The principle of a vacuum brewer was to heat water in a lower vessel until expansion forced the contents through a narrow tube into an upper vessel containing ground coffee. When the lower vessel was empty and sufficient brewing time had elapsed, the heat was removed and the resulting vacuum would draw the brewed coffee back through a strainer into the lower chamber, from which it could be decanted. The Bauhaus interpretation of this device can be seen in Gerhard Marcks' Sintrax coffee maker of 1925.
Thankfully we have Amazon, and moreover Amazon users (aka fellow espresso connoisseurs) who happen to be very vocal when it comes to their favorite machines. (We have read dozens of reviews and these folks are THOROUGH, to say the least.) To save you some time, we put together a list of the best espresso makers based on Amazon reviews. Our number one favorite was the Breville BES870XL. Not only does it take the spot of "best of the best" on Amazon's ranks page, its ease of use, freshness factor, and straight up *amazing* espresso-making capabilities have reviewers swooning.
Moka pots, also known as stove top espresso makers, are similar to espresso machines in that they brew under pressure and the resulting brew shares some similarities, but in other respects differ. As such, their characterization as "espresso" machines is at times contentious, but due to their use of pressure and steam for brewing, comparable to all espresso prior to the 1948 Gaggia, they are accepted within broader uses of the term, but distinguished from standard modern espresso machines.
Although it's very easy to use — you just fill the portafilter with grounds, attach it to the machine, and press the button to start — The Gaggia Classic isn't as flexible or intuitive as the Breville Barista Express. The user manual is less detailed, too, so you have to have a basic idea of what you're doing or browse the internet for tips. The machine has a one-year warranty if you run into problems.
The Moccamaster isn't for everyone. Handmade in the Netherlands, it costs around $300—and would never win an award for value. It lacks a programmable timer, and it was also bit more difficult to set up than the rest of the coffee makers—in fact most were ready to go right out of the box. But a quick look at the instruction diagram should clear up any confusion, and the end result is well worth the effort.
CR’s take: For $80, this Mr. Coffee 12-cup drip brewer is surprisingly stylish. Its airy design sets it apart from the blocky shapes common to the category. This model earns a rating of Very Good in CR’s brew-performance tests and makes a full pot in just 9 minutes. It offers brew-strength control, programming, and a permanent coffee filter. With its performance and striking appearance, you might not mind having it out on the counter—especially in a kitchen with a stainless fridge and range.
Made in Italy by a company that has been manufacturing coffee makers for over 80 years, this espresso maker takes less than five minutes to produce up to 3 demitasses (2 ounces) cups of espresso. It is made from polished aluminum in a classic octagon shape that will look good on your stove or table, while the shape also helps to diffuse heat perfectly. It has a patented safety valve for protection and is easy to disassemble for cleaning.
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.
First, of all of the espresso machines we tested, the two Breville models are the only ones that contain the above-mentioned PID for extremely precise temperature control. This means that the machine consistently pulled a slightly-sweet, creamy shot of espresso. It had plenty of crema on top. Another reason this machine pulls such a consistently wonderful shot is that it maintains consistent pressure—where other machines made bitter, flat-tasting shots, the consistent pressure of the Breville machine meant the espresso was flavorful and delicious.
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.