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:
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.
Great for active, busy lifestyles, it’s Great for active, busy lifestyles, it’s the BLACK+DECKER Personal Coffeemaker. It brews single Servings of your favorite coffee directly into the 16-oz. Travel mug, which fits most car cup, holders. The permanent grounds filter is compatible with coffee grounds and pre-packaged soft pods, and it’s easy to rinse clean in the sink. The one-touch operation quickly delivers the morning coffee you need, with a compact design that’s perfect for small...
For the cappuccino lover in the house, its patented system mixes steam and milk to create a rich froth. All you have to do is stick a container of milk under the nozzle and let it go to work. Then pour as much as that creamy goodness on top of your coffee as you like. For espresso aficionados, the patented "direct-to-brew" system is key. Remember what we said above about the burr grinder? The Magnifica also comes with a built-in burr, which grinds your favorite beans immediately before brewing for maximum freshness. (If you prefer, it also works with pre-ground beans.) The machine has an instant reheat function which keeps it at the perfect temperature, so you don't have to wait for your machine to reheat if you decide to go for that second cup (no matter how long you wait after the first.) The Magnifica has a 1.8 liter removable water container and a 7.1 ounce bean container. To keep things simple, everything happens at the push of a button: choose from five different espresso strengths, cup size, and determine the fineness of the grind.
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.
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.
“My boyfriend is a gadget nerd, and he bought the Bonavita 1900TS drip for us — it’s turned out to be pretty great. We had been using Chemex, but it’s hard to be patient in the morning! If you take the time you’d spend waiting for a pour-over and actually weigh the beans, then this baby is unbeatable. It tastes almost the same as the Chemex.” — Sara Conklin, owner, Glasserie
There’s also no way to adjust the temperature of the water on the Bonavita, or tinker with any of the other variables some of our other top picks gave access to. And that’s the other downside to this excellent machine: What you get is what you get, and if you do want to experiment with the flavor of your coffee, it will depend entirely on the beans you buy and the size you grind them to. Good thing the coffee it brews right out of the box is so dang good.
The Rocket’s espresso lever is an upgrade from the simple on/off button used by most of our models. By only moving the lever part way up, you can play around with pre-infusing your coffee grounds before pulling the shot. Pre-infusion can be fun to tinker with as you try to home in on what makes your perfect espresso. This gives the Rocket an additional level of customization not available on the other models we tested.
"This machine has turned me into a bonafide coffee snob. While it took some time to tweak all of the essential dimensions (water temp, grind size, coffee amount, draw time, basket type, etc.), I now make the most delectable coffee on earth because of this gorgeous contraption. It's the first thing I think about when my eyes open in the morning. I've ditched all of the other coffee-making paraphernalia in my kitchen (french press, grinders, baskets, pour-over devices, and others . . .) because they pale (literally) in comparison to the gold that comes out of this happy faucet. If my apartment goes up in flames and I have to escape quickly down the fire escape, my espresso machine is coming with me."
“I LOVE my Breville. I am a career barista. I have had this machine for almost a year now and waited to write a review until now so I wasn’t blinded by the initial excitement of purchasing a home espresso machine. I love to buy more expensive coffee from third-wave roasters, and this machine is so easy to dial in, I come away with professional shots almost every time. While this may be due to my experience in the shop, I will say that my husband is not a barista and picked up dialing in pretty fast using the Breville guides [that were] included. My only complaint is that the steaming wand is not the best. It takes a couple tries starting it up to get it going full blast some mornings, but I have always been able to achieve latte art. That is a very small complaint considering this machine is half the price of its competitors but still can create some awesome coffee. I’d highly recommend it for baristas on a budget.”
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.
We opted to look only at “entry level” machines — those billed as semi-automatic and super-automatic — meaning they do some of the work for you. Manual machines, the third type, allow for more personalization but require a much longer learning curve and aren’t typically a good fit for first-time users. We also skipped models that couldn’t steam milk, ensuring that the best espresso maker is also the best cappuccino maker.
CR’s take: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.