The Breville Barista Express comes with everything you need to pull great espresso. A built-in grinder lets you adjust grind coarseness, and changing the amount of ground coffee that you want in your shot is easy: Simply turn a dial or press the portafilter firmly against the dispensing cradle. A button at the back allows you to dose as much or as little coffee as you wish.
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:
All of the espresso machines we tested only included a single boiler for heating. This means that there's only one mechanism for heating both the water for brewing and the steamer wand. Because of this, it'll take the steamer wand a while to heat up after pulling the espresso shot, since the steamer wand operates at a much higher temperature than the brewing temperature of around 195°F. It is possible to buy a home machine with a double boiler (Breville makes one) but this raises the price significantly (we didn't test the Breville because it's over $1,000), and the minor wait time wasn't a major concern for us. We figured it wouldn't be for home brewers either.
To find espresso machines that perfect the balance between simple design, customizable settings, and delicious espresso, we began by compiling a list of machines recommended by espresso-centric websites like Clive Coffee and Seattle Coffee Gear. We were selective about which brands we chose, skipping the popular Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine after reading Home-Barista’s lukewarm review of it. We wanted machines that were both well-known and well-regarded. After looking at top sellers from Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, we also included the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. This addition drew the skepticism of the coffee experts we spoke with, but we couldn’t ignore its 1,700 Amazon reviews.
The dishwasher-safe, BPA free model from Takeya can brew up to a quart of concentrated cold brew coffee. It not only yielded one of the best tasting brews, it also aced our usability tests. The brewer is easy to set up, offers a durable build, and is simple to clean and store for later use. It is also the only brewer that is air-tight while it brews, allowing you to easily store the brewer on its side in a packed fridge.
You can check out our best milk frothers here. Some of you will stick with the machine's frothing wand, but you'll still need a milk frothing pitcher, so we recommend this one from Rattleware. Should you want a better tamper, we recommend this one from Rattleware. To save money on the coffee grinder, you can try this manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you may pay more than $200 for it.
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"Great machine for the price. I spent a good amount of time researching for an espresso and latte machine. I looked over different brands and costs and while I agree this is not a expensive or professional machine, it does make great espressos and lattes. Very easy to use and clean and definitely love the taste. My daughter loves the hot chocolate with frothed milk and even my wife likes her cappuccinos. I read a few reviews regarding water leaks and I can't see this to be a problem, it's more on if the water tank is inserted properly. I also have a Kerrigan machine and they both are almost the same size. One more thing, the machine starts and warms water faster (no more than a 5-7 minutes). Definitely a great buy so far. If you are looking for a decent price and great coffee maker this is the one for you."
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 tall tower is fixed on a rectangular base, with a water tank that looks something akin to a trapezoid. The hard plastic funnel allows your favorite paper filters to fit inside of it. It is recommended that you use type 4 paper filters, however. You also have the option to use permanent gold filters if you want to move away from reoccurring costs.
Moka pots, also known as stove top espresso makers, are similar to espresso machines in that they brew under pressure and the resulting brew shares some similarities, but in other respects differ. As such, their characterization as "espresso" machines is at times contentious, but due to their use of pressure and steam for brewing, comparable to all espresso prior to the 1948 Gaggia, they are accepted within broader uses of the term, but distinguished from standard modern espresso machines.
A portafilter (or group handle) attaches to the grouphead of semi-automatic and piston-driven espresso machines, and carries a tamped puck of coffee grounds within its basket. It is usually made of brass for better heat retention, and is attached by a plastic or wooden handle. The portafilter forms a seal with the espresso machine's gasket, and directs high-pressure hot water through the coffee puck. After-market retailers also sell bottomless portafilters that minimize the espresso's contact with any metal. A bottomless portafilter is one tool baristas use to analyze the quality of the coffee grind and the evenness of the extraction and allows for a visual check of "channeling" or the condition in which water is able to pierce a hole in the espresso puck during the brew process leading to poor extraction. Often, baristas use knockboxes to store their spent espresso grounds after they have pulled a shot.
CR’s take: If you need only one or two cups of coffee each morning and you don’t want a pod coffee maker, consider the Technivorm Moccamaster Cup-One Brewer. Compact and clean-lined, it has a profile that makes some sense of its high price (it retails for more than $200), and it’s a superstar when it comes to reliability. Technivorm was one of only three drip machine brands to earn an Excellent rating for predicted reliability in our member survey. Our testers also give this machine a strong score for brew performance. This model has only one simple feature (auto-shutoff) and it’s not the easiest machine to use, but you can count on it to last.
“Last night was a perfect test of the single-cup concept. I had already programmed and prepped my 3 a.m. standard coffee brew, however, I still wanted a cup of coffee. I switched over to the single cup and brewed my cup, then switched back and pressed the program button to ensure it would still brew the main pot at 3 a.m. Worked like a charm!! Before, I would have had to brew the entire eight cups that were ready, toss out most of it, and set up my morning brew all over again.”
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.
You might have heard that purchasing a double-boiler espresso machine or a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller will give you more accuracy and control over temperature. They’re definitely features to dig into for advanced espresso crafters, but expect to pay an additional $400 for a PID and $800+ for a second boiler. Since we wanted to focus on beginner machines, we stuck to single-boiler models without PID controllers for this review.
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.