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:
Because the coffee grounds remain in direct contact with the brewing water and the grounds are filtered from the water via a mesh instead of a paper filter, coffee brewed with the cafetiere captures more of the coffee's flavour and essential oils, which would become trapped in a traditional drip brew machine's paper filters. As with drip-brewed coffee, cafetiere coffee can be brewed to any strength by adjusting the amount of ground coffee which is brewed. If the used grounds remain in the drink after brewing, French pressed coffee left to stand can become "bitter", though this is an effect that many users of cafetiere consider beneficial. For a 1⁄2-litre (0.11 imp gal; 0.13 US gal) cafetiere, the contents are considered spoiled, by some reports, after around 20 minutes. Other approaches consider a brew period that may extend to hours as a method of superior production.
“On mornings when I don’t make a pour-over (weigh out the water, the beans, all that fun stuff), the Capresso drip machine yields the cleanest-tasting cup that brings out beans’ floral flavors, without burning the grinds or yielding an overly acidic cup. It’s also got a built-in, conical burr grinder, which saves you from having to buy a separate gadget, too.” — Kat Odell, author of Day Drinking
The OXO On 12-Cup feels high-tech without being high maintenance. It’s beautifully constructed, with silicone gaskets, a stainless steel carafe, and sturdy-feeling plastic. But let’s go ahead and get its biggest downside right out there in the open. Of the 10 machines we tested, it took the longest to brew eight cups of coffee — nearly 15 minutes. It heats its entire reservoir of water to temperature before a drop touches the grounds, and if you’re jonesing for a full pot to start off your day, that wait is going to feel like a lifetime. This was particularly noticeable considering four of the machines we tested brewed the same amount of coffee in less than half that time. The Bunn BTX-B Velocity Brew could do it in three minutes flat.
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.
It’s not that cone filters won’t make a great cup of coffee — the OXO On 9-Cup still ranked fifth out of 10 in our taste test. But flat bottoms generally allow for the grounds to be more evenly extracted and increase the coffee’s flavor. (It’s no coincidence our other three recommendations have flat-bottom brew baskets). You may have to do a little more tweaking to get this coffee maker’s brew to the best it can be, and that’s the other reason we like the 12-cupper more. This smaller version doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature.
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.
What Amazon users have to say: As you may expect, there are rave reviews for Nespresso. Users love the ease of making quality espresso with little to no effort or cleanup. The machine is energy and space-saving, and comes with top notch customer service should you need it. Amazon user LT was especially feelin' it, saying "If I could marry an appliance (is it legal?) I would spend the rest of my life with this espresso machine." We'll be sure to look into those marriage laws. In the meantime, here's more Inissia praise:
"I love this machine! I've been using my Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista for 9 months and it's still going strong. I mainly bought it because I was spending way to much getting coffee drinks like lattes and macchiatos at the coffeehouse. My favorite feature is the fact that it steams and froths the milk at the same time. You can also control the amount of froth that it makes which is an awesome feature. I also have a Mr. Coffee burr grinder Mr. Coffee BVMC-BMH23 Automatic Burr Mill Grinder, Black/Silver so that I am making the freshest coffee possible and I buy my coffee freshly roasted from a local company. The results are great!"
“This is simply an amazing machine. I have had NO trouble with it whatsoever. … The quality of the espresso is better than what I get out of the coffee shops — using their beans. It took me a long time to tune in the perfect cup of espresso/latte/cappuccino, and there are variables, but mostly in the beans you buy. I had to buy a decent burr grinder, but considering the investment in the machine, another $150 for a good burr grinder is nothing. I only run filtered water through the machine. I love this machine. I have poured over 2,500 shots through it. Not a single problem with the machine. Many mistakes by the operator, but I will take my espresso out of this machine before any store bought cup-o-Joe.”
The method for making coffee in a percolator had barely changed since its introduction in the early part of the 20th century. However, in 1970 General Foods Corporation introduced Max Pax, the first commercially available "ground coffee filter rings". The Max Pax filters were named so as to compliment General Foods' Maxwell House coffee brand. The Max Pax coffee filter rings were designed for use in percolators, and each ring contained a pre-measured amount of coffee grounds that were sealed in a self-contained paper filter. The sealed rings resembled the shape of a doughnut, and the small hole in the middle of the ring enabled the coffee filter ring to be placed in the metal percolator basket around the protruding convection (percolator) tube.
"A rare example of the meeting of form and function. This machine is both beautiful to look at and makes wonderful delicious espresso and cappuccino. I was hesitant to spend this much on a "coffee maker", but took into consideration what it costs to get a decent cappuccino from a cafe or Starbucks and finally gave in. Boy am I glad I did. All it takes to get me out of bed in the morning is the happy thought of pulling yet another delicious shot from this wonderful machine."
This testing was designed to highlight the difference in how each machine extracted its coffee grounds. Remember, extraction is tied to water temperature, how long the grounds had to steep, and how evenly that water is distributed in the brew basket. (Depending on how the machine distributes the water and the shape of the basket, any particular ground may or may not receive the same amount of time in contact with water — thus any individual grind may be over-extracted, under-extracted, or just right.) Properly extracted grounds would have a balance of notes and aromas, from slight hints of acid to a pleasant amount of bitterness.
So while yes, $150 (current price as I review this item) is a good chunk of change, I honestly believe it’s worth it. This is a high-quality machine that will hopefully last a very, very long time. The quality of the espresso is very good, and in the long run, it will save you the cost of espresso-based drinks at the coffee shop. It all evens out in the end! If you are considering buying this, my advice is to just do it. It’s worth it! Love love love!”
CR’s take: The Cuisinart Coffee on Demand is a self-serve model. It stores 12 cups of brewed coffee in a reservoir and has a dispenser instead of a carafe. It makes sense in homes where people are drinking coffee at different times; it keeps coffee hot and ready, so family and guests can fill their own cups. This model is programmable and features a water filter and a cleaning indicator. The reservoir can be removed for washing. In our tests, the Coffee on Demand performs quite well, receiving a Very Good rating for convenience. At less than $100, it can be a terrific choice for entertaining.