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:
Why it's great: It literally doesn't get any easier than this. The ease of use on this thing makes practically ANY time a good time to brew. Are you sitting in your car at your kid's winter sports game wishing you had a warm espresso? Are you at the top of a mountain after an early morning hike, wishing you could enjoy the view with a hot cuppa joe? Whip out your handy little Cisno and you'll be sipping that notorious Nespresso taste in no time. No hot water? The Cisno can boil water for you within seconds.
This testing was designed to highlight the difference in how each machine extracted its coffee grounds. Remember, extraction is tied to water temperature, how long the grounds had to steep, and how evenly that water is distributed in the brew basket. (Depending on how the machine distributes the water and the shape of the basket, any particular ground may or may not receive the same amount of time in contact with water — thus any individual grind may be over-extracted, under-extracted, or just right.) Properly extracted grounds would have a balance of notes and aromas, from slight hints of acid to a pleasant amount of bitterness.
The De'Longhi comes with a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler which would serve you well over time. Other notable features include a swivel jet frother for easy cappuccino and latte prep, a dual-function filter holder that gives you a choice between ground coffee and pods, and a self-priming function which we recommend for the absolute best results.
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The Breville machine was also the only semi-automatic model to produce a velvety, well-incorporated foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models, including the Gaggia and all of the less expensive machines).
This machine is extremely consistent and it brews an excellent espresso or cup of coffee. It also looks like Darth Vader manifested as a coffee machine: it's sleek and black and is definitely what our coffee makers will look like when we're all living on the moon. If your kitchen aesthetic is Space Chic, this machine is for you. It takes the joy and skill out of brewing your own espresso, but it works extremely well and is great for making an almost cafe-quality cup of coffee at home in no time and with very little effort.
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.
This Good Housekeeping Seal star features an all-black body, a 12-cup glass carafe, a reusable filter and a backlit LCD screen with digital touchpad controls. You can program the clock to automatically brew coffee in the morning. It'll make a hot pot very quickly, but drink up — the keep warm feature didn't keep the coffee as warm as other models in our tests.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.