If you're ready to pull the trigger on buying an espresso machine, be prepared to shell out a little cash. Espresso machines can be wildly expensive. Rightfully so. Pulling a perfect shot requires precision: the machine must maintain both precise temperature and stable pressure throughout the brewing process. Achieving this stability is difficult and requires complex machinery, which is why you can find machines for upwards of 6,000 dollars.
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.
You can check out our best milk frothers here. Some of you will stick with the machine's frothing wand, but you'll still need a milk frothing pitcher, so we recommend this one from Rattleware. Should you want a better tamper, we recommend this one from Rattleware. To save money on the coffee grinder, you can try this manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you may pay more than $200 for it.
The gist: Okay, so although most of our list focuses on countertop espresso makers, if we're going by Amazon reviews, it'd be an injustice to ignore this Bialetti Stovertop Espresso Maker. As Amazon's best-selling stovetop espresso maker, this classy little thing is POP-U-LAR. As in 6,950 reviews (and counting) popular. Most impressively, those reviews give it an average of 4.3 stars, with 74% of them giving it a perfect 5-star rating. That's a hell of a lot of happy people. Now, disclaimer: we do have to mention straight away that the Bialetti doesn't *technically* make espresso, considering it's not able to build the amount of bars of pressure necessary to again, *technically* qualify it as espresso. However, Bialetti does give tips and guidelines for how to brew their "moka" coffee to your liking. (Moka is described as a mix between coffee and espresso.) Also, some reviewers (see below for example) claim they can't even tell the difference between the moka and a shot of espresso.
As for the seller: when the unit was originally delivered the steam wand wasn't performing well. After following the typical trouble-shooting tips and conferring with the seller, we found the unit was simply unable to produce enough pressure to steam or properly brew. Within a week the seller had replaced the unit, and I'm happy to report it works perfectly. No matter the production value there is always a possibility of a defect here or there. The seller standing by the product and immediately replacing it to our satisfaction really sealed the deal for us. I highly recommend both this product and the seller from whom we purchased it."
Our brew-performance tests measure the brew temperature and contact time (how long water stays within a sweet spot of 195° to 205° F for brewing). We measure concentration using a refractometer, a device that measures the amount of coffee dissolved in each brew. Our convenience tests look at how easy it is to set timers, fill the reservoir, clean the machine, and more. And for the first time, we’re incorporating predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings into the new Overall Score for each model. We determine these ratings for each drip coffee maker brand using survey data collected from thousands of CR members.