When you’re looking for an espresso maker, you have a few different options. Electric espresso makers are popular choices, and they make creating your own espresso drinks quick and easy. This type of machine feeds pressurized water through a series of tubes in the device, heats it up and then feeds it through compacted grounds. Most electric espresso machines include milk frothing wands, which use steam to create delicious foamy milk or cream that’s ideal for cappuccinos or lattes. Many machines are fully automatic, so there isn’t much of a learning curve involved. A few even include built-in coffee mills, offering fresh coffee with zero effort.
Let’s circle back to that extra-long brew time. There are two factors that didn’t make it an automatic “no” for us. The first is that the OXO On 12-Cup is programmable. Like our experts say, grinding coffee in advance isn’t going to make the most perfect cup of coffee. But the fact that you can program the machine’s “wake-up time” to start brewing and have coffee ready when you are takes the sting out of the wait.
Crave cappuccino? Love latte? You’re in luck: the PrimaDonna automatic espresso machine from De’Longhi can brew a range of milk-based beverages, complete with steamed or frothed milk. The adjustable automatic cappuccino system combines steam and milk to create the thickest, longest-lasting foam for your cappuccino. And it’s easy to adjust the levels to prepare a creamy latte.
Finally, the design and extra tools that the Breville machine comes with are impeccable. It includes a large drip tray to catch spilled coffee and milk and has a sensor that lets you know when the tray is too full. It also has a compartment under the drip tray that allows you to store the extra filters the machine comes with. It includes a hefty, stainless steel milk steaming jug and a tamper for pressing the expresso grounds down. Other machines' tampers are made of flimsy plastic that left loose grounds around the sides of the portafilter, but the Breville tamper is made of thick, durable plastic and metal. It's strong enough to actually work well at compacting the grounds, plus it's perfectly sized to fit the entire circumference of the portafilter, reaching all of the grounds and not leaving loose stragglers. There's also a magnetic slot on the machine where you can house the tamper. It can be used while it's attached to the top of the machine, or taken down for more leverage—this is an impressive extra design feature, since the many parts required in making espresso can make for clutter.
We tested 12 models by making shots of espresso and lattes on each machine. We enlisted the help of an expert from Students of Coffee, a group of coffee educators and roasters at New York University, to judge for quality. The majority of the models we tested were semi-automatic, meaning brewers still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semi-automatic espresso machines heat the water for you, and then pump it through the grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the machine. The semi-automatic models we tester were:
In recent years air-pump-driven espresso machines have emerged. These machines use compressed air to force the hot water through the coffee grounds. The hot water is typically added from a kettle or a thermo flask. The compressed air comes from either a hand-pump, N2 or CO2 cartridges or an electric compressor. One of the advantages of the air-pump-driven machines is that they are much smaller and lighter than electric machines. They are often handheld and portable. The first air-pump-driven machine was the AeroPress, which was invented by Alan Adler, an American inventor, and introduced in 2005. Handpresso Wild, invented by Nielsen Innovation SARL, a French innovation house, was introduced in 2007.
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.