Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
Maintenance is simple on any of our drip coffee makers, with full frontal access for cleaning, refilling water and changing the coffee filter. All our coffee machines are user-friendly, so that brewing perfect coffee is a convenient, stress-free experience. Keep your counters uncluttered with convenient cord storage, and bring a little elegance to your kitchen with our sleek and attractive designs.
Why it's great: The relatively lightweight machine by Mr. Coffee is a triple threat, meaning you’re not limited to just espresso. You can also make cappuccino and regular coffee, not to mention a variety of specialty drinks from the included recipe book (think espresso martinis, raspberry cappuccinos, choco-nutty lattes, etc.) The machine comes with an electric pump that shoots out 15 bars of pressure. It also has a one-touch feature that lets you select either a single or double-shot drink, and it even has an automatic milk frother with an adjustable knob, so you can customize the amount of froth you’d like in your drink of choice.
"I have used this machine for about a week, and it is awesome! I had used an espresso machine frequently years ago, but got sick of the grinding, prepping, priming, etc., especially before work in the morning. So, I eventually gave up and bought a plain-ole coffee maker. Unfortunately, "regular" coffee, to me, tastes like hot water. I even tried a Kuerig, but returned it within a month - it was more convenient, but the coffees are no higher quality than any grocery-store brand coffee. So I debated for a long time about whether I should wait for one of these brand-new Nespresso Vertuoline machines, or just buy one of the older, espresso-only Nespresso machines.
“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.”
That said, it’s not as elegant to use as the OXO machines. (Nor is it as nice to look at. One tester described its tall, bulbous body and squat carafe as “UFO-like.”) Take its eight-button controls, for example, which you use to toggle among brew modes, scroll up and down within the menu, and engage a manual brewing feature. Programming it to start brewing at a certain time was about as intuitive as setting an alarm on a clock radio — easy enough, but more technical than sleek. OXO definitely feels like the future; Behmor is more, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Thankfully we have Amazon, and moreover Amazon users (aka fellow espresso connoisseurs) who happen to be very vocal when it comes to their favorite machines. (We have read dozens of reviews and these folks are THOROUGH, to say the least.) To save you some time, we put together a list of the best espresso makers based on Amazon reviews. Our number one favorite was the Breville BES870XL. Not only does it take the spot of "best of the best" on Amazon's ranks page, its ease of use, freshness factor, and straight up *amazing* espresso-making capabilities have reviewers swooning.
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“For home brewers, the Mr. Coffee 12-cup, programmable machine can produce great morning coffee that’s decent by most standards. Just make sure you use good water — NYC tap is more than acceptable, though filtered is even better. I’d say it’s also even more important to have a grinder that has a nice, even particle size distribution. I have a Baratza Encore on hand, but recently I’ve been relying heavily on the Handground brand grinder, which is a great ergonomic manual.” — Elliott Foos, barista at Café Integral
We're recommending the version of the Breville espresso machine that comes with a built-in grinder. You place the beans in a compartment at the top, then use the portafilter to press a lever on the machine, which dispenses the grounds right into your portafilter compartment. It's easy to use, compact, and has a wheel on the side that allows you to change the grind. Since the grind of your espresso is one of the most important parts, we think it's worth having this grinder attached right to the machine. Especially since the Barista Express only costs about $100 more than the Infuser—Breville's model without the grinder. (However if you're looking for a smaller, more compact model, the Infuser performs as well as the Barista Express.)
Our collections also include plenty of accessories to help you prepare and serve your delicious coffee. Serve coffee in style on one of our Williams Sonoma coffee tables. Browse a selection of consoles, side tables and rectangular tables that complement almost any space. If you opt for a capsule machine or a stovetop espresso maker, you may want to choose some accessories to enhance your drinks. Coffee accessories such as mills and scales can help improve flavor. If your maker of choice doesn’t include a frother, our collections offer a variety of options, from small handheld devices to slightly larger models that can froth a few cups of coffee at once.
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Crave cappuccino? Love latte? You’re in luck: the PrimaDonna automatic espresso machine from De’Longhi can brew a range of milk-based beverages, complete with steamed or frothed milk. The adjustable automatic cappuccino system combines steam and milk to create the thickest, longest-lasting foam for your cappuccino. And it’s easy to adjust the levels to prepare a creamy latte.
CR’s take: The Cuisinart Coffee on Demand is a self-serve model. It stores 12 cups of brewed coffee in a reservoir and has a dispenser instead of a carafe. It makes sense in homes where people are drinking coffee at different times; it keeps coffee hot and ready, so family and guests can fill their own cups. This model is programmable and features a water filter and a cleaning indicator. The reservoir can be removed for washing. In our tests, the Coffee on Demand performs quite well, receiving a Very Good rating for convenience. At less than $100, it can be a terrific choice for entertaining.