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.
A drip coffee system is far superior to an instant coffee maker. For some, the smoother, less intense taste and aroma of a drip coffee system is a lot more palatable than the bitter coffee that tends to be produced by a French press. Not only that, but a drip coffee system is versatile – you can ground up your coffee beans to use in your system, and you can also buy premade blends.
That said, there is a true magic to having espresso at home, making yourself a cappuccino in your pajamas, and avoiding awkwardly waiting around the end of a bar with a cluster of strangers, all desperate to grab the first latte that hits the counter. Espresso is hard, but that doesn't mean it's impossible—especially if you're easy to please, ready to practice, and up for a good culinary challenge. There are lots of resources available online for learning how to make good espresso: Look up videos on YouTube, read articles and DIY books, and don't be too shy to ask your favorite barista for pointers—many of us love getting geeky on the technical stuff with our favorite customers.
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 Breville's conical burr grinder, made of stainless steel, effortlessly grinds coffee beans and optimizes flavor extraction by maximizing the surface area of the grinds. A 54mm tamper ensures expert tamping control, and a hands-free grinding cradle leaves all the hard work to the machine. Our favorite features are the Breville's grind size/grind amount selector dials, which enable you to customize grinds from fine to coarse.
The Gaggia Classic is a stylish old-school Italian espresso maker. It can pull a really delicious, creamy shot of espresso, but the machine does not have a PID—therefore its results aren't very consistent. While the machine is pretty, it doesn't have the well-thought design features of the Breville, like a sensor drip tray and a space for the tamper, nor does it come with a milk pitcher. Its plastic tamper is flimsy and won't effectively press down the espresso grounds. The Gaggia's steamer wand also doesn't consistently incorporate foam, and instead produces large bubbles on top.
Finally, the design and extra tools that the Breville machine comes with are impeccable. It includes a large drip tray to catch spilled coffee and milk and has a sensor that lets you know when the tray is too full. It also has a compartment under the drip tray that allows you to store the extra filters the machine comes with. It includes a hefty, stainless steel milk steaming jug and a tamper for pressing the expresso grounds down. Other machines' tampers are made of flimsy plastic that left loose grounds around the sides of the portafilter, but the Breville tamper is made of thick, durable plastic and metal. It's strong enough to actually work well at compacting the grounds, plus it's perfectly sized to fit the entire circumference of the portafilter, reaching all of the grounds and not leaving loose stragglers. There's also a magnetic slot on the machine where you can house the tamper. It can be used while it's attached to the top of the machine, or taken down for more leverage—this is an impressive extra design feature, since the many parts required in making espresso can make for clutter.
Start your morning out right and perk up your day with a freshly brewed pot of coffee! This 12-Cup Retro Series Coffee Maker features an easy-to-read backlit LED display and a push-button control panel which allows for easy programming on the 24-hour clock and delay timer. The 2-hour automatic shut-off is built in for added safety while the pause-and-serve lets you pour a cup of coffee while in the middle of brewing.
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.
If you drink enough espresso, and are passionate enough to own a machine at home, it's worth shelling out the money for the fully equipped Breville Brewmaster and learning how to make amazing cappuccinos, lattes, and cortados for yourself. You get a machine and a hobby all in one. An espresso machine is a luxury and making this kind of coffee is an art, so you should opt for the right tools. However, the Gaggia is a less-expensive close second that'll require learning on your part, but will let you tinker to the point of producing a great espresso. Finally, if you want consistent coffee without any effort, opt for the Jura.