From there, it’s up to your personal preference. Arabica beans have a higher acidity, with notes of fruit and berries. Robusta beans are darker and richer, with more caffeine. Different levels of roasts — light, medium, dark — determine how much of the beans’ oils will break through the surface of the bean, which also affects acidity, flavor, and caffeine levels. “Get to know your local coffee expert,” recommends Awan. Nothing beats a conversation with a barista or local coffee roaster who can help you try different beans and roasts, and to experiment with those variables in real time. Finding your favorite is all part of the fun.
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.
Coffee makers are part of a morning ritual, the first touch point to help you greet the day. And finding the best coffee maker for you can depend on a lot of factors, like the amount of coffee it makes, the way you fill it with water, or what type of coffee you plan on making. Whether you're looking for a coffee maker that makes a single cup or a coffee maker to make enough coffee for family and friends (or even a crowd!), our collection of coffee makers have the perfect design, size and features to fit your coffee brewing needs.
CR’s take: For $80, this Mr. Coffee 12-cup drip brewer is surprisingly stylish. Its airy design sets it apart from the blocky shapes common to the category. This model earns a rating of Very Good in CR’s brew-performance tests and makes a full pot in just 9 minutes. It offers brew-strength control, programming, and a permanent coffee filter. With its performance and striking appearance, you might not mind having it out on the counter—especially in a kitchen with a stainless fridge and range.
Since semi-automatic espresso makers require you to dose the coffee yourself, grind and pack it, they give the brewer more control. You can tinker and master the art of making espresso. You can learn to pull the perfect shot. Still, fully automatic machines are a good option for someone who wants quality espresso at home, but wants to put in less effort (and skill). According to our expert from Students of Coffee—and our own online research—a semi-automatic machine is the best way to make espresso.
A good grinder: An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
To find espresso machines that perfect the balance between simple design, customizable settings, and delicious espresso, we began by compiling a list of machines recommended by espresso-centric websites like Clive Coffee and Seattle Coffee Gear. We were selective about which brands we chose, skipping the popular Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine after reading Home-Barista’s lukewarm review of it. We wanted machines that were both well-known and well-regarded. After looking at top sellers from Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, we also included the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. This addition drew the skepticism of the coffee experts we spoke with, but we couldn’t ignore its 1,700 Amazon reviews.
In the semi-automatic machine, water pressure and temperature must be stable and consistent, and according to our expert, the pressure shouldn't be too high. Typically, coffee is brewed at a pressure of about 10 bars, and an ideal water temperature is around 195 degrees. Generally, the more expensive the machine, the better the equipment inside that regulates these two factors. High-quality machines tend to have a mechanism called a PID, or proportional-integral-derivative, controller. The PID's function is to maintain constant water temperature with extreme accuracy, down to the degree. Two central problems plaguing inexpensive espresso machines is that they lack a PID, meaning the temperature of the brewing water can fluctuate up and down and yield inconsistent results. Inexpensive machines often advertise that they have 15 or 20 bars of pressure as a selling point. But, higher pressure is not the priority, and too much pressure can actually lead to over-extraction and bitterness in your espresso shot. Therefore, we looked for a machine with good temperature and pressure control.
The Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it's a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.
Tamp: To ensure the espresso is evenly packed, your machine comes with a tamp, which you’ll press into the basket against the grounds. This step is important: When you pull a shot, the water will go to the place of least resistance, avoiding densely packed areas. This denser espresso won’t be properly saturated, making it under-extracted and sour, while the looser espresso will be over-extracted and bitter.
A drip coffee system is far superior to an instant coffee maker. For some, the smoother, less intense taste and aroma of a drip coffee system is a lot more palatable than the bitter coffee that tends to be produced by a French press. Not only that, but a drip coffee system is versatile – you can ground up your coffee beans to use in your system, and you can also buy premade blends.
The machine itself is large, but not as monstrous as some of the other grinders I tested. It's also very bottom-heavy, which makes it feel more durable than other machines and means it won't rattle all over your counter while grinding. The heavy-duty translucent plastic collection cup generates less static cling than the glossy clear plastic cups I tested, and the chute that connects the burrs to the cup collects less debris than other models. Cleaning is simple: Just remove the top burr and use the included wire brush to remove residual grounds.
CR’s take: If you like the look of black stainless steel, you can add a hit of the trendy finish to your kitchen with the Bella Ultimate Elite Collection coffee maker. Appearance aside, this model brews a fresh pot in just 9 minutes and is graceful in action, earning strong ratings in our carafe handling tests. It offers programming, brew-strength control, a pause-and-serve feature, and auto-shutoff. Bella drip machines also received a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At about $50, this affordable, attractive option won’t disappoint.