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.
Made in Italy by a company that has been manufacturing coffee makers for over 80 years, this espresso maker takes less than five minutes to produce up to 3 demitasses (2 ounces) cups of espresso. It is made from polished aluminum in a classic octagon shape that will look good on your stove or table, while the shape also helps to diffuse heat perfectly. It has a patented safety valve for protection and is easy to disassemble for cleaning.
If all you’re looking for is a gorgeous cup of coffee and no fuss, we strongly recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS. It’s the smallest machine among our top picks and, at $190, the cheapest. Even better, it ranked in the top three out of 10 during our taste tests. It’s also the simplest and most straightforward: one button you click to start brewing, and that’s it. You can’t program brew times; you can’t play around with water temperature; and it even lacks some convenient touches like a brew basket that attaches to the machine (when you’re done brewing, you have to place the brew basket on a plate or in the sink before it makes a total mess). But it’s by far the fastest machine out of our top picks, brewing up a full eight-cup pot in under six minutes. It’s a straightforward, high-end coffee maker that leaves little to complain about.
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
The very first espresso machines worked on a steam-pressure basis, and they’re still in use today. With this type of machine, steam or steam pressure is used to force water through the coffee grounds and produce espresso. Some steam-driven machines can produce a measure of foam “crema.” But they can’t generate enough pressure or provide the precise temperature control necessary to produce true espresso: They simply make a very strong cup of coffee. However, they cost considerably less than pump-driven machines. Our verdict is that if you’re a true espresso lover and seeking to make a good shot at home, we recommend you steer clear of steam-driven machines. They’ll likely disappoint you.
Once you start brewing, it makes a really, really good pot of coffee. Our taste test revealed the OXO On 12-Cup coffee was “dark and strong” and appealed to the more traditionalist coffee palates. The great flavor comes from the brewing process. The OXO machines have wide shower heads with multiple ports through which water streams, dispersing it evenly throughout the brew basket. Lots of other coffee makers spout water through just one hole, or through shower heads with a smaller radius, which can increase the chances of uneven extraction.
Why it's great: The Litchi is especially great for those looking to bring their simple espresso maker to the great outdoors, or anywhere else where you'll be lacking electricity. (Think camping trips and long hikes.) It's easy to use and also gives you the freedom to use your own coffee grounds rather than pre-packaged pods. It's also only 30 bucks, making it easily the most budget friendly on our list.
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 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.
CR’s take: If you’re an aficionado of fresh ground coffee, this Black+Decker is the brewer to buy. As the name suggests, the Mill & Brew goes that extra mile, grinding whole coffee beans just before brewing. As a result, the machine is capable of making a great pot of coffee. Made of plastic with stainless steel accents, this model is easy to use and to clean, earning a Very Good rating in our convenience tests. It allows you to adjust brew strength, and it’s programmable, so you can set it to grind and brew just before you wake up.