Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
We wanted to find the best espresso machine available to home brewers for less than $1,000. At this comparatively low price point, we hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not as high-quality as one served at a prized Italian cafe or as high-dollar as a Brooklyn coffee shop's—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness.
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.
It scored the highest in our out-of-the-box taste test, brewing coffee our tasters described as “light” with subtle notes of blueberry, citrus, cherry, tobacco, and hazelnut. The machine simply brews great coffee, and it takes its job seriously. If you’re interested in playing around with the flavor and extraction of your roast, the Behmor Brazen gives you more access to more variables. You can adjust water temperature, play with pre-infusion times (15 seconds to four minutes) — it even has you enter your altitude to better determine water’s boiling point, and calibrate its internal thermometer during setup.
“This little espresso maker is just awesome! It is fun to use and always makes a great cup of espresso. I’ve used it to make macchiatos, affogatos, and as a espresso shot to my coffee. The simplicity of this stovetop espresso maker is amazing. You won’t get as much crema as you would with an espresso machine but the aroma and taste are unmatched. I’ve had the three-cup model for a few months now, and I use it often. I’ve had no problems with it at all. After it use I just rinse it with warm water and let it air dry.”
So while yes, $150 (current price as I review this item) is a good chunk of change, I honestly believe it’s worth it. This is a high-quality machine that will hopefully last a very, very long time. The quality of the espresso is very good, and in the long run, it will save you the cost of espresso-based drinks at the coffee shop. It all evens out in the end! If you are considering buying this, my advice is to just do it. It’s worth it! Love love love!”
Dual-boiler espresso systems are undoubtedly the gold standard for home or commercial equipment: They allow the machine to maintain the optimum temperature for simultaneously brewing espresso coffee (195–205 degrees Fahrenheit) as well as for creating steam (closer to 250 degrees Fahrenheit), which means no waiting around, watching your crema disappear while you wait to steam milk. The Breville also has programmable options for softly pre-infusing the coffee, and has a control valve that monitors extraction pressure—two things most home machines don't feature. If espresso is your go-to coffee every day, this is the machine for you.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, although some coffee makers tended to uniformity of design (particularly stovetop percolators), others displayed a wide variety of styling differences. In particular, the vacuum brewer, which required two fully separate chambers joined in an hourglass configuration, seemed to inspire industrial designers. Interest in new designs for the vacuum brewer revived during the American Arts & Crafts movement with the introduction of "Silex" brand coffee makers, based on models developed by Massachusetts housewives Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton. Their use of Pyrex solved the problem of fragility and breakability that had made this type of machine commercially unattractive. During the 1930s, simple, clean forms, increasingly of metal, attracted positive attention from industrial designers heavily influenced by the functionalist imperative of the Bauhaus and Streamline movements. It was at this time that Sunbeam's sleek Coffeemaster vacuum brewer appeared, styled by the famous industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli. The popularity of glass and Pyrex globes temporarily revived during the Second World War, since aluminum, chrome, and other metals used in traditional coffee makers became restricted in availability.
When it comes to features, our top pick’s little sister, the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker, looks and feels much the same: a single-button dial, programmable start times — even the timer that lets you know how old the coffee is after it’s been brewed is identical. On this version, the water reservoir isn’t detachable, but it brews coffee significantly faster than the 12-cupper’s 14 minutes(!) and it’s $100 cheaper. It’s a great machine that didn’t earn our top spot simply because the coffee it makes didn’t perform quite as well as the other three top picks in our taste tests, and it doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature and extraction the way the larger machine does.
First, of all of the espresso machines we tested, the two Breville models are the only ones that contain the above-mentioned PID for extremely precise temperature control. This means that the machine consistently pulled a slightly-sweet, creamy shot of espresso. It had plenty of crema on top. Another reason this machine pulls such a consistently wonderful shot is that it maintains consistent pressure—where other machines made bitter, flat-tasting shots, the consistent pressure of the Breville machine meant the espresso was flavorful and delicious.
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.)
The bottom chamber contains the water. The middle chamber is a filter-basket holding the ground coffee and sits within the bottom chamber. The top chamber, with a metal filter, screws onto the bottom chamber. When the pot is heated on a stove, the pressure from the steam in the bottom chamber forces the water through a tube into the filter-basket, through the ground coffee, the metal filter, and it then funnels into the top chamber where the coffee is then ready to serve. They are commonly found in Italy, Spain and Portugal. They are also known as a macchinetta, Italian for little machine or caffettiera, Italian for coffee maker.
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Our coffee machines are easy to use, and are designed with glass or thermal carafes and non-stick warming plates to keep your drip coffee warm long after the brewing process is over. Your coffee machine will alert you when it has finished brewing, and, depending on the model, will have either an automatic shut-off or a freshness indicator to ensure you never need to drink stale coffee again.
That said, it’s not as elegant to use as the OXO machines. (Nor is it as nice to look at. One tester described its tall, bulbous body and squat carafe as “UFO-like.”) Take its eight-button controls, for example, which you use to toggle among brew modes, scroll up and down within the menu, and engage a manual brewing feature. Programming it to start brewing at a certain time was about as intuitive as setting an alarm on a clock radio — easy enough, but more technical than sleek. OXO definitely feels like the future; Behmor is more, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
“This is simply an amazing machine. I have had NO trouble with it whatsoever. … The quality of the espresso is better than what I get out of the coffee shops — using their beans. It took me a long time to tune in the perfect cup of espresso/latte/cappuccino, and there are variables, but mostly in the beans you buy. I had to buy a decent burr grinder, but considering the investment in the machine, another $150 for a good burr grinder is nothing. I only run filtered water through the machine. I love this machine. I have poured over 2,500 shots through it. Not a single problem with the machine. Many mistakes by the operator, but I will take my espresso out of this machine before any store bought cup-o-Joe.”
Let’s circle back to that extra-long brew time. There are two factors that didn’t make it an automatic “no” for us. The first is that the OXO On 12-Cup is programmable. Like our experts say, grinding coffee in advance isn’t going to make the most perfect cup of coffee. But the fact that you can program the machine’s “wake-up time” to start brewing and have coffee ready when you are takes the sting out of the wait.
Why it's great: With the exception of a few exterior differences, getting the Inissia is basically like getting the Pixie at a discounted price. Aside from the quality espresso, it comes with all the same Nespresso perks: The Nespresso welcome kit has 14 unique capsules and access to the Nespresso club. Through the Nespresso Club you can order capsules either online or by phone, as well as get personalized advice and technical support for your machine 24/7. Not too shabby for a tiny little machine of its price. For those who don't mind being a little less fancy with the exterior design, the Inissia is definitely a great option.
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.
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