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.
You can check out our best milk frothers here. Some of you will stick with the machine's frothing wand, but you'll still need a milk frothing pitcher, so we recommend this one from Rattleware. Should you want a better tamper, we recommend this one from Rattleware. To save money on the coffee grinder, you can try this manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you may pay more than $200 for it.
“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.”
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 single-serve or single-cup coffeemaker has gained popularity in recent years. Single-serve brewing systems let a certain amount of water heated at a precise temperature go through a coffee portion pack (or coffee pod), brewing a standardized cup of coffee into a recipient placed under the beverage outlet. A coffee portion pack has an air-tight seal to ensure product freshness. It contains a determined quantity of ground coffee and usually encloses an internal filter paper for optimal brewing results. The single-serve coffeemaker technology often allows the choice of cup size and brew strength, and delivers a cup of brewed coffee rapidly, usually at the touch of a button. Today, a variety of beverages are available for brewing with single-cup machines such as tea, hot chocolate and milk-based specialty beverages. Single-cup coffee machines are designed for both home and commercial use.
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.
Why it's great: The Magnifica is the lazy espresso aficionado's dream device. It's basically the same thing as having your local coffee shop barista make your drink for you, only you don't have to leave your house or worry about them spelling your name wrong on your cup. Since it's a super-automatic, it pretty much takes care of everything, from tamping, to grinding, to extracting. The only thing you really have to do is fill the containers and push a few buttons. There are so many great features on this thing, with the reheat function being a customer favorite. And the fact that it's able to remember your favorite drink settings? *Chef's kiss.*
Hand-tooled and bench-tested in Italy, this espresso maker looks, works, and performs like it belongs in a small coffee shop, despite fitting tidily on your kitchen counter. This machine is built to last 10 to 15 years; less expensive machines at best might survive the five-year mark, and some can’t be expected to reach three. We also loved the sheer quality of every part included with our Rocket. The heft metal tamp fits perfectly in the machine’s own portafilter baskets and improved the shot-making experience of other machines when we used it with theirs.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, although some coffee makers tended to uniformity of design (particularly stovetop percolators), others displayed a wide variety of styling differences. In particular, the vacuum brewer, which required two fully separate chambers joined in an hourglass configuration, seemed to inspire industrial designers. Interest in new designs for the vacuum brewer revived during the American Arts & Crafts movement with the introduction of "Silex" brand coffee makers, based on models developed by Massachusetts housewives Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton. Their use of Pyrex solved the problem of fragility and breakability that had made this type of machine commercially unattractive. During the 1930s, simple, clean forms, increasingly of metal, attracted positive attention from industrial designers heavily influenced by the functionalist imperative of the Bauhaus and Streamline movements. It was at this time that Sunbeam's sleek Coffeemaster vacuum brewer appeared, styled by the famous industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli. The popularity of glass and Pyrex globes temporarily revived during the Second World War, since aluminum, chrome, and other metals used in traditional coffee makers became restricted in availability.