The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot. Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
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.
It’s obvious, but easy to forget: If you don’t clean out your coffee machine’s carafe after each use with soap and water, you’ll always end up tasting a little bit of yesterday’s now-bitter brew. Thermal carafes need to be hand-washed, but all the plastic components of our top picks — brew baskets, lids, etc. — are dishwasher-safe if you keep them on the top rack.
Finally, the design and extra tools that the Breville machine comes with are impeccable. It includes a large drip tray to catch spilled coffee and milk and has a sensor that lets you know when the tray is too full. It also has a compartment under the drip tray that allows you to store the extra filters the machine comes with. It includes a hefty, stainless steel milk steaming jug and a tamper for pressing the expresso grounds down. Other machines' tampers are made of flimsy plastic that left loose grounds around the sides of the portafilter, but the Breville tamper is made of thick, durable plastic and metal. It's strong enough to actually work well at compacting the grounds, plus it's perfectly sized to fit the entire circumference of the portafilter, reaching all of the grounds and not leaving loose stragglers. There's also a magnetic slot on the machine where you can house the tamper. It can be used while it's attached to the top of the machine, or taken down for more leverage—this is an impressive extra design feature, since the many parts required in making espresso can make for clutter.
With the Nespresso, you have a few options when it comes to brews: a single espresso, double espresso (2.7 ounces), a gran lungo (5 ounces), a regular 7.7-ounce coffee, or an alto coffee which is 14 ounces of caffeinated bliss. Nespresso models come with a complimentary gift, which means this machine comes with a 12 pack of various Nespresso capsules of all different flavors. And since this is a bundle deal, it also comes with the Aeroccino 3 milk frother.
“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.”
Whole bean coffee that you grind yourself is preferable to pre-ground, too. The bean’s exterior traps and protects all of the delicate, volatile, and water-soluble oils that give coffee its flavor. As soon as you break the protective shell, it’s easy for the flavor to get contaminated, and much of the aroma escapes as soon as the oils are exposed to air.
“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).”
*When you buy a machine with coffee credits you will receive a code with credits to buy coffee from curated roasters in the Spinn app. The credits will be uploaded in your account settings of the app. The credits allow for easy browsing and discovery of local and national coffee roasters. The credits will be used for automatically ordering when your Spinn machine is running low.
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.
The method for making coffee in a percolator had barely changed since its introduction in the early part of the 20th century. However, in 1970 General Foods Corporation introduced Max Pax, the first commercially available "ground coffee filter rings". The Max Pax filters were named so as to compliment General Foods' Maxwell House coffee brand. The Max Pax coffee filter rings were designed for use in percolators, and each ring contained a pre-measured amount of coffee grounds that were sealed in a self-contained paper filter. The sealed rings resembled the shape of a doughnut, and the small hole in the middle of the ring enabled the coffee filter ring to be placed in the metal percolator basket around the protruding convection (percolator) tube.
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.
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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:
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.
Moka pots, also known as stove top espresso makers, are similar to espresso machines in that they brew under pressure and the resulting brew shares some similarities, but in other respects differ. As such, their characterization as "espresso" machines is at times contentious, but due to their use of pressure and steam for brewing, comparable to all espresso prior to the 1948 Gaggia, they are accepted within broader uses of the term, but distinguished from standard modern espresso machines.