If you’re not one yourself, you definitely know one. Espresso, which originated in Italy, is a finely ground, highly concentrated version of coffee that packs a punch of caffeine into a single one-ounce shot (or two, if you’d like a double-shot), making it richer and stronger than a regular cup of coffee. People who drink espresso know that it’s all about quality, which means if you’re not getting your tiny cup of life from your local barista, you best do your research and invest in a worthy espresso machine to make it at home.
One of the many issues with other coffee makers is that the brewing process is inconsistent, with temperature fluctuations that can potentially affect the acidity, aroma, and final flavor of your beverage. The OXO On Barista Brain Coffee Maker is fixed with an intelligent microprocessor that monitors ambient temperatures throughout the brewing process.
To find espresso machines that perfect the balance between simple design, customizable settings, and delicious espresso, we began by compiling a list of machines recommended by espresso-centric websites like Clive Coffee and Seattle Coffee Gear. We were selective about which brands we chose, skipping the popular Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine after reading Home-Barista’s lukewarm review of it. We wanted machines that were both well-known and well-regarded. After looking at top sellers from Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, we also included the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. This addition drew the skepticism of the coffee experts we spoke with, but we couldn’t ignore its 1,700 Amazon reviews.
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
The dishwasher-safe, BPA free model from Takeya can brew up to a quart of concentrated cold brew coffee. It not only yielded one of the best tasting brews, it also aced our usability tests. The brewer is easy to set up, offers a durable build, and is simple to clean and store for later use. It is also the only brewer that is air-tight while it brews, allowing you to easily store the brewer on its side in a packed fridge.
The Rocket’s espresso lever is an upgrade from the simple on/off button used by most of our models. By only moving the lever part way up, you can play around with pre-infusing your coffee grounds before pulling the shot. Pre-infusion can be fun to tinker with as you try to home in on what makes your perfect espresso. This gives the Rocket an additional level of customization not available on the other models we tested.
Why it's great: The Litchi is especially great for those looking to bring their simple espresso maker to the great outdoors, or anywhere else where you'll be lacking electricity. (Think camping trips and long hikes.) It's easy to use and also gives you the freedom to use your own coffee grounds rather than pre-packaged pods. It's also only 30 bucks, making it easily the most budget friendly on our list.
This coffee maker is excellent. How could it not be? Its SCAA-certified, and the technology is practically identical to the 12-Cup brewing system. Lots of what we love about the 12-Cup, from its single-dial programmability to its auto-pause brewing to its multi-port shower head, is pretty much the same. Plus, it brews eight cups in a much swifter nine minutes, and is $100 cheaper.
“What I REALLY like about it is that it’s pretty much an all-in-one system without the thousand-dollar-plus all-in-one cost. I push one button and all the magic happens, and it’s quite entertaining to watch the espresso cascade through the milk and create separate layers. I also like that I can take the milk and store it in my fridge. I’ve done some temperature tests, and only noticed a five-degree increase after making a double latte, before I put it back in the fridge. This is nice, as you would think that to be so close to all that heat, it would be a much bigger temperature fluctuation.”
The gist: The Nespresso Inissia is very similar to the Pixie. It also comes with one-touch options for either a single espresso or lungo cup size. It pumps with 19 bars of pressure and also heats up in less than 25 seconds. With over 2,500 reviews, it stands out with a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The Inissia has more or less the same internal workings as the Pixie (including the 0.7 liter water tank), so the quality of espresso produced should be pretty identical. The difference: unlike the Pixie, which is made of metal, the Inissia's exterior is mostly plastic and has a slightly funkier design. However the Inissia comes in several colors, including red, black, silver, and titan.
Breville's 12-cup Precision Brewer is stacked with features that allow you to fully customize your coffee, like adjustable brew temperature, bloom time, strength and more. It also has settings for making cold brew, iced coffee, or the Specialty Coffee Association's standard Golden Cup. It's beautifully designed thanks to its sleek brushed stainless steel exterior and LED-lit digital display. Just note that you'll have to spend time exacting your preferred settings, especially when you first set it up.
What Amazon users have to say: As you may expect, there are rave reviews for Nespresso. Users love the ease of making quality espresso with little to no effort or cleanup. The machine is energy and space-saving, and comes with top notch customer service should you need it. Amazon user LT was especially feelin' it, saying "If I could marry an appliance (is it legal?) I would spend the rest of my life with this espresso machine." We'll be sure to look into those marriage laws. In the meantime, here's more Inissia praise:
Thank you for this great review. For me, I use Bonavita BV1900TS for about a year and I can say that it is Perfect. It’s equipped with most features that are desirable for home brewing. With this coffee maker, you won’t enjoy high-end functionalities, but you will prepare great coffee every time. The black and stainless finish makes it appear beautiful in your kitchen. The stainless steel lining extends the durability of the machine.
“Small things CAN bring you joy. My recent purchase of this Zojirushi coffee maker has made me very happy. Sounds like a commercial, but consider this … Last year, I bought a more expensive coffee maker that made terrible coffee! Instead of using the machine, I started making pour-overs. Something I hate to do … A year and a bunch of customer reviews later, I ordered this new baby, and I am so happy, I am writing about it here. I don’t know if it’s the water filter that water passes through or the fact that the water is introduced to the coffee a little bit differently, but the result is what I consider a perfect cup of coffee.”
As for the seller: when the unit was originally delivered the steam wand wasn't performing well. After following the typical trouble-shooting tips and conferring with the seller, we found the unit was simply unable to produce enough pressure to steam or properly brew. Within a week the seller had replaced the unit, and I'm happy to report it works perfectly. No matter the production value there is always a possibility of a defect here or there. The seller standing by the product and immediately replacing it to our satisfaction really sealed the deal for us. I highly recommend both this product and the seller from whom we purchased it."
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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.
A new French press is an ideal companion on a camping trip or picnic. Our sturdy versions of French presses are available in glass, metal, ceramic and other materials. Invest in your own efficient single-cup brewers with included cups and thermal mugs to create on-the-go coffee drinks for one person. Cold-brew machines and kits are other terrific options when you prefer chilled and iced coffee beverages. Remember to order plenty of filters, tampers, descaling tabs and other coffee accessories to keep your machine fresh and bright. Clean machines with the right size filters brew the best coffee