A good grinder: An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and the amount of espresso. The user manual walks you through every step of the brewing process, and altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Our shots were beautifully layered and gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
The Breville machine was also the only semi-automatic model to produce a velvety, well-incorporated foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models, including the Gaggia and all of the less expensive machines).
An espresso machine brews coffee by forcing pressurized water near boiling point through a "puck" of ground coffee and a filter in order to produce a thick, concentrated coffee called espresso. The first machine for making espresso was built and patented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy. An improved design was patented on April 28, 1903, by Luigi Bezzera. The founder of the La Pavoni company bought the patent and from 1905 produced espresso machines commercially on a small scale in Milan. Multiple machine designs have been created to produce espresso. Several machines share some common elements, such as a grouphead and a portafilter. An espresso machine may also have a steam wand which is used to steam and froth liquids (such as milk) for coffee drinks such as cappuccino and caffe latte.
“Quite possibly the best investment I’ve made in an appliance to date. This powerful machine makes THE BEST COFFEE. I’m a coffee snob, so Keurig never impressed me, and I don’t have the space to purchase a full espresso machine. The Ninja system is compact, but offers a variety of brewing settings. Very easy to clean. Huge fan of this brand in general, and I’m so glad I made this purchase. Even comes with a travel mug.”
“I actually didn’t start drinking coffee on a regular, daily basis until four or five years ago. I got hooked on the smoothness and low acidity of cold-brewed coffee, and for the longest time, my ritual each morning was to visit Gimme! near my house on Lorimer. Recently, though, I’ve started making cold brew myself at home with the OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker. It’s not a true drip-coffee machine, but I’ve been very happy with this piece of equipment — it lets me tinker with different beans and concentrations, and produces enough cold brew to last me two weeks at a time. It also stacks compactly for storage, which is an absolute requirement for my tiny New York apartment.” — Dennis Ngo, caterer at Lonestar Empire
Brewing coffee has never been easier with this Black & Decker 12-Cup Switch Coffee maker. With the switch of a button, you’re coffee will start brewing into the reinforced glass Duralife™ carafe with a comfort grip handle. Grab a cup of coffee on the go with the Sneak-A-Cup™ feature, otherwise your coffee will be ready when you are with the Keep Warm carafe nonstick carafe plate.
The gist: Okay, so in case any connoisseurs out there have been reading this section and thinking "a portable espresso machine takes the art away from espresso-making," this one's for you. Flair claims that this model was the answer to their question "What is the minimum needed to brew a professional-level shot of espresso?" The resulting product is this single-lever machine that doesn't need pods or electricity. It pulls a quality shot at 8-16 bars of pressure, has a 60ml water capacity, and brews a single cup in 25-45 seconds. You can get it in either black or chrome colors.
The gist: The Cisno is the perfect way to enjoy good espresso on the go and takes the spot as Amazon's Choice for portable espresso makers with 4.5/5 stars. This little guy is small enough to fit in a cup holder, yet pumps at 15 bars of pressure, powered by a rechargeable lithium battery. All you need are Originaline Nespresso capsules and some water. The process is super simple: Insert the Nespresso capsule, pour water into the 50ml water cavity, push the one big button on the Cisno, and boom— automatically pump and enjoy you cup of espresso. Tryna stay fancy? You still have the option of using your own coffee grounds if you get reusable stainless steel capsules.
It scored the highest in our out-of-the-box taste test, brewing coffee our tasters described as “light” with subtle notes of blueberry, citrus, cherry, tobacco, and hazelnut. The machine simply brews great coffee, and it takes its job seriously. If you’re interested in playing around with the flavor and extraction of your roast, the Behmor Brazen gives you more access to more variables. You can adjust water temperature, play with pre-infusion times (15 seconds to four minutes) — it even has you enter your altitude to better determine water’s boiling point, and calibrate its internal thermometer during setup.
“I grind the beans in a Hario hand grinder gifted from my brother to me when he upgraded to a fancy electric one. Using the hand grinder is meditative. It feels like you’re ‘earning’ your morning coffee a little bit more. At home, I use a Muji porcelain pour-over, but when I’m at my family’s house in metro Detroit, I love using their Bonavita BV1800SS. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own, but seriously, you can’t fuck it up. Super-easy and delicious every single time.” — Kimberly Chou, co-director of Food Book Fair
We tested 12 models by making shots of espresso and lattes on each machine. We enlisted the help of an expert from Students of Coffee, a group of coffee educators and roasters at New York University, to judge for quality. The majority of the models we tested were semi-automatic, meaning brewers still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semi-automatic espresso machines heat the water for you, and then pump it through the grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the machine. The semi-automatic models we tester were:
Espresso fans can let their imaginations run wild with an espresso maker from Sur La Table. Part ritual and part art, making the perfect espresso is a passion for many and we have the tools. Whether you enjoy the simplicity of a single-shot machine or you prefer fully featured espresso machines with all the bells and whistles, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for. And since we carry brands like Breville, Jura and Nespresso, you know they’ll provide delicious coffee for years to come. When it’s time to make the perfect espresso, visit Sur La Table.
A cafetiere (Coffee Plunger, French press in US English) requires coffee of a coarser grind than does a drip brew coffee filter, as finer grounds will seep through the press filter and into the coffee. Coffee is brewed by placing the coffee and water together, stirring it and leaving to brew for a few minutes, then pressing the plunger to trap the coffee grounds at the bottom of the beaker.
All of the espresso machines we tested only included a single boiler for heating. This means that there's only one mechanism for heating both the water for brewing and the steamer wand. Because of this, it'll take the steamer wand a while to heat up after pulling the espresso shot, since the steamer wand operates at a much higher temperature than the brewing temperature of around 195°F. It is possible to buy a home machine with a double boiler (Breville makes one) but this raises the price significantly (we didn't test the Breville because it's over $1,000), and the minor wait time wasn't a major concern for us. We figured it wouldn't be for home brewers either.
If you don’t have the time or want to build a highly customized taste for your espresso mixes and just want a great tasting cup of espresso, super-automatic espresso makers are going to be your best bet. While you do give up some of the control you have over the final product, a super-automatic espresso maker automates almost all of the process for you, meaning that you can just get a great shot of espresso without having to do any extra work. This makes it perfect for people on the go or who prefer convenience over control.
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.