The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot. Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
"Oh my goodness! I never knew such a thing existed. This tiny espresso maker makes great espressos! I have taken this to work with me and everyone is jealous. I mean everyone is jealous for real. I think I even persuaded some of my colleagues to buy one themselves! How funny is that? It's so easy to use. I usually use hot water to begin with and I don't bother with getting it to heat my water for me because that just takes a little bit too long. Holding the button for more than 5 seconds will activate the pressurized pumping gear. It is all electronic so you don't have to make any difficult pumping like in some other smaller products. The coffee comes out just as good as any espresso you can make. And the pods are crazy cheap. I found pods that are literally $0.10 each."
It also automatically pre-infuses the coffee, allowing the grounds to vent their CO2 and “bloom.” Remember, only half of the machines we tested had this feature, and it proved to pay off in our taste tests. The four machines we recommend all pre-infuse. Only one coffee maker without it, the Hamilton Beach, performed well at all in our taste tests — but that guy was so cheap and flimsy, part of the brew basket broke during our testing. Sorry, Hamilton Beach.
The Eletta automatic espresso machine brews consistently exceptional beverages. Espresso is brewed to the perfect temperature, ensuring you get all the richness, density and flavor you’ve been craving. With 15 bars of pressure, your automatic espresso and cappuccino machine will deliver professional quality beverages that you can proudly serve to friends. The last cup of the day tastes as fresh as the first thanks to the integrated burr grinder, which grinds fresh beans every time. In a hurry? No problem — use the pre-ground function instead. If quality and convenience are important to you, then an espresso machine from De’Longhi belongs in your kitchen.
“This little coffee maker is PERFECT! So easy and reliable. It works great for a household with little kitchen space and light coffee drinkers. It has upped my coffee intake because it’s so easy to make coffee now! Plus, to be able to have it waiting in the morning and encourage me to actually get out of bed on time is well worth the price of this little machine.”
Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
If you’re ready to drop serious money on a high-quality espresso machine that produces smooth, complex shots, our pick is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine. The machine lets you cycle quickly between steaming milk and pulling espresso: It uses a heat exchanger, rather than the more typical thermoblock, which means that the Rocket’s boiler heats all the way up to milk-steaming temperatures when you first turn it on. When you’re ready to pull shots, the heat-exchanger sends a burst of cool water through a copper tube in the boiler, bringing the temperature briefly back to espresso-friendly levels before heating back up.
"Love the Flair. Bought about a month ago and have been dialing in my home roasted espresso routine. The crema production is unrivaled even with commercial machines costing 5x more. Any shot less than spectacular is due to user error or inadequate grinds/bean quality. Using this device has been a treat and I thoroughly enjoy the fun ritualistic aspect. There is something to be said for physically pressing out all those tasty flavors rather than letting a machine. Owning the flair puts you in full control of every single aspect of the shot and allows for pressure profiling which no device can do cost effectively. Highly recommend the signature chrome and it looks stunning as a permanent countertop staple. Just found out you can make espresso with room temperature water that produces some outstanding results."
The Breville machine was also the only semi-automatic model to produce a velvety, well-incorporated foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models, including the Gaggia and all of the less expensive machines).
While we love the all-inclusive features of the Breville, there’s one thing it can’t do on its own, at least not without a hefty repair bill. If you love dark roasts, any machine that features an internal grinder is off-limits. The oily shine characteristic of dark roasts builds up in any grinder — but while you can disassemble and clean standalone grinders, this is rarely an option for internal ones. The residual oil left in an internal grinder will, at best, give future shots a rancid flavor. At worst, the oil will clog the grinder. If you want to brew dark roasts on the Breville, plan on buying a separate grinder.
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.
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.
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.