This testing was designed to highlight the difference in how each machine extracted its coffee grounds. Remember, extraction is tied to water temperature, how long the grounds had to steep, and how evenly that water is distributed in the brew basket. (Depending on how the machine distributes the water and the shape of the basket, any particular ground may or may not receive the same amount of time in contact with water — thus any individual grind may be over-extracted, under-extracted, or just right.) Properly extracted grounds would have a balance of notes and aromas, from slight hints of acid to a pleasant amount of bitterness.
“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.”
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.
“What I REALLY like about it is that it’s pretty much an all-in-one system without the thousand-dollar-plus all-in-one cost. I push one button and all the magic happens, and it’s quite entertaining to watch the espresso cascade through the milk and create separate layers. I also like that I can take the milk and store it in my fridge. I’ve done some temperature tests, and only noticed a five-degree increase after making a double latte, before I put it back in the fridge. This is nice, as you would think that to be so close to all that heat, it would be a much bigger temperature fluctuation.”
“I purchased the machine for myself as a birthday present, and I’ve had it for about six weeks. We have a Pavoni espresso machine, which my husband loves for his espressos, but I think it’s a pain for making lattes: grinding the beans, tamping down the pod, ‘pulling’ the lever (which will be really hard if you tamp it too densely), steaming the milk, and then cleaning the steaming wand, not to mention what a pain it is to refill the water chamber (turn off, wait till pressure is gone, then you can refill). Why am I listing all of these steps? Because that’s what you don’t have to worry about with the Lattissima! Here are my steps now: Turn on the machine, get the milk container out of the fridge and plug it into the front, put an espresso capsule in the top, stick a mug under the spout, and push the Latte button. Done. You do need to clean the frother, which is just putting another cup under the spout, turn the milk to “clean” and let it clean, then you can remove the milk container and stick it in the fridge. I clean the milk container once a week, soaking all the pieces in a bowl of hot, soapy water for a few hours.”
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).
All of the espresso machines we tested only included a single boiler for heating. This means that there's only one mechanism for heating both the water for brewing and the steamer wand. Because of this, it'll take the steamer wand a while to heat up after pulling the espresso shot, since the steamer wand operates at a much higher temperature than the brewing temperature of around 195°F. It is possible to buy a home machine with a double boiler (Breville makes one) but this raises the price significantly (we didn't test the Breville because it's over $1,000), and the minor wait time wasn't a major concern for us. We figured it wouldn't be for home brewers either.
The Baratza Encore is simplicity defined and our top coffee grinder. This burr grinder has a 40-setting grind size selector, an on-off switch for continuous grinding, and a push-button for manual control. That's it. Other grinders include complicated timers, built-in scales, strength adjustment sliders, and other doodads, but Baratza suggests that you don't need them—and they're right. Measure your beans using a separate scale, grind them fresh for each cup. That's the way to do it.
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.
This Good Housekeeping Seal star features an all-black body, a 12-cup glass carafe, a reusable filter and a backlit LCD screen with digital touchpad controls. You can program the clock to automatically brew coffee in the morning. It'll make a hot pot very quickly, but drink up — the keep warm feature didn't keep the coffee as warm as other models in our tests.
CR’s take: For $80, this Mr. Coffee 12-cup drip brewer is surprisingly stylish. Its airy design sets it apart from the blocky shapes common to the category. This model earns a rating of Very Good in CR’s brew-performance tests and makes a full pot in just 9 minutes. It offers brew-strength control, programming, and a permanent coffee filter. With its performance and striking appearance, you might not mind having it out on the counter—especially in a kitchen with a stainless fridge and range.
Nobody brews coffee like Cuisinart's premier series 12-cup programmable coffee maker. This elite coffee maker with a 12-cup glass carafe has all of Cuisinart's best-of-brew features. From the 24-hour programmability, to the popular brew pause that lets you sneak a cup before brewing is complete, to the convenient adjustable auto shutoff, this premium coffeemaker aims to please. Whether brewing 2 cups or 12 cups, Cuisinart promises rich flavorful coffee, first sip to last. Brew pause feature...
Why it's great: The relatively lightweight machine by Mr. Coffee is a triple threat, meaning you’re not limited to just espresso. You can also make cappuccino and regular coffee, not to mention a variety of specialty drinks from the included recipe book (think espresso martinis, raspberry cappuccinos, choco-nutty lattes, etc.) The machine comes with an electric pump that shoots out 15 bars of pressure. It also has a one-touch feature that lets you select either a single or double-shot drink, and it even has an automatic milk frother with an adjustable knob, so you can customize the amount of froth you’d like in your drink of choice.
There’s a coffee machine for everyone in our stylish and modern range: with pause-and-serve functions, 24-hour timers and larger carafes for up to fourteen cups, our coffee machines can be used in a variety of settings, from your kitchen counter to your office area. The water level indicator means you can choose exactly how many cups to brew, so there’s no need for anybody to go without, and nothing is wasted.
Other coffee brewing devices became popular throughout the nineteenth century, including various machines using the vacuum principle. The Napier Vacuum Machine, invented in 1840, was an early example of this type. While generally too complex for everyday use, vacuum devices were prized for producing a clear brew, and were popular up until the middle of the twentieth century.
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.