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.
If tinkering is what you’re most excited about, we recommend the Behmor Brazen Plus Customizable Temperature Control Brew System. This is a drip machine that takes its job seriously. It performed the very best in our out-of-the-box taste testing, but still gives you the opportunity to play around with different variables, from water temperature to pre-infusion times. At around $200, it’s on-par with the OXO 9-Cup price-wise, but is definitely not as nice to look at or use, with a tall, bulbous body, squat carafe, and an eight-button programmable interface that reminded us of a digital alarm clock.
The point of getting a great machine is that it takes the fuss out of your coffee making — if you’re going to fiddle around so much, why not just get a Chemex? But our refrain throughout this entire review has been that a coffee maker is only one part of the good-cup equation. Some methodical experimentation could reveal a whole world of taste you never knew you could achieve.
Above all, good espresso requires precision. If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And even if you’re not holding out for the best coffee on the planet, the margin for error is still slim. To test the machines, we pulled shots following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines and paid attention to the following markers of success:
Expert reviewers and buyers alike love this espresso machine. BravoTV wrote a review explaining why it's worth the money even though it's pricey. Indeed, when you do the math to calculate just how much money you spend over the course of a year on espresso, cappuccinos, and other high-end coffee drinks, you'll see just how much money this admittedly expensive machine will save you in the long run.
Our bean-to-cup espresso machines are easy to clean, with front-accessible components and a removable water tank and drip tray for easy cleanup. Many of our machines also have indicators that remind you when it’s time to clean your espresso machine, so you don’t have to worry about a build-up of limescale putting strain on your machine. Our espresso machines are best cleaned using the De’Longhi descaling solution, which has been proven to be up to three times as effective as regular lime scale removers.
It’s not that cone filters won’t make a great cup of coffee — the OXO On 9-Cup still ranked fifth out of 10 in our taste test. But flat bottoms generally allow for the grounds to be more evenly extracted and increase the coffee’s flavor. (It’s no coincidence our other three recommendations have flat-bottom brew baskets). You may have to do a little more tweaking to get this coffee maker’s brew to the best it can be, and that’s the other reason we like the 12-cupper more. This smaller version doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature.
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No one wants to wait in line for espresso, right? This machine lets you make two shots at once, so you can make drinks for two in half the time, and you can choose a single- or double-shot portafilter for different serving sizes. The machine has a 15-bar pump system and a frothing arm to make a creamy froth for your cappuccinos and lattes. An indicator light lets you know when the process is complete.
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If you’re not one yourself, you definitely know one. Espresso, which originated in Italy, is a finely ground, highly concentrated version of coffee that packs a punch of caffeine into a single one-ounce shot (or two, if you’d like a double-shot), making it richer and stronger than a regular cup of coffee. People who drink espresso know that it’s all about quality, which means if you’re not getting your tiny cup of life from your local barista, you best do your research and invest in a worthy espresso machine to make it at home.
The tall tower is fixed on a rectangular base, with a water tank that looks something akin to a trapezoid. The hard plastic funnel allows your favorite paper filters to fit inside of it. It is recommended that you use type 4 paper filters, however. You also have the option to use permanent gold filters if you want to move away from reoccurring costs.
The OXO On 12-Cup feels high-tech without being high maintenance. It’s beautifully constructed, with silicone gaskets, a stainless steel carafe, and sturdy-feeling plastic. But let’s go ahead and get its biggest downside right out there in the open. Of the 10 machines we tested, it took the longest to brew eight cups of coffee — nearly 15 minutes. It heats its entire reservoir of water to temperature before a drop touches the grounds, and if you’re jonesing for a full pot to start off your day, that wait is going to feel like a lifetime. This was particularly noticeable considering four of the machines we tested brewed the same amount of coffee in less than half that time. The Bunn BTX-B Velocity Brew could do it in three minutes flat.
One of the many issues with other coffee makers is that the brewing process is inconsistent, with temperature fluctuations that can potentially affect the acidity, aroma, and final flavor of your beverage. The OXO On Barista Brain Coffee Maker is fixed with an intelligent microprocessor that monitors ambient temperatures throughout the brewing process.
“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.”
Making the perfect espresso can be a labor of love, but not everyone who wants to drink espresso wants to do all that labor. Pod-based machines make it easier, but then you have fewer type of coffee to choose from. This machine solves both of those problems since it has adapters for most of the popular pods, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, K-Fee, or Verismo by Starbucks, and you can also use your own fresh ground coffee.
The built-in burr grinder is high quality, and you can easily adjust the grind size and amount with a dial on the front of the machine. You can choose to use either a single- or double-wall filter basket, and the grinder will automatically adjust to give you the right about of coffee grounds for your brew. Reviewers love that it comes with the grinder and praise its quality.
Why it's great: With the exception of a few exterior differences, getting the Inissia is basically like getting the Pixie at a discounted price. Aside from the quality espresso, it comes with all the same Nespresso perks: The Nespresso welcome kit has 14 unique capsules and access to the Nespresso club. Through the Nespresso Club you can order capsules either online or by phone, as well as get personalized advice and technical support for your machine 24/7. Not too shabby for a tiny little machine of its price. For those who don't mind being a little less fancy with the exterior design, the Inissia is definitely a great option.
“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 Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.