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:
The Hamilton Beach 12 Cup BrewStation coffee maker offers convenient one-hand dispensing without a conventional glass carafe. There's no pouring or spills, and nothing fragile to break and replace. No matter how much you try, it’s impossible to get freshly brewed flavor from coffee that’s been sitting on a hot plate too long. That’s why ion was created, the only coffeemaker that keeps coffee tasting fresh for up to four hours. This best-selling coffee maker works just like a traditional...
There’s a coffee machine for everyone in our stylish and modern range: with pause-and-serve functions, 24-hour timers and larger carafes for up to fourteen cups, our coffee machines can be used in a variety of settings, from your kitchen counter to your office area. The water level indicator means you can choose exactly how many cups to brew, so there’s no need for anybody to go without, and nothing is wasted.
‡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.
First, of all of the espresso machines we tested, the two Breville models are the only ones that contain the above-mentioned PID for extremely precise temperature control. This means that the machine consistently pulled a slightly-sweet, creamy shot of espresso. It had plenty of crema on top. Another reason this machine pulls such a consistently wonderful shot is that it maintains consistent pressure—where other machines made bitter, flat-tasting shots, the consistent pressure of the Breville machine meant the espresso was flavorful and delicious.
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
That said, it’s not as elegant to use as the OXO machines. (Nor is it as nice to look at. One tester described its tall, bulbous body and squat carafe as “UFO-like.”) Take its eight-button controls, for example, which you use to toggle among brew modes, scroll up and down within the menu, and engage a manual brewing feature. Programming it to start brewing at a certain time was about as intuitive as setting an alarm on a clock radio — easy enough, but more technical than sleek. OXO definitely feels like the future; Behmor is more, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.