Here at the Strategist, we like to think of ourselves as crazy (in the good way) about the stuff we buy (like pillows), but as much as we’d like to, we can’t try everything. Which is why we have People’s Choice, in which we find the best-reviewed (that’s four-to-five-star reviews and lots of ‘em) products and single out the most convincing. While we’ve written about coffee machines, coffee grinders, even gifts for coffee lovers, here, we’ve gone deep on the best espresso machines on Amazon, according to the people. (Note that reviews have been edited for length and clarity.)
If you're ready to pull the trigger on buying an espresso machine, be prepared to shell out a little cash. Espresso machines can be wildly expensive. Rightfully so. Pulling a perfect shot requires precision: the machine must maintain both precise temperature and stable pressure throughout the brewing process. Achieving this stability is difficult and requires complex machinery, which is why you can find machines for upwards of 6,000 dollars.
Why it's great: The Magnifica is the lazy espresso aficionado's dream device. It's basically the same thing as having your local coffee shop barista make your drink for you, only you don't have to leave your house or worry about them spelling your name wrong on your cup. Since it's a super-automatic, it pretty much takes care of everything, from tamping, to grinding, to extracting. The only thing you really have to do is fill the containers and push a few buttons. There are so many great features on this thing, with the reheat function being a customer favorite. And the fact that it's able to remember your favorite drink settings? *Chef's kiss.*
“This is the same coffee maker that I bought years ago. And it’s even the same price. Yep — they do still make things like they used to. And they last forever. It’s super simple, super reliable, compact, and cheap. There are a lot of places where we can spend money, but a simple cup of coffee doesn’t have to be one of them. Once you get the amount of water and coffee figured out to your taste — simply do that. No K-cup, nothing to recycle, fits the car cup holder. And the coffee stays hot in the mug.”
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.
Some machines come with all the accessories you need to make espresso, but others don't. Check to see if your machine includes any accessories before you buy them. You will need a grinder to have freshly ground espresso, a milk frother or a milk frothing pitcher if you like foamy milk for cappuccinos or lattes, and a tamper to press down the coffee grounds before you make espresso. We explain why you need each one and recommend which ones to buy below:
A drip coffee system is far superior to an instant coffee maker. For some, the smoother, less intense taste and aroma of a drip coffee system is a lot more palatable than the bitter coffee that tends to be produced by a French press. Not only that, but a drip coffee system is versatile – you can ground up your coffee beans to use in your system, and you can also buy premade blends.
An evenly tamped shot requires the tamp to fit into its portafilter basket precisely. Each machine comes with its own tamp, so we were surprised to find that not all of them fit. Some were too small, leaving behind a crescent moon of untouched coffee. It’s possible to try and compress in sections, but you’ll run the risk of re-tamping some of the grounds and producing an unpalatable shot.
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.
An early variant technique, called a balance siphon, was to have the two chambers arranged side-by-side on a sort of scale-like device, with a counterweight attached opposite the initial (or heating) chamber. Once the near-boiling water was forced from the heating chamber into the brewing one, the counterweight was activated, causing a spring-loaded snuffer to come down over the flame, thus turning "off" the heat, and allowing the cooled water to return to the original chamber. In this way, a sort of primitive 'automatic' brewing method was achieved.
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.