If you’re shopping for coffee at the grocery store, “check the roast date, rather than the ‘best by’ date,” says Awan. With mass market roasters, the “best by” date can obfuscate the window in which coffee beans are at their best: about 4 days after roasting, when some, but not all, of the carbon dioxide has escaped from the beans. (Too much carbon dioxide captured within beans tends to create uneven extraction, as the gas escapes — this is what pre-infusing tries to counter. Conversely, too little carbon dioxide in the bean can lead to a loss of flavor.)
The next is the machine’s auto-pause. If you remove the carafe before your full pot is done brewing, the flow will stop until the carafe goes back in. It’s not a perfect system. There are a few inevitable drips that add an extra step to clean-up, and if the water is held up in the brew basket for too long, it increases the chance of over-extraction. But if you want a great first cup to sip on while the rest of your pot is brewing, you’ll get it in a much more satisfying time frame.
If you’re ready to drop serious money on a high-quality espresso machine that produces smooth, complex shots, our pick is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine. The machine lets you cycle quickly between steaming milk and pulling espresso: It uses a heat exchanger, rather than the more typical thermoblock, which means that the Rocket’s boiler heats all the way up to milk-steaming temperatures when you first turn it on. When you’re ready to pull shots, the heat-exchanger sends a burst of cool water through a copper tube in the boiler, bringing the temperature briefly back to espresso-friendly levels before heating back up.
It scored the highest in our out-of-the-box taste test, brewing coffee our tasters described as “light” with subtle notes of blueberry, citrus, cherry, tobacco, and hazelnut. The machine simply brews great coffee, and it takes its job seriously. If you’re interested in playing around with the flavor and extraction of your roast, the Behmor Brazen gives you more access to more variables. You can adjust water temperature, play with pre-infusion times (15 seconds to four minutes) — it even has you enter your altitude to better determine water’s boiling point, and calibrate its internal thermometer during setup.
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.
CR’s take: If you need only one or two cups of coffee each morning and you don’t want a pod coffee maker, consider the Technivorm Moccamaster Cup-One Brewer. Compact and clean-lined, it has a profile that makes some sense of its high price (it retails for more than $200), and it’s a superstar when it comes to reliability. Technivorm was one of only three drip machine brands to earn an Excellent rating for predicted reliability in our member survey. Our testers also give this machine a strong score for brew performance. This model has only one simple feature (auto-shutoff) and it’s not the easiest machine to use, but you can count on it to last.
Why it's great: A true espresso drinker knows that when it comes to espresso, there are a few things that can't be overlooked when it comes to a quality cup: freshness and a good grinding method. The burr grinder is a known Barista-favorite, as it maximizes the surface area of the grinds resulting in optimal flavor. The BES870 even allows you to adjust the grind and portion size, so you can go from fine to course depending on your desired flavor.
This is an easy-to-use coffee maker that'll add some retro style to your countertop. It includes a pause-and-pour feature for times when you need caffeine before the brewing process is done — and after brewing, it keeps your coffee piping hot for 40 minutes (you can monitor the length of time on the indicator gauge on the front display). Available in black, cream, white and red.
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.
It can take a little while to get to know the ins and outs of a new coffee maker. In CR’s labs, each drip coffee maker we test brews roughly 65 cups by the time our engineers are through with it. And brewing is just one of many aspects we look at. We test for handling and convenience, too, so you can choose a model that helps you sail through morning madness.