Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
An early variant technique, called a balance siphon, was to have the two chambers arranged side-by-side on a sort of scale-like device, with a counterweight attached opposite the initial (or heating) chamber. Once the near-boiling water was forced from the heating chamber into the brewing one, the counterweight was activated, causing a spring-loaded snuffer to come down over the flame, thus turning "off" the heat, and allowing the cooled water to return to the original chamber. In this way, a sort of primitive 'automatic' brewing method was achieved.
Only two optional settings are available: You can control the heating element under the carafe and turn down the temperature if desired. Other than that, the Moccamaster doesn't have—and doesn't need—anything else. Technivorm boasts that its heating element can get water between 196ºF and 205ºF, which specialists say is the ideal temperature for brewing coffee.
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.
When you’re looking for an espresso maker, you have a few different options. Electric espresso makers are popular choices, and they make creating your own espresso drinks quick and easy. This type of machine feeds pressurized water through a series of tubes in the device, heats it up and then feeds it through compacted grounds. Most electric espresso machines include milk frothing wands, which use steam to create delicious foamy milk or cream that’s ideal for cappuccinos or lattes. Many machines are fully automatic, so there isn’t much of a learning curve involved. A few even include built-in coffee mills, offering fresh coffee with zero effort.
*SCAA Certified: A Specialty Coffee Association of America certification indicates the machine can heat water to a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit and ensures that hot water will be in contact with coffee grounds for no less than four and no greater than eight minutes. It’s a solid confirmation of quality. But according to Joseph Rivera, a research coffee scientist at coffeechemistry.com, not every manufacturer chooses to submit their coffee makers for SCAA certification, and there are definitely great drip coffee makers out there without its stamp of approval. Six of the 10 coffee makers we tested are SCAA-certified — including all four of our top picks.
Pierce's design was later improved by U.S. appliance engineers Ivar Jepson, Ludvik Koci, and Eric Bylund of Sunbeam in the late 1930s. They altered the heating chamber and eliminated the recessed well which was hard to clean. They also made several improvements to the filtering mechanism. Their improved design of plated metals, styled by industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli, became the famous Sunbeam Coffeemaster line of automated vacuum coffee makers (Models C-20, C-30, C40, and C-50). The Coffeemaster vacuum brewer was sold in large numbers in the United States during the years immediately following World War I.
“To me, a great drip-coffee machine is a reliable one with a timer (which is an awesome feature for large families). The Cuisinart DCC-3200 might not be the first choice of snobby coffee experts, but to me it does the trick. It’s cheap and works just fine (it’s actually the one I use myself at home). I love that I can program the timer and wake up to the smell of fresh coffee. Also, friends and family think you’re the best host when they stay with you (even though you’re still sleeping).” — Guillaume Guevara, founder of Miscelanea NY
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.
“My mom gave me a Gevalia 12-cup, programmable coffee maker a few years ago, and it’s gone with me through multiple Brooklyn apartments. It’s hard to find now, so if it ever breaks, she has a killer Cuisinart DCC-1200. I actually look forward to her coffee every time I’m home. It makes a mellow brew. If my Gevalia machine ever gives out on me, I’ll upgrade to that.” — Allie LaPorte, wine representative, Wilson Daniels
The moka pot is most commonly used in Europe and in Latin America. It has become an iconic design, displayed in modern industrial art and design museums such as the Wolfsonian- FIU, Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum, the Design Museum, and the London Science Museum. Moka pots come in different sizes, from one to eighteen 50 ml cups. The original design and many current models are made from aluminium with bakelite handles.
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:
The gist: This "all-in-one" machine includes pretty much everything you need to make quality espresso, minus the beans. It's Amazon's choice for "espresso and cappuccino maker combos" and has a rating of 4.1 stars. It comes with its own electric bean-grinder, a 1.25 liter removable water tank, a measuring spoon and tamper, a stainless steel filter with two basket options, a stainless steel milk frothing cup, and two 3.6-ounce espresso cups. The machine brews espresso with 15 bars of pressure and with the Thermoblock fast heating system, it's ready to use in 45 seconds. The two portafilter baskets allow you to pull either a single or double shot drink.
It’s obvious, but easy to forget: If you don’t clean out your coffee machine’s carafe after each use with soap and water, you’ll always end up tasting a little bit of yesterday’s now-bitter brew. Thermal carafes need to be hand-washed, but all the plastic components of our top picks — brew baskets, lids, etc. — are dishwasher-safe if you keep them on the top rack.
The Baratza Encore is simplicity defined and our top coffee grinder. This burr grinder has a 40-setting grind size selector, an on-off switch for continuous grinding, and a push-button for manual control. That's it. Other grinders include complicated timers, built-in scales, strength adjustment sliders, and other doodads, but Baratza suggests that you don't need them—and they're right. Measure your beans using a separate scale, grind them fresh for each cup. That's the way to do it.
Water quality also plays a massive role in the way your coffee tastes. As we discovered in our review of the best water filters, water isn’t tasteless. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are what give “good tasting” water its sweetness — in fact, the SCAA recommends water with 150 milligrams per liter of TDS to brew coffee. (Want to check your water? A TDS reader is only about 15 bucks.)
For many of us, the daily grind can't begin until we've had that first cup of piping hot coffee—so the right brewer is at the top of the list. The most basic coffee makers make at least a decent cup, but a little more money buys conveniences such as programmability, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, settings that let you adjust brew strength, and more.