We opted to look only at “entry level” machines — those billed as semi-automatic and super-automatic — meaning they do some of the work for you. Manual machines, the third type, allow for more personalization but require a much longer learning curve and aren’t typically a good fit for first-time users. We also skipped models that couldn’t steam milk, ensuring that the best espresso maker is also the best cappuccino maker.
These machines automatically grind the coffee, tamp it, and extract the espresso shot. The operator only has to fill the bean hopper and, if the machine is not connected to a water line, add water to a reservoir. Some models contain an automated milk frothing and dispensing device. Super-automatic machines take away the ability to manually tamp and grind the coffee, which may affect the quality of the espresso.
For the first time in the entire history of coffee, finally, in 1906, people could enjoy coffee made expressly for them: espresso. (I told you I would get back to this). And, while rumor has it the first espresso tasted pretty bad - watery and bitter, they say - the Italians stuck with it, perfecting it, marketing it, teaching people how to enjoy it.
The gist: The Cisno is the perfect way to enjoy good espresso on the go and takes the spot as Amazon's Choice for portable espresso makers with 4.5/5 stars. This little guy is small enough to fit in a cup holder, yet pumps at 15 bars of pressure, powered by a rechargeable lithium battery. All you need are Originaline Nespresso capsules and some water. The process is super simple: Insert the Nespresso capsule, pour water into the 50ml water cavity, push the one big button on the Cisno, and boom— automatically pump and enjoy you cup of espresso. Tryna stay fancy? You still have the option of using your own coffee grounds if you get reusable stainless steel capsules.
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.
Most people who have this in their homes are happy with it thanks to how easy it is to use and how delicious the coffee comes out. One person said they didn’t know how they managed without it. Some people did have issues with it breaking sooner than they would have liked, but they majority of those who own it were satisfied with the quality of the product.
“Last night was a perfect test of the single-cup concept. I had already programmed and prepped my 3 a.m. standard coffee brew, however, I still wanted a cup of coffee. I switched over to the single cup and brewed my cup, then switched back and pressed the program button to ensure it would still brew the main pot at 3 a.m. Worked like a charm!! Before, I would have had to brew the entire eight cups that were ready, toss out most of it, and set up my morning brew all over again.”
I have to say that I'm very happy that I waited for this one! The espresso is excellent, the drinks have all been hot (even when adding milk from the Aeroccino), the whole spinning process takes about 15 seconds (or less) to pour into the cup, and - most surprisingly - the new coffee-sized cartridges are AWESOME! They taste NOTHING like regular, ground grocery-store coffee-in-a-can. They are much more flavorful, much stronger, and seem fresher even than using whole coffee with a grinder (maybe it's from being sealed in the aluminum cartridges?)."
While we love the all-inclusive features of the Breville, there’s one thing it can’t do on its own, at least not without a hefty repair bill. If you love dark roasts, any machine that features an internal grinder is off-limits. The oily shine characteristic of dark roasts builds up in any grinder — but while you can disassemble and clean standalone grinders, this is rarely an option for internal ones. The residual oil left in an internal grinder will, at best, give future shots a rancid flavor. At worst, the oil will clog the grinder. If you want to brew dark roasts on the Breville, plan on buying a separate grinder.
As for the seller: when the unit was originally delivered the steam wand wasn't performing well. After following the typical trouble-shooting tips and conferring with the seller, we found the unit was simply unable to produce enough pressure to steam or properly brew. Within a week the seller had replaced the unit, and I'm happy to report it works perfectly. No matter the production value there is always a possibility of a defect here or there. The seller standing by the product and immediately replacing it to our satisfaction really sealed the deal for us. I highly recommend both this product and the seller from whom we purchased it."
The gist: Taking the first spot on our list is the Breville BES870XL. This machine is no joke and its 4.3 star Amazon rating from over 1,800 reviews speaks to that. It boasts a 15 bar Italian pump and a 1600 watt thermo coil heating system. It comes with a 54mm tamper, a stainless steel conical burr grinder, and a 2-liter removable water tank. It's available in three colors: black, red, and silver.
Our brew-performance tests measure the brew temperature and contact time (how long water stays within a sweet spot of 195° to 205° F for brewing). We measure concentration using a refractometer, a device that measures the amount of coffee dissolved in each brew. Our convenience tests look at how easy it is to set timers, fill the reservoir, clean the machine, and more. And for the first time, we’re incorporating predicted reliability and owner satisfaction ratings into the new Overall Score for each model. We determine these ratings for each drip coffee maker brand using survey data collected from thousands of CR members.