For all the debate over whether the best coffee comes from a Chemex or a French press or an AeroPress (even Nespresso), sometimes you just want to turn on a machine and let it do the work. We asked ten coffee drinkers — food-industry professionals and just plain coffee snobs — what’s the coffee machine that’ll get you a simple at-home brew without all the fuss?
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"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' ;)"
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:
‡Pre-Infusing: Pre-infusing is a technique where the dry coffee grounds are initially saturated with hot water, allowing a “bloom” of carbon dioxide to escape. This 45-second(ish) process puts hot water into contact with more surface area around each ground throughout the brewing process, as it’s no longer competing with the escaping gas bubbles. It can improve the quality of the final product, since this more uniform contact creates a more even extraction. It’s a feature that six of the 10 pots we tested incorporated into their designs — as well as all four of our top picks.
One of the many issues with other coffee makers is that the brewing process is inconsistent, with temperature fluctuations that can potentially affect the acidity, aroma, and final flavor of your beverage. The OXO On Barista Brain Coffee Maker is fixed with an intelligent microprocessor that monitors ambient temperatures throughout the brewing process.
“What I REALLY like about it is that it’s pretty much an all-in-one system without the thousand-dollar-plus all-in-one cost. I push one button and all the magic happens, and it’s quite entertaining to watch the espresso cascade through the milk and create separate layers. I also like that I can take the milk and store it in my fridge. I’ve done some temperature tests, and only noticed a five-degree increase after making a double latte, before I put it back in the fridge. This is nice, as you would think that to be so close to all that heat, it would be a much bigger temperature fluctuation.”
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.
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.
Mr. Coffee doesn’t ask for the 15- to 30-minute boiler warmup like some big-name brands, instead taking just five to 10 minutes. This is ideal both for your morning coffee routine and your quick after-dinner latte or late-night hot chocolate. The machine also boasts a simple milk-steaming method that requires less work than our other picks: Prep your espresso, pour your milk into the milk reservoir, and you can press a button and walk away. Your latte or cappuccino will be ready in less than a minute. The foam quality is on the lower end, but you can customize how much of it you want.
Why it's great: The relatively lightweight machine by Mr. Coffee is a triple threat, meaning you’re not limited to just espresso. You can also make cappuccino and regular coffee, not to mention a variety of specialty drinks from the included recipe book (think espresso martinis, raspberry cappuccinos, choco-nutty lattes, etc.) The machine comes with an electric pump that shoots out 15 bars of pressure. It also has a one-touch feature that lets you select either a single or double-shot drink, and it even has an automatic milk frother with an adjustable knob, so you can customize the amount of froth you’d like in your drink of choice.
"I love this machine! I've been using my Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista for 9 months and it's still going strong. I mainly bought it because I was spending way to much getting coffee drinks like lattes and macchiatos at the coffeehouse. My favorite feature is the fact that it steams and froths the milk at the same time. You can also control the amount of froth that it makes which is an awesome feature. I also have a Mr. Coffee burr grinder Mr. Coffee BVMC-BMH23 Automatic Burr Mill Grinder, Black/Silver so that I am making the freshest coffee possible and I buy my coffee freshly roasted from a local company. The results are great!"
The built-in burr grinder is high quality, and you can easily adjust the grind size and amount with a dial on the front of the machine. You can choose to use either a single- or double-wall filter basket, and the grinder will automatically adjust to give you the right about of coffee grounds for your brew. Reviewers love that it comes with the grinder and praise its quality.
“We really love this machine because we love great coffee, but we don’t make frothy milk drinks. This machine produces very, very good coffee from scratch at the push of a button, automatically grinding the beans pumping through hot water, and dumping out the “puck” of coffee grounds into the internal bin. It’s a nice compact size, and fits easily on a counter under the cabinets.”
An electric drip coffee maker can also be referred to as a dripolator. It normally works by admitting water from a cold water reservoir into a flexible hose in the base of the reservoir leading directly to a thin metal tube or heating chamber (usually, of aluminum), where a heating element surrounding the metal tube heats the water. The heated water moves through the machine using the thermosiphon principle. Thermally-induced pressure and the siphoning effect move the heated water through an insulated rubber or vinyl riser hose, into a spray head, and onto the ground coffee, which is contained in a brew basket mounted below the spray head. The coffee passes through a filter and drips down into the carafe. A one-way valve in the tubing prevents water from siphoning back into the reservoir. A thermostat attached to the heating element turns off the heating element as needed to prevent overheating the water in the metal tube (overheating would produce only steam in the supply hose), then turns back on when the water cools below a certain threshold. For a standard 10-12 cup drip coffeemaker, using a more powerful thermostatically-controlled heating element (in terms of wattage produced), can heat increased amounts of water more quickly using larger heating chambers, generally producing higher average water temperatures at the spray head over the entire brewing cycle. This process can be further improved by changing the aluminum construction of most heating chambers to a metal with superior heat transfer qualities, such as copper.
“This little espresso maker is just awesome! It is fun to use and always makes a great cup of espresso. I’ve used it to make macchiatos, affogatos, and as a espresso shot to my coffee. The simplicity of this stovetop espresso maker is amazing. You won’t get as much crema as you would with an espresso machine but the aroma and taste are unmatched. I’ve had the three-cup model for a few months now, and I use it often. I’ve had no problems with it at all. After it use I just rinse it with warm water and let it air dry.”
Most people who have this in their homes are happy with it thanks to how easy it is to use and how delicious the coffee comes out. One person said they didn’t know how they managed without it. Some people did have issues with it breaking sooner than they would have liked, but they majority of those who own it were satisfied with the quality of the product.
“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
These machines automatically grind the coffee, tamp it, and extract the espresso shot. The operator only has to fill the bean hopper and, if the machine is not connected to a water line, add water to a reservoir. Some models contain an automated milk frothing and dispensing device. Super-automatic machines take away the ability to manually tamp and grind the coffee, which may affect the quality of the espresso.
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.
*SCAA Certified: A Specialty Coffee Association of America certification indicates the machine can heat water to a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit and ensures that hot water will be in contact with coffee grounds for no less than four and no greater than eight minutes. It’s a solid confirmation of quality. But according to Joseph Rivera, a research coffee scientist at coffeechemistry.com, not every manufacturer chooses to submit their coffee makers for SCAA certification, and there are definitely great drip coffee makers out there without its stamp of approval. Six of the 10 coffee makers we tested are SCAA-certified — including all four of our top picks.
These organizations consider how long it takes you to brew the coffee, the social impact of the coffee maker, as well as the roasting ability of the coffee maker. The best coffee maker will be BPA free and certified. An SCAA certified coffee maker, for example, will be able to deliver water at optimum temperatures throughout the whole brewing process, without compromising the integrity of the coffee at any point.
“Small things CAN bring you joy. My recent purchase of this Zojirushi coffee maker has made me very happy. Sounds like a commercial, but consider this … Last year, I bought a more expensive coffee maker that made terrible coffee! Instead of using the machine, I started making pour-overs. Something I hate to do … A year and a bunch of customer reviews later, I ordered this new baby, and I am so happy, I am writing about it here. I don’t know if it’s the water filter that water passes through or the fact that the water is introduced to the coffee a little bit differently, but the result is what I consider a perfect cup of coffee.”
Look beyond your local coffee shop for a pick-me-up at home with an espresso machine from Sur La Table. Perfect for the novice and experienced alike, our assortment of espresso makers includes something for everyone. We have manual, semiautomatic and automatic machines ready to make everything from a creamy cappuccino to a luscious latte, any time of the day or night. Better yet, we have options for every size kitchen. Create rich, delicious coffee drinks at home with espresso machines from Sur La Table.
The Breville's conical burr grinder, made of stainless steel, effortlessly grinds coffee beans and optimizes flavor extraction by maximizing the surface area of the grinds. A 54mm tamper ensures expert tamping control, and a hands-free grinding cradle leaves all the hard work to the machine. Our favorite features are the Breville's grind size/grind amount selector dials, which enable you to customize grinds from fine to coarse.
The OXO is SCAA-certified, so we knew going in that it would heat water to the right temperature range and let coffee brew for the right amount of time. But what really sold us on the OXO was how its scrolling dial made even that customizable. Assuming you want to bring the extraction down a touch for lighter, subtler coffee, you can lower the water temperature with a twist of the dial. Likewise, if you want a slightly more robust aroma from your brew, you can increase the water’s temp the same way.
A new French press is an ideal companion on a camping trip or picnic. Our sturdy versions of French presses are available in glass, metal, ceramic and other materials. Invest in your own efficient single-cup brewers with included cups and thermal mugs to create on-the-go coffee drinks for one person. Cold-brew machines and kits are other terrific options when you prefer chilled and iced coffee beverages. Remember to order plenty of filters, tampers, descaling tabs and other coffee accessories to keep your machine fresh and bright. Clean machines with the right size filters brew the best coffee