Espresso machines can be intimidating. We wanted something that did not require reading a novel-sized manual, watching a lot of YouTube videos, or reading tons of articles about espresso pulling. Yes, making espresso does require some learning for the home brewer. That's part of the fun, but the machine shouldn't be discouraging and impossible to use out of the box.
†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).
The Bonavita Coffee Brewer performs stellar when it comes to coffee drip brewing, easily outpacing more expensive coffee makers. It'll take about six minutes to create 44 ounces of coffee. Brisk brewing has caught the attention of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, since it's threshold for recognition is a brewing time of fewer than eight minutes.
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.
“What I REALLY like about it is that it’s pretty much an all-in-one system without the thousand-dollar-plus all-in-one cost. I push one button and all the magic happens, and it’s quite entertaining to watch the espresso cascade through the milk and create separate layers. I also like that I can take the milk and store it in my fridge. I’ve done some temperature tests, and only noticed a five-degree increase after making a double latte, before I put it back in the fridge. This is nice, as you would think that to be so close to all that heat, it would be a much bigger temperature fluctuation.”
“This little espresso maker is just awesome! It is fun to use and always makes a great cup of espresso. I’ve used it to make macchiatos, affogatos, and as a espresso shot to my coffee. The simplicity of this stovetop espresso maker is amazing. You won’t get as much crema as you would with an espresso machine but the aroma and taste are unmatched. I’ve had the three-cup model for a few months now, and I use it often. I’ve had no problems with it at all. After it use I just rinse it with warm water and let it air dry.”
The Moccamaster isn't for everyone. Handmade in the Netherlands, it costs around $300—and would never win an award for value. It lacks a programmable timer, and it was also bit more difficult to set up than the rest of the coffee makers—in fact most were ready to go right out of the box. But a quick look at the instruction diagram should clear up any confusion, and the end result is well worth the effort.
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.
For hundreds of years, making a cup of coffee was a simple process. Roasted and ground coffee beans were placed in a pot or pan, to which hot water was added, followed by attachment of a lid to commence the infusion process. Pots were designed specifically for brewing coffee, all with the purpose of trying to trap the coffee grounds before the coffee is poured. Typical designs feature a pot with a flat expanded bottom to catch sinking grounds and a sharp pour spout that traps the floating grinds. Other designs feature a wide bulge in the middle of the pot to catch grounds when coffee is poured.
*SCAA Certified: A Specialty Coffee Association of America certification indicates the machine can heat water to a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit and ensures that hot water will be in contact with coffee grounds for no less than four and no greater than eight minutes. It’s a solid confirmation of quality. But according to Joseph Rivera, a research coffee scientist at coffeechemistry.com, not every manufacturer chooses to submit their coffee makers for SCAA certification, and there are definitely great drip coffee makers out there without its stamp of approval. Six of the 10 coffee makers we tested are SCAA-certified — including all four of our top picks.
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.
The first machine for making espresso was built and patented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy, who demonstrated a working example at the Turin General Exposition of 1884. He was granted patent no. 33/256 dated 16 May 1884 (according to the "Bollettino delle privative industriali del Regno d'Italia", 2nd Series, Volume 15, Year 1884, pages 635 – 655). A certificate of industrial title was awarded to Mr. Moriondo Angelo, of Turin, for an invention called "New steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage, method 'A. Moriondo', Plate CXL".
“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.”
The Breville's conical burr grinder, made of stainless steel, effortlessly grinds coffee beans and optimizes flavor extraction by maximizing the surface area of the grinds. A 54mm tamper ensures expert tamping control, and a hands-free grinding cradle leaves all the hard work to the machine. Our favorite features are the Breville's grind size/grind amount selector dials, which enable you to customize grinds from fine to coarse.
Crave cappuccino? Love latte? You’re in luck: the PrimaDonna automatic espresso machine from De’Longhi can brew a range of milk-based beverages, complete with steamed or frothed milk. The adjustable automatic cappuccino system combines steam and milk to create the thickest, longest-lasting foam for your cappuccino. And it’s easy to adjust the levels to prepare a creamy latte.
Pierce's design was later improved by U.S. appliance engineers Ivar Jepson, Ludvik Koci, and Eric Bylund of Sunbeam in the late 1930s. They altered the heating chamber and eliminated the recessed well which was hard to clean. They also made several improvements to the filtering mechanism. Their improved design of plated metals, styled by industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli, became the famous Sunbeam Coffeemaster line of automated vacuum coffee makers (Models C-20, C-30, C40, and C-50). The Coffeemaster vacuum brewer was sold in large numbers in the United States during the years immediately following World War I.
For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and the amount of espresso. The user manual walks you through every step of the brewing process, and altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Our shots were beautifully layered and gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
An early variant technique, called a balance siphon, was to have the two chambers arranged side-by-side on a sort of scale-like device, with a counterweight attached opposite the initial (or heating) chamber. Once the near-boiling water was forced from the heating chamber into the brewing one, the counterweight was activated, causing a spring-loaded snuffer to come down over the flame, thus turning "off" the heat, and allowing the cooled water to return to the original chamber. In this way, a sort of primitive 'automatic' brewing method was achieved.
The principle of a vacuum brewer was to heat water in a lower vessel until expansion forced the contents through a narrow tube into an upper vessel containing ground coffee. When the lower vessel was empty and sufficient brewing time had elapsed, the heat was removed and the resulting vacuum would draw the brewed coffee back through a strainer into the lower chamber, from which it could be decanted. The Bauhaus interpretation of this device can be seen in Gerhard Marcks' Sintrax coffee maker of 1925.
“My absolute love of the DeLonghi Magnifica ESAM3300 is hard to describe. It has been a faithful, crema-steeped friend and morning ritual for at least eight years, and the current unit I bought as a replacement last week (another ESAM3300) is a testament to why I give this well-built Italian stallion and ‘super automatic’ espresso dream machine a SOLID five-star rating. With very few adjustments and some good Italian or locally roasted whole beans, the Magnifica consistently puts out shot after shot of delicious espresso that will FAR exceed anything you could get at most coffee shops. I always use many of the yummy Lavazza beans, including the Super Crema, Gold Selection, and others that work really well with this machine. The Illy beans are also a nice pairing for this superb machine. The key is, you want nonoily and fairly dry beans (as other reviewers have said here already).”
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