Why it's great: As much as we appreciate freshly ground coffee beans for our espresso, let's be honest: when you *accidentally* snooze your alarm (five times) in the morning and don't even have time to brush your hair, chances are the last think you're gonna think about doing is grinding some freakin' beans. This could be a problem if you're someone (like me) who can't function without a strong dose of caffeine in the morning. However, not a problem with Nespresso. This life-saver heats up in less than 15 seconds and gets you tasty espresso at the push of a button. You get your quick fix without sacrificing quality.
Espresso machines can be intimidating. We wanted something that did not require reading a novel-sized manual, watching a lot of YouTube videos, or reading tons of articles about espresso pulling. Yes, making espresso does require some learning for the home brewer. That's part of the fun, but the machine shouldn't be discouraging and impossible to use out of the box.
Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
Caffè Espresso translates to “pressed-out coffee.” It’s what happens when you force hot water through finely ground coffee beans. This brewing method is challenging to master, as slight variations in pressure and temperature can produce an extremely unpalatable shot. As such, the best espresso machine is forgiving to first-time owners, it extracts rich flavor from its beans, and it offers a complex balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.
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."
Once you choose your grind and pre-set your volume (single or double shot), the machine will take your beans from —well, beans — to espresso in less than a minute. It doesn't get much fresher than that. The BES870 also comes with four single and dual wall filter baskets, one stainless steel milk jug, a cleaning kit, and a precision raze dose trimming tool and PID digital temperature control. Depending on your level of expertise, you can either use the dual-wall pressurized filters (to control pressure and optimize extraction), or, for the more experienced baristas, try using the non-pressurized single-wall filters to play around and make the brew your own. This thing is the perfect tool for bringing quality espresso to aficionados at any level.
From there, it’s up to your personal preference. Arabica beans have a higher acidity, with notes of fruit and berries. Robusta beans are darker and richer, with more caffeine. Different levels of roasts — light, medium, dark — determine how much of the beans’ oils will break through the surface of the bean, which also affects acidity, flavor, and caffeine levels. “Get to know your local coffee expert,” recommends Awan. Nothing beats a conversation with a barista or local coffee roaster who can help you try different beans and roasts, and to experiment with those variables in real time. Finding your favorite is all part of the fun.
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.
The simplicity starts with its design: a single button with a scrolling dial underneath an LED interface. That button is the only one on the entire machine. With it, you set the time, set the water temperature, set how many cups you want brewed, and when you want the brewing to start. It takes a second to get the hang of it, but we were impressed with how intuitive it is — a stark contrast to a machine like the Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Coffee Brewer, which had so many extra pieces, it required constant consultation of the instruction manual.
Instead, our main concern was how well the wand incorporated air and steam into the mix for velvety, frothy texture. In our testing with our coffee expert, he pointed out that inferior steamer wands made giant air bubbles that quickly popped and only pumped air into the milk, without incorporating foam consistently throughout. So, we looked for a steamer wand that made consistent, well-incorporated foam.
Making the perfect espresso can be a labor of love, but not everyone who wants to drink espresso wants to do all that labor. Pod-based machines make it easier, but then you have fewer type of coffee to choose from. This machine solves both of those problems since it has adapters for most of the popular pods, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, K-Fee, or Verismo by Starbucks, and you can also use your own fresh ground coffee.
If you're ready to pull the trigger on buying an espresso machine, be prepared to shell out a little cash. Espresso machines can be wildly expensive. Rightfully so. Pulling a perfect shot requires precision: the machine must maintain both precise temperature and stable pressure throughout the brewing process. Achieving this stability is difficult and requires complex machinery, which is why you can find machines for upwards of 6,000 dollars.