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The Best Espresso Machines For UK Home Baristas in 2020

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Looking for the best home espresso machines? but how do you choose the right one from the thousands available? This is a big decision; you’re not buying a new toothbrush here!

Here’s our updated espresso machine reviews for 2020. We cover a few different categories to help you find the right machine to fit your style, kitchen, and budget; just see them listed below to navigate to the class that suits you most.

You’re about to learn how to choose the right machine, which will get you one step closer to making coffee shop level espresso. We’ve rounded up some of the best picks from each category so that you don’t have to spend hours researching, or worse, spend hundreds on a lemon.

AT A GLANCE (SEE ON AMAZON):

The original espresso machine, introduced in 1905. These require (and reward) skill and practice. If you want to control everything about your espresso shot and milk frothing, these are the benchmark. You basically do everything, from grinding, to pushing, to frothing, and then hopefully enjoying.

Related: The best manual espresso machines.

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.

This article focuses mainly on semi-automatic machines, and for arguments sake, most people refer to these machines when they talk about ‘home espresso machines’. We’ll cover these in detail

The Barista Express. The most popular type of espresso machine: a semi-automatic machine
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A Barista Express. This is what a typical Semi-automatic machine looks like.

Fully automatic espresso machines

Also known as ‘super automatic machines’; 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. For lazy, time-poor types, these are your go to.

In terms of espresso quality, they don’t pair up to manual or semi-auto machines, but for those looking for something quick and easy without losing too much quality, they are great.

Related: A look at the best automatic espresso machines of 2020.

Portable espresso makers

Also known as compact espresso machines or travel espresso makers. Great for people with tiny kitchens or living the #vanlife, many of these don’t require electricity for the ultimate in portability. They vary greatly in espresso quality however, so make sure you spend time choosing wisely

Related: The best portable espresso makers of 2020.

Pod espresso machines

Last and certainly least, are pod espresso machines, which while convenient, don’t make the best espresso in terms of quality, in my opinion. Still, we’ve recommended a few below, because they are convenient if nothing else.

Related: Best Nespresso machines

Commercial espresso machines

As the name suggests, commercial machines are designed for coffee shops and you’ll rarely see one in a home baristas coffee space. They are expensive, but are built to handle high volume espresso making. Still, there are a few that cross the line of commercial and home use, which we talk about below.

If you’re looking for an espresso machine suitable for a coffee shop the machines below are not for you. Instead, read our guide to the best commercial espresso machines here.

Stove top espresso makers

Also called ‘the Moka pot’ these small and simple devices are not truly espresso makers, because they can’t brew at the pressure required to brew true espresso (which is 15 bars).

I’m only mentioning it here because so many people are mislead into thinking they are espresso machines. They are not. If you’re looking for a Moka pot – this guide covers the best Moka pots.

Ok, now that we have out of the way: without further ado, lets see some of the best espresso machines that make real espresso:

image product details
Best Overall Best Overall
Sage Barista PRO
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Sage SES878BTR Barista Pro
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 41 x 35 x 41 cm
  • Capacity: 2 litres
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Runner Up Runner Up
gaggia velasca
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Gaggia RI8263/01 Velasca Prestige
  • Type: Super-automatic
  • Dimensions: 25.6 x 34 x 44.4 cm
  • Capacity: 1.5 litres
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Budget Pick Budget Pick
Swan SK22110BLN
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Swan SK22110BLN Retro Espresso Machine
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 28.5 x 20 x 31.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.2 litres
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Best For Beginners Best For Beginners
DeLonghi ECP35 31
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De’Longhi ECP 35.31
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 18.49 x 24 x 30.51 cm
  • Capacity: 1.1 litre
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Best For Small Spaces Best For Small Spaces
Nespresso Essenza Mini
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Nespresso Essenza Mini
  • Type: Pod
  • Dimensions: 32 x 11 x 20.5 cm
  • Capacity: 0.6 litres
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Best Automatic Espresso Machine Best Automatic Espresso Machine
Sage Bambino Plus
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Sage SES500BSS Bambino Plus
  • Type: Automatic
  • Dimensions: 32 x 19.5 x 31 cm
  • Capacity: 1.9 litres
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Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine
DeLonghi Magnifica S
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De’Longhi Magnifica S
  • Type: Super-automatic
  • Dimensions: 23.8 x 43 x 35.1 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
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Most Stylish Most Stylish
de longhi vintage
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De’Longhi ECOV311BG Vintage Icona
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 29 x 26 x 31.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.4 litres
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Best Pod Machine Best Pod Machine
Nespresso Creatista
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Sage Nespresso BNE800 Creatista
  • Type: Pod
  • Dimensions: 31 x 14 x 41 cm
  • Capacity: 1.5 litres
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Best Value Best Value
Krups Automatic Coffee Machine
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Krups Arabica Automatic Coffee Machine
  • Type: Super-automatic
  • Dimensions: 36.5 x 26 x 32 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
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Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine
Sage infuser espresso machine
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Sage BES810BSS The Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 33.7 x 44.6 x 39.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
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Best With Grinder Best With Grinder
Sage espresso machine
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Sage BES870XL Barista Express
  • Type: Semi-automatic with grinder
  • Dimensions: 13.25″ x 12.5″ x 15.75″
  • Capacity: 2 litres
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Delonghi Dedica
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DeLonghi EC680M DEDICA
  • Type: Semi-automatic
  • Dimensions: 33 x 14.9 x 30.3 cm
  • Capacity: 1 litre
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Most Portable Espresso Maker Most Portable Espresso Maker
Minipresso
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Wacaco MiniPresso GR
  • Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.4 x 6.9 cm
  • Capacity: 0.07 litres
  • Pressure: 8 bar (hand pumped)
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Best Lever Machine Best Lever Machine
a Professional Copper and Brass
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La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass
  • Type: Manual
  • Dimensions: 32 x 45.4 x 28.9 cm
  • Capacity: 2 cups
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The 15 Best espresso Machines for Home Use Baristas

So, let’s see what we’ve got here.

1. Sage SES878BTR Barista Pro – Best Overall

Specifications

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 41 x 35 x 41 cm
  • Capacity: 2 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

The Sage Barista Pro is our top pick this year thanks to its perfect balance between user control and ease of use. It’s a semi automatic machine that lets you feel like a professional barista, but with some friendly features that make it ideal for daily home use.

First of all, thanks to the innovative ThermoJet heating system, it heats up in only 3 seconds. The same technology allows instant transition from brewing to steaming. And unlike cheaper machines, the manual steam wand has enough power to produce silky microfoam suitable for latte art. Fans of lattes and cappuccinos rejoice!

It also has an integrated conical burr grinder with dose control. So with this one product, you can avoid buying a separate grinder AND scale. Both the dose and grind size are adjustable, which you can control via the intuitive LCD display.

Inside, you’ll find the 15 bar pump you would expect, but you’ll also find something extra special: PID temperature control. This is a sign you’re in the realm of higher end espresso machines. With PID control, your brewing temperature stays more stable, which is vital for the best extraction.

2. Gaggia RI8263/01 Velasca Prestige – Runner Up

Specifications

  • Type: Super-automatic

  • Dimensions: 25.6 x 34 x 44.4 cm
  • Capacity: 1.5 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

Our runner up is for those who prefer convenience to control, the super-automatic Gaggia Velasca Prestige. We love its abundance of customisable options; you’ll be able to get a drink tailored to you at the press of a button.

It’s a full bean-to-cup machine, starting with a high-quality integrated ceramic burr grinder. There are 6 pre-programmed drinks to choose from, including espresso, lungo, and cappuccino. For each you can adjust drink temperature, strength, volume, and milk volume. After brewing, used grounds are automatically dispensed into a waste bin, which holds about ten drinks worth. 

Milk is frothed from a detachable milk carafe, which can be stored in the fridge when not in use. This, along with a bit more metal and less plastic, is largely what separates the Velasca Prestige from the Velasca. For hygiene, just push a button to run sterilising hot water through the entire milk system.

If you’re the forgetful type, the Velasca has your back.

It alerts you when the waste bin is full, the water reservoir is low, the bean hopper needs a top-up, or a cleaning cycle is required. You can also program it to turn off automatically after a set time.

3. Swan SK22110BLN Retro Espresso Machine – Budget Pick

Specifications

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 28.5 x 20 x 31.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.2 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

The first thing you’ll notice about this model is its cool retro style, but just as cool is its affordable price tag. Obviously, this isn’t the fanciest machine on the market, but its value is excellent, especially when you take into account how great it’ll look in your kitchen. It even comes in a variety of fun colours to suit any decor.

Swan is a British company that actually made the first heating element that could be immersed in water nearly 100 years ago. I mention this to demonstrate that while this is a budget espresso maker, it’s made by a company with experience and know-how.

The high-performance 15-bar pump has plenty of pressure to make espresso with that coveted golden crema, and with the self-priming feature, it’s ready to go in minutes. You can brew with either ground coffee or ESE pods. For milk frothing, it has a manual steam wand with a knob to control steam pressure, something rarely seen on budget machines.

4. De’Longhi ECP 35.31 – Best for Beginners

Specifications

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 18.49 x 24 x 30.51 cm
  • Capacity: 1.1 litre
  • Pressure: 15 bar

The De’Longhi ECP 35.31 is a perfect introductory espresso machine. It gives you enough control to learn the ropes, but adds some useful features to help you out. And it does both at a price that won’t intimidate first-time buyers. 

It has a powerful 15-bar pump and the biggest boiler in its class, at 180 mL. So you can easily pull two espresso shots in a row and have ample steam power for frothing milk. The pressurized portafilter means you’ll always get a rich crema on your drink, even if you aren’t ready to drop the big bucks on a grinder. You can also use ESE pods.

The ECP 35.31 uses a Panarello steam wand, a great choice for beginners. You get the feel of a manual wand, but the design makes it easier to produce perfect frothy milk. This model also has a unique feature that can make gently warmed milk, great if you have kids!

5. Nespresso Essenza Mini – Best for Small Spaces

Specifications

  • Type: Pod

  • Dimensions: 32 x 11 x 20.5 cm
  • Capacity: 0.6 litres
  • Pressure: 19 bar

As one of the smallest espresso machines on the market, the Nespresso Essenza Mini is a no-brainer if you’re pressed for space. It has a footprint of just 11 x 20.5 cm and a height of 32 cm.

With it’s A-frame design and vibrantly coloured exterior, the Essenza Mini is as stylish as it is compact. It won a Red Dot Design Award in 2017, not just for it’s sleek look but for its pared down number of components and use of recycled plastics.

Because of its small size, you don’t have a lot of options, just espresso and lungo. But that makes it very straightforward to use. It doesn’t froth milk, but you can bundle it with Nespresso’s Aeroccino frother if lattes are your thing. After brewing, the Essenza Mini powers down automatically in 9 minutes. 

Capsule-style brewers like this may not match the true espresso quality of a traditional machine, but they have undeniable advantages. They are convenient and reliable. And perhaps most importantly, you don’t make a mess, so this is an especially great choice for the office.

6. Sage SES500BSS Bambino Plus – Best Automatic Espresso Machine

Specifications

  • Type: Automatic

  • Dimensions: 32 x 19.5 x 31 cm
  • Capacity: 1.9 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

“Which cheap espresso machine surprises you with its quality and performance?” This is a question I get a lot, and the answer is always the same: the Sage Bambino Plus. In the right hands, it can make an espresso you’d never guess was from an inexpensive machine.

Thanks to the ThermoJet heating system, it’s ready to brew in just 3 seconds. As an automatic espresso machine,  you don’t need to worry about shot timing. Just set the volume you want and sit back and relax. 

The steam wand is also automatic. Program your desired milk temperature and texture, and let it do it’s thing.

The pump is the standard 15-bar model you’d anticipate, but in addition to this, the Bambino offers automatic low-pressure preinfusion. This is coupled with a PID for temperature control, a feature rarely seen at this price point, that ensures a stable brewing temperature. This combination means you’re getting the best extraction from your grounds and the most flavourful coffee.

Even with all these features, the Bambino Plus is a very compact machine. It’s perfect for the budding barista without the space or budget to commit to an entry-level prosumer machine.

7. De’Longhi Magnifica S – Best Super Automatic Espresso Machine

Specifications

  • Type: Super-automatic

  • Dimensions: 23.8 x 43 x 35.1 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

If you want to take all the guesswork out of espresso, a super-automatic machine is the answer. No worrying about grinding, dosing, distributing, and tamping — just great espresso at the touch of a button. But if you’re going to put an appliance in complete control of your morning brew, make sure you get a good one. This year, we are loving the De’Longhi Magnifica S.

It includes an integrated burr grinder with 13 size settings and an impressively silent operation, so you won’t wake up the whole house as you get your morning fix. Using the control panel, you can customise your coffee’s strength, temperature, aroma, and volume, and you can brew one or two coffees at a time.

However, the Magnifica isn’t 100% automated. For milky drinks, you’ll have to master the manual steam wand. Luckily, this is pretty simple, and because it’s manual, you get more control over your milk texture, from airy cappuccino froth to silky latte foam. And you’ll be happy to hear that the milk system does clean automatically after each use.

8. De’Longhi ECOV311BG Vintage Icona – Most Stylish

Specifications

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 29 x 26 x 31.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.4 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

We awarded this machine Most Stylish — I mean, just look at it! — but don’t take that to mean it lacks substance. This is a great semi-automatic espresso machine whose very cool design is just an added bonus!

The design, which comes in 4 retro colours, is based on iconic Italian design principles, pairing elegance with flash. In fact, De’Longhi sells an entire vintage collection, so you can pair your coffee machine with a similarly stylish kettle or toaster. 

The 15 bar pump has more than enough pressure to make a rich and creamy espresso, and the self-priming system means it’s always ready to go. It comes standard with a pressurized portafilter, so even pre-ground coffee will yield tasty results, or you can use an ESE pod. But of course, freshly ground coffee will be the most delicious.

It uses two separate thermostats to control steam and water temperature individually, a welcome surprise at this price. The stainless steel steam wand is operated manually, but it uses De’Longhi’s Cappuccino System, which incorporates milk, steam, and air to easily achieve perfect froth.

9. Sage Nespresso BNE800 Creatista – Best Pod Machine

Specifications

  • Type: Pod

  • Dimensions: 31 x 14 x 41 cm
  • Capacity: 1.5 litres
  • Pressure: 19 bar

It’s difficult for a pod machine to capture the subtle nuances of a true espresso, but the Sage Nespresso Creatista comes impressively close by offering so much room for customisation. Instead of dialling in grind size and dose with a traditional machine, with the Creatista, you can dial in volume, strength, temperature, and milk to craft your perfect cafe-style drink.

It heats up in a mind-boggling 3 seconds, ideal if you need that first hit of caffeine as soon as you stumble into the kitchen. Using the high-res display, you can choose between 8 pre-programmed drinks, from ristretto to cappuccino, each of which can be tailored to you. The steam wand is fully automatic, with 8 settings for milk texture and 11 for temperature. 

The other obvious outstanding feature of the Creatisa is its aesthetic appeal. The sleek design manages to be both futuristic and retro at the same time and will certainly provide a talking point for your kitchen. Note that the display is on the top of the machine, which keeps the front looking pristine, but might be inconvenient if you plan to keep it tucked under a cupboard.

10. Krups Arabica Automatic Coffee Machine – Best Value

Specifications

  • Type: Super-automatic

  • Dimensions: 36.5 x 26 x 32 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

The Krups Arabica coffee machine has two big things going for it: its size and its price. If you have your heart set on a super-automatic espresso machine but are limited in space and budget, check this one out! 

Though it includes a built-in grinder and 260 g bean hopper, the Arabica is about the size of a traditional coffee machine, and hardly more expensive.

The low price comes with a few concessions. The exterior is plastic rather than stainless steel, though it manages to keep a classy appeal. There is also no display, just a dial and some buttons, which in some ways actually makes it easier to operate 

You can customise your drink by adjusting volume and drink strength. For milk frothing, it relies on a separate automatic steam wand. So while you won’t be able to get a one-touch cappuccino out of this machine, there’s no learning curve either.

The removable water reservoir is located at the back. It doesn’t come with a filter, but consider adding one. Your coffee will taste better, and you’ll need to descale the machine less often. When you do need to clean, the Arabica has an automatic cleaning cycle. Unfortunately, the brew group can’t be removed for a quick rinse.

11. Sage BES810BSS the Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine -Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine

Specifications:

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 33.7 x 44.6 x 39.5 cm
  • Capacity: 1.8 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

Real baristas know the importance of pre-infusing the grinds to get the best extraction. With the Sage BES810BSS, 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. Unlike another Sage machine, the 800ESXL, this machine’s PID temperature controller is programmable in 2-degree increments and reduces fluctuations during extraction for consistent flavour.

This semi-automatic machine’s 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. The Duo Temp is like the Barista Express, but with less features (and a more attractive price tag).

12. Sage BES870XL Barista Express – Best With Grinder

Specifications:

  • Type: Semi-automatic with grinder

  • Dimensions: 13.25″ x 12.5″ x 15.75″
  • Capacity: 2 litres
  • Pressure: 15 bar

Our review of the Sage 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.

The Barista Express is a bean to cup machine grinds beans fresh with a built-in grinder, has a 2L water tank (a removable water tank) with filter capability, and a 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.

13. DeLonghi EC680M DEDICA

If you have a small kitchen or RV, this machine is for you.

Specifications:

  • Type: Semi-automatic

  • Dimensions: 33 x 14.9 x 30.3 cm
  • Capacity: 1 litre
  • Pressure: 15 bar

The EC860M DEDICA is a compact, sleek machine that takes up less than six inches of counter space (in width), yet still has a 1 litre water tank that holds enough water for 17 espresso 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.

14. Wacaco MiniPresso GR – most portable espresso maker

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.4 x 6.9 cm

  • Capacity: 0.07 litres
  • Pressure: 8 bar (hand pumped)

The Wacaco MiniPresso is a portable option to have an espresso “on-the-go”. Made of sturdy plastic, this cylindrical espresso machine comes apart into several pieces but goes back together into one piece that stores easily as a single unit.

See our full list of great portable espresso makers if you want something portable.

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.

15. La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass – Best Lever Machine

Specifications:

  • Type: Manual

  • Dimensions: 32 x 45.4 x 28.9 cm
  • Capacity: 2 cups
  • Pressure: 9 bar at 14 lb of lever pressure

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 of espresso.

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?

Espresso Machine Brands

Here’s a look at some of the top names in the industry:

Sage aka Breville

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). It’s not surprising that they produce some of the best espresso machines for households. In Europe, Breville appliances are marketed using the name “Sage”.

Sage 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. Sage 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 Sage machines here.

DeLonghi

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 super 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. We also compared Breville and DeLonghi espresso machines here.

Nespresso

Nespresso (a combination of the parent company name, Nestlé, with espresso) debuted the coffee-capsule concept in 1986. Four coffee flavours and two machines made up their original product line.

the nespresso logo
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As early as 1991, questions about the aluminium coffee capsules led Nespresso to begin a recycling program in their native Switzerland, with 34 recycling centres 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 aluminium 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.

Gaggia

Achille Gaggia patented the first steamless espresso machine in 1938, introducing a new way of making espresso. 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 motorised 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.

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 being pulled
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  • ‘Espresso shot’ and ‘Double Shot’: at the simplest level, these describe the volume of the espresso you pull from an 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. No, your usual coffee maker can’t make an espresso. 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 make espresso 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 using your milk frother. 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 to make 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 espresso 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 machine 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 steam 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).

Alternatively, watch our video on espresso basics:

What Else You’ll Need

Depending on the espresso machine you choose, you might need to purchase one or more of these accessories for making espresso. 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 Burr Coffee Grinder

Most aficionados agree that a burr grinder is the best all-around choice for consistency and quality of grinds (9).

man grinding coffee beans with a manual grinder
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A nice burr grinder is needed for making espresso

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.

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.

If you wish to get one step closer to becoming a PRO in espresso making ,watch our video:

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.

The best espresso machines often 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 favourite tampers in this article.

A Milk Frother (maybe)

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.

frothing milk
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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 machine 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

The best espresso machines usually includes a steam wand, but If your espresso maker does not have a steam wand, you’ll want a 3rd party 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.

An Espresso Knock Box

You can make espresso without a knock box, but this can make your espresso-making sessions a breeze. An espresso knock box serves a container for used coffee grounds. Just knock your portafilter on it to catch the puck. This accessory needs to be sturdy and able to hold hot coffee grounds. Here are some great espresso knock boxes.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it – we hope you find the the best espresso machines for home baristas. 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 best espresso machine for your needs 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. Why not get some cool espresso cups too to flaunt the espresso you just pulled?

FAQs

Things you should consider when choosing an espresso machine include price (it needs to suit your budget), size (it needs to fit in your kitchen), durability of the machine and its parts, availability of spare parts, and how easy it is to clean and maintain. Other key considerations include whether you want or need an built-in grinder, how many people will use it (this will affect the size of the water reservoir you’ll need), and – if this is important to you – what it looks like.

Generally, pod machines are cheaper than genuine espresso machines but the pods themselves are much more expensive than buying beans. Over time, a genuine espresso machine will pay for itself against a pod coffee maker, for anybody who’s prepared to take that initial hit.

Pod machines are more convenient than machines that use freshly ground beans, but they offer real sacrifices in the quality of the shots they can produce. This convenience issue can be mitigated through the purchase of super automatic machines or machines like the Sage Barista Express that have built-in grinders. Pod machines also have a much harsher effect on the environment due to the excess waste created by used pods.

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. Coffee bean brands from Italy make great espresso too.

The ideal pressure for making espresso is 9 BAR. When choosing an espresso machine, however, you want a machine that has a pump capable of creating 15 BAR of pressure. This is because the pressure relates to the amount of coffee being used and the size of the coffee grounds. If the grind is too fine, the pump will have to work harder to push the water through the so-called “puck”, sometimes going as high as 11 BAR. This means that if you see espresso machines offering more than 15 BAR, you’ll know that it won’t make any qualitative difference to the shots they pull (10).

When making espresso, 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.


  1. National Coffee Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncausa.org/about-coffee/how-to-store-coffee
  2. Ltd, R. and M. (2019, April). Global Coffee Pods and Capsules Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2019 – 2024). Retrieved from https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/4763958/global-coffee-pods-and-capsules-market-growth
  3. Herborn, D. (2018, July 17). From Australia to the world: Jim Clayton. Retrieved from https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/manufacturing/jim-clayton/
  4. History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thegreatitaliancafe.com/history.html
  5. Rawes, E. (2019, April 9). How to recycle (or reuse) Nespresso Pods. Retrieved from https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/how-to-recycle-or-reuse-nespresso-pods/
  6. Bryman, H. (2019, February 19). Historic Brand Gaggia Milano Revived with New Commercial Line. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/02/19/historic-brand-gaggia-milano-revived-with-new-commercial-line/
  7. Hensel, A. (2015, August 4). Mr. Coffee Co-Founder (and Industry Disruptor) Dies. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/anna-hensel/mr-coffee-cofounder-dies.html
  8. Kilbride, D. (2018, June 21). How Does Pressure Affect Espresso Quality? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2017/06/pressure-espresso-quality/
  9. Mazzarello, B. (2018, April 4). The Right Grinder for You. Retrieved from https://blog.bluebottlecoffee.com/posts/the-right-grinder-for-you
  10. Muhl, R. (2016, December 14). Brew pressure explained. Retrieved from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/brew-pressure-explained/
  11. How to Brew Coffee The NCA Guide to Brewing Essentials. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/How-to-Brew-Coffee
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I’m the resident, Italian espresso expert, sharpening my extraction skills from the rainy UK. I love the Oxford comma, and I have ink and coffee in my veins (not literally, or I’d be dead by now).

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