Above all, good espresso requires precision. If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And even if you’re not holding out for the best coffee on the planet, the margin for error is still slim. To test the machines, we pulled shots following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines and paid attention to the following markers of success:
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.
I have to say that I'm very happy that I waited for this one! The espresso is excellent, the drinks have all been hot (even when adding milk from the Aeroccino), the whole spinning process takes about 15 seconds (or less) to pour into the cup, and - most surprisingly - the new coffee-sized cartridges are AWESOME! They taste NOTHING like regular, ground grocery-store coffee-in-a-can. They are much more flavorful, much stronger, and seem fresher even than using whole coffee with a grinder (maybe it's from being sealed in the aluminum cartridges?)."
If you drink enough espresso, and are passionate enough to own a machine at home, it's worth shelling out the money for the fully equipped Breville Brewmaster and learning how to make amazing cappuccinos, lattes, and cortados for yourself. You get a machine and a hobby all in one. An espresso machine is a luxury and making this kind of coffee is an art, so you should opt for the right tools. However, the Gaggia is a less-expensive close second that'll require learning on your part, but will let you tinker to the point of producing a great espresso. Finally, if you want consistent coffee without any effort, opt for the Jura.

“I grind the beans in a Hario hand grinder gifted from my brother to me when he upgraded to a fancy electric one. Using the hand grinder is meditative. It feels like you’re ‘earning’ your morning coffee a little bit more. At home, I use a Muji porcelain pour-over, but when I’m at my family’s house in metro Detroit, I love using their Bonavita BV1800SS. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own, but seriously, you can’t fuck it up. Super-easy and delicious every single time.” — Kimberly Chou, co-director of Food Book Fair
Espresso fans can let their imaginations run wild with an espresso maker from Sur La Table. Part ritual and part art, making the perfect espresso is a passion for many and we have the tools. Whether you enjoy the simplicity of a single-shot machine or you prefer fully featured espresso machines with all the bells and whistles, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for. And since we carry brands like Breville, Jura and Nespresso, you know they’ll provide delicious coffee for years to come. When it’s time to make the perfect espresso, visit Sur La Table.

We're recommending the version of the Breville espresso machine that comes with a built-in grinder. You place the beans in a compartment at the top, then use the portafilter to press a lever on the machine, which dispenses the grounds right into your portafilter compartment. It's easy to use, compact, and has a wheel on the side that allows you to change the grind. Since the grind of your espresso is one of the most important parts, we think it's worth having this grinder attached right to the machine. Especially since the Barista Express only costs about $100 more than the Infuser—Breville's model without the grinder. (However if you're looking for a smaller, more compact model, the Infuser performs as well as the Barista Express.)

Why it's great: The relatively lightweight machine by Mr. Coffee is a triple threat, meaning you’re not limited to just espresso. You can also make cappuccino and regular coffee, not to mention a variety of specialty drinks from the included recipe book (think espresso martinis, raspberry cappuccinos, choco-nutty lattes, etc.) The machine comes with an electric pump that shoots out 15 bars of pressure. It also has a one-touch feature that lets you select either a single or double-shot drink, and it even has an automatic milk frother with an adjustable knob, so you can customize the amount of froth you’d like in your drink of choice. 


An evenly tamped shot requires the tamp to fit into its portafilter basket precisely. Each machine comes with its own tamp, so we were surprised to find that not all of them fit. Some were too small, leaving behind a crescent moon of untouched coffee. It’s possible to try and compress in sections, but you’ll run the risk of re-tamping some of the grounds and producing an unpalatable shot.
As legend has it, Ethiopian goats were the first to discover the delightful properties of coffee beans when they ate the raw beans right off the stem. The goats nibbled happily away at the beans, probably right around 2 o'clock every afternoon, until finally an astute goat herder noticed the goats' perky behavior, gave the beans a taste, found them quite stimulating, and rushed them off to the nearest monastery.
In terms of maintenance, more complex machines tend to require more cleaning. Accessories like pumps, boiler setups, and thermostats usually forecast the amount of cleanup and maintenance that will be required over time. Buyers should be aware that machines with plastic outer coatings can crack with repeated use, leading to the need for expensive repairs or even replacement.
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.
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