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.
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.
The simplicity starts with its design: a single button with a scrolling dial underneath an LED interface. That button is the only one on the entire machine. With it, you set the time, set the water temperature, set how many cups you want brewed, and when you want the brewing to start. It takes a second to get the hang of it, but we were impressed with how intuitive it is — a stark contrast to a machine like the Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Coffee Brewer, which had so many extra pieces, it required constant consultation of the instruction manual.
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“I grind the beans in a Hario hand grinder gifted from my brother to me when he upgraded to a fancy electric one. Using the hand grinder is meditative. It feels like you’re ‘earning’ your morning coffee a little bit more. At home, I use a Muji porcelain pour-over, but when I’m at my family’s house in metro Detroit, I love using their Bonavita BV1800SS. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own, but seriously, you can’t fuck it up. Super-easy and delicious every single time.” — Kimberly Chou, co-director of Food Book Fair
“We are a Cuisinart family. My mom still has the same food processor from the 1980s on the counter. When my co-host (and brother) Darin and I were looking for a coffee maker for our studio, that was the only choice for us. We loved this one because you set the time and forget it. We always work late, so this is a really nice end-of-day step, and then you get going without the bleariness of the morning. The thermal is a must as we drink throughout the day, and it’s great to just have it hot when we’re ready.” — Greg Bresnitz, co-host of Snacky Tunes
The gist: Taking the first spot on our list is the Breville BES870XL. This machine is no joke and its 4.3 star Amazon rating from over 1,800 reviews speaks to that. It boasts a 15 bar Italian pump and a 1600 watt thermo coil heating system. It comes with a 54mm tamper, a stainless steel conical burr grinder, and a 2-liter removable water tank. It's available in three colors: black, red, and silver.
The point of getting a great machine is that it takes the fuss out of your coffee making — if you’re going to fiddle around so much, why not just get a Chemex? But our refrain throughout this entire review has been that a coffee maker is only one part of the good-cup equation. Some methodical experimentation could reveal a whole world of taste you never knew you could achieve.
For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and the amount of espresso. The user manual walks you through every step of the brewing process, and altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Our shots were beautifully layered and gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
The Bonavita Coffee Brewer performs stellar when it comes to coffee drip brewing, easily outpacing more expensive coffee makers. It'll take about six minutes to create 44 ounces of coffee. Brisk brewing has caught the attention of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, since it's threshold for recognition is a brewing time of fewer than eight minutes.
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.
"Honestly, i bought this for my wife as a novelty item. I saw it on a lightning deal, she loves espresso, it looked cool, figured why not? Well, what was supposed to be just something for a little fun (which was, when she has used it) ended up being something she really likes and is planning on taking to work on a regular basis (she says it makes great espresso and is a quick and easy way to do it). Plus, she said it will be great when we go camping (no electric or batteries required, just hot water and it's easy to clean). it arrived quickly and in perfect condition. So, I guess I 'done good' ;)"