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CR’s take: Our highest-rated drip brewer with an insulated, thermal carafe, the Ninja Bar Brewer CF085 has plenty to recommend it. CR’s testers find that it offers superb brew performance and is very easy to use. In our member surveys, Ninja drip coffee makers received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. (We don’t yet have enough data to judge reliability.) This model has a full suite of features, including an unusual over-ice brew mode for making iced coffee. Ninja claims its thermal carafe will keep coffee hot for 2 hours, and the machine comes with a milk frother and a standalone French-press brewer. These features come at a price, of course; the Ninja Bar Brewer is the second most expensive model on this list.
“This is simply an amazing machine. I have had NO trouble with it whatsoever. … The quality of the espresso is better than what I get out of the coffee shops — using their beans. It took me a long time to tune in the perfect cup of espresso/latte/cappuccino, and there are variables, but mostly in the beans you buy. I had to buy a decent burr grinder, but considering the investment in the machine, another $150 for a good burr grinder is nothing. I only run filtered water through the machine. I love this machine. I have poured over 2,500 shots through it. Not a single problem with the machine. Many mistakes by the operator, but I will take my espresso out of this machine before any store bought cup-o-Joe.”
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.
Whole bean coffee that you grind yourself is preferable to pre-ground, too. The bean’s exterior traps and protects all of the delicate, volatile, and water-soluble oils that give coffee its flavor. As soon as you break the protective shell, it’s easy for the flavor to get contaminated, and much of the aroma escapes as soon as the oils are exposed to air.
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:
"My absolute love of the Delonghi Maginfica ESAM3300 is hard to describe. It has been a faithful crema steeped friend and morning ritual for at least 8 years, and the current unit I bought as a replacement last week (another ESAM3300) is a testament to why I give this well built Italian Stallion "super automatic" espresso dream machine a SOLID 5 star rating.
Served in a variety of drinks, espressos are made by machines that send pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee beans—thus, the quality of the drink is dictated in large part by the quality of machine that brews it. Historically, the best espresso has been brewed in coffee shops with industrial-grade equipment. Today, continued innovation in the at-home espresso brewing industry has led to the creation of high-quality machines that can contend with some of the best baristas out there.
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.
While clever baristas are always coming up with twists on common coffee staples, the most popular beverages are based on a shot or more of espresso and steamed milk with a layer of foam artistically placed on top. Cappuccino is among the most popular espresso-based drinks, but with some clever applications of milk and cream, they sky is the limit as to what you can create.
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."
CR’s take: If you’re an aficionado of fresh ground coffee, this Black+Decker is the brewer to buy. As the name suggests, the Mill & Brew goes that extra mile, grinding whole coffee beans just before brewing. As a result, the machine is capable of making a great pot of coffee. Made of plastic with stainless steel accents, this model is easy to use and to clean, earning a Very Good rating in our convenience tests. It allows you to adjust brew strength, and it’s programmable, so you can set it to grind and brew just before you wake up.