Short, strong espresso is the gold standard when it comes to coffee.
How can you get this rich drink just the way the Italians like it, though?
Well, by starting with freshly ground beans and filtered water and adding the best espresso machine into the mix, getting those shots really isn’t rocket science.
Our testing saw us work through over 40 machines and we culled those down to over 20 of the very finest. We’ve got something for everyone today from budget machines to commercial powerhouses, from straight-up espresso makers to multipurpose machines.
We’ll get straight down to business now then we’ll round out with a treasure trove of handy hints to help you get the very most from your new toy.
Table of Contents
I. Top 20+ Best Espresso Machine Reviews
1. Our Pick and Best Espresso Machine with Grinder: Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine
This rebooted model of the outgoing Barista Express is our overall winner from the huge array of espresso machine we tested. We based this on a range of factors including price/performance ratio and overall functionality.
Although the Breville occupies little space on the kitchen counter, you’ll get all you need for the finest espresso. The 15-bar pump kicks out plenty of pressure and you get things started the right way with an onboard conical burr grinder. Dose control allows you to brew with precision and very little fuss.
Temperature control also means you can dial that in without needing to tinker around. PID technology keeps the heat optimized automatically.
You’ll need to take care of frothing up milk manually with the integrated steamer but this extends you even more control over the process so don’t look at this as a bad thing.
Finished in brushed stainless steel, you’ll get lifespan and aesthetics in a package that wouldn’t look out of place in a pro coffee shop. The best news of all, though? While it’s not exactly cheap, it won’t run you anything like as much as a commercial machine, and you’ll get gourmet results every single time.
2. Best Espresso Machine Under 200: Mr Coffee Café Barista Espresso Machine and Cappuccino Maker
If you’re an espresso fiend on a more restricted budget, don’t panic…
Mr Coffee consistently produces top-notch coffee gear at a very attractive price-point, the Café Barista a fine example of this.
As well as a 15-bar pump to deliver the crema-rich espresso you love in the morning, you’ll also be able to rack up latte and cappuccino so there’s something for all times of the day and the whole family. Long or short, Mr Coffee comes good.
You can dial in the variables with espresso to get a single or double shot, depending on how much of a kick you need. Operation is super-simple with one-touch dials making adjustment a breeze even if you’re not a tech-fan. All you need to do is add coffee ground, water (and milk if required).
The milk frother is automatic and, like the water tank, it slips out easily for cleaning purposes.
If you want the best espresso but you don’t want to lose out on longer, frothy coffees and you don’t have much to spend, we can’t recommend the Café Barista strongly enough.
3. Best Pump Espresso Machine: DeLonghi America Deluxe
Our best pump espresso machine comes from the stalwart DeLonghi and packs the requisite 15 bars of pressure for consistent top-tier shots.
Temperature is central to great espresso and the thermoblock system keeps it spot-on every time. Heating is remarkably swift in well under a minute and since the America self-primes, it’s permanently ready to roll with coffee in your cup before you’ve had time to sit down.
You’ll also enjoy the versatility of preparing longer milky coffees and hot water on demand is perfect for teas and your other favorite infusions.
Design is uppermost with a sleek chromed-out finish and a slim footprint meaning you get heavyweight results without needing a huge hunk of metal crowding out your kitchen.
You’ll be able to customize the frothing levels for latte and cappuccino and also the steam levels when you want a piping hot espresso so you can get a coffee shop experience for far less than you might imagine. There’s also a nifty little feature called flow stop on the America so you can pour just the amount you like rather than being dependent on pre-sets.
For looks, performance and affordability from a brand you can trust, check out the America from DeLonghi and you’ll see why this manufacturer attracts so many loyal fans.
4. Best Espresso For Home Use: DeLonghi Magnifica Super-Automatic Espresso Machine and Coffee Maker
Stepping up the DeLonghi range in terms of both price and size, the Magnifica is a class-leading super-automatic machine to grace any home kitchen.
A direct-to-brew system, you can blitz your beans to the preferred consistency with the onboard grinder, part of the battle won when aiming for the best espresso. You can get enough coffee for up to 14 cups in the container and simple push-button and rotary controls render operation a cakewalk. In terms of grind size, you’ll get a full 13 settings.
With no need for chemical cleaning tablets and simplified maintenance, you can get the espresso experience without the hassle with the aptly named Magnifica. Intelligent programming means you only need to experiment once then the DeLonghi does the hard work for you.
Along with espresso, you’ll also be able to make cappuccino and latte with the manual frothing system so you’re spoiled for choice. Single or double espresso are both available at the press of a button. Program in your latte, cappuccino or Americano and you can also get hot water only for enhanced flexibility.
5. Best Espresso Machine Under 100: DeLonghi Manual Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
If you thought you couldn’t get a serviceable espresso machine for less than a hundred bucks, you’d be wrong. Not only that, you can get a DeLonghi so you know you’re in safe hands.
There’s a bit more plastic on show than with the more upscale models in the range but you expect some sacrifices at this price-point. And what you don’t need to compromise on is the quality of coffee in your cup. That, after all, is the only metric that really counts.
Self-priming and always ready for action, water and steam is controlled independently. You’ll get some added froth thrown in if you prefer cappuccino with everything taken care of through a single oversized dial.
The pump for espresso kicks out the 15 bars of pressure needed for that perfect crema. If you’re looking to make longer coffee, the manual frothing wand lets you customize the drink just the way you like it.
While this might not be the flashiest of espresso and cappuccino machines, if you’re on a restricted budget but want to replicate that coffee shop experience at home, the DeLonghi will not disappoint.
6. Making Espresso Using Nespresso Pods: Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine
There’s something about the immediacy of single-serve pod machines that goes some way to overcoming their drawbacks. If you’re pre-sold on the idea of a Nespresso machine and you don’t mind the expense of the pods or their environmental footprint, the Essenza Mini makes perfect sense.
Finished in striking red and occupying a very small footprint, this machine is ideal for smaller kitchen where space is at a premium.
Upping the ante on the pressure front, the capable pump is rated at 19 bars so you’ll get a fantastic espresso with push-button simplicity. You can choose from a short espresso or lungo and you can also serve over ice if you want a burst of cool on a hot summer’s day.
With water heating up to the optimal temperature in 30 seconds flat and a nifty energy-saving feature that cuts the power after 9 minutes, you can operate safely with no worries about a rampant power bill.
Nespresso pods give you a fairly wide choice, but you might find this limiting, particularly if you insist on a particular bean and find it’s unavailable in pod form. We’d recommend checking out the pods before committing to purchase to make sure your needs are catered for.
7. Best Manual Espresso Machine: Flair Espresso Maker
If you’re looking for something completely different and you want to take complete charge of every stage of the brewing process, this manual espresso maker from Flair is a classic in the making.
You can choose from the machine alone, the model we tested including a stainless steel tamper or a complete bundle which also comes with an extra head to brew 2 espressos simultaneously.
If you’re looking for espresso in an instant, this is absolutely not the best fit. If, on the other hand, you relish tinkering with the brewing variables in pursuit of the perfect espresso for you, it delivers in fine style.
You’ll need a grinder to get your beans ready for action then simply operate the manual press and you’ll have an espresso shot in well under a minute.
There’s no plastic except on the bottom of the piston and this is BPA-free so you’ll get no taint or health concerns.
If you want a real conversation piece in the kitchen and a customized espresso in your cup each morning, you’ll have real fun with the Flair and we can’t back it strongly enough.
8. The Best Super-Automatic Espresso Machine: Gaggia Brera Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
Stepping things back up to super-automatic status, the Gaggia Brera is a legend and our pick for the best machine in class.
Appearance is sleek but utilitarian. There’s a wall of stainless steel broken up with black plastic but this is not in areas where it comes into contact with your drink.
The LED screen lets you see what you need at a glance and user-friendly push-button controls make operation a cinch. You’ll get an integrated frothing wand if you want milky coffees rather than a robust espresso and you’ll be able to make them to your precise taste with remarkably little fanfare.
Use either whole beans with the onboard ceramic burr grinder or you favorite pre-ground coffee. The machine detects which you’re using and kicks into gear accordingly.
You can remove the water reservoir and dreg container from the front, and the brew group also slips off to streamline cleaning.
The adaptable system learns how you prefer your coffee and replicates that drink for you reducing user input and increasing your enjoyment with no effort whatsoever. For a shotgun method of delivering espresso or longer drinks without leaving home, the Gaggia is a sterling example of why super-automatic machines remain enduringly popular among espresso lovers who prize convenience.
9. Great Machine to Make Latte and Cappuccino By Yourself: Breville The Infuser Espresso Machine
Breville’s Infuser is a wall of stainless steel packing a great deal of functionality and it doesn’t cost the earth either. For a combined espresso, latte and cappuccino maker, this gets our vote hands-down.
Water temperature – pivotal with espresso – is controlled with stainless steel coils. The 1600-watt heating system comes with an auto-purge function that automatically tweaks the temperature for the optimum espresso every time. The pump is 9-bar with a combination of pre-infusion and low pressure leading to a sweet and crema-rich shot.
Volumetric control is a neat touch so you can dial things in to your precise taste without fussing around each time.
There’s a generous batch of accessories bundled. You’ll get a pair of filter baskets (single and double), a measuring scoop, stainless steel jug, cleaning tools and tablets and a water filter to give you everything you need for perfect coffee except the beans!
If you want more than espresso, you can also get your favorite latte or cappuccino by pressing the manual steam wand into action. Don’t be disgruntled this is not automatic, since you’ll retain complete control over frothing and you can tailor your longer drinks immaculately.
For a great machine to make latte and cappuccino by yourself, Breville’s Infuser takes some beating.
10. Auto-Make Latte/Cappuccino: Breville Oracle Touch Fully Automatic Espresso Machine
If you’re looking for a cheap espresso machine, the Breville Oracle Touch is not for you. If, however, you want a hard-hitting all-rounder to make latte and cappuccino automatically, read on…
The Oracle Touch is fully automatic with an intuitive and responsive touch screen giving you superb functionality without over-complicating things. From espresso and a stiff, long black through to flat white, latte and cappuccino, making coffee at home has never been easier.
Water pressure is limited thanks to a commercial feature dropped into this home machine in the form of an overhead pressure valve. With ultra-low pressure delivered pre-infusion, extraction is optimized as the pressure is gradually increased. Kiss goodbye to over-extraction and bitterness while ushering in a fine and even drink every single time.
There’s a conical burr grinder built in and everything from grinding and dosing to tamping is taken care of without you needing to lift a finger. It’s this automation that goes some way to justifying the stiff price tag. The self-cleaning steam wand is another example of this automatic machine punching above its weight.
If you’re hunting for a coffee shop quality machine giving you a choice of the drinks you love with almost no user input, the Oracle Touch is a line-topping beauty from Breville worthy of a place in any home kitchen. If you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed.
11. For Travel: Wacaco Minipresso Portable Espresso Machine
Do you travel frequently and want your favorite morning espresso wherever you are in the world? If so, this innovative mini espresso maker from Wacaco is an absolute must.
Using this portable machine couldn’t be much easier. Pop in your favorite ground beans and tamp them down slightly. Add some hot water to the reservoir then pump the piston vigorously to get the pressure you need for your espresso. In no time at all, you’ll get a delicious short shot with a surprisingly rich crema in a slimline unit compact enough to slip in your carry-on luggage.
Unlike some of these portable machines, you won’t need to rely on any gas canisters or cartridges and you’ll even be able to take it camping since you don’t need electricity either.
Looking like a mini flask, this black beast is a real looker as well as delivering fully on the espresso front.
The 30-day refund option in place removes any reason not to give this travel-friendly manual espresso maker a shot.
12. Make Espresso By Moka: The Original Bialetti Moka Express
While you won’t get a traditional espresso with a moka pot, you’ll certainly get a faithful approximation. This classic stovetop method shows no sign of fading in popularity and Bialetti dominate the market entirely.
Choose from multiple sizings whether you want a single cup or enough for a full 12 cups. One things to bear in mind is that the coffee made using this method is best drunk immediately. With this said, choose the size that best fits how much you’re likely to polish off in a single sitting rather than assuming bigger is always better.
With a commanding octagonal aesthetic, using this moka pot is straightforward and you’ll end up with a delicious short drink in less than 5 minutes using nothing other than your stovetop.
You should use a grind slightly coarser than you’d employ for a regular espresso although feel free to experiment. You should also only use filtered water so you get the purest and most untainted drink. If you’re looking for coffee the way the Italians love it without spending a fortune or investing in a complex machine, invest in the Bialetti and you won’t look back.
13. Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine
Another semi-automatic and another fine example from Gaggia up next with this classic stainless steel beauty.
This is termed an entry-level semi-automatic and it’s meant for home rather than commercial use. That said, you’ll get some nice features like a three-way solenoid valve that you’d normally find on an industrial unit. The portafilter is also sized and shaped like that on commercial machines so you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck.
A frothing wand lets you give an added edge to your lattes and cappuccinos. You can load up with fresh coffee or ESE pods giving you further versatility.
Another very neat touch with this machine is the way radiant heat from the boiler turns the top of the unit into a makeshift warming plate so you give your cups a welcome burst of pre-heating to get things started the right way.
Operation is super-simple with a dial and rocker switches making this semi-automatic machine perfect for anyone not looking for a tech-driven monster that needs a PhD to use.
To get the convenience of a super-automatic with the added versatility of dialing in the variables, the Gaggia Classic is a top-notch espresso maker from a brand you can rely on.
14. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Next up is a rugged Rancilio, a highly durable espresso machine with a rock-solid iron frame flanked by stainless steel on the sides. While not especially cheap, this coffee machine is certainly built to stay the distance.
The Silvia takes a few props from Rancilio’s commercial machines with a sleek porta filter handle and pro-grade group head giving you the best espresso every time without that daily bill at Starbucks.
The single boiler has a substantial and class-leading capacity with enough water for 12oz. Agile enough to recover rapidly between shots and powerful enough to kick out all the steaming power you need, you get coffee shop performance in a machine designed for home use. You can tweak the power using a simple but effective dial.
If you want longer lattes or cappuccinos, the manual frothing wand is a pleasure to use and lets you customize things a treat.
Accessories are limited, but you’ll get a pair of filters baskets along with a measuring scoop and a tamper.
This retooled model is well worth the investment if you’re looking for a machine capable of years of service with very little maintenance required.
15. DeLonghi 15-Bar Espresso Maker
Reasonably priced anyway and currently available at a steep discount, act promptly and you could get a steal with this 15-bar espresso maker from DeLonghi.
As with many of these machines, you can use either ground coffee or pods so you get the best of both worlds in a single unit.
15-bar pressure is recognized as delivering sterling espresso and you can also fine-tune the brew so it comes out just the way you like it. The filter holder provided makes provision for a single shot, a double espresso, or a pod. Since there’s also a frother, you can ramp up your menu to include longer, milky coffees as well.
Fancy one cup after the other when you’re entertaining? You’re in luck! This DeLonghi packs a rapid brewing system so you can make your coffees back-to-back without standing on ceremony. With a single thermostat optimized for both espresso and cappuccino, user experience is streamlined and results first-rate across the board.
With the drip tray and water reservoir both easily detachable, this takes the sting out of clean-up, something that can mar many coffee machines.
For an espresso maker that’s a dream to use and gives you everything you need but nothing you don’t need, this is yet another classic from the trusty DeLonghi stable.
16. Nespresso Pixie Espresso Maker
Don’t be put off by the fact the Nespresso Pixie has been discontinued. Flip that into a positive: you can pick up this great model at a cut-throat price while still enjoying full access to the impressive range of Nespresso pods.
Single-serve machines offer pretty much the ultimate in convenience if you don’t mind digging a little deeper for the ongoing cost of capsules and you can find a blend you enjoy among the selection on offer. It’s well worth checking out the pods first so you can see in advance if what you want is available.
As well as espresso, you can also program in longer drinks and recipes if you prefer your coffee milkier.
The 19-bar pressure pumps balances flavor and extraction along with a great crema so you can enjoy gourmet drinks without needing to hit Tim Horton’s.
There’s a neat indicator in place to alert you when the water tank needs topping up so you won’t end up with misfires due to an empty tank.
One-touch buttons for your drinks can be further programmed so you can personalize the volume and get your coffee just the way you like it.
For an attractive single-serve machine combining convenience and customization, the Nespresso Pixie is a smart move.
17. Jura Micro 5 Automatic Coffee Machine
The Jura Micro 5 is not cheap but the best things in life seldom are. In return, though, you’ll get a great deal of functionality and drop-dead gorgeous looks.
One of the key selling points is the innovative spout that swivels and allows you to pour either one or two shots to taste. The spout is height adjustable from 1.2 inches through 4.4 inches so you can accommodate your mug or cup of choice with ease.
The pump gives you the requisite 15 bars of pressure and the boiler is stainless steel thermoblock to bring you longevity and performance in one highly capable unit.
The simple touchscreen allows you to tweak the recipes of your drinks from strength to length as well as cup size. Intelligent design means the Jura recognizes whether you’ve opted for one or two cups and gives you the volume you need without messing around.
There’s a hopper built to house up to 4oz of your favorite beans and you get the added value of an integrated grinder so you can brew directly from bean to cup in a single unit.
While you won’t get any bells and whistles, the Jura Micro 5 is an exercise in stripped-down simplicity that gives you what’s more important than anything: consistently great espresso.
18. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
Next up we’ve got yet another DeLonghi at a pocket-friendly price. If you can’t decide between an espresso maker or a cappuccino maker, you don’t need to: this gem gives you both.
You’ll get a multi-level drip tray ideal for accommodating larger cups and travel mugs. This removes for ease of cleaning. The water tank also slips out so you can refill or clean it without contorting yourself.
As with many DeLonghi machines, if you want a longer and milky drink, you just use the manual frothing wand. With relatively little effort, you’ll get the ideal cappuccino and latte when you don’t want a stiff shot of espresso.
A self-priming machine, you won’t be waiting around for ages in advance and a simple single dial makes using the machine straightforward even if you’ve never owned a coffee maker before.
While there’s a fair amount of plastic on show, this is offset by stainless steel giving a pro-grade appearance at a highly affordable price-point.
19. Breville Café Roma Espresso Maker
We’ve got another entry from Breville up next with the Café Roma, an affordable 15-bar design-led espresso machine that doesn’t stint on the performance front.
Fashioned from stainless steel with a solid and capable thermoblock pump, you can expect crema-laden espresso with the minimum of effort with the Café Roma just the way the Italians drink it.
As with most Breville machines, you get some neat accessories chucked in. The stainless steel frothing pitcher is a nice touch and you’ll also get tamping and cleaning tools along with a measuring scoop.
The cup-warming plate gets things started on the right footing and with a dual-wall filter, you can expect deep and rich espresso with little user input. Control the Café Roma using a simple rotary dial so using this machine is child’s play even for absolute beginners.
Like on all the best espresso machines, both the water tank and drip tray detach to simplify cleaning.
While the Café Roma is not the most versatile machine, if you love your coffee short and strong and you appreciate quality on a budget, it’s well worth popping on your shortlist.
20. Espresso Works Espresso and Cappuccino Maker Bundle
Looking like quite a handful, the Espresso Works bundle is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Café Roma above. You’ve got pretty much everything you need included in this set but is it any good?
Firing up the machine, you’ll appreciate the accelerated heating. You’ll be ready to roll in less than a minute.
The sterling pump lets you pull a single or double shot of espresso with a pair of filter baskets included. Widen your menu with latte, cappucinno or macchiato with a stainless steel frothing jug included for the purpose.
The water tank holds a generous 1-¼ liters and slips out so you can clean and refill with ease. The frother and drip tray are also removable for this purpose.
Accessories on this unit are class-leading. You’ll get an onboard grinder, frothing cup, portafilter, tamper and measuring spoon. You’ve got literally everything you need for gourmet coffee of all descriptions without needing to leave home or spend a fortune for the privilege.
For a rock-solid all-rounder giving you maximum scope far beyond espresso, this multipurpose machine is a smart choice.
21. Gaggia Accademia Espresso Machine
Steeping up in terms of pricing and performance, we’ve got another Gaggia up next with the upscale Accademia.
This is another direct brewing system with fantastic ceramic burr grinder getting things started the right way with no need to invest in extra kit.
Push button operation gives you all the convenience of a super-automatic with plenty of latitude for customizing your drinks fully. Manipulate the flow knob for a strong and robust espresso or dial it back for a lighter, creamier coffee.
While the integrated grinder is spot-on, if you ever want to use pre-ground, there’s a bypass doser allowing you to do this fuss-free.
The brew spouts are easy to pop out if you want to accommodate a bulkier travel mug for your morning commute.
The stainless steel wand is in line with what you’d expect from a commercial machine and the Accademia wouldn’t be out of place in a small coffee shop. For home use, though, it takes up remarkably little space on the countertop considering such hard-hitting performance.
22. DeLonghi America Prima Donna Fully Automatic Espresso Machine
As we inch to the end of our best espresso machine reviews, we’ve got another DeLonghi, this time the America Prima Donna which delivers the ultimate in fully automatic technology in a super-slimline unit.
Espresso is first-class with a patented crema system giving you a great extra edge. You can also use this to great advantage when you’re layering longer drinks. From latte and cappuccino to Americano and macchiato, you’re spoiled for choice.
There’s an inbuilt burr grinder giving you the immediacy of bean to cup brewing while a second chamber gives you the option of using pre-ground if you fancy some decaf later in the day or you just have some pre-ground that needs using up. Choice is impressive across the board with this machine.
Self-adjusting for a single or double shot of espresso and boasting push-button convenience taking all the sting out of brewing, the America Prima Donna is not cheap but if you’ve got the budget to spare, you absolutely won’t be sorry you made the investment.
Housed in rugged stainless steel, the America Prima Donna looks a treat in the kitchen too so what are you waiting for?
23. For Latte Cappuccino: Keurig Single Serve Coffee Maker
If you like the idea of a single-serve machine where coffee is as easy as slipping in a pod and waiting a few seconds, there’s no substitute for a Keurig. They dominate this space completely.
The K Café gives you the flexibility of racking up brewed coffee, cappuccino and latte with all the ease of a capsule-driven brewing system.
If you want to expand your repertoire further, you can draw off concentrated shots to use as the base for more adventurous concoctions. You can also tweak both the strength and boldness of your drinks and serve your drinks hot or over ice.
The water tank holds enough for 6 cups so this works well for the whole family in the mornings without the need to tediously refill.
The drip tray has plenty of clearance for larger vessels, ideal if you’re a fan of travel mugs and frustrated by the way many machines won’t comfortably accommodate them.
As long as you’re prepared for the ongoing cost of purchasing pods, we can’t recommend the K Café strongly enough. Keurig’s reputation in the single-serve vertical is richly deserved and this machine is a particularly fine example.
24. The Best Commercial Espresso Machine: Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II Volumetric Espresso Machine (2-Group)
Catch your breath before checking out the price tag of the legendary Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II. We should state front and center that you need to think about the return on investment you’ll get by adding this to your commercial coffee shop rather than viewing it as an expense. With the Aurelia II in the house, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll generate that ROI!
Carrying off the crown at the World Barista Championships for 3 consecutive years as the official espresso maker, what makes this beast worth the substantial investment?
Well, clearly it’s not a machine intended for casual home use. If, though, you’ve got a bust commercial venture and you need to rustle of hundreds of espressos with consistency and taste uppermost, you’ll get speed, performance and impressive durability in spades.
There’s a proprietary soft infusion system that promotes a velvety and creamy extraction. If you’re in a rush, you can even get away with pulling untamped shots although we wouldn’t suggest this course of action.
Programming the group heads is super-simple. Choose from single or double shots and opt for short or long giving you 4 variants you won’t need to train your baristas for long to master. You can raise the group heads up with ease giving you ample wiggle room for your cups.
The heat exchange has a copper boiler so you’ll waste no time as you can steam and brew at the same time. Temperature, crucial to delivering the finest espresso, remain constant throughout.
You’ll have fresh water held back so you won’t have any stagnating or alkaline liquid spoiling the efforts of your staff.
Make no mistake, the Aurelia II is neither cheap nor recommended for everyone. If you’re a true coffee connoisseur with a high-volume commercial premises, it’s an absolute must-have and you’ll soon be wondering why you didn’t go Nuova Simonelli sooner.
With that bumper selection of reviews put to bed, we’re exhausted. So, we’ll make a quick espresso and see you in the next section where we’ll give you the lowdown on making this short, strong drink with the best machine for the job!
II. Types of Espresso Machines
Making espresso can take on many forms and we’ll walk you through all the assorted methods to get that short, strong shot you love…
- Moka Pots
- Pod Espresso Machines
- Manual Espresso Makers
- Steam Espresso Machines
- Pump-Driven Espresso Machines (Semi-Automatic, Fully Automatic, Super-Automatic)
Leading off with stovetop coffee makers, also known as moka pots, these don’t strictly speaking deliver espresso.
That said, this traditional and back-to-basics method does return a serviceable short drink that’s high on flavor and richness.
How do they work, though?
Well, you won’t get the pump you need for authentic espresso, but the steam pressure from the stove is responsible for forcing water through the grinds to give you the next best thing.
Something of an acquired taste to use, moka pots are initially fiddly but, once you’re used to using them, you’ll have piping hot, espresso-like coffee in as little as 5 minutes.
Extremely inexpensive and taking up remarkably little room in the kitchen, moka pots deserve an honorable mention and are well worth investigating.
Pod Espresso Machines
Single-serve pod machines like the Nespresso and Keurig we reviewed today are the ultimate in convenience but come with a few drawbacks…
The ongoing costs of the capsules can mount up, particularly if you enjoy several coffees a day. Many of these machines make more than just espresso, so it’s always tempting to invest in additional capsules which can soon get pricey.
The environmental footprint of using all that plastic is also significant. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly espresso, give these machines a swerve.
The final limitation is the relatively restricted range of pods available. Keurig machines offer you the broadest spread of choice with Nespresso having fewer varieties to choose from.
If those snags don’t phase you, you’ll get near-instant espresso at the push of a button in 15 to 30 seconds with practically no clean-up or maintenance required.
Manual Espresso Makers
The Flair manual press we included is the best example of making espresso the manual way harnessing a piston and giving you a great deal of freedom.
If you’re looking for a simple but effective method of getting espresso without all the tech, it’s worth at least exploring the world of manual models.
Steam Espresso Machines
As we hit the real meat of the espresso machines, a steam espresso machine works on the same principle as a moka pot but harnesses electricity instead of using steam pressure from the stove.
Since you won’t be paying for the elaborate pump built into the machines we’ll look at below, these steam espresso machines are a pocket-friendly way to come very close to a bona fide espresso without breaking the bank.
Pump-Driven Espresso Machines
Pump-driven machines use an electrical pump generating at least 9 bars and usually 15 bars of pressure along with a boiler to deliver primo espresso with very little effort on your part.
You can get this basic type of machine at a very reasonable price-point and vary between having one or a pair of heating elements combined with an optional water reservoir acting as a boiler. The heating element in the boiler kicks out the steam required while a supplementary heating element heats water to the optimum extraction.
These pump-driven machines can be further sub-divided into 3 broad categories:
- Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: A switch or lever on the front of these machines allows you to stop and start the extraction. All you need to do is load the portafilter, tamp down the grinds and hit the switch. Hit the switch again when you’re ready to roll and you get first-rate espresso with the minimum of effort
- Fully Automatic Espresso Machine: First patented by Gaggia, fully-automatic espresso machines are used in the same way as semi-automatics except a series of buttons replace the switch. This type of machine works especially well in an office setting
- Super-Automatic Espresso Machines: Coming with an integrated grinder, these bean-to-cup espresso makers, as the super-automatic name suggests, do practically everything for you. On the downside, you won’t have as much opportunity to tweak the variables and customize your drink.
III. Tips to Choose The Right Espresso Machine
Choosing the right espresso machine can seem like navigating a minefield with such a wealth of variables.
We’ll break it down so you can focus on the elements that count and get the best machine for your needs without too much time or trouble…
To keep things simple, we’ll eliminate the near-espresso brewing methods outlined above and focus on the manual and pump driven methods.
We’ll look at the key benefits of each so you can more easily decide…
- Manual: Control remains at the forefront with a manual espresso maker if you don’t mind putting in a little effort. While this ability to tweak the variables is a valuable plus point, the learning curve is considerable and you can expect a few ruined brewed before settling on what works best for you. Sometimes deceptively pricey, these design-driven manual espresso makers look great in the kitchen and allow you to pull great shots to taste
- Semi-Automatic: Splitting the difference between the control you’ll enjoy with a manual model and the convenience of push-button alternatives, semi-automatics are the connoisseur’s choice. Pricing ranges from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. As with manuals, you’ll need to invest a little time perfecting the brewing method but then you’ll get gourmet coffee with remarkably little effort
- Fully Automatic: With push-button ease, you’ll lose out on a little flexibility but gain in terms of ease of use. Pricing, again, varies quite dramatically so work your way through a number of options within your budget disregarding the rest. Since these fully-automatic machines have more electrical parts, they are sometimes prone to breaking down. If you’re prepared to take a hit on control and you don’t mind paying for complete convenience, it’s certainly worth considering a fully-automatic
- Super-Automatic: From bean to cup at the press of a button, everything is done for you with these machines. Relatively costly and coming with an integrated grinder, these are beginner-friendly machines but very much one-trick ponies
If you really insist on a pod machine or a moka pot, check above for more details but we’d recommend sticking with one of these types for best results.
With the type nailed down, there are a few other factors to consider…
You should consider the type of machine when thinking about what you want in terms of ease of use and functionality.
Some machines require a little more manual effort but reward you with greater flexibility, others are a cinch to use but espresso is delivered in one way only.
There’s no right or wrong answer here so double down on your needs and buy in line with this.
One piece of advice is not to be seduced by features you won’t actually use. Sometimes, keeping it simple works best.
Ease of Cleaning
The idea of purchasing an espresso machine is to enjoy convenient coffee at home. If you make the mistake of rushing in and buying a unit that’s a real pain to clean, it defeats the very purpose and will likely end up gathering dust in the closet.
Look for water tanks, frothers and drip trays that detach to streamline cleaning.
With more expensive models, check if you’ll need to use cleaning capsules and budget accordingly.
Type of Drinks
Do you just want a straight espresso?
How about longer, milky drinks?
Perhaps you also enjoy an Americano?
And, are you looking for hot water on demand for the occasional cup of tea or infusion?
We’ll explore all these options directly below, but you should double down hard on what type of drinks you want from your machine to avoid an expensive mistake.
Focusing on overall value and build quality rather than obsessing about the bottom line is sound practice.
Will you be using the machine at home or in a commercial backdrop? If the latter, you’ll need to shoot for something far more rugged.
In general, machines with plenty of stainless steel and little by the way of plastic will last longer.
As with all elements of sourcing the best espresso machine, personalizing your buying decision rather than hunting for a boilerplate solution will yield superior results.
Does the machine you’re looking at come with an onboard grinder?
How about a water filter and cup warmer?
Is there a frothing wand?
Is the machine programmable?
Rather than basing your decision on which machine has most bells and whistles, think closely about your intended usage and make certain it packs everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Last but by no means least, give due weight to the amount of space you have on the countertop.
We stopped short of outlining precise dimensions for each machine to avoid boring you but this information is readily available.
Look for something that fits neatly into your set-up without overcrowding things and you’re just about ready to buy!
Before we tail off with some of the most frequently asked questions, though, a little more information on the various type of espresso you can make with your new machine…
IV. What Different Types of Espresso You Can Make With Your Espresso Machine
Espresso machines, as you’ll be clearly aware by now, come in a huge array of shapes, sizes and types.
They also offer the ability to make a reasonable selection of drinks far beyond a simple, short shot.
Here are the main types of drink you’ll be able to rustle up with the best machine in your home…
- Espresso: Looking like a darker version of regular black coffee, short and very strong espresso comes in single or double shots. All the machines we look at today are capable of delivering this baseline requirement with varying degrees of success
- Cappuccino: To offset the strength of a straight-up espresso, adding a healthy dose of frothed, steamed milk is a great way to enjoy a longer coffee with a little less intensity but no less flavor
- Latte: Lattes contain even more milk than cappuccinos and the foam is kept to just a thin layer. Use skim milk if you’re looking for a skinny latte
- Macchiato: Lighter on the foam, a macchiato dials back the strength and punch of an espresso without diluting it
- Americano: Long, tall and black, Americano is a consistently popular choice
- Mocha: Throw in some chocolate to your cappuccino and you’ve got a mocha
- Tea or Infusions: You’ll need a machine capable of delivering hot water on demand if you want to branch out further and add tea, green tea or other infusions to your repertoire
V. Espresso Machine FAQs
1) Where to buy a refurbished espresso machine?
Go here if you fancy picking up a refurbished unit. This allows you to afford something that might be out of your budget if you bought new without any of the risks of buying used from the free ads.
2) How often do you need to clean your machine?
The best answer to this question we are often posed is: frequently. Coffee beans are stuffed with oils and this residue builds up over time clogging your machine if left neglected. The best way to combat this is by rigorously keeping on top of cleaning so the accumulation is stopped before it gets chance to set in. All you’ll need is some simple espresso detergent and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions since cleaning techniques vary from model to model.
3) What are the best coffee beans for espresso?
If we limited our choice to a single bean, we’d suggest Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee. Check out this article right here for a more detailed look at a wider selection of suitable beans.
4) Which espresso machine is best, pump-powered or steam-powered?
As with every step of your buying decision, there’s no fixed response to this. We would say that pump-powered machines replaced their steam-powered predecessors with good reason, though. While still serviceable, the pressure from steam models is inconsistent. If you’re a stickler for quality, a pump model gives you enhanced temperature control and tends to deliver superior results. That said, steam-powered machines are not entirely without merit so think about your priorities.
5) What’s pre-infusion?
You can push a very small amount of water into your coffee to get the brewing process going. The advantage of this is that your beans will have the opportunity to degas before being flooded with full pressure. Although not compulsory, this extra step is well worthwhile and lends to a more balanced drink with no taint whatsoever.
6) Are all steam wands fundamentally the same?
In a word, no. Avoid any wands that look cheap and flimsy or come with plastic tips. You’ll want your milk nicely steamed to the optimum temperature not scorched and spoiled which can happen at the hands of a cheap wand. The most effective wands can be manually controlled and will pivot around to offer you the best possible angle. 2, 3 or 4 steam holes is standard.
7) What’s the minimum pressure needed for a coffee to qualify as a genuine espresso?
9 bar according to the Italian Espresso National Institute. Many machines offer up to 15 bar but you can dip down to that lower figure and still lay claim to serving genuine espresso. The key is that the nigh-boiling water is forced through the fine grounds with at least this amount of pressure. This results in super-thick and very creamy coffee with a higher caffeine content to deliver a real kick.
8) To generalize, which roasts work best for espresso?
As a rule of thumb, medium roasts respond ideally to this brewing method. You should also, if at all possible, avoid more oily beans although it’s again down to personal preference.
9) What quantity of grounds do you need for a shot of espresso?
For a double shot, you generally use between 15 and 22 grams of coffee to generate up to 40 grams of espresso. Adjust this for single shots and be prepared to tweak in line with the size of the portafilter.
10) What grind size works best for espresso?
Use a fine grind for best results.
We very much hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive guide to the best espresso machines on the market as much as we’ve enjoyed compiling it.
We’ve tried to cover all main bases so whatever your budget, preferred drinks and intended usage, you can get the best kit the easy way then use it correctly.
There is absolutely no set solution and you’re much better off focusing on your specific needs rather than worrying about which machine your friend has or which one your local coffee shop uses.
Get things right and you’ll end up with a faithful companion for years to come. Rush into it and you could rue not taking a little more time.
If there’s anything at all you need clearing up, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re very responsive to messages and happy to help out in any way we can.
Come back soon and happy hunting!