If you’re not one yourself, you definitely know one. Espresso, which originated in Italy, is a finely ground, highly concentrated version of coffee that packs a punch of caffeine into a single one-ounce shot (or two, if you’d like a double-shot), making it richer and stronger than a regular cup of coffee. People who drink espresso know that it’s all about quality, which means if you’re not getting your tiny cup of life from your local barista, you best do your research and invest in a worthy espresso machine to make it at home.
The point of getting a great machine is that it takes the fuss out of your coffee making — if you’re going to fiddle around so much, why not just get a Chemex? But our refrain throughout this entire review has been that a coffee maker is only one part of the good-cup equation. Some methodical experimentation could reveal a whole world of taste you never knew you could achieve.
This grinder produced the most even grounds out of all the machines I tested, and its range of output is all-encompassing. The coarsest setting produces large flakes, while the finest setting produces puffy grounds akin to powdered sugar—perfect for Turkish coffee. In between, I was quickly able to find the ideal settings for my Hario Woodneck, Aeropress, and even mason jar cold brew.
That said, there is a true magic to having espresso at home, making yourself a cappuccino in your pajamas, and avoiding awkwardly waiting around the end of a bar with a cluster of strangers, all desperate to grab the first latte that hits the counter. Espresso is hard, but that doesn't mean it's impossible—especially if you're easy to please, ready to practice, and up for a good culinary challenge. There are lots of resources available online for learning how to make good espresso: Look up videos on YouTube, read articles and DIY books, and don't be too shy to ask your favorite barista for pointers—many of us love getting geeky on the technical stuff with our favorite customers.
*When you buy a machine with coffee credits you will receive a code with credits to buy coffee from curated roasters in the Spinn app. The credits will be uploaded in your account settings of the app. The credits allow for easy browsing and discovery of local and national coffee roasters. The credits will be used for automatically ordering when your Spinn machine is running low.
Semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder.
The Breville is technically a semi-automatic espresso maker, since it requires you to dose and tamp your own shots, but we found it more forgiving than true automatics. The Breville’s dual-wall filter baskets (in addition to two standard single-wall baskets) add extra pressure, providing a little forgiveness for beginners’ mistakes in either grinding the beans or tamping the shot.
"Oh my goodness! I never knew such a thing existed. This tiny espresso maker makes great espressos! I have taken this to work with me and everyone is jealous. I mean everyone is jealous for real. I think I even persuaded some of my colleagues to buy one themselves! How funny is that? It's so easy to use. I usually use hot water to begin with and I don't bother with getting it to heat my water for me because that just takes a little bit too long. Holding the button for more than 5 seconds will activate the pressurized pumping gear. It is all electronic so you don't have to make any difficult pumping like in some other smaller products. The coffee comes out just as good as any espresso you can make. And the pods are crazy cheap. I found pods that are literally $0.10 each."
The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot. Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
"If I could give this more than 5 stars I would. I love espresso drinks from coffee shops, I used to drink just regular coffee but when I quit smoking the taste changed just enough that I didn't like it anymore. Mexican mochas on the other hand I still found palatable. But they're about 5 bucks a pop at my local coffee shop. I also didn't want to spend 150$+ on an espresso machine, they seem prone to breaking and judging by the reviews never really work right. So I settled on this, figuring I would try it and if it didn't make what I wanted I'd only be out about 30 bucks. It makes delicious coffee. Put some full city roast in their and fire it up and what comes out is espresso. From my readings I've gathered that its not actually espresso, as the Moka pot doesn't make enough pressure for it to be real espresso. But its playing the part convincingly, I can't tell the difference between what comes out of this and a shot of espresso. Its paid for itself a dozen times over at this point. Absolutely one of the best purchases I've ever made. I couldn't be happier."
Steaming milk is straightforward, utilizing a simple on/off switch, and we got some stunning microfoam. However, the process isn’t flawless. You’ll need to prime the steam wand prior to using it on your milk, or else water will drip into your pitcher as the steam begins to sputter out. This sputtering caused us to have a few larger bubbles, frowned upon by hardcore espresso lovers.
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.
“Last night was a perfect test of the single-cup concept. I had already programmed and prepped my 3 a.m. standard coffee brew, however, I still wanted a cup of coffee. I switched over to the single cup and brewed my cup, then switched back and pressed the program button to ensure it would still brew the main pot at 3 a.m. Worked like a charm!! Before, I would have had to brew the entire eight cups that were ready, toss out most of it, and set up my morning brew all over again.”
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
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.