The gist: Okay, so in case any connoisseurs out there have been reading this section and thinking "a portable espresso machine takes the art away from espresso-making," this one's for you. Flair claims that this model was the answer to their question "What is the minimum needed to brew a professional-level shot of espresso?" The resulting product is this single-lever machine that doesn't need pods or electricity. It pulls a quality shot at 8-16 bars of pressure, has a 60ml water capacity, and brews a single cup in 25-45 seconds. You can get it in either black or chrome colors.
Programmable coffee makers exist to make the brewing process as painless as possible. Outside of maybe grinding your coffee beans, the drip coffee system will use optimal water temperatures of around 205 degrees Fahrenheit or 96.11 degrees Celsius for maximum extraction of the ground coffee beans. The best automatic coffee maker will seamlessly reach this temperature within minutes of the brewing process.
‡Pre-Infusing: Pre-infusing is a technique where the dry coffee grounds are initially saturated with hot water, allowing a “bloom” of carbon dioxide to escape. This 45-second(ish) process puts hot water into contact with more surface area around each ground throughout the brewing process, as it’s no longer competing with the escaping gas bubbles. It can improve the quality of the final product, since this more uniform contact creates a more even extraction. It’s a feature that six of the 10 pots we tested incorporated into their designs — as well as all four of our top picks.
All the machines we tested came with either insulated carafes or glass pots with built-in warmers. Both have pros and cons. Glass pots are typically easier to clean because they tend to have wider mouths, and the lack of internal insulation means that glass pots will have a greater interior volume relative to its exterior volume — basically, it’s easier to get your hand or dish sponge into a glass pot. On the other hand, glass pots are more fragile and have to be heated from a base plate. In our tests, those base plates could even raise the temperature of the coffee, like with the CuisinArt, which can make coffee taste burnt.
Some machines use a single boiler kept at steaming temperature, but water for brewing is passed through a heat exchanger, taking some heat from the steam without rising to the same temperature. Although the water for brewing remains at a lower range than that required for steaming milk, it is still too hot for proper coffee extraction without first cooling; thus this type of machine requires a cooling flush of 4–6 seconds prior to the first espresso pull. Once the machine is dialed into the proper temperature, as many shots can be pulled as required without refreshing. However, if the user leaves the machine idle again for some period, the flushing process will need to be repeated. The HX variety is found in many mid-range machines and many users install thermometers to assist them is dialing in correct temperatures. There is some controversy as to the temperature stability of the brewing water, since it is indirectly converted from steaming temperature to brewing temperature, rather than kept at a brewing temperature.
The Breville's conical burr grinder, made of stainless steel, effortlessly grinds coffee beans and optimizes flavor extraction by maximizing the surface area of the grinds. A 54mm tamper ensures expert tamping control, and a hands-free grinding cradle leaves all the hard work to the machine. Our favorite features are the Breville's grind size/grind amount selector dials, which enable you to customize grinds from fine to coarse.
Why it's great: The Litchi is especially great for those looking to bring their simple espresso maker to the great outdoors, or anywhere else where you'll be lacking electricity. (Think camping trips and long hikes.) It's easy to use and also gives you the freedom to use your own coffee grounds rather than pre-packaged pods. It's also only 30 bucks, making it easily the most budget friendly on our list.
You might have heard that purchasing a double-boiler espresso machine or a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller will give you more accuracy and control over temperature. They’re definitely features to dig into for advanced espresso crafters, but expect to pay an additional $400 for a PID and $800+ for a second boiler. Since we wanted to focus on beginner machines, we stuck to single-boiler models without PID controllers for this review.
Regardless of whether you buy extra accessories, it's still very affordable, and you're really buying this machine for the espresso. The De'Longhi delivers in that regard. It's a 15 bar machine with a self-priming function, so you don't have to go through the hassle of prepping the machine. The 35oz water tank is removable for cleaning and it has a drip tray to catch spills. and a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler to ensure many years of delicious espresso.
To find espresso machines that perfect the balance between simple design, customizable settings, and delicious espresso, we began by compiling a list of machines recommended by espresso-centric websites like Clive Coffee and Seattle Coffee Gear. We were selective about which brands we chose, skipping the popular Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine after reading Home-Barista’s lukewarm review of it. We wanted machines that were both well-known and well-regarded. After looking at top sellers from Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, we also included the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. This addition drew the skepticism of the coffee experts we spoke with, but we couldn’t ignore its 1,700 Amazon reviews.
The monks thought the goat herder was a fool, and told him as much by throwing the beans in the fire. Sigh. Well, soon the enticing aroma of fresh roasted coffee was too much to ignore. The monks henceforth reversed their snubbing of coffee beans, scooped them out of the fire and threw them into some hot water. Then they drank the dark brew. Ta-da! The first cup of coffee! That was back in the year 850CE.
The Baratza Encore is simplicity defined and our top coffee grinder. This burr grinder has a 40-setting grind size selector, an on-off switch for continuous grinding, and a push-button for manual control. That's it. Other grinders include complicated timers, built-in scales, strength adjustment sliders, and other doodads, but Baratza suggests that you don't need them—and they're right. Measure your beans using a separate scale, grind them fresh for each cup. That's the way to do it.
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 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.
CR’s take: If you like the look of black stainless steel, you can add a hit of the trendy finish to your kitchen with the Bella Ultimate Elite Collection coffee maker. Appearance aside, this model brews a fresh pot in just 9 minutes and is graceful in action, earning strong ratings in our carafe handling tests. It offers programming, brew-strength control, a pause-and-serve feature, and auto-shutoff. Bella drip machines also received a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At about $50, this affordable, attractive option won’t disappoint.