For hundreds of years, making a cup of coffee was a simple process. Roasted and ground coffee beans were placed in a pot or pan, to which hot water was added, followed by attachment of a lid to commence the infusion process. Pots were designed specifically for brewing coffee, all with the purpose of trying to trap the coffee grounds before the coffee is poured. Typical designs feature a pot with a flat expanded bottom to catch sinking grounds and a sharp pour spout that traps the floating grinds. Other designs feature a wide bulge in the middle of the pot to catch grounds when coffee is poured.
We're recommending the version of the Breville espresso machine that comes with a built-in grinder. You place the beans in a compartment at the top, then use the portafilter to press a lever on the machine, which dispenses the grounds right into your portafilter compartment. It's easy to use, compact, and has a wheel on the side that allows you to change the grind. Since the grind of your espresso is one of the most important parts, we think it's worth having this grinder attached right to the machine. Especially since the Barista Express only costs about $100 more than the Infuser—Breville's model without the grinder. (However if you're looking for a smaller, more compact model, the Infuser performs as well as the Barista Express.)
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:
Manual or semi-automatic machines offer more control of shot quality. Because when to cut the shot (brew time) is a critical variable, which is often adjusted shot-by-shot, semi-automatic machines are often preferred over automatics, though some machines are automatic. Manual machines are more popular in Europe, where it is more common to drink straight espresso.
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.
Our coffee machines are easy to use, and are designed with glass or thermal carafes and non-stick warming plates to keep your drip coffee warm long after the brewing process is over. Your coffee machine will alert you when it has finished brewing, and, depending on the model, will have either an automatic shut-off or a freshness indicator to ensure you never need to drink stale coffee again.
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.