Manual or semi-automatic machines offer more control of shot quality. Because when to cut the shot (brew time) is a critical variable, which is often adjusted shot-by-shot, semi-automatic machines are often preferred over automatics, though some machines are automatic. Manual machines are more popular in Europe, where it is more common to drink straight espresso.
All the machines we tested came with either insulated carafes or glass pots with built-in warmers. Both have pros and cons. Glass pots are typically easier to clean because they tend to have wider mouths, and the lack of internal insulation means that glass pots will have a greater interior volume relative to its exterior volume — basically, it’s easier to get your hand or dish sponge into a glass pot. On the other hand, glass pots are more fragile and have to be heated from a base plate. In our tests, those base plates could even raise the temperature of the coffee, like with the CuisinArt, which can make coffee taste burnt.
“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
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.
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.
“Self-identified coffee snob. Couldn’t be happier. Easy to operate, functions as advertised, instructions are clear. The metal filter included does what it needs to do. I recommend a relatively coarse grind (imagine the feel of cornmeal) with the metal filter to get the full flavor of the coffee. If you’re a bit of a coffee snowflake (no disrespect intended) and don’t like the ‘mud’ at the bottom of the cup, you should stick with the paper filter. Either way, the coffee maker itself does the job nicely.”
"I've wanted an espresso machine for a while now but just don't have the room for it. I started researching the Nespresso line and wasn't sure how I'd like it at first. I am not usually a fan of pod style coffee machines and was worried about how well this would perform. I got the Pixie model because I don't have a big kitchen and this thing takes up barely any space on my counter. The water heats up quickly so in less than a minute you can have a cup of espresso. As other people have mentioned, it is kind of loud but it is only for a few seconds and doesn't seem to disturb anyone else in my house. The few seconds of noise is worth it for me to have a delicious latte a few minutes later. There is a little box that collects the pods (up to 10 I think) for easy disposal. I also feel like the Nespresso pods have a much better flavor that other pod coffee. If you want a quick espresso and don't have a lot of space for a machine then I highly recommend the Pixie. I am very happy with it and use it daily."
“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.”
What Amazon users have to say: It's a beast. In a good way. And by that we mean this thing is in it for the long haul. Aside from the astounding beverage quality and ease that the machine produces, one of the most consistent comments made is that the machine will last you a while. Several customer reviews go on to say how they've had the Magnifica for a long time and love it just as much as the day they bought it, even after using it multiple times a day for several years. The machine is obviously a bit pricier than the others on this list, but according to reviewers, the machine is so consistently good and efficient that it pays for itself several times over when you account for all the money you'll save by skipping out on the coffee shops.
If you want a fully automatic machine that makes a great espresso, the Jura is a great option. It has a built in burr grinder, meaning you'll get the freshness of a semi-automatic machine. It allows you to choose from three cup sizes, meaning it will brew a coffee, an espresso, or a ristretto (a short shot). You can also choose the strength of your coffee, selecting between dosage sizes of 8–10 grams. The machine has a relatively easy to use touch screen. And, the spout that dispenses the coffee has an adjustable height, making it possible to maximize your crema depending on your cup size—the closer to the cup the spout, the better the foamy creaminess will be on top. It includes a milk steaming compartment and steamer, which creates a creamy, well-incorporated foam.
Brewing coffee has never been easier with this Black & Decker 12-Cup Switch Coffee maker. With the switch of a button, you’re coffee will start brewing into the reinforced glass Duralife™ carafe with a comfort grip handle. Grab a cup of coffee on the go with the Sneak-A-Cup™ feature, otherwise your coffee will be ready when you are with the Keep Warm carafe nonstick carafe plate.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.