenses the process to other coffee makers.
Achille Gaggia patented the first steamless espresso machine in 1938, introducing a new way of making Italy's signature beverage. The hot-water method is also credited with first producing the layer of crema that espresso lovers enjoy today. Their Gilda, introduced in 1952, is considered the first espresso machine intended for home use (6).
Because early Gaggia machines introduced the lever-action espresso maker, we have them to thank for the term "pulling a shot" to refer to producing an espresso with a lever. Not until Faema introduced the motorized pump to deliver hot water to the portafilter in 1961 did espresso fans finally get the full 9 bar effect now considered de rigueur for proper espresso.
Once upon a time, there was a percolator, and it was the way millions of households brewed their coffee. Water bubbled up through the center of the device, then dripped through the grounds to be re-heated and re-bubbled, cooking and oxidizing the solids extracted from the coffee grounds (which were probably scooped out of a can, but that's another story).
"One of the first automatic drip coffee makers designed for home use... Mr. Coffee became a market leader almost immediately." - Margalit Fox
And then, in 1972, Mr. Coffee burst on the scene and transformed our mornings (7). Heated water passed over the coffee grounds only once, solving the problems of over-extraction and overheating in one simple step. The automatic coffee maker pioneered by Mr. Coffee changed the way coffee drinkers made and enjoyed their morning brew.
Lingo and features
Espresso machines have their own language. Here are some definitions to help you take your first step into a larger world:
- 'Espresso shot' and 'Double Shot': at the simplest level, these describe the volume of the espresso you pull from your espresso machine. Most espresso makers offer a selection of filter baskets, one containing enough grinds for a single espresso shot, the other enough for a double shot. A real shot of espresso requires a minimum level of pressure (8). Contrary to popular belief; Moka pots do not compare.
- Portafilter: the piece that holds the filter basket, which you typically lock in place before pulling a shot. Portafilters come in various sizes, from 40 to 60 mm. This matters if you're buying spare filter baskets, or when you buy a tamper.
- Filter basket: the piece inside the portafilter that holds the ground coffee. Many espresso machines have interchangeable filter baskets for different sizes (and strengths) of espresso shots. Some also have a filter basket designed to hold an ESE pod.
- One touch: a function that lets you create a drink with the push of a single button. Many super-automatic espresso machines let you program a specific drink, then brew it with a single button. For example, you might program the amount of coffee used in a drink, the ideal temperature of the water, and the amount of steamed milk you prefer. Later, you can brew your custom drink with one touch.
- Heating system: the parts that heat water for espresso and for steaming milk. The wattage and design of an espresso machine's heating system have an effect on how quickly that machine can heat water for your morning coffee, and how consistent the temperature is.
- Single-boiler: a heating system that uses one boiler to provide hot water for the espresso and steam for the milk frother. Most manual espresso makers have a single-boiler heating system, requiring you to pull the espresso shot first and then steam your milk. Some automatic and super-automatic machines have dual-boiler systems, which let them steam milk and pull a shot from separate boilers at the same time.
- Drip tray: the removable section where you rest your cup while pulling a shot. Drip trays catch any drips after you remove the cup (or carafe). When you remove them, you can empty and clean them without having to take the entire espresso maker to the sink. Some espresso machines let you remove the drip tray to fit a taller cup or mug under the portafilter.
- Steam wand: the part of your espresso machine that steams milk for cappuccinos and lattes. We've taken a look at the the best cappuccino makers and you can see the list here. Some steam wands are operated by a button; others require you to turn a knob controlling the volume of steam that passes through the wand and into your milk. Some milk frothing systems pull milk through a valve that froths and heats them as they pass through it, allowing you to pour the milk directly into the drink. Not all machines are suitable for making lattes, but these are.
- Water reservoir: the container holding the water you use to make espresso, and also to generate steam for the milk frother. The larger your water reservoir, the more espresso shots you can pull without refilling (and reheating).
What Else You (Might) Need
Depending on the espresso machine you choose, you might need to purchase one or more of these accessories. If you want amazing crema-rich espresso, sometimes you need to invest a little more. But seeing as you've read this far, i'm guessing you want the best espresso available.
A Coffee Grinder
Most aficionados agree that a burr grinder is the best all-around choice for consistency and quality of grinds (9).
If you like the old-school approach, a hand grinder gives you fine control over the coffee grounds you produce and doesn't use electricity. If you're getting a small, portable machine like the Wacaco Mini Presso GR for camping or travel, take a look at our review of manual coffee grinders and see whether one of these would make a great addition to your go-bag.
"Espresso grind is much finer than regular brew coffee... Whether hand-crank or electric, a burr grinder slices the beans into controlled, sized pieces, optimizing the flavor extraction." - Madeline Bullock
The most important characteristic for a coffee grinder to use with your espresso machine: it must produce an extremely fine grind. Read our review of the best burr grinders to learn more, or just take a look at our top pick, the Baratza Virtuoso Conical Burr Grinder.
An Espresso Tamper
The tamper is a tool used to evenly compress the espresso grinds into the basket (aka portafilter) of the espresso machine to make a high-quality shot of espresso.
Some espresso machines come with a tamper. With others, you may need to buy one. You can even buy a nifty spring-loaded tamper that puts just the right load on your coffee grounds to ensure they're packed just right.
Read about our favorite tampers in this article.
A Milk Frother
If you choose a super-automatic or automatic espresso machine, it likely has a milk frother, or at least a steam wand for making cappuccinos and lattes. But if you buy a budget espresso maker, you might need a way to make steamy, frothy milk for your beverages.
In a pinch, you can simply heat milk on a saucepan and whip it with a wire whisk. But it's not going to be as foamy as you can get with a dedicated milk frother.
If your espresso maker doesn't have a steam wand and you can't face the day without a cappuccino, check out our review of the five best milk frothers.
A Steaming Pitcher
If your espresso maker does have a steam wand, you'll want a steaming pitcher to make cappuccinos and lattes. You can use a measuring cup or even a coffee mug, but the best steaming pitchers have tapered sides to help contain the splashes as you steam and froth the milk for your beverage.
Steaming milk is critical to good milk-based coffee like cortados, lattes, cappuccinos etc.
And there you have it - now all you need to do is learn how to use your machine to brew damn fine espresso - then drink and enjoy your cup of joe. Once you have chosen the right machine, you'll go to sleep each night with a smile on your face knowing what the next morning holds - that's right - freshly brewed, high quality espresso.
What should I look for when buying an espresso machine?
You should look for some (or all) of the following aspects when buying an espresso machine: size (it needs to fit in your kitchen), durability of the machine and its parts, its water storage and grinding capacity, if it includes a milk-frothing option, how easy it is to clean, and - if this is important to you - the aesthetics of it.
What is a good pressure for an espresso machine?
A good pressure for an espresso machine is 9BAR. Pressure is measured with a barometer which calculates air pressure aka the atmospheric pressure at sea level. The espresso brew method involves barometric pressure to push hot water through a so-called "puck"; 9BAR is considered to be the optimal to extract coffee using an espresso machine (10).
Can you use regular coffee beans in espresso machine?
Yes, you can use regular coffee beans in an espresso machine but it probably won’t produce the perfect shot of espresso - too light or too charred roasted beans won't make the cut. Typically, espresso is brewed using dark roasted beans because they contain the highest amount of natural oils and are the least acidic. The richness in natural oils, and other aspects of dark roasts, help bring about that thick golden crema we all expect from a flawless espresso shot. Here's a list of suitable beans to choose from.
What temperature should my espresso machine be?
The temperature of your espresso machine should be between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit (11). You want to make sure that your machine can maintain this average water temperature while brewing in order to extract your espresso at optimal capacity.
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