Although it's very easy to use — you just fill the portafilter with grounds, attach it to the machine, and press the button to start — The Gaggia Classic isn't as flexible or intuitive as the Breville Barista Express. The user manual is less detailed, too, so you have to have a basic idea of what you're doing or browse the internet for tips. The machine has a one-year warranty if you run into problems.
“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.”
Hand-tooled and bench-tested in Italy, this espresso maker looks, works, and performs like it belongs in a small coffee shop, despite fitting tidily on your kitchen counter. This machine is built to last 10 to 15 years; less expensive machines at best might survive the five-year mark, and some can’t be expected to reach three. We also loved the sheer quality of every part included with our Rocket. The heft metal tamp fits perfectly in the machine’s own portafilter baskets and improved the shot-making experience of other machines when we used it with theirs.
CR’s take: If you need only one or two cups of coffee each morning and you don’t want a pod coffee maker, consider the Technivorm Moccamaster Cup-One Brewer. Compact and clean-lined, it has a profile that makes some sense of its high price (it retails for more than $200), and it’s a superstar when it comes to reliability. Technivorm was one of only three drip machine brands to earn an Excellent rating for predicted reliability in our member survey. Our testers also give this machine a strong score for brew performance. This model has only one simple feature (auto-shutoff) and it’s not the easiest machine to use, but you can count on it to last.
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.
A portafilter (or group handle) attaches to the grouphead of semi-automatic and piston-driven espresso machines, and carries a tamped puck of coffee grounds within its basket. It is usually made of brass for better heat retention, and is attached by a plastic or wooden handle. The portafilter forms a seal with the espresso machine's gasket, and directs high-pressure hot water through the coffee puck. After-market retailers also sell bottomless portafilters that minimize the espresso's contact with any metal. A bottomless portafilter is one tool baristas use to analyze the quality of the coffee grind and the evenness of the extraction and allows for a visual check of "channeling" or the condition in which water is able to pierce a hole in the espresso puck during the brew process leading to poor extraction. Often, baristas use knockboxes to store their spent espresso grounds after they have pulled a shot.
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.
The Mr. Coffee DRX5 coffee maker gives you the advanced action to delay-brew your coffee, enabling you to wake up to coffee waiting for you. The auto pause and grab a cup option allows you to get a cup of coffee before the brew cycle is finished, with the machine halting the brewing process so you can pour a cup and then complete the process once you reinsert the carafe into the chassis.
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.
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.