Served in a variety of drinks, espressos are made by machines that send pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee beans—thus, the quality of the drink is dictated in large part by the quality of machine that brews it. Historically, the best espresso has been brewed in coffee shops with industrial-grade equipment. Today, continued innovation in the at-home espresso brewing industry has led to the creation of high-quality machines that can contend with some of the best baristas out there.
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
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.
Why it's great: Flair *really* stresses how important espresso as an "art form" really is. The Flair is for someone who genuinely enjoys the process of creating espresso. It's unique design makes it appealing on the counter or wherever you decide to take it, since it disassembles and folds up nicely into a carrying case. Since it doesn't require electricity, you can take this fancy piece of hardware anywhere. The only downside is that you have to buy your own burr grinder for the best results, but chances are this won't be an issue for someone who is already gung-ho about "the process."
With the Nespresso, you have a few options when it comes to brews: a single espresso, double espresso (2.7 ounces), a gran lungo (5 ounces), a regular 7.7-ounce coffee, or an alto coffee which is 14 ounces of caffeinated bliss. Nespresso models come with a complimentary gift, which means this machine comes with a 12 pack of various Nespresso capsules of all different flavors. And since this is a bundle deal, it also comes with the Aeroccino 3 milk frother.
The well-designed Braun BrewSense came closer to the gold standard for water brewing temperature than almost any other drip coffee maker in our testing, and delivered a rich, bold and hot cup of coffee. It has settings to program the coffee to brew ahead of time and you can adjust the brew strength and the temperature of the warming plate. Also available in black.
In France, in about 1710, the Infusion brewing process was introduced. This involved submersing the ground coffee, usually enclosed in a linen bag, in hot water and letting it steep or "infuse" until the desired strength brew was achieved. Nevertheless, throughout the 19th and even the early 20th centuries, it was considered adequate to add ground coffee to hot water in a pot or pan, boil it until it smelled right, and pour the brew into a cup.
For many of us, the daily grind can't begin until we've had that first cup of piping hot coffee—so the right brewer is at the top of the list. The most basic coffee makers make at least a decent cup, but a little more money buys conveniences such as programmability, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, settings that let you adjust brew strength, and more.