Why it's great: Bialetti is a trusted name brand in the motherland of espresso: Italy. According to their page, you can find a Bialetti product in nine out of ten households in Italy. Point being: they know a thing or two about a quality machine. The Bialetti Stovetop is really nothing fancy. No electronics, no buttons to push. Just fill the bottom chamber with water, fill the second chamber with ground coffee beans, put it on the stove, and wait for the coffee to start coming out the top. Boom. The coffee is fresh and the machine maintenance is basically nothing.
As a coffee nut, coffee-shop lover, and former professional barista, I don’t normally make recommendations for home espresso equipment. Not because I don't want you to have delicious espresso at home, but because it takes a lot of practice and a lot of burned fingers to learn to make espresso well. Many people invest in an espresso machine like they invest in the exercise equipment that becomes a very expensive coat rack: If you're going to buy it and never use it, you're almost always better off going to the local café.
Some machines use a single boiler kept at steaming temperature, but water for brewing is passed through a heat exchanger, taking some heat from the steam without rising to the same temperature. Although the water for brewing remains at a lower range than that required for steaming milk, it is still too hot for proper coffee extraction without first cooling; thus this type of machine requires a cooling flush of 4–6 seconds prior to the first espresso pull. Once the machine is dialed into the proper temperature, as many shots can be pulled as required without refreshing. However, if the user leaves the machine idle again for some period, the flushing process will need to be repeated. The HX variety is found in many mid-range machines and many users install thermometers to assist them is dialing in correct temperatures. There is some controversy as to the temperature stability of the brewing water, since it is indirectly converted from steaming temperature to brewing temperature, rather than kept at a brewing temperature.
The OXO is SCAA-certified, so we knew going in that it would heat water to the right temperature range and let coffee brew for the right amount of time. But what really sold us on the OXO was how its scrolling dial made even that customizable. Assuming you want to bring the extraction down a touch for lighter, subtler coffee, you can lower the water temperature with a twist of the dial. Likewise, if you want a slightly more robust aroma from your brew, you can increase the water’s temp the same way.
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.
If you're highly particular about how your coffee tastes, you'll want the Behmor Brazen Plus. It was the only drip machine we tested that brewed at the optimal temperature to bring out the best flavor from coffee beans. Getting this perfect brew takes a little more time to set up than most coffee makers require— before starting, you have to calibrate it for the altitude in your area— but overall it's easy to use.
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.
This machine is extremely consistent and it brews an excellent espresso or cup of coffee. It also looks like Darth Vader manifested as a coffee machine: it's sleek and black and is definitely what our coffee makers will look like when we're all living on the moon. If your kitchen aesthetic is Space Chic, this machine is for you. It takes the joy and skill out of brewing your own espresso, but it works extremely well and is great for making an almost cafe-quality cup of coffee at home in no time and with very little effort.
"I've wanted an espresso machine for a while now but just don't have the room for it. I started researching the Nespresso line and wasn't sure how I'd like it at first. I am not usually a fan of pod style coffee machines and was worried about how well this would perform. I got the Pixie model because I don't have a big kitchen and this thing takes up barely any space on my counter. The water heats up quickly so in less than a minute you can have a cup of espresso. As other people have mentioned, it is kind of loud but it is only for a few seconds and doesn't seem to disturb anyone else in my house. The few seconds of noise is worth it for me to have a delicious latte a few minutes later. There is a little box that collects the pods (up to 10 I think) for easy disposal. I also feel like the Nespresso pods have a much better flavor that other pod coffee. If you want a quick espresso and don't have a lot of space for a machine then I highly recommend the Pixie. I am very happy with it and use it daily."
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.