At the beginning of the twentieth century, although some coffee makers tended to uniformity of design (particularly stovetop percolators), others displayed a wide variety of styling differences. In particular, the vacuum brewer, which required two fully separate chambers joined in an hourglass configuration, seemed to inspire industrial designers. Interest in new designs for the vacuum brewer revived during the American Arts & Crafts movement with the introduction of "Silex" brand coffee makers, based on models developed by Massachusetts housewives Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton. Their use of Pyrex solved the problem of fragility and breakability that had made this type of machine commercially unattractive. During the 1930s, simple, clean forms, increasingly of metal, attracted positive attention from industrial designers heavily influenced by the functionalist imperative of the Bauhaus and Streamline movements. It was at this time that Sunbeam's sleek Coffeemaster vacuum brewer appeared, styled by the famous industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli. The popularity of glass and Pyrex globes temporarily revived during the Second World War, since aluminum, chrome, and other metals used in traditional coffee makers became restricted in availability.
It also automatically pre-infuses the coffee, allowing the grounds to vent their CO2 and “bloom.” Remember, only half of the machines we tested had this feature, and it proved to pay off in our taste tests. The four machines we recommend all pre-infuse. Only one coffee maker without it, the Hamilton Beach, performed well at all in our taste tests — but that guy was so cheap and flimsy, part of the brew basket broke during our testing. Sorry, Hamilton Beach.
For example, if your coffee tastes a bit salty or sour, the grounds are under-extracted, which can be remedied by a finer grind. But what if only some of your grounds are too coarse, and others are too fine – and maybe some are just right? Having uniform grind size throughout your brew basket makes it easier to isolate and adjust this variable in order to get the level of extraction you want. The only way to achieve that is with a burr grinder. Miller — as well as a handful of our other experts — recommends the Barazata Encore Coffee Grinder ($129).
Brew yourself a fresh mug of coffee with the sleek, stylish, and highly functional Farberware 8-Cup Classic Yosemite Percolator. A must-have countertop appliance, this percolator makes sure that your morning coffee rituals are refreshing and energetic. Featuring immaculate lines and a fine finesse, it has a classic design that looks great with most kitchen decors. Compact, easy to operate, and space-saving, it can easily be accommodated on your kitchen counter without occupying much space. The...
Our top pick is the OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System. It’s a large machine – both in footprint and in capacity — but it earned the second-highest scores in our taste test, and is sleek both to look at and to operate. Convenient features like programmable auto-brewing, a removable water reservoir that doubles as a kettle, and a spigot that stops the brew mid-stream if you remove the carafe make this machine feel high tech without being high maintenance. For those who want to be a little more hands-on with the brewing process, its single-button dial also lets you adjust the water’s brewing temperature, giving you more access to experiment with extraction and flavor.
A best seller in its category, this espresso maker from Mr. Coffee has all the bells and whistles you could want out of a machine. Besides espresso, you can also make cappuccino or a latte at the touch of a button. There’s an adjustable cup tray that lets you change the height based on the size of your cup, and the milk and water reservoirs are removable for easy refill and cleanup. A drip catcher will keep things clean if anything spills over, and the machine comes with a single shot filter, double shot filter, measuring scoop, tamper, and coffee recipes.
You might have heard that purchasing a double-boiler espresso machine or a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller will give you more accuracy and control over temperature. They’re definitely features to dig into for advanced espresso crafters, but expect to pay an additional $400 for a PID and $800+ for a second boiler. Since we wanted to focus on beginner machines, we stuck to single-boiler models without PID controllers for this review.
The very first espresso machines worked on a steam-pressure basis, and they’re still in use today. With this type of machine, steam or steam pressure is used to force water through the coffee grounds and produce espresso. Some steam-driven machines can produce a measure of foam “crema.” But they can’t generate enough pressure or provide the precise temperature control necessary to produce true espresso: They simply make a very strong cup of coffee. However, they cost considerably less than pump-driven machines. Our verdict is that if you’re a true espresso lover and seeking to make a good shot at home, we recommend you steer clear of steam-driven machines. They’ll likely disappoint you.
Above all, good espresso requires precision. If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And even if you’re not holding out for the best coffee on the planet, the margin for error is still slim. To test the machines, we pulled shots following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines and paid attention to the following markers of success:
Moka pots, also known as stove top espresso makers, are similar to espresso machines in that they brew under pressure and the resulting brew shares some similarities, but in other respects differ. As such, their characterization as "espresso" machines is at times contentious, but due to their use of pressure and steam for brewing, comparable to all espresso prior to the 1948 Gaggia, they are accepted within broader uses of the term, but distinguished from standard modern espresso machines.
“Self-identified coffee snob. Couldn’t be happier. Easy to operate, functions as advertised, instructions are clear. The metal filter included does what it needs to do. I recommend a relatively coarse grind (imagine the feel of cornmeal) with the metal filter to get the full flavor of the coffee. If you’re a bit of a coffee snowflake (no disrespect intended) and don’t like the ‘mud’ at the bottom of the cup, you should stick with the paper filter. Either way, the coffee maker itself does the job nicely.”
If all you’re looking for is a gorgeous cup of coffee and no fuss, we strongly recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS. It’s the smallest machine among our top picks and, at $190, the cheapest. Even better, it ranked in the top three out of 10 during our taste tests. It’s also the simplest and most straightforward: one button you click to start brewing, and that’s it. You can’t program brew times; you can’t play around with water temperature; and it even lacks some convenient touches like a brew basket that attaches to the machine (when you’re done brewing, you have to place the brew basket on a plate or in the sink before it makes a total mess). But it’s by far the fastest machine out of our top picks, brewing up a full eight-cup pot in under six minutes. It’s a straightforward, high-end coffee maker that leaves little to complain about.
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.
That water is heated in a detachable reservoir that doubles as a kettle. This is a unique feature for a coffee maker, but one we ended up appreciating, especially for households with a mix of tea lovers and instant-oatmeal eaters alongside coffee drinkers. Fill the kettle up, lock it in place, and scroll the dial to the amount of coffee you want brewed. The machine is designed so that, even if you have more water in the kettle than you need, it will brew only the amount you specify. The one thing you actually have to measure with the OXO On 12-Cup is the grounds. Do that right, and it’s pretty much impossible to screw it up.
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:
Why it's great: Flair *really* stresses how important espresso as an "art form" really is. The Flair is for someone who genuinely enjoys the process of creating espresso. It's unique design makes it appealing on the counter or wherever you decide to take it, since it disassembles and folds up nicely into a carrying case. Since it doesn't require electricity, you can take this fancy piece of hardware anywhere. The only downside is that you have to buy your own burr grinder for the best results, but chances are this won't be an issue for someone who is already gung-ho about "the process."
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