Above all, good espresso requires precision. If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And even if you’re not holding out for the best coffee on the planet, the margin for error is still slim. To test the machines, we pulled shots following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines and paid attention to the following markers of success:
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.
There’s also no way to adjust the temperature of the water on the Bonavita, or tinker with any of the other variables some of our other top picks gave access to. And that’s the other downside to this excellent machine: What you get is what you get, and if you do want to experiment with the flavor of your coffee, it will depend entirely on the beans you buy and the size you grind them to. Good thing the coffee it brews right out of the box is so dang good.
The gist: This "all-in-one" machine includes pretty much everything you need to make quality espresso, minus the beans. It's Amazon's choice for "espresso and cappuccino maker combos" and has a rating of 4.1 stars. It comes with its own electric bean-grinder, a 1.25 liter removable water tank, a measuring spoon and tamper, a stainless steel filter with two basket options, a stainless steel milk frothing cup, and two 3.6-ounce espresso cups. The machine brews espresso with 15 bars of pressure and with the Thermoblock fast heating system, it's ready to use in 45 seconds. The two portafilter baskets allow you to pull either a single or double shot drink.
The gist: The Nespresso Inissia is very similar to the Pixie. It also comes with one-touch options for either a single espresso or lungo cup size. It pumps with 19 bars of pressure and also heats up in less than 25 seconds. With over 2,500 reviews, it stands out with a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The Inissia has more or less the same internal workings as the Pixie (including the 0.7 liter water tank), so the quality of espresso produced should be pretty identical. The difference: unlike the Pixie, which is made of metal, the Inissia's exterior is mostly plastic and has a slightly funkier design. However the Inissia comes in several colors, including red, black, silver, and titan.
Our brew-performance tests measure the brew temperature and contact time (how long water stays within a sweet spot of 195° to 205° F for brewing). We measure concentration using a refractometer, a device that measures the amount of coffee dissolved in each brew. Our convenience tests look at how easy it is to set timers, fill the reservoir, clean the machine, and more. And for the first time, we’re incorporating predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings into the new Overall Score for each model. We determine these ratings for each drip coffee maker brand using survey data collected from thousands of CR members.