We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Espresso is a concentrated kind of coffee that’s used to make café drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. It’s manufactured by forcing near-boiling water through tightly packed coffee grinds under pressure. A home espresso maker is a must-have if you want to create cafe-quality drinks in your kitchen while honing your abilities.

You’ll need a good machine that can produce and maintain around six to ten bars of pressure and can withstand being turned on and off thousands of times to get a precise pour. We examined semi-automatic machines, as well as manual and completely automated pod-based devices designed for household usage, for our advice. We consulted a number of specialists and baristas, did thorough testing, and held many taste tests in order to discover the best for the majority of customers. (To learn more about our technique, go here.)

Before you buy a machine, keep in mind that good espresso can be costly and time-consuming to make. A decent machine will cost at least $400, with a grinder costing at least as much; a manual device (like our choice for the most economical espresso machine) will cost less, but it will still add up.

Overall, the best espresso machine

We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Gaggia Classic Pro

Pros: Low cost, small size, easy to use design, produces full-bodied shots
Cons: There is no specific hot water spout, there may be fewer plastic parts, there is a learning curve, and the portafilter basket sticks in the group head if not removed while hot.

The Gaggia Classic Pro is a tiny espresso machine that is powerful enough to produce rich, full-bodied shots and is as basic as espresso machines get without sacrificing quality. While getting a decent pour requires some skill, the short learning curve is certainly worth it.

The Gaggia Classic Pro — an updated version of the original Gaggia Classic, which has been around for almost three decades — is slightly less forgiving than our pick for the best machine with a built-in grinder, but it’s also significantly more capable of producing a flavorful, nuanced shot.

If you’re just getting started with espresso machines, this is about as basic as they get without sacrificing quality. There are three buttons, each with a light that indicates when the machine is primed, as well as a steam valve. The lack of adjustment options may appear to be restricting at first, but fewer variables are beneficial to the aspiring barista.

Because it’s a single-boiler model, switching between pulling shots and priming the steam wand will take a while (though this shouldn’t be an issue if you’re only making a few drinks at a time). While Gaggia says that this machine generates 15 bars of pressure, you only need six to nine for espresso.

It also comes with a small dosing spoon and a plastic tamping device, which, admittedly, seems a touch cheap in comparison to the Classic Pro’s finely weighted stainless steel tamper. That then, tamping doesn’t need much muscle in the first place, and the plastic bits accomplish the job well enough.

While the Gaggia Classic Pro was less forgiving than the Breville Barista (both Express and Pro), I found that taking my time allowed me to get a much more refined shot. I got some harsh over-extractions on my first few tries, but after I nailed it, which was about the 30-second mark for a one-ounce pour, I was rewarded with some of the greatest espresso I’ve ever made with machines in the $2,000 region.

That isn’t to suggest that there aren’t flaws in this model. I couldn’t get that outcome consistently, and it could use a PID control for a variety of reasons, including the fact that pressure and temperature fluctuate. The portafilter baskets are just a few millimeters too big for the plastic tamping device I mentioned earlier (although tampers are easy to upgrade). I wish there was a separate water spout, however many experts advise against using your espresso machine to make hot water.

Last but not least, if you don’t remove your portafilter straight away, the baskets will adhere to the group head. This is a minor annoyance, but it’s not insurmountable: If you forget to remove it, simply turn on the machine when you’re ready for another shoot, let it warm up, and it should easily fall off.

This computer comes with a two-year limited warranty, but it does not cover user error. Descale — or remove limescale deposits from — the Classic Pro on a regular basis, as is the case with all espresso machines. This may be done at home with a simple vinegar solution.

If you want to learn how to make espresso like a pro but don’t have a lot of counter space or are on a tight budget, acquire a Gaggia Classic Pro with a nice burr grinder and you’ll be good to go for a long time before outgrowing your setup.

The best espresso machine with a built-in grinder is one that has a built-in grinder

We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Breville's Smart Grinder Pro

Pros: No need to buy a grinder, it’s simple to use, and it takes only a few minutes to prepare.
Cons: Doesn’t come with a pressure gauge like other versions, built-in grinder could use more settings, and possibly not repairable outside of the two-year limited manufacturer guarantee.

The Breville Barista Pro, which comes with Breville’s Smart Grinder Pro and everything you need to create espresso except the beans, is one of the easiest and fastest methods to get a close-to-café-quality pour at home.

The Barista Pro is a speedier, quieter, and more digitally sophisticated version of its predecessor, the Barista Express. It comes with the brand’s outstanding Smart Grinder Pro, which would cost $200 if purchased separately. When it comes to producing espresso, a high-quality burr grinder is vital, and this conical, stainless steel version comes with 30 fine grind adjustments, not to mention the dozen-plus internal grinder adjustments if the fine ones aren’t enough. (Note: You’ll only need to do this if you dramatically alter the beans you’re using.)

The single-boiler Barista Pro has all the essentials, including a burr grinder, 15 bars of pressure (you only need nine), a 67-ounce water tank (enough for a week’s worth of espresso), a convenient water spout, a half-pound sealed bean hopper, a steaming wand, a frothing pitcher, and a satisfyingly heavy magnetic steel tamper that fits into a slot beside the grinder. Check out my full review for more thorough statistics.

While the Barista Pro should last up to 10 years on your countertop, repairing it beyond of the two-year limited product guarantee is unlikely, so you’ll have to buy a new one. There are a few additional options available from Breville, and while they’re more expensive, they’re well worth it if you have the money.

The LCD interface for both the grinder and the brewing head includes a timer and single- and double-shot volumetric control, while the ThermoJet heating system quickly heats the Barista Pro to the correct extraction temperature and enables for smooth shot pouring. Still, if you want to save a few dollars and enjoy the experience of utilizing a pressure gauge — which is a wonderful learning tool in my opinion – the Barista Express is a little more economical, albeit slower.

One of the tasters who prefers coffee to espresso preferred this machine over the top two finalists, the Flair Espresso manual device and the Gaggia Classic Pro, in my blind taste testing. The Breville Barista Pro was routinely rated “excellent,” but due to the shots’ relative simplicity, it rarely beat out the competition. Even yet, everyone seemed to appreciate the espresso it produced, and by using slightly finer grounds than other machines, we were able to attain results that were nearly as good as the Gaggia’s.

Some minor flaws: Having the hopper over the boiler could be a problem, as coffee needs to be stored in a cool, dry environment, and while the built-in grinder is convenient, more grind settings to handle different beans should be included. A pressure gauge, once again, is a really useful learning tool, and we wish it had been included. Still, the timer comes in helpful, and you’ll be able to tune this machine and your grounds to make the perfect espresso.

In the end, while the Barista Pro won’t give you a shot of espresso’s full potential, it will bring you quite near, with a very limited margin for error.

Automatic espresso machine of the highest quality

We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Café Affetto Automatic Espresso Machine

Pros: Compact design, built-in grinder, excellent frother
Cons: The grinder isn’t very good, and it doesn’t produce genuine espresso (but better than pod machines)

This compact, all-in-one automatic espresso maker produces brew twice as well as comparable machines while taking up half the counter area.

An automatic espresso machine is a hybrid of a pod machine and a semi-automatic espresso machine; you can manage the grind size and extraction time, but the process isn’t completely hands-on.

What we prefer about General Electric’s Café over the half-dozen other automatic espresso machines we’ve tried is that it’s substantially less expensive, approximately half the size, and produces a lot more authentic espresso-like beverage.

With the Café’s built-in grinder, you won’t get the greatest grind possible, but you can still use freshly roasted beans and receive a shot of espresso (or something close to it) at the touch of a button. A bespoke “my cup” option and an Americano (or long black) are also available.

We frothed whole milk and almond milk with the frother and found it to be just as good as those found in most semi-automatic machines. We particularly appreciate the fact that the wand is detachable and washable. Automatic machines frequently come with a milk pitcher and hoses that must be inserted into the machine. This keeps things neat and hidden, but it’s all too easy to forget about the milk when it’s out of sight, resulting in a rotten mess. This more traditional layout is significantly less prone to errors.

We wouldn’t call all of the twelve shots we got from this machine espresso, but they were incredibly close and, more importantly, delicious.

We used a full-bodied, medium-light-roast Panama Geisha (which, we might point out, isn’t actually suited for espresso) and were pleasantly delighted to discover a slew of fruity and floral aromas we hadn’t expected. There was nothing harsh or off-putting about it, and there was a lot of crema on top of it. Although it lacked the viscosity and thickness of espresso from a more powerful machine, such as our top selection, the flavor was outstanding.

While it isn’t quite as good as a semi-automatic or completely manual machine, it is a significant improvement over a pod machine, and depending on how seriously you take your coffee, it could be the ideal compromise.

The most cost-effective espresso machine

We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Flair Espresso Maker

Pros: Affordable, portable, comes with a case, and comes with a five-year limited guarantee
Cons: Preparing a shot takes longer, and it’s not ideal for producing more than one or two espressos at a time.

A manual device like the Flair Espresso maker is a wonderful alternative if you want to create the best espresso you can at home (or on the go) without breaking the bank.

Manual espresso makers, such as the Flair Espresso, are not only inexpensive, but they also provide you more control than most budget machines, which don’t let you change the temperature or pressure.

Before you buy, keep in mind that using the Flair takes around two minutes longer than using a machine to make espresso. You’ll also require a grinder. If time is an issue, though, you may want to consider pod machines like the Breville Barista Pro, which provides a faster shot.

When I told Dan Kehn, a former SCAA Barista World Championship judge and the founder of Home-Barista.com, about the Flair, he agreed that it’s a great choice for anyone new to espresso who wants to learn how to pull a full-bodied shot. Why? It’s all about control once more. You get a continuous golden flow of thick, crema-rich java by pouring water directly from a kettle and manually adjusting the pressure until you get a steady golden flow of thick, crema-rich java. Machines in the same price range as the Flair frequently start out with too much pressure and then ease off.

The fact that the cylinder has a maximum water capacity of 60ml makes controlling the extraction time for somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds (for espresso and more intense ristretto, respectively) considerably easier, and you can get the hang of maintaining the appropriate pressure very quickly.

This maker is portable and weighs just under five pounds, so you can use it anywhere as long as you have a way to boil water. And, unlike the majority of the machines we looked at, the Flair comes with a five-year limited guarantee.

Kehn was, indeed, correct. During a series of five blind tasting tests, the Flair came out on top four times, three of them unanimously. It’s something about being able to manage the pressure with your own hands that makes it possible to maintain a consistent flow. Except for the Gaggia Classic Pro a couple of occasions, everyone participated in the blind tasting test agreed that the intensity of flavor, viscosity or texture, and strength were superior to practically every other shot we took from the other machines.

The Flair was the first to choke when we changed the grinder to finer settings to find the threshold of each device, and we couldn’t physically draw a shot without damaging the device – a sticker on the lever advises not to exceed 70 pounds of pressure. (Even if we had, based on the drops we were able to achieve, the resulting espresso would have been unpalatably bitter.)

The Flair takes a bit more effort and time to use than your average espresso machine, but it’s the simplest and most cost-effective way to get the greatest shot possible, especially if you’re new to espresso. Another advantage is that it takes up little counter space. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, Kehn suggests the Cafelat Robot, which he describes as the “same animal” but heavier and composed entirely of metal components.

The best espresso machine for pods

We tested the top 5 espresso machines

Breville-Nespresso Pixie

Pros: Simple, easy, and inexpensive, with a small footprint.
Cons: Pods can be pricey, and pod grounds aren’t always fresh, especially at the lower end of the espresso market.

There’s no better way to go if you want to keep your investment cheap and save time than the Breville-Nespresso Pixie.

Turn on the Nespresso Pixie, insert a pod, press a button, and you’ll get an espresso-like drink in under a minute, complete with foamy crema.

There are only two settings on the Pixie: one for espresso and one for a lungo, which is simply a longer or more diluted espresso pour. Take it easy on this machine and only ask for a few shots at a time, and it will last you a long time.

Although Nespresso claims that this machine has a pressure of 19 bars, our TDS readings were constantly at 5% to 7%, which is just shy of espresso. To put it another way, you won’t get “genuine” espresso from this machine, but you will get a powerful, foamy beverage. That is a remarkable achievement. We were ready to make an exception because of the machine’s enhanced convenience and low price.

After that, the machine takes only 25 seconds to prime. It automatically shuts off after nine minutes to save electricity.

Breville offers a one-year limited warranty on these machines, but I’ve personally (and simultaneously) owned two for more than five years and have yet to encounter any issues.

When it came to intensity, texture, and viscosity, the Pixie didn’t stand a chance against the other machines and the lone device in our testing. Even if you buy the freshest pods available, they can’t compare to freshly roasted and ground beans from a reputable local roaster.

Even so, the crema was unmistakably present. And everyone in the test group agreed that in a pinch, this machine did the job, which is how most coffee is made at home anyhow.

You’re basically confined to what comes in pods when using the Pixie, which is where it falls short of espresso machines with group heads and portafilters. There are refillable capsules (see our guide to coffee and espresso pods), and you can obtain far better results by grinding your own beans, but it defeats the purpose of a pod machine. If this is the road you choose to take, filling and tamping tiny capsules with a teaspoon of grounds is doable, if annoying.

Take this machine for what it is, given its small size, ease of use, and low price. Although using pods can be costly, there’s no faster way to get espresso (or espresso-like drinks) into a demitasse than this, which is almost likely the way to go for the convenience crowd.

Methodology for evaluating espresso machines

We put each computer through the following tests to determine its performance. We also took into account pricing while determining a machine’s total worth.

Taking note of TDS measurements

We wanted to be sure we were getting real espresso, which is defined as having at least 7% to 12% total dissolved solids (TDS). If you get more involved, some baristas can get extraction percentages of up to 20%, but we kept to the essentials.

We utilized the Atago Pocket Barista to test TDS, and the results proved that some machines are better than others at churning out a thicker, richer, more viscous brew without over-extracting.

Organizing taste tests

We used the freshest roasts we could get our hands on from Atlas Coffee Club, Stone Street Coffee Company, and Counter Culture Coffee in a series of blind tasting tests. Five participants tasted shots from four machines that eventually became our final finalists after dialing a grinder to prepare grounds for 30-second extraction durations.

Pulling shot after shot to make sure they’re all consistent

More than 10 pounds of fresh coffee beans were ground and pulled shots for dozens of hours. We kept a tight eye on the brewing consistency to see if we could get the same four shots in a succession. We were pretty close with virtually every equipment, but the Flair Espresso Maker, a manual lever gadget, seemed to function the best. We were better able to manage the flow of pressure since we were able to control it ourselves.

When it comes to costs,

The sweet spot for a reliable entry-level home espresso machine, according to our research, is roughly $400-$500. But keep in mind that you’ll still require a competent burr grinder. Onyx Coffee Lab’s Lance Hedrick recommends spending at least the same amount on a grinder, if not more. Consider investing a lot more on a burr grinder if you have the funds.

Anything less, and you’re likely to get a machine that can create the standard nine bars of pressure but won’t be able to keep it constant throughout the brewing process. We tested a few machines in the $100-$300 range, but they all failed to produce thick, full-bodied, crema-rich espresso. Similarly, you can get into the four digits, but “at some point, there are diminishing benefits,” according to Kehn.

What else did we try?

What else do we suggest, and why:

$500 or less

Breville Bambino ($299.95): The Bambino is Breville’s newest addition and its most basic model. This is the best you can do if this is the extent of your money and you want an actual machine (rather than a device). Breville had no choice but to cut corners here, and the concessions we’ve noticed compared to the Bambino Plus (which we prefer) are: an aluminum portafilter (rather than more heat-retentive steel), pressurized portafilter baskets (for good fresh coffee and pressure, you’ll want non-pressurized ones), and it puts out less pressure. You can still brew fantastic espresso with this machine, but you’ll need to acquire some more equipment.

If you already own a grinder and want a Breville machine but can’t afford the Duo Boiler, the Breville Bambino Plus ($499.95) is simply the Barista series but without the built-in grinder.

AeroPress ($29.95): The Aeropress is a fantastic coffee-brewing equipment that many coffee connoisseurs keep on their kitchen counter as their only coffee-brewing device. An Aeropress produces a coffee that is similar to a finely pressed French press coffee with a thick layer of foam, but not quite espresso. This small plastic device will suffice for many people. Its mobility also makes it ideal for outdoor use.

Less than $1000

The Breville Barista Express ($699.95) was a close call between the Express and the Pro, and while we miss the pressure gauge on the Pro in lieu of an LCD interface, the Express is a speedier, smoother machine. The Barista Express, on the other hand, is an excellent choice if you want to save a few hundred dollars (price varies a lot on this machine).

La Specialista by De’Longhi ($798.90): The De’Longhi La Specialista is a close competitor to the Breville Barista Express in terms of design, but it has a built-in tamper that eliminates a lot of possibility for user error, which we appreciate, but many people like to use a tamper and/or leveler. Even so, it’s around the same price and comes with a three-year warranty rather than Breville’s one-year warranty. This is yet another machine worth considering.

The Flair 58 ($575.00) is a newer, more robust version of Flair’s earlier models, and the best manual machine we’ve tried, but it comes at a price. However, if you wish to be incredibly obsessive without spending a lot of money, the Flair will outperform our suggestions, and we strongly advise you to acquire one.

Gaggia Brera ($449): We liked this automatic machine, but the shots didn’t quite match the Gaggia Classic Pro’s because to the built-in grinder, which allowed for only minor tweaks. Still, if you want an all-in-one espresso machine that can make a variety of espresso beverages, it’s significantly less expensive than many of its competition, and it’s adequate, if bulky and clumsy.

Europiccola Pavoni ($925): For two reasons, lever machines with built-in boilers are among the best on the market: they’re inexpensive (in comparison to commercial machines) and they’re built like tanks, so they’ll survive for a long time. The trouble is that learning how to make a nice shot of espresso out of one of these machines is a true challenge, and it takes time. We recommend it if you’re willing to go through the motions, but you’re in for a lengthy journey.

Less than $2000

Breville Dual Boiler ($1,599.95): We’ve used this machine a few times, and professionals like Lance Hedrick of Onyx Coffee Lab and Dan Kehn of Home-Barista.com have dubbed it Breville’s magnum opus. It has among of the fastest heat-up times of any of Breville’s newer and higher-tier machines, and it’s highly tweakable, allowing you to modify brew temperature and even brew pressure (through a hack).

Questions and Answers on Espresso Machines

Is an espresso machine required?

Of course not, but in the world of home coffee, there are few things more satisfying than pulling off an exquisite shot of silky espresso on your own. On the other hand, if you need something quick and easy to get out the door in the morning, the Nespresso system is a good option.

To prepare espresso, what do I need?

Coffee oils are essential for creating espresso, so you’ll need freshly roasted coffee beans. You won’t get much of the prized foam or any of the subtle flavors associated with espresso if you buy months-old coffee and put it through an espresso machine.

Many of us make our most critical error with a burr grinder. Any old grinder will not suffice.

It’s possible that the coffee grinder you choose is more significant than the espresso machine or coffee maker. For espresso, we recommend the Baratza Sette 270, which we recommend in our guide to coffee grinders.

Mineral water: According to Lance Hedrick, the ideal water for brewing espresso is distilled water with a mineral solution added, such as this one from Third Wave Water. Aside from that, any charcoal water filter will suffice.

An espresso machine: You’ll need one that can generate and maintain a consistent pressure of between six and nine bars. Machines can be costly, so look for something simple, like as our top pick, the Gaggia Classic Pro, or something totally automated.

What are the various kinds of espresso?

A regular espresso is the most classic form of the drink, with a 1:1.5 or 1:2 ratio of input (coffee in grams) to output (what ends up in your cup/demitasse), or a size of one to 1.5 ounces (30ml-45ml).

Ristretto: A ristretto is a concentrated type of espresso with a 1:1 or 1:1.5 input to output ratio, or around three-quarters of an ounce (20ml to 25ml).

Lungo: A lungo is a somewhat diluted espresso that is in between a normale and an Americano, weighing between three and four ounces (90ml to 120ml).

An Americano, often known as a long black, is a shot of espresso diluted with hot water to fill a cup.

Is it true that tweaking my espresso machine will help me brew better espresso?

Yes, accessories like aftermarket shower screens, portafilter baskets, and bottomless portafilters (Lance Hedrick of Onyx Coffee Labs recommends this one) can help you accomplish better shots and understand why they’re coming out the way they are.

Shower screens and portafilter baskets can be replaced to improve the pressure and flow of your group head and give any machine a facelift. For baskets and shower screens, Hedrick suggests IMS.

What is the reason behind the high cost of espresso machines?

A strong motor pumps near-boiling water through a chamber and out the group head at high pressure in an espresso machine. The machine won’t work unless everything is precisely sealed so that it can contain piping-hot water under great pressure.

Is it possible to make ordinary coffee using an espresso machine?

This is dependent on your perception of coffee. An Americano or a long black will be the closest thing you can get to drip coffee. Simply pull a shot of espresso and then fill your cup with as much hot water as you need.

However, you might be better off saving your money and purchasing a standard coffee machine. Consider investing in a stovetop moka pot for an espresso-like beverage.

Glossary

Espresso is a concentrated coffee created by forcing near-boiling water through finely ground coffee at a pressure of seven to nine bars. A 1-ounce shot of espresso contains 60 to 65 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains anywhere from 95 to 120 milligrams.

Burr grinders have two abrasive surfaces that consistently crush coffee beans to a finer form than blade grinders.

The component on the front of an espresso machine that brings water from the machine and into the portafilter is known as a group head, brew group, or brew head.

The basket and coffee grinds are held in place by the portafilter, which is attached to the group head.

The basket that fits into the portafilter and into which the beans are ground and tamped is known as the portafilter basket.

Non-pressurized portafilter basket: These baskets have a grid of tiny pinholes that allow the tamped grounds to provide their own pressure resistance to the group head, giving in rich, frothy espresso.

Portafilter basket (pressurized): These have fewer holes and assist create pressure resistance, making them ideal for pre-ground coffee and ESE pods that don’t pack as securely as fresh grounds.

A pour of espresso is referred to as a shot.

The equipment used to tamp down grounds into the portafilter basket is known as a tamper.

The fraction of solids dissolved in a solution is known as total dissolved solids (TDS). In the case of espresso, the TDS level is usually set at 7 percent to 12 percent.


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