Our brew-performance tests measure the brew temperature and contact time (how long water stays within a sweet spot of 195° to 205° F for brewing). We measure concentration using a refractometer, a device that measures the amount of coffee dissolved in each brew. Our convenience tests look at how easy it is to set timers, fill the reservoir, clean the machine, and more. And for the first time, we’re incorporating predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings into the new Overall Score for each model. We determine these ratings for each drip coffee maker brand using survey data collected from thousands of CR members.
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.
For all the debate over whether the best coffee comes from a Chemex or a French press or an AeroPress (even Nespresso), sometimes you just want to turn on a machine and let it do the work. We asked ten coffee drinkers — food-industry professionals and just plain coffee snobs — what’s the coffee machine that’ll get you a simple at-home brew without all the fuss?
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.
*SCAA Certified: A Specialty Coffee Association of America certification indicates the machine can heat water to a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit and ensures that hot water will be in contact with coffee grounds for no less than four and no greater than eight minutes. It’s a solid confirmation of quality. But according to Joseph Rivera, a research coffee scientist at coffeechemistry.com, not every manufacturer chooses to submit their coffee makers for SCAA certification, and there are definitely great drip coffee makers out there without its stamp of approval. Six of the 10 coffee makers we tested are SCAA-certified — including all four of our top picks.
We tested 12 models by making shots of espresso and lattes on each machine. We enlisted the help of an expert from Students of Coffee, a group of coffee educators and roasters at New York University, to judge for quality. The majority of the models we tested were semi-automatic, meaning brewers still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semi-automatic espresso machines heat the water for you, and then pump it through the grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the machine. The semi-automatic models we tester were:
Once you choose your grind and pre-set your volume (single or double shot), the machine will take your beans from —well, beans — to espresso in less than a minute. It doesn't get much fresher than that. The BES870 also comes with four single and dual wall filter baskets, one stainless steel milk jug, a cleaning kit, and a precision raze dose trimming tool and PID digital temperature control. Depending on your level of expertise, you can either use the dual-wall pressurized filters (to control pressure and optimize extraction), or, for the more experienced baristas, try using the non-pressurized single-wall filters to play around and make the brew your own. This thing is the perfect tool for bringing quality espresso to aficionados at any level.
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.
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.
Espresso machines can be intimidating. We wanted something that did not require reading a novel-sized manual, watching a lot of YouTube videos, or reading tons of articles about espresso pulling. Yes, making espresso does require some learning for the home brewer. That's part of the fun, but the machine shouldn't be discouraging and impossible to use out of the box.
For the first time in the entire history of coffee, finally, in 1906, people could enjoy coffee made expressly for them: espresso. (I told you I would get back to this). And, while rumor has it the first espresso tasted pretty bad - watery and bitter, they say - the Italians stuck with it, perfecting it, marketing it, teaching people how to enjoy it.
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.
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.