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.
The monks thought the goat herder was a fool, and told him as much by throwing the beans in the fire. Sigh. Well, soon the enticing aroma of fresh roasted coffee was too much to ignore. The monks henceforth reversed their snubbing of coffee beans, scooped them out of the fire and threw them into some hot water. Then they drank the dark brew. Ta-da! The first cup of coffee! That was back in the year 850CE.
A good grinder: An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
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.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
"My absolute love of the Delonghi Maginfica ESAM3300 is hard to describe. It has been a faithful crema steeped friend and morning ritual for at least 8 years, and the current unit I bought as a replacement last week (another ESAM3300) is a testament to why I give this well built Italian Stallion "super automatic" espresso dream machine a SOLID 5 star rating.
When it comes to features, our top pick’s little sister, the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker, looks and feels much the same: a single-button dial, programmable start times — even the timer that lets you know how old the coffee is after it’s been brewed is identical. On this version, the water reservoir isn’t detachable, but it brews coffee significantly faster than the 12-cupper’s 14 minutes(!) and it’s $100 cheaper. It’s a great machine that didn’t earn our top spot simply because the coffee it makes didn’t perform quite as well as the other three top picks in our taste tests, and it doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature and extraction the way the larger machine does.
For many of us, the daily grind can't begin until we've had that first cup of piping hot coffee—so the right brewer is at the top of the list. The most basic coffee makers make at least a decent cup, but a little more money buys conveniences such as programmability, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, settings that let you adjust brew strength, and more.