A steam-driven unit operates by forcing water through the coffee by using steam or steam pressure. The first espresso machines were steam types, produced when a common boiler was piped to four group heads so that multiple types of coffee could be made at the same time. This design is still used today in lower-cost consumer machines, as it does not need to contain moving parts. Also, steam-driven machines do not produce as high of a pressure for extraction compared to pump-driven. This results in the crema, a hallmark of an espresso, being of lower quality.
The gist: This espresso maker by LavoHome comes with all the essentials: a glass carafe and cover, filter basket, and tamper. The little powerhouse boasts 800 watts of power and brews up to 20 ounces of rich espresso. In the mood for a latte or cappuccino instead? It also comes equipped with a powerful steamer to make all of your favorite coffeehouse beverages. The glass decanter comes with a cool-touch handle for safe and easy pouring once your brew is complete.
Picking up a bag of coffee beans from the roaster is a great way to make sure you have fresh beans. Because coffee gets damaged as it’s exposed to air, espresso connoisseurs recommend using beans within two weeks of their roast date. But you won’t want to use them the same day that they’ve been roasted — they need a few days to de-gas from the roasting process.
A grouphead (or group head) is the receiver for the removable portafilter (or group handle). A typical consumer espresso machine normally has only one grouphead, while popular professional machines, such as those used at commercial coffee shops, can contain anywhere from one to seven. During the process of extracting a shot of espresso, hot water is forced through the grouphead under pressure. The grouphead contains many holes (the shower) that attempt to distribute the pressurised water evenly over the surface of the grinds in the portafilter basket and thereby achieve an even cross sectional flow.
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.
“Strength, blend, decaf, cream, or sugar, there are many options when it comes to a cup of coffee. It seems every person has his or her own unique preferences to get them that perfect cup of joe. However, one factor that was often out of the home-coffee fan’s control was temperature. You either drank it at the temperature it came out of the coffee maker or you let it cool somewhat before sipping began. Cuisinart has aimed to turn that limitation on its head. This Cuisinart DCC-3650 adds a temperature control. It actually brews the coffee at one of three different user-defined temperatures. Impressive.”
Certified by the SCAA and SCAE, this coffee maker exceeds the stringent quality control guidelines set forth by international coffee organizations. The inventor of this coffee maker, Gerard C. Smit has dedicated his life to creating coffee makers that do away with planned obsolescence, ensuring that this model – and every following model – is long-lasting, reliable, and energy-efficient.
The gist: This machine is clearly a fan favorite, as it’s raked in over 2,400 reviews on Amazon, giving it an average of 4 out of 5 stars — with over 60% of users awarding it a perfect 5 star rating. The machine comes with a lot of bragging rights. Not only is it “Amazon’s Choice” for super-automatic espresso machines, it’s also their #1 best seller.
If all you’re looking for is a gorgeous cup of coffee and no fuss, we strongly recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS. It’s the smallest machine among our top picks and, at $190, the cheapest. Even better, it ranked in the top three out of 10 during our taste tests. It’s also the simplest and most straightforward: one button you click to start brewing, and that’s it. You can’t program brew times; you can’t play around with water temperature; and it even lacks some convenient touches like a brew basket that attaches to the machine (when you’re done brewing, you have to place the brew basket on a plate or in the sink before it makes a total mess). But it’s by far the fastest machine out of our top picks, brewing up a full eight-cup pot in under six minutes. It’s a straightforward, high-end coffee maker that leaves little to complain about.
It also automatically pre-infuses the coffee, allowing the grounds to vent their CO2 and “bloom.” Remember, only half of the machines we tested had this feature, and it proved to pay off in our taste tests. The four machines we recommend all pre-infuse. Only one coffee maker without it, the Hamilton Beach, performed well at all in our taste tests — but that guy was so cheap and flimsy, part of the brew basket broke during our testing. Sorry, Hamilton Beach.
The Gaggia Classic is a stylish old-school Italian espresso maker. It can pull a really delicious, creamy shot of espresso, but the machine does not have a PID—therefore its results aren't very consistent. While the machine is pretty, it doesn't have the well-thought design features of the Breville, like a sensor drip tray and a space for the tamper, nor does it come with a milk pitcher. Its plastic tamper is flimsy and won't effectively press down the espresso grounds. The Gaggia's steamer wand also doesn't consistently incorporate foam, and instead produces large bubbles on top.
Mr. Coffee doesn’t ask for the 15- to 30-minute boiler warmup like some big-name brands, instead taking just five to 10 minutes. This is ideal both for your morning coffee routine and your quick after-dinner latte or late-night hot chocolate. The machine also boasts a simple milk-steaming method that requires less work than our other picks: Prep your espresso, pour your milk into the milk reservoir, and you can press a button and walk away. Your latte or cappuccino will be ready in less than a minute. The foam quality is on the lower end, but you can customize how much of it you want.
Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
CR’s take: For $80, this Mr. Coffee 12-cup drip brewer is surprisingly stylish. Its airy design sets it apart from the blocky shapes common to the category. This model earns a rating of Very Good in CR’s brew-performance tests and makes a full pot in just 9 minutes. It offers brew-strength control, programming, and a permanent coffee filter. With its performance and striking appearance, you might not mind having it out on the counter—especially in a kitchen with a stainless fridge and range.