Semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder.
In the semi-automatic machine, water pressure and temperature must be stable and consistent, and according to our expert, the pressure shouldn't be too high. Typically, coffee is brewed at a pressure of about 10 bars, and an ideal water temperature is around 195 degrees. Generally, the more expensive the machine, the better the equipment inside that regulates these two factors. High-quality machines tend to have a mechanism called a PID, or proportional-integral-derivative, controller. The PID's function is to maintain constant water temperature with extreme accuracy, down to the degree. Two central problems plaguing inexpensive espresso machines is that they lack a PID, meaning the temperature of the brewing water can fluctuate up and down and yield inconsistent results. Inexpensive machines often advertise that they have 15 or 20 bars of pressure as a selling point. But, higher pressure is not the priority, and too much pressure can actually lead to over-extraction and bitterness in your espresso shot. Therefore, we looked for a machine with good temperature and pressure control.
The Gaggia Classic is a stylish old-school Italian espresso maker. It can pull a really delicious, creamy shot of espresso, but the machine does not have a PID—therefore its results aren't very consistent. While the machine is pretty, it doesn't have the well-thought design features of the Breville, like a sensor drip tray and a space for the tamper, nor does it come with a milk pitcher. Its plastic tamper is flimsy and won't effectively press down the espresso grounds. The Gaggia's steamer wand also doesn't consistently incorporate foam, and instead produces large bubbles on top.
There were lots of innovations from France in the late 18th century. With help from Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, the Archbishop of Paris, the idea that coffee should not be boiled gained acceptance. The first modern method for making coffee using a coffee filter—drip brewing—is more than 125 years old, and its design had changed little. The biggin, originating in France ca. 1780, was a two-level pot holding coffee in a cloth sock in an upper compartment into which water was poured, to drain through holes in the bottom of the compartment into the coffee pot below. Coffee was then dispensed from a spout on the side of the pot. The quality of the brewed coffee depended on the size of the grounds - too coarse and the coffee was weak; too fine and the water would not drip the filter. A major problem with this approach was that the taste of the cloth filter - whether cotton, burlap or an old sock - transferred to the taste of the coffee. Around the same time, a French inventor developed the "pumping percolator", in which boiling water in a bottom chamber forces itself up a tube and then trickles (percolates) through the ground coffee back into the bottom chamber. Among other French innovations, Count Rumford, an eccentric American scientist residing in Paris, developed a French Drip Pot with an insulating water jacket to keep the coffee hot. Also, the first metal filter was developed and patented by French inventor.
“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
CR’s take: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.
Cuisinart's premium single-serve brewer offers freedom of choice! Choose the ideal temperature and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, soup or cocoa. This brewer is K-Cup compatible and also includes a home barista reusable filter cup for your favorite brew. The drip tray pulls out to accommodate travel mugs and the 72-ounce water reservoir eliminates the need for frequent refills! With Cuisinart's premium single-serve brewer you'll get sensational brew cup after cup.
Only two optional settings are available: You can control the heating element under the carafe and turn down the temperature if desired. Other than that, the Moccamaster doesn't have—and doesn't need—anything else. Technivorm boasts that its heating element can get water between 196ºF and 205ºF, which specialists say is the ideal temperature for brewing coffee.
Finally, the design and extra tools that the Breville machine comes with are impeccable. It includes a large drip tray to catch spilled coffee and milk and has a sensor that lets you know when the tray is too full. It also has a compartment under the drip tray that allows you to store the extra filters the machine comes with. It includes a hefty, stainless steel milk steaming jug and a tamper for pressing the expresso grounds down. Other machines' tampers are made of flimsy plastic that left loose grounds around the sides of the portafilter, but the Breville tamper is made of thick, durable plastic and metal. It's strong enough to actually work well at compacting the grounds, plus it's perfectly sized to fit the entire circumference of the portafilter, reaching all of the grounds and not leaving loose stragglers. There's also a magnetic slot on the machine where you can house the tamper. It can be used while it's attached to the top of the machine, or taken down for more leverage—this is an impressive extra design feature, since the many parts required in making espresso can make for clutter.
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
We wanted to find the best espresso machine available to home brewers for less than $1,000. At this comparatively low price point, we hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not as high-quality as one served at a prized Italian cafe or as high-dollar as a Brooklyn coffee shop's—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness.
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.
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:
Brew up to 12 cups of great-tasting coffee with the KRUPS Savoy EC314050 programmable coffee maker. Its easy-to-read LCD screen and intuitive rotating knob allow for effortless brew-strength and keep-warm adjustments or for setting the timer. You can wake up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee or have a fresh pot ready and waiting when you are entertaining. The coffee maker’s bold function produces a richer, more full-bodied taste, while its special small-batch setting ensures maximum...
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.
A good grinder: An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
The Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it's a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.
"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 best part about this machine is that it comes with everything you need (except the beans). You don't have to spend an extra $100+ on a good grinder or $25-$100 on a milk frothing pitcher and tamper. You will pay a bit more for it than other machines on this list, but it's well worth it — especially now that this machine costs $548.96 instead of $999.99.
Whole bean coffee that you grind yourself is preferable to pre-ground, too. The bean’s exterior traps and protects all of the delicate, volatile, and water-soluble oils that give coffee its flavor. As soon as you break the protective shell, it’s easy for the flavor to get contaminated, and much of the aroma escapes as soon as the oils are exposed to air.
Percolators began to be developed from the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, James H. Mason of Massachusetts patented an early percolator design in 1865. An Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich is generally credited with patenting the modern percolator. Goodrich's patent was granted on August 16, 1889, and his patent description varies little from the stovetop percolators sold today. With the percolator design, water is heated in a boiling pot with a removable lid, until the heated water is forced through a metal tube into a brew basket containing coffee. The extracted liquid drains from the brew basket, where it drips back into the pot. This process is continually repeated during the brewing cycle until the liquid passing repeatedly through the grounds is sufficiently steeped. A clear sight chamber in the form of a transparent knob on the lid of the percolator enables the user to judge when the coffee has reached the proper color and strength.
In later years, coffeemakers began to adopt more standardized forms commensurate with a large increase in the scale of production required to meet postwar consumer demand. Plastics and composite materials began to replace metal, particularly with the advent of newer electric drip coffeemakers in the 1970s. During the 1990s, consumer demand for more attractive appliances to complement expensive modern kitchens resulted in a new wave of redesigned coffeemakers in a wider range of available colors and styles.
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.
Great for active, busy lifestyles, it’s Great for active, busy lifestyles, it’s the BLACK+DECKER Personal Coffeemaker. It brews single Servings of your favorite coffee directly into the 16-oz. Travel mug, which fits most car cup, holders. The permanent grounds filter is compatible with coffee grounds and pre-packaged soft pods, and it’s easy to rinse clean in the sink. The one-touch operation quickly delivers the morning coffee you need, with a compact design that’s perfect for small...
“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.”
The K575 Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker combines impressive design, and top-of-the-line technology into one powerful package – the ultimate coffee maker. With customizable settings including strength and temperature control, and with the most brew size options – any size from 4 to 30 oz. – you can brew the perfect cup, mug, or carafe of your favorite beverages at the touch of a button. Choose from hundreds of delicious varieties from the brands you love, all easily brewed thanks to...
The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup BrewStation coffee maker offers convenient one-hand dispensing without a conventional glass carafe. There's no pouring or spills, and nothing fragile to break and replace. It’s impossible to get freshly brewed flavor from coffee that’s been sitting on a hot plate too long. That’s why the Hamilton Beach BrewStation was created to be the only coffeemaker that keeps coffee tasting fresh for up to four hours. This best-selling coffee maker works just like a...
“I like the Technivorm Moccamaster because, from a scientific standpoint, it creates the proper water temperature (and temperature consistency) for good extraction of flavor from the beans. That’s the problem with most cheap automatics — they’re inconsistent about temperature. It also has a shower-head design for good water dispersion and saturation of the grounds. It consistently tastes almost (almost, I stress) as good as a manual drip.” — Andrew Chou, engineer, General Motors
Drip-style coffee makers already have a bit of a flavor handicap when compared with other brewing methods, like pour-over and French press, which give coffee drinkers ultimate control over every aspect of the brewing (and therefore extraction) process. This makes it even more important to select a high-quality coffee bean for your at-home drip coffee maker. To learn more, we spoke with Saadat Awan at Woodcat Coffee in Los Angeles.
It’s not that cone filters won’t make a great cup of coffee — the OXO On 9-Cup still ranked fifth out of 10 in our taste test. But flat bottoms generally allow for the grounds to be more evenly extracted and increase the coffee’s flavor. (It’s no coincidence our other three recommendations have flat-bottom brew baskets). You may have to do a little more tweaking to get this coffee maker’s brew to the best it can be, and that’s the other reason we like the 12-cupper more. This smaller version doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature.
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.