The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot.[1] Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
Instead, our main concern was how well the wand incorporated air and steam into the mix for velvety, frothy texture. In our testing with our coffee expert, he pointed out that inferior steamer wands made giant air bubbles that quickly popped and only pumped air into the milk, without incorporating foam consistently throughout. So, we looked for a steamer wand that made consistent, well-incorporated foam.

CR’s take: Like the model above, the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew takes whole coffee beans and grinds them fresh for each pot. It features programming, brew-strength control, a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. This model earns a great rating for carafe handling. The stainless steel finish and glass carafe certainly elevate the experience of using it. Cuisinart brewers also received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. But the performance and finish come at a premium—this machine costs significantly more than the Black+Decker Mill & Brew.
The gist: The Nespresso Pixie is an Amazon's Choice product and boasts a 4.5-star rating. It pumps espresso with 19 bars of pressure and has a 25-second heat-up time. It has two one-touch buttons (in case you want a single espresso or a slightly larger "Lungo" serving), a 0.7 liter water tank and an empty water tank alert that let's you know when you're running low on H2O. The machine also comes with a welcome kit that includes a range of capsules featuring various flavors.
Since semi-automatic espresso makers require you to dose the coffee yourself, grind and pack it, they give the brewer more control. You can tinker and master the art of making espresso. You can learn to pull the perfect shot. Still, fully automatic machines are a good option for someone who wants quality espresso at home, but wants to put in less effort (and skill). According to our expert from Students of Coffee—and our own online research—a semi-automatic machine is the best way to make espresso.
Wake up to a perfect cup of coffee with Bunn’s newly designed 10-Cup HB Heat N' Brew Programmable Coffee Maker. For over 60 years Bunn has consistently and reliably brewed great tasting coffee for millions of people in their favorite restaurants and cafes. You can count on the brewing experts at Bunn to help you make the same great tasting coffee at home for your family, friends or just for you. This coffee maker features a digital clock with a programmable brew start time. Heat N’ Brew...
Brew up to 12 cups of great-tasting coffee with the KRUPS Savoy EC314050 programmable coffee maker. Its easy-to-read LCD screen and intuitive rotating knob allow for effortless brew-strength and keep-warm adjustments or for setting the timer. You can wake up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee or have a fresh pot ready and waiting when you are entertaining. The coffee maker’s bold function produces a richer, more full-bodied taste, while its special small-batch setting ensures maximum...
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.
The gist: Okay, so in case any connoisseurs out there have been reading this section and thinking "a portable espresso machine takes the art away from espresso-making," this one's for you. Flair claims that this model was the answer to their question "What is the minimum needed to brew a professional-level shot of espresso?" The resulting product is this single-lever machine that doesn't need pods or electricity. It pulls a quality shot at 8-16 bars of pressure, has a 60ml water capacity, and brews a single cup in 25-45 seconds. You can get it in either black or chrome colors.

If you're ready to pull the trigger on buying an espresso machine, be prepared to shell out a little cash. Espresso machines can be wildly expensive. Rightfully so. Pulling a perfect shot requires precision: the machine must maintain both precise temperature and stable pressure throughout the brewing process. Achieving this stability is difficult and requires complex machinery, which is why you can find machines for upwards of 6,000 dollars.


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.
Why it's great: A true espresso drinker knows that when it comes to espresso, there are a few things that can't be overlooked when it comes to a quality cup: freshness and a good grinding method. The burr grinder is a known Barista-favorite, as it maximizes the surface area of the grinds resulting in optimal flavor. The BES870 even allows you to adjust the grind and portion size, so you can go from fine to course depending on your desired flavor. 
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.
Why it's great: A true espresso drinker knows that when it comes to espresso, there are a few things that can't be overlooked when it comes to a quality cup: freshness and a good grinding method. The burr grinder is a known Barista-favorite, as it maximizes the surface area of the grinds resulting in optimal flavor. The BES870 even allows you to adjust the grind and portion size, so you can go from fine to course depending on your desired flavor. 
The gist: The Nespresso Pixie is an Amazon's Choice product and boasts a 4.5-star rating. It pumps espresso with 19 bars of pressure and has a 25-second heat-up time. It has two one-touch buttons (in case you want a single espresso or a slightly larger "Lungo" serving), a 0.7 liter water tank and an empty water tank alert that let's you know when you're running low on H2O. The machine also comes with a welcome kit that includes a range of capsules featuring various flavors.
The gist: Okay, so although most of our list focuses on countertop espresso makers, if we're going by Amazon reviews, it'd be an injustice to ignore this Bialetti Stovertop Espresso Maker. As Amazon's best-selling stovetop espresso maker, this classy little thing is POP-U-LAR. As in 6,950 reviews (and counting) popular. Most impressively, those reviews give it an average of 4.3 stars, with 74% of them giving it a perfect 5-star rating. That's a hell of a lot of happy people. Now, disclaimer: we do have to mention straight away that the Bialetti doesn't *technically* make espresso, considering it's not able to build the amount of bars of pressure necessary to again, *technically* qualify it as espresso. However, Bialetti does give tips and guidelines for how to brew their "moka" coffee to your liking. (Moka is described as a mix between coffee and espresso.) Also, some reviewers (see below for example) claim they can't even tell the difference between the moka and a shot of espresso.
Semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder.
Made in Italy by a company that has been manufacturing coffee makers for over 80 years, this espresso maker takes less than five minutes to produce up to 3 demitasses (2 ounces) cups of espresso. It is made from polished aluminum in a classic octagon shape that will look good on your stove or table, while the shape also helps to diffuse heat perfectly. It has a patented safety valve for protection and is easy to disassemble for cleaning.
So while yes, $150 (current price as I review this item) is a good chunk of change, I honestly believe it’s worth it. This is a high-quality machine that will hopefully last a very, very long time. The quality of the espresso is very good, and in the long run, it will save you the cost of espresso-based drinks at the coffee shop. It all evens out in the end! If you are considering buying this, my advice is to just do it. It’s worth it! Love love love!”
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.)

The Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it's a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.
CR’s take: For $80, this Mr. Coffee 12-cup drip brewer is surprisingly stylish. Its airy design sets it apart from the blocky shapes common to the category. This model earns a rating of Very Good in CR’s brew-performance tests and makes a full pot in just 9 minutes. It offers brew-strength control, programming, and a permanent coffee filter. With its performance and striking appearance, you might not mind having it out on the counter—especially in a kitchen with a stainless fridge and range. 
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