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.
While clever baristas are always coming up with twists on common coffee staples, the most popular beverages are based on a shot or more of espresso and steamed milk with a layer of foam artistically placed on top. Cappuccino is among the most popular espresso-based drinks, but with some clever applications of milk and cream, they sky is the limit as to what you can create.
The Moccamaster isn't for everyone. Handmade in the Netherlands, it costs around $300—and would never win an award for value. It lacks a programmable timer, and it was also bit more difficult to set up than the rest of the coffee makers—in fact most were ready to go right out of the box. But a quick look at the instruction diagram should clear up any confusion, and the end result is well worth the effort.
The very first espresso machines worked on a steam-pressure basis, and they’re still in use today. With this type of machine, steam or steam pressure is used to force water through the coffee grounds and produce espresso. Some steam-driven machines can produce a measure of foam “crema.” But they can’t generate enough pressure or provide the precise temperature control necessary to produce true espresso: They simply make a very strong cup of coffee. However, they cost considerably less than pump-driven machines. Our verdict is that if you’re a true espresso lover and seeking to make a good shot at home, we recommend you steer clear of steam-driven machines. They’ll likely disappoint you.
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.
It scored the highest in our out-of-the-box taste test, brewing coffee our tasters described as “light” with subtle notes of blueberry, citrus, cherry, tobacco, and hazelnut. The machine simply brews great coffee, and it takes its job seriously. If you’re interested in playing around with the flavor and extraction of your roast, the Behmor Brazen gives you more access to more variables. You can adjust water temperature, play with pre-infusion times (15 seconds to four minutes) — it even has you enter your altitude to better determine water’s boiling point, and calibrate its internal thermometer during setup.
CR’s take: Our highest-rated drip brewer with an insulated, thermal carafe, the Ninja Bar Brewer CF085 has plenty to recommend it. CR’s testers find that it offers superb brew performance and is very easy to use. In our member surveys, Ninja drip coffee makers received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. (We don’t yet have enough data to judge reliability.) This model has a full suite of features, including an unusual over-ice brew mode for making iced coffee. Ninja claims its thermal carafe will keep coffee hot for 2 hours, and the machine comes with a milk frother and a standalone French-press brewer. These features come at a price, of course; the Ninja Bar Brewer is the second most expensive model on this list.
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.