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.
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.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.
Crave cappuccino? Love latte? You’re in luck: the PrimaDonna automatic espresso machine from De’Longhi can brew a range of milk-based beverages, complete with steamed or frothed milk. The adjustable automatic cappuccino system combines steam and milk to create the thickest, longest-lasting foam for your cappuccino. And it’s easy to adjust the levels to prepare a creamy latte.
“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.”
Brewing coffee has never been easier with this Black & Decker 12-Cup Switch Coffee maker. With the switch of a button, you’re coffee will start brewing into the reinforced glass Duralife™ carafe with a comfort grip handle. Grab a cup of coffee on the go with the Sneak-A-Cup™ feature, otherwise your coffee will be ready when you are with the Keep Warm carafe nonstick carafe plate.
A best seller in its category, this espresso maker from Mr. Coffee has all the bells and whistles you could want out of a machine. Besides espresso, you can also make cappuccino or a latte at the touch of a button. There’s an adjustable cup tray that lets you change the height based on the size of your cup, and the milk and water reservoirs are removable for easy refill and cleanup. A drip catcher will keep things clean if anything spills over, and the machine comes with a single shot filter, double shot filter, measuring scoop, tamper, and coffee recipes.
While it’s hands down the best cheap espresso machine on the market, Mr. Coffee isn’t on the same level with the Rocket or the Breville. Its shots lack the richness and complexity of true espresso, tasting more like a full-bodied Americano. Its layer of crema disappears quickly, and its shots don’t offer the gorgeous, gradient colors that you’d get from a machine like the Rocket. That said, it ranked fourth for taste among the machines we tested, so it’s still a solid option if you don’t need the finest coffee quality the market has to offer.
Bunn-O-Matic came out with a different drip-brew machine. In this type of coffeemaker, the machine uses a holding tank or boiler pre-filled with water. When the machine is turned on, all of the water in the holding tank is brought to near boiling point (approximately 200–207 °F or 93–97 °C) using a thermostatically-controlled heating element. When water is poured into a top-mounted tray, it descends into a funnel and tube which delivers the cold water to the bottom of the boiler. The less-dense hot water in the boiler is displaced out of the tank and into a tube leading to the spray head, where it drips into a brew basket containing the ground coffee. The pourover, water displacement method of coffeemaking tends to produce brewed coffee at a much faster rate than standard drip designs. Its primary disadvantage is increased electricity consumption in order to preheat the water in the boiler. Additionally, the water displacement method is most efficient when used to brew coffee at the machine's maximum or near-maximum capacity, as typically found in restaurant or office usage. In 1963, Bunn introduced the first automatic coffee brewer, which connected to a waterline for an automatic water feed.
The term dual boiler is used narrowly for machines with two separate boilers, and more broadly for what are more properly called dual heater (DH) machines, featuring a boiler for brewing and a separate thermoblock (TB) for heating brew water to steaming temperature – opposite to HX machines, where the boiler is at steaming temperature and is cooled to brewing temperature.
Why it's great: With the exception of a few exterior differences, getting the Inissia is basically like getting the Pixie at a discounted price. Aside from the quality espresso, it comes with all the same Nespresso perks: The Nespresso welcome kit has 14 unique capsules and access to the Nespresso club. Through the Nespresso Club you can order capsules either online or by phone, as well as get personalized advice and technical support for your machine 24/7. Not too shabby for a tiny little machine of its price. For those who don't mind being a little less fancy with the exterior design, the Inissia is definitely a great option.
Water quality also plays a massive role in the way your coffee tastes. As we discovered in our review of the best water filters, water isn’t tasteless. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are what give “good tasting” water its sweetness — in fact, the SCAA recommends water with 150 milligrams per liter of TDS to brew coffee. (Want to check your water? A TDS reader is only about 15 bucks.)
Prior to the introduction of pre-measured self-contained ground coffee filter rings, fresh coffee grounds were measured out in scoopfuls and placed into the metal percolator basket. This process enabled small amounts of coffee grounds to leak into the fresh coffee. Additionally, the process left wet grounds in the percolator basket, which were very tedious to clean. The benefit of the Max Pax coffee filter rings was two-fold: First, because the amount of coffee contained in the rings was pre-measured, it negated the need to measure each scoop and then place it in the metal percolator basket. Second, the filter paper was strong enough to hold all the coffee grounds within the sealed paper. After use, the coffee filter ring could be easily removed from the basket and discarded. This saved the consumer from the tedious task of cleaning out the remaining wet coffee grounds from the percolator basket.
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.
The gist: This espresso maker by LavoHome comes with all the essentials: a glass carafe and cover, filter basket, and tamper. The little powerhouse boasts 800 watts of power and brews up to 20 ounces of rich espresso. In the mood for a latte or cappuccino instead? It also comes equipped with a powerful steamer to make all of your favorite coffeehouse beverages. The glass decanter comes with a cool-touch handle for safe and easy pouring once your brew is complete.
A steam-driven unit operates by forcing water through the coffee by using steam or steam pressure. The first espresso machines were steam types, produced when a common boiler was piped to four group heads so that multiple types of coffee could be made at the same time. This design is still used today in lower-cost consumer machines, as it does not need to contain moving parts. Also, steam-driven machines do not produce as high of a pressure for extraction compared to pump-driven. This results in the crema, a hallmark of an espresso, being of lower quality.
*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.
If all you’re looking for is a gorgeous cup of coffee and no fuss, we strongly recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS. It’s the smallest machine among our top picks and, at $190, the cheapest. Even better, it ranked in the top three out of 10 during our taste tests. It’s also the simplest and most straightforward: one button you click to start brewing, and that’s it. You can’t program brew times; you can’t play around with water temperature; and it even lacks some convenient touches like a brew basket that attaches to the machine (when you’re done brewing, you have to place the brew basket on a plate or in the sink before it makes a total mess). But it’s by far the fastest machine out of our top picks, brewing up a full eight-cup pot in under six minutes. It’s a straightforward, high-end coffee maker that leaves little to complain about.
The OXO On 12-Cup feels high-tech without being high maintenance. It’s beautifully constructed, with silicone gaskets, a stainless steel carafe, and sturdy-feeling plastic. But let’s go ahead and get its biggest downside right out there in the open. Of the 10 machines we tested, it took the longest to brew eight cups of coffee — nearly 15 minutes. It heats its entire reservoir of water to temperature before a drop touches the grounds, and if you’re jonesing for a full pot to start off your day, that wait is going to feel like a lifetime. This was particularly noticeable considering four of the machines we tested brewed the same amount of coffee in less than half that time. The Bunn BTX-B Velocity Brew could do it in three minutes flat.
CR’s take: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.