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.
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.
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Clean the inside of your machine by running water through it. Each machine will have a slightly different process, and some manufacturers provide tips and suggestions in user manuals. CoffeeLounge and other suggest mixing 2 oz. of vinegar in 20 oz. of water every now and then to clean out the machine even more thoroughly. After you use vinegar, though, be sure to rinse it three times with water to avoid any lingering vinegar taste in your next espresso.
In the semi-automatic machine, water pressure and temperature must be stable and consistent, and according to our expert, the pressure shouldn't be too high. Typically, coffee is brewed at a pressure of about 10 bars, and an ideal water temperature is around 195 degrees. Generally, the more expensive the machine, the better the equipment inside that regulates these two factors. High-quality machines tend to have a mechanism called a PID, or proportional-integral-derivative, controller. The PID's function is to maintain constant water temperature with extreme accuracy, down to the degree. Two central problems plaguing inexpensive espresso machines is that they lack a PID, meaning the temperature of the brewing water can fluctuate up and down and yield inconsistent results. Inexpensive machines often advertise that they have 15 or 20 bars of pressure as a selling point. But, higher pressure is not the priority, and too much pressure can actually lead to over-extraction and bitterness in your espresso shot. Therefore, we looked for a machine with good temperature and pressure control.
Whole bean coffee that you grind yourself is preferable to pre-ground, too. The bean’s exterior traps and protects all of the delicate, volatile, and water-soluble oils that give coffee its flavor. As soon as you break the protective shell, it’s easy for the flavor to get contaminated, and much of the aroma escapes as soon as the oils are exposed to air.
“Self-identified coffee snob. Couldn’t be happier. Easy to operate, functions as advertised, instructions are clear. The metal filter included does what it needs to do. I recommend a relatively coarse grind (imagine the feel of cornmeal) with the metal filter to get the full flavor of the coffee. If you’re a bit of a coffee snowflake (no disrespect intended) and don’t like the ‘mud’ at the bottom of the cup, you should stick with the paper filter. Either way, the coffee maker itself does the job nicely.”
Some machines come with all the accessories you need to make espresso, but others don't. Check to see if your machine includes any accessories before you buy them. You will need a grinder to have freshly ground espresso, a milk frother or a milk frothing pitcher if you like foamy milk for cappuccinos or lattes, and a tamper to press down the coffee grounds before you make espresso. We explain why you need each one and recommend which ones to buy below:
"Honestly, i bought this for my wife as a novelty item. I saw it on a lightning deal, she loves espresso, it looked cool, figured why not? Well, what was supposed to be just something for a little fun (which was, when she has used it) ended up being something she really likes and is planning on taking to work on a regular basis (she says it makes great espresso and is a quick and easy way to do it). Plus, she said it will be great when we go camping (no electric or batteries required, just hot water and it's easy to clean). it arrived quickly and in perfect condition. So, I guess I 'done good' ;)"
A grouphead (or group head) is the receiver for the removable portafilter (or group handle). A typical consumer espresso machine normally has only one grouphead, while popular professional machines, such as those used at commercial coffee shops, can contain anywhere from one to seven. During the process of extracting a shot of espresso, hot water is forced through the grouphead under pressure. The grouphead contains many holes (the shower) that attempt to distribute the pressurised water evenly over the surface of the grinds in the portafilter basket and thereby achieve an even cross sectional flow.
Picking up a bag of coffee beans from the roaster is a great way to make sure you have fresh beans. Because coffee gets damaged as it’s exposed to air, espresso connoisseurs recommend using beans within two weeks of their roast date. But you won’t want to use them the same day that they’ve been roasted — they need a few days to de-gas from the roasting process.
Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
A portafilter (or group handle) attaches to the grouphead of semi-automatic and piston-driven espresso machines, and carries a tamped puck of coffee grounds within its basket. It is usually made of brass for better heat retention, and is attached by a plastic or wooden handle. The portafilter forms a seal with the espresso machine's gasket, and directs high-pressure hot water through the coffee puck. After-market retailers also sell bottomless portafilters that minimize the espresso's contact with any metal. A bottomless portafilter is one tool baristas use to analyze the quality of the coffee grind and the evenness of the extraction and allows for a visual check of "channeling" or the condition in which water is able to pierce a hole in the espresso puck during the brew process leading to poor extraction. Often, baristas use knockboxes to store their spent espresso grounds after they have pulled a shot.
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.
If tinkering is what you’re most excited about, we recommend the Behmor Brazen Plus Customizable Temperature Control Brew System. This is a drip machine that takes its job seriously. It performed the very best in our out-of-the-box taste testing, but still gives you the opportunity to play around with different variables, from water temperature to pre-infusion times. At around $200, it’s on-par with the OXO 9-Cup price-wise, but is definitely not as nice to look at or use, with a tall, bulbous body, squat carafe, and an eight-button programmable interface that reminded us of a digital alarm clock.
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:
That water is heated in a detachable reservoir that doubles as a kettle. This is a unique feature for a coffee maker, but one we ended up appreciating, especially for households with a mix of tea lovers and instant-oatmeal eaters alongside coffee drinkers. Fill the kettle up, lock it in place, and scroll the dial to the amount of coffee you want brewed. The machine is designed so that, even if you have more water in the kettle than you need, it will brew only the amount you specify. The one thing you actually have to measure with the OXO On 12-Cup is the grounds. Do that right, and it’s pretty much impossible to screw it up.
The Eletta automatic espresso machine brews consistently exceptional beverages. Espresso is brewed to the perfect temperature, ensuring you get all the richness, density and flavor you’ve been craving. With 15 bars of pressure, your automatic espresso and cappuccino machine will deliver professional quality beverages that you can proudly serve to friends. The last cup of the day tastes as fresh as the first thanks to the integrated burr grinder, which grinds fresh beans every time. In a hurry? No problem — use the pre-ground function instead. If quality and convenience are important to you, then an espresso machine from De’Longhi belongs in your kitchen.
Bunn-O-Matic came out with a different drip-brew machine. In this type of coffeemaker, the machine uses a holding tank or boiler pre-filled with water. When the machine is turned on, all of the water in the holding tank is brought to near boiling point (approximately 200–207 °F or 93–97 °C) using a thermostatically-controlled heating element. When water is poured into a top-mounted tray, it descends into a funnel and tube which delivers the cold water to the bottom of the boiler. The less-dense hot water in the boiler is displaced out of the tank and into a tube leading to the spray head, where it drips into a brew basket containing the ground coffee. The pourover, water displacement method of coffeemaking tends to produce brewed coffee at a much faster rate than standard drip designs. Its primary disadvantage is increased electricity consumption in order to preheat the water in the boiler. Additionally, the water displacement method is most efficient when used to brew coffee at the machine's maximum or near-maximum capacity, as typically found in restaurant or office usage. In 1963, Bunn introduced the first automatic coffee brewer, which connected to a waterline for an automatic water feed.
This product brings easy brewing and convenient cleaning to your countertop. With the brew-pause feature, you can sneak a cup while the coffee maker is still brewing without interrupting the process. The keep-warm function keeps your coffee nice and warm so you can come back again and again to a fresh-tasting cup. An easy cleaning cycle and durable dishwasher safe carafe help to reduce the time you spend cleaning up.
A best seller in its category, this espresso maker from Mr. Coffee has all the bells and whistles you could want out of a machine. Besides espresso, you can also make cappuccino or a latte at the touch of a button. There’s an adjustable cup tray that lets you change the height based on the size of your cup, and the milk and water reservoirs are removable for easy refill and cleanup. A drip catcher will keep things clean if anything spills over, and the machine comes with a single shot filter, double shot filter, measuring scoop, tamper, and coffee recipes.
Coffee makers are part of a morning ritual, the first touch point to help you greet the day. And finding the best coffee maker for you can depend on a lot of factors, like the amount of coffee it makes, the way you fill it with water, or what type of coffee you plan on making. Whether you're looking for a coffee maker that makes a single cup or a coffee maker to make enough coffee for family and friends (or even a crowd!), our collection of coffee makers have the perfect design, size and features to fit your coffee brewing needs.
The Breville machine was also the only semi-automatic model to produce a velvety, well-incorporated foam. The consistency with which it incorporated air made for a beautifully textured latte—and our coffee expert was even able to make some latte art with it (something that was impossible with the air bubbles from other models, including the Gaggia and all of the less expensive machines).
In later years, coffeemakers began to adopt more standardized forms commensurate with a large increase in the scale of production required to meet postwar consumer demand. Plastics and composite materials began to replace metal, particularly with the advent of newer electric drip coffeemakers in the 1970s. During the 1990s, consumer demand for more attractive appliances to complement expensive modern kitchens resulted in a new wave of redesigned coffeemakers in a wider range of available colors and styles.
CR’s take: Like the model above, the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew takes whole coffee beans and grinds them fresh for each pot. It features programming, brew-strength control, a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. This model earns a great rating for carafe handling. The stainless steel finish and glass carafe certainly elevate the experience of using it. Cuisinart brewers also received an Excellent rating for owner satisfaction. But the performance and finish come at a premium—this machine costs significantly more than the Black+Decker Mill & Brew.