A refinement of the piston machine is the pump-driven machine, which was introduced in the Faema E61 in 1961, and has become the most popular design in commercial espresso bars. Instead of using manual force, a motor-driven pump provides the force necessary for espresso brewing. Espresso machines are made to accept water directly from a cold water line supply, common in commercial installations, or from a separate tank that must be filled with water by hand. The latter is more common with lower-volume commercial installations and domestic espresso machines. Due to the required high pumping pressure and precision flow control needed, the particular type of electric pumps typically used are known as solenoid-piston pumps. These pumps are classified as a positive displacement type (general category) of pump.
The OXO On 12-Cup feels high-tech without being high maintenance. It’s beautifully constructed, with silicone gaskets, a stainless steel carafe, and sturdy-feeling plastic. But let’s go ahead and get its biggest downside right out there in the open. Of the 10 machines we tested, it took the longest to brew eight cups of coffee — nearly 15 minutes. It heats its entire reservoir of water to temperature before a drop touches the grounds, and if you’re jonesing for a full pot to start off your day, that wait is going to feel like a lifetime. This was particularly noticeable considering four of the machines we tested brewed the same amount of coffee in less than half that time. The Bunn BTX-B Velocity Brew could do it in three minutes flat.
For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and the amount of espresso. The user manual walks you through every step of the brewing process, and altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Our shots were beautifully layered and gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
The tall tower is fixed on a rectangular base, with a water tank that looks something akin to a trapezoid. The hard plastic funnel allows your favorite paper filters to fit inside of it. It is recommended that you use type 4 paper filters, however. You also have the option to use permanent gold filters if you want to move away from reoccurring costs.
You might have heard that purchasing a double-boiler espresso machine or a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller will give you more accuracy and control over temperature. They’re definitely features to dig into for advanced espresso crafters, but expect to pay an additional $400 for a PID and $800+ for a second boiler. Since we wanted to focus on beginner machines, we stuck to single-boiler models without PID controllers for this review.
In recent years air-pump-driven espresso machines have emerged. These machines use compressed air to force the hot water through the coffee grounds. The hot water is typically added from a kettle or a thermo flask. The compressed air comes from either a hand-pump, N2 or CO2 cartridges or an electric compressor. One of the advantages of the air-pump-driven machines is that they are much smaller and lighter than electric machines. They are often handheld and portable. The first air-pump-driven machine was the AeroPress, which was invented by Alan Adler, an American inventor, and introduced in 2005. Handpresso Wild, invented by Nielsen Innovation SARL, a French innovation house, was introduced in 2007.
CR’s take: Like the model above, the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew takes whole coffee beans and grinds them fresh for each pot. It features programming, brew-strength control, a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. This model earns a great rating for carafe handling. The stainless steel finish and glass carafe certainly elevate the experience of using it. Cuisinart brewers also received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. But the performance and finish come at a premium—this machine costs significantly more than the Black+Decker Mill & Brew.
Making the perfect espresso can be a labor of love, but not everyone who wants to drink espresso wants to do all that labor. Pod-based machines make it easier, but then you have fewer type of coffee to choose from. This machine solves both of those problems since it has adapters for most of the popular pods, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, K-Fee, or Verismo by Starbucks, and you can also use your own fresh ground coffee.
If you don’t have the time or want to build a highly customized taste for your espresso mixes and just want a great tasting cup of espresso, super-automatic espresso makers are going to be your best bet. While you do give up some of the control you have over the final product, a super-automatic espresso maker automates almost all of the process for you, meaning that you can just get a great shot of espresso without having to do any extra work. This makes it perfect for people on the go or who prefer convenience over control.
It’s obvious, but easy to forget: If you don’t clean out your coffee machine’s carafe after each use with soap and water, you’ll always end up tasting a little bit of yesterday’s now-bitter brew. Thermal carafes need to be hand-washed, but all the plastic components of our top picks — brew baskets, lids, etc. — are dishwasher-safe if you keep them on the top rack.
The Rocket’s espresso lever is an upgrade from the simple on/off button used by most of our models. By only moving the lever part way up, you can play around with pre-infusing your coffee grounds before pulling the shot. Pre-infusion can be fun to tinker with as you try to home in on what makes your perfect espresso. This gives the Rocket an additional level of customization not available on the other models we tested.
In terms of maintenance, more complex machines tend to require more cleaning. Accessories like pumps, boiler setups, and thermostats usually forecast the amount of cleanup and maintenance that will be required over time. Buyers should be aware that machines with plastic outer coatings can crack with repeated use, leading to the need for expensive repairs or even replacement.
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.
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We opted to look only at “entry level” machines — those billed as semi-automatic and super-automatic — meaning they do some of the work for you. Manual machines, the third type, allow for more personalization but require a much longer learning curve and aren’t typically a good fit for first-time users. We also skipped models that couldn’t steam milk, ensuring that the best espresso maker is also the best cappuccino maker.
It can take a little while to get to know the ins and outs of a new coffee maker. In CR’s labs, each drip coffee maker we test brews roughly 65 cups by the time our engineers are through with it. And brewing is just one of many aspects we look at. We test for handling and convenience, too, so you can choose a model that helps you sail through morning madness.