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.
The monks thought the goat herder was a fool, and told him as much by throwing the beans in the fire. Sigh. Well, soon the enticing aroma of fresh roasted coffee was too much to ignore. The monks henceforth reversed their snubbing of coffee beans, scooped them out of the fire and threw them into some hot water. Then they drank the dark brew. Ta-da! The first cup of coffee! That was back in the year 850CE.
The Breville machine was also the only semi-automatic model to produce a velvety, well-incorporated foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models, including the Gaggia and all of the less expensive machines).
We wanted to find the best espresso machine available to home brewers for less than $1,000. At this comparatively low price point, we hoped to find a machine that could pull a shot that—if not as high-quality as one served at a prized Italian cafe or as high-dollar as a Brooklyn coffee shop's—would have nuanced flavor, the right amount of brightness and acidity, and very little bitterness.
"I have used this machine for about a week, and it is awesome! I had used an espresso machine frequently years ago, but got sick of the grinding, prepping, priming, etc., especially before work in the morning. So, I eventually gave up and bought a plain-ole coffee maker. Unfortunately, "regular" coffee, to me, tastes like hot water. I even tried a Kuerig, but returned it within a month - it was more convenient, but the coffees are no higher quality than any grocery-store brand coffee. So I debated for a long time about whether I should wait for one of these brand-new Nespresso Vertuoline machines, or just buy one of the older, espresso-only Nespresso machines.
"This machine has turned me into a bonafide coffee snob. While it took some time to tweak all of the essential dimensions (water temp, grind size, coffee amount, draw time, basket type, etc.), I now make the most delectable coffee on earth because of this gorgeous contraption. It's the first thing I think about when my eyes open in the morning. I've ditched all of the other coffee-making paraphernalia in my kitchen (french press, grinders, baskets, pour-over devices, and others . . .) because they pale (literally) in comparison to the gold that comes out of this happy faucet. If my apartment goes up in flames and I have to escape quickly down the fire escape, my espresso machine is coming with me."
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Business Insider's Insider Picks team. We aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting, and if you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at email@example.com.
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.
Dual-boiler espresso systems are undoubtedly the gold standard for home or commercial equipment: They allow the machine to maintain the optimum temperature for simultaneously brewing espresso coffee (195–205 degrees Fahrenheit) as well as for creating steam (closer to 250 degrees Fahrenheit), which means no waiting around, watching your crema disappear while you wait to steam milk. The Breville also has programmable options for softly pre-infusing the coffee, and has a control valve that monitors extraction pressure—two things most home machines don't feature. If espresso is your go-to coffee every day, this is the machine for you.
Hand-tooled and bench-tested in Italy, this espresso maker looks, works, and performs like it belongs in a small coffee shop, despite fitting tidily on your kitchen counter. This machine is built to last 10 to 15 years; less expensive machines at best might survive the five-year mark, and some can’t be expected to reach three. We also loved the sheer quality of every part included with our Rocket. The heft metal tamp fits perfectly in the machine’s own portafilter baskets and improved the shot-making experience of other machines when we used it with theirs.
*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.
"Oh my goodness! I never knew such a thing existed. This tiny espresso maker makes great espressos! I have taken this to work with me and everyone is jealous. I mean everyone is jealous for real. I think I even persuaded some of my colleagues to buy one themselves! How funny is that? It's so easy to use. I usually use hot water to begin with and I don't bother with getting it to heat my water for me because that just takes a little bit too long. Holding the button for more than 5 seconds will activate the pressurized pumping gear. It is all electronic so you don't have to make any difficult pumping like in some other smaller products. The coffee comes out just as good as any espresso you can make. And the pods are crazy cheap. I found pods that are literally $0.10 each."
Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.