These machines automatically grind the coffee, tamp it, and extract the espresso shot. The operator only has to fill the bean hopper and, if the machine is not connected to a water line, add water to a reservoir. Some models contain an automated milk frothing and dispensing device. Super-automatic machines take away the ability to manually tamp and grind the coffee, which may affect the quality of the espresso.
Above all, good espresso requires precision. If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And even if you’re not holding out for the best coffee on the planet, the margin for error is still slim. To test the machines, we pulled shots following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines and paid attention to the following markers of success:
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"Put off buying a Keurig type machine for years because it didn't seem their coffee was that much better than what I could make for the money. Went out of the country and was staying in a 5 star hotel where they had this little miracle machine in the room with some of the coffee capsules. We were at a retreat where sometimes we had to meet at the beach at 6 a.m. It was so fantastic to be able to make the most incredible, luxurious, espresso I've ever had in my life (and I've had a lot of bad espresso). It takes very little time and is super easy to use. There are fantastic "how to" videos about the machine on youtube that I checked out when it arrived. It's small, sleek and makes seriously incredibly fantastic espresso and lungo (which is a larger version of espresso). Loved that the amazon price was like $90 less than anywhere else online too! The vendor I purchaesd it from sent the wrong color by mistake but we were able to send the original back unopened and they sent a replacement out immediately. Absolutely recommended item if you love coffee and want a special treat at home."
"I love this machine! I've been using my Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista for 9 months and it's still going strong. I mainly bought it because I was spending way to much getting coffee drinks like lattes and macchiatos at the coffeehouse. My favorite feature is the fact that it steams and froths the milk at the same time. You can also control the amount of froth that it makes which is an awesome feature. I also have a Mr. Coffee burr grinder Mr. Coffee BVMC-BMH23 Automatic Burr Mill Grinder, Black/Silver so that I am making the freshest coffee possible and I buy my coffee freshly roasted from a local company. The results are great!"
†Programmable Brew Time: Conventional wisdom frowns at grinding beans early and programming a pot to brew later. The aromatic compounds in coffee beans start to oxidize as quickly as 15 minutes after grinding, which causes coffee to start losing aroma and flavor. But Michael Ebert, senior consultant at Firedancer Coffee Consultants, LLC, assured us that, given the trade-offs for convenience, “grinding the night before will still make a great coffee — just not as great as it could be.” Seven of the 10 pots we tested are programmable, including three of our top picks (all but the Bonavita).