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.
Once you start brewing, it makes a really, really good pot of coffee. Our taste test revealed the OXO On 12-Cup coffee was “dark and strong” and appealed to the more traditionalist coffee palates. The great flavor comes from the brewing process. The OXO machines have wide shower heads with multiple ports through which water streams, dispersing it evenly throughout the brew basket. Lots of other coffee makers spout water through just one hole, or through shower heads with a smaller radius, which can increase the chances of uneven extraction.
“We really love this machine because we love great coffee, but we don’t make frothy milk drinks. This machine produces very, very good coffee from scratch at the push of a button, automatically grinding the beans pumping through hot water, and dumping out the “puck” of coffee grounds into the internal bin. It’s a nice compact size, and fits easily on a counter under the cabinets.”
If your busy life keeps you from making coffee by hand, you can also consider a capsule machine such as a Nespresso coffee maker. These machines use small capsules or pods of coffee, so you don’t have to worry about measuring grounds and adding them to your device. Simply add a capsule, fill up the reservoir and press the On button. If you’re more of a traditionalist, a stovetop espresso maker might be the right option for you. This type of maker uses your stove to heat up water, which then steams up and passes through a capsule of grounds above the reservoir. The steamy espresso then collects in an upper reservoir at the top of the maker. These espresso makers are very popular in Europe and require no electricity to function.
The next is the machine’s auto-pause. If you remove the carafe before your full pot is done brewing, the flow will stop until the carafe goes back in. It’s not a perfect system. There are a few inevitable drips that add an extra step to clean-up, and if the water is held up in the brew basket for too long, it increases the chance of over-extraction. But if you want a great first cup to sip on while the rest of your pot is brewing, you’ll get it in a much more satisfying time frame.
An espresso machine brews coffee by forcing pressurized water near boiling point through a "puck" of ground coffee and a filter in order to produce a thick, concentrated coffee called espresso. The first machine for making espresso was built and patented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy. An improved design was patented on April 28, 1903, by Luigi Bezzera. The founder of the La Pavoni company bought the patent and from 1905 produced espresso machines commercially on a small scale in Milan. Multiple machine designs have been created to produce espresso. Several machines share some common elements, such as a grouphead and a portafilter. An espresso machine may also have a steam wand which is used to steam and froth liquids (such as milk) for coffee drinks such as cappuccino and caffe latte.
“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.”
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.
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."
This Good Housekeeping Seal star features an all-black body, a 12-cup glass carafe, a reusable filter and a backlit LCD screen with digital touchpad controls. You can program the clock to automatically brew coffee in the morning. It'll make a hot pot very quickly, but drink up — the keep warm feature didn't keep the coffee as warm as other models in our tests.
Semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder.
There’s also no way to adjust the temperature of the water on the Bonavita, or tinker with any of the other variables some of our other top picks gave access to. And that’s the other downside to this excellent machine: What you get is what you get, and if you do want to experiment with the flavor of your coffee, it will depend entirely on the beans you buy and the size you grind them to. Good thing the coffee it brews right out of the box is so dang good.
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 gist: Okay, so in case any connoisseurs out there have been reading this section and thinking "a portable espresso machine takes the art away from espresso-making," this one's for you. Flair claims that this model was the answer to their question "What is the minimum needed to brew a professional-level shot of espresso?" The resulting product is this single-lever machine that doesn't need pods or electricity. It pulls a quality shot at 8-16 bars of pressure, has a 60ml water capacity, and brews a single cup in 25-45 seconds. You can get it in either black or chrome colors.
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If you’re ready to drop serious money on a high-quality espresso machine that produces smooth, complex shots, our pick is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine. The machine lets you cycle quickly between steaming milk and pulling espresso: It uses a heat exchanger, rather than the more typical thermoblock, which means that the Rocket’s boiler heats all the way up to milk-steaming temperatures when you first turn it on. When you’re ready to pull shots, the heat-exchanger sends a burst of cool water through a copper tube in the boiler, bringing the temperature briefly back to espresso-friendly levels before heating back up.
“I LOVE my Breville. I am a career barista. I have had this machine for almost a year now and waited to write a review until now so I wasn’t blinded by the initial excitement of purchasing a home espresso machine. I love to buy more expensive coffee from third-wave roasters, and this machine is so easy to dial in, I come away with professional shots almost every time. While this may be due to my experience in the shop, I will say that my husband is not a barista and picked up dialing in pretty fast using the Breville guides [that were] included. My only complaint is that the steaming wand is not the best. It takes a couple tries starting it up to get it going full blast some mornings, but I have always been able to achieve latte art. That is a very small complaint considering this machine is half the price of its competitors but still can create some awesome coffee. I’d highly recommend it for baristas on a budget.”
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.
“I purchased the machine for myself as a birthday present, and I’ve had it for about six weeks. We have a Pavoni espresso machine, which my husband loves for his espressos, but I think it’s a pain for making lattes: grinding the beans, tamping down the pod, ‘pulling’ the lever (which will be really hard if you tamp it too densely), steaming the milk, and then cleaning the steaming wand, not to mention what a pain it is to refill the water chamber (turn off, wait till pressure is gone, then you can refill). Why am I listing all of these steps? Because that’s what you don’t have to worry about with the Lattissima! Here are my steps now: Turn on the machine, get the milk container out of the fridge and plug it into the front, put an espresso capsule in the top, stick a mug under the spout, and push the Latte button. Done. You do need to clean the frother, which is just putting another cup under the spout, turn the milk to “clean” and let it clean, then you can remove the milk container and stick it in the fridge. I clean the milk container once a week, soaking all the pieces in a bowl of hot, soapy water for a few hours.”
The gist: The Nespresso Inissia is very similar to the Pixie. It also comes with one-touch options for either a single espresso or lungo cup size. It pumps with 19 bars of pressure and also heats up in less than 25 seconds. With over 2,500 reviews, it stands out with a 4.4 star rating on Amazon. The Inissia has more or less the same internal workings as the Pixie (including the 0.7 liter water tank), so the quality of espresso produced should be pretty identical. The difference: unlike the Pixie, which is made of metal, the Inissia's exterior is mostly plastic and has a slightly funkier design. However the Inissia comes in several colors, including red, black, silver, and titan.
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It can take a little while to get to know the ins and outs of a new coffee maker. In CR’s labs, each drip coffee maker we test brews roughly 65 cups by the time our engineers are through with it. And brewing is just one of many aspects we look at. We test for handling and convenience, too, so you can choose a model that helps you sail through morning madness.