As much fun as it is to order a triple half-caf latte from Starbucks — and have the barista slaughter your name — brewing espresso from home often proves more convenient. Not only does it give you the ability to tailor espresso drinks to your exact liking, but it also keeps dollars in your wallet and saves precious time each morning. But how do you know what espresso machine is for you? To help you sort through the sea of available machines, we narrowed down a list of espresso makers most deserving of space on your kitchen counter.
From machines capable of whipping up espresso cocktails, lattes, and cappuccinos, to options that brew strictly espresso, we have you covered. So, say goodbye to your favorite coffee shop and prepare to get caffeinated. Whether you’re a bean expert or a bargain hunter, you’re sure to find something that gets you through the morning.
Breville Barista Express
Breville’s Barista Express is the absolute perfect blend of convenience and customization. While most machines require you to either buy finely ground beans — or grind them elsewhere — Breville includes a conical burr grinder capable of holding up to a half-pound of fresh coffee beans.
Why is this important? Freshly ground beans produce the richest and thickest crema on your espresso and provide a fuller espresso flavor. Moreover, the stainless steel conical grinder maximizes the surface area of each grind, which in turn optimizes the extraction of flavor. Because of this, even novice brewers have the ability to craft delicious-tasting espresso.
The Barista Express also features a clean interface that allows you to control the shot volumes and filter size and shows you the extraction pressure of your espresso. When lattes or cappuccinos are on the menu, the swiveling, 360-degree steam wands also allow for easy milk frothing and texture. Breville’s Barista Express is pricey but worth it.
The DeLonghi BC0430 does a little bit of everything — and much of it at the same time. You can make a pot of black coffee for the home or office while also producing an excellent espresso on the other side (or cappuccino, if you’re feeling that way), with a milk steamer that only takes a couple of minutes to heat up. It comes with a front-loading 40-ounce water reservoir, 24-hour programmable timer, and gold tone filter. On the coffee side, you get four different modes for controlling coffee strength, too!
The downside is that, unless you do a lot of coffee-oriented entertaining, this model may be a little too large for the average home. It takes up a lot of counter space and that extra-large water reservoir is more suited toward multiple, frequent users. However, true coffee fans may not be satisfied with anything less.
It can be pretty harsh on your wallet to buy a stand-alone coffeemaker and a stand-alone espresso maker, especially if you’re picky about your brew. With the Nespresso Vertuoline, you get a quality two-in-one machine capable of producing some pretty tasty results.
The Vertuoline features a laser reader that identifies barcodes printed on the edge of compatible (read: Nespresso) coffee and espresso pods, telling the machine to automatically adjust settings for brewing or pulling. This means that you won’t be able to use pods manufactured by other companies — or loose coffee grounds, or even simply make hot water for tea — but, in all honesty, you probably won’t want to. This bad boy makes some absolutely delicious espresso.
The best part of the Vertuoline is its simplicity. One button operates the entire machine, with different functions depending upon when you press it and how long you hold it down. Nespresso’s unique Centrifusion system spins the pod within its chamber, blending the grounds with water to create the trademark foamy Nespresso crema that you’re no doubt familiar with if you have experience with their products.
Complaints about the Vertuoline’s relative inability to properly heat coffee to scalding temperatures pop up from time to time, so that’s something to keep in mind. (Some people prefer the roof of their mouth to be horribly burned, apparently.) For the extremely reasonable price, this puppy makes high-quality espresso – and coffee — and it does so quickly, without confusion. If you’re buying via Amazon, you can package the Vertuoline with an Aeroccino Plus milk frother for about $25 more. If you like lattes, it’s worth it.
No matter what type of drink you typically order at the local coffee shop, the Krups EA9010 accurately reproduces it — often, faster than your favorite barista. (Sorry, Jen!) The machine’s unique two-step frothing process preheats milk and froths it directly in the cup, making for some absolutely scintillating cappuccinos. Meanwhile, the included Claris water filter and anti-calc kit guarantees the water you pour in comes out cleaner and tastier.
The EA9010 is extremely simple to use and boasts 17 different recipes, all of which can be selected and brewed (or pulled, as it were) with the press of a button, and the occasional addition of some milk. From basic drinks like lattes and espressos to more involved specialty beverages such as red eyes and flat whites, this baby does it all. It even allows you to set up separate profiles with assigned “favorites,” in case several different people use the machine regularly.
The machine produces strong flavors and fluffy cremas and even cleans up after itself when finished. Well, kind of. After each concoction, the machine activates its self-cleaning function and after about 10 drinks total (give or take), the machine provides step-by-step instructions on how to properly clean the components that aren’t automatically maintained. Though that may seem frequent, if you consider coffee shop standards, it’s pretty reasonable.
The only (and we mean only) drawback? The thing is super loud when it grinds coffee beans. Like, heavy construction equipment loud. Luckily, that’s a minor quibble, and there’s just not much else to complain about here.
If you truly enjoy pulling espresso shots, you probably won’t want to weigh yourself down with fancy automatic machines that remove all skill and personality from the process. Enter DeLonghi’s EC680, which aims to give you full control over your morning beverages.
The EC680’s backloading water tank holds enough agua for eight espressos and allows you make two at a time — that is, if you’ve got cups small enough to fit side-by-side under the dual nozzles. A dial located above the steam spout adjusts froth levels, so find a happy medium and you’ll be set forever. Three included filters help determine how much ground coffee you’ll need — if you want a large cappuccino, use the 2-cup filter.
The machine is lightning fast, with espressos and cappuccinos both clocking in at around one minute, and the results invariably taste great. It’s not quite the full barista experience unless someone complains that the drink was made wrong and demands a free replacement, but it’s close enough.
La Marzocco GS3
La Marzocco is to espresso machines what Lamborghini is to sports cars. The company’s flagship machine, called the Linea, is the industry standard for most shops, restaurants, and cafés. Until recently, the company didn’t even produce “home espresso machines” and it’s not a brand name you’ll ever see plastered on the side of some $80 aluminum coffeemaker.
The GS3 is probably capable of supporting a small shop on its own, but its 110V power supply and its compact size are indicators that it’s truly built for home use. The dual-boiler system optimizes espresso brewing and steam production, and the PID temperature controller accurately predicts heat fluctuations to maintain brew consistency. The self-contained pump and water reservoir make attached plumbing optional, and the digital display allows you to adjust temperatures, volumes, and pre-infusion times to your heart’s delight. The machine can be intimidating to operate, though, and takes some getting used to (which is not unexpected, considering the breadth of its abilities).
Once you have the hang of it, the contraption is built for speed and pleasure. The automatic flushing system removes much of the frustration that often accompanies manual espresso, and the use of stainless steel for basically every external part means cleaning is fairly easy. On top of its staggering list of features, the GS3 is a gorgeous machine, combining classic aesthetic (see the wood grain?) with contemporary functionality to create the ultimate espresso experience.
How we test
At DT, we test espresso machines for a number of factors. Even though bells and whistles and aesthetics may be important, the true value lies in results: how good is the espresso, and how quickly can it be made? We test how long it takes to make each drink — espresso and cappuccino — and the resulting temperature of the beverage. (According to the National Coffee Association, coffee temperature should be maintained at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit). Taste quality is subjective, but we attempt to determine the strength of flavor and the balance of foam/crema atop the drink.
In terms of the machine itself, we look at usability; specifically, how difficult is the machine to operate? Is there a learning curve, or would a beginner be comfortable enough to prepare a cuppa? We also look at convenience; we want to know how much of a hassle it is to clean each machine, and how many different parts are included. Are those parts dishwasher friendly? These are all factors that go into our official review scores.