Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
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.
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
Our top pick is the OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System. It’s a large machine – both in footprint and in capacity — but it earned the second-highest scores in our taste test, and is sleek both to look at and to operate. Convenient features like programmable auto-brewing, a removable water reservoir that doubles as a kettle, and a spigot that stops the brew mid-stream if you remove the carafe make this machine feel high tech without being high maintenance. For those who want to be a little more hands-on with the brewing process, its single-button dial also lets you adjust the water’s brewing temperature, giving you more access to experiment with extraction and flavor.
While we love the all-inclusive features of the Breville, there’s one thing it can’t do on its own, at least not without a hefty repair bill. If you love dark roasts, any machine that features an internal grinder is off-limits. The oily shine characteristic of dark roasts builds up in any grinder — but while you can disassemble and clean standalone grinders, this is rarely an option for internal ones. The residual oil left in an internal grinder will, at best, give future shots a rancid flavor. At worst, the oil will clog the grinder. If you want to brew dark roasts on the Breville, plan on buying a separate grinder.
“Strength, blend, decaf, cream, or sugar, there are many options when it comes to a cup of coffee. It seems every person has his or her own unique preferences to get them that perfect cup of joe. However, one factor that was often out of the home-coffee fan’s control was temperature. You either drank it at the temperature it came out of the coffee maker or you let it cool somewhat before sipping began. Cuisinart has aimed to turn that limitation on its head. This Cuisinart DCC-3650 adds a temperature control. It actually brews the coffee at one of three different user-defined temperatures. Impressive.”
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.
For all the debate over whether the best coffee comes from a Chemex or a French press or an AeroPress (even Nespresso), sometimes you just want to turn on a machine and let it do the work. We asked ten coffee drinkers — food-industry professionals and just plain coffee snobs — what’s the coffee machine that’ll get you a simple at-home brew without all the fuss?
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:
†Programmable Brew Time: Conventional wisdom frowns at grinding beans early and programming a pot to brew later. The aromatic compounds in coffee beans start to oxidize as quickly as 15 minutes after grinding, which causes coffee to start losing aroma and flavor. But Michael Ebert, senior consultant at Firedancer Coffee Consultants, LLC, assured us that, given the trade-offs for convenience, “grinding the night before will still make a great coffee — just not as great as it could be.” Seven of the 10 pots we tested are programmable, including three of our top picks (all but the Bonavita).
Treat yourself to a new coffee maker from our selection at Williams Sonoma and get those mornings off to a brighter start. Choose from ultra machines for the office to low-tech coffee makers for camp and off-grid activities. Coffee machines are available with and without a coffee mill so you can choose to have the convenience of grinding your beans right where you brew your favorite beverages. Deluxe coffee centers allow you to make coffee, espresso, cappuccino and other coffee-based beverages including latte, pepresso, and Irish coffee. Several versions of coffee-espresso makers include milk foaming technology for creamy toppings on your mochas and macchiatos. Deluxe coffee makers and machines are superb additions to galleries, offices, club meeting spaces and anywhere you need to make a lot of coffee fast.