Caffè Espresso translates to “pressed-out coffee.” It’s what happens when you force hot water through finely ground coffee beans. This brewing method is challenging to master, as slight variations in pressure and temperature can produce an extremely unpalatable shot. As such, the best espresso machine is forgiving to first-time owners, it extracts rich flavor from its beans, and it offers a complex balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.
We wanted to find the best espresso machine available to home brewers for less than $1,000. At this comparatively low price point, we hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not as high-quality as one served at a prized Italian cafe or as high-dollar as a Brooklyn coffee shop's—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness.
In our quest to find the best, we pitted 10 highly regarded coffee makers against each other. These are the machines that regularly make it on best-of lists, earn accolades, and/or are recommendations from the coffee experts we talked to over the course of this review. We aimed for multi-cup carafes — no single serves — and drip machines only. (We didn’t want to muddy the results with French press, pour-over, or espresso. Those are for other reviews.)
Maintenance is simple on any of our drip coffee makers, with full frontal access for cleaning, refilling water and changing the coffee filter. All our coffee machines are user-friendly, so that brewing perfect coffee is a convenient, stress-free experience. Keep your counters uncluttered with convenient cord storage, and bring a little elegance to your kitchen with our sleek and attractive designs.
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.
For example, if your coffee tastes a bit salty or sour, the grounds are under-extracted, which can be remedied by a finer grind. But what if only some of your grounds are too coarse, and others are too fine – and maybe some are just right? Having uniform grind size throughout your brew basket makes it easier to isolate and adjust this variable in order to get the level of extraction you want. The only way to achieve that is with a burr grinder. Miller — as well as a handful of our other experts — recommends the Barazata Encore Coffee Grinder ($129).
In later years, coffeemakers began to adopt more standardized forms commensurate with a large increase in the scale of production required to meet postwar consumer demand. Plastics and composite materials began to replace metal, particularly with the advent of newer electric drip coffeemakers in the 1970s. During the 1990s, consumer demand for more attractive appliances to complement expensive modern kitchens resulted in a new wave of redesigned coffeemakers in a wider range of available colors and styles.
“This is simply an amazing machine. I have had NO trouble with it whatsoever. … The quality of the espresso is better than what I get out of the coffee shops — using their beans. It took me a long time to tune in the perfect cup of espresso/latte/cappuccino, and there are variables, but mostly in the beans you buy. I had to buy a decent burr grinder, but considering the investment in the machine, another $150 for a good burr grinder is nothing. I only run filtered water through the machine. I love this machine. I have poured over 2,500 shots through it. Not a single problem with the machine. Many mistakes by the operator, but I will take my espresso out of this machine before any store bought cup-o-Joe.”
The De'Longhi comes with a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler which would serve you well over time. Other notable features include a swivel jet frother for easy cappuccino and latte prep, a dual-function filter holder that gives you a choice between ground coffee and pods, and a self-priming function which we recommend for the absolute best results.
Manual or semi-automatic machines offer more control of shot quality. Because when to cut the shot (brew time) is a critical variable, which is often adjusted shot-by-shot, semi-automatic machines are often preferred over automatics, though some machines are automatic. Manual machines are more popular in Europe, where it is more common to drink straight espresso.
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.