There are several quick and simple ways to brew a cup of coffee in the morning, but no Keurig or single cup brewer is going to give you the flavor profile and intense boldness that only a well-crafted mug of espresso can deliver straight to your taste buds. Becoming your own barista is as easy as investing in a quality espresso maker, but how do you know what machine is right 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.
At a Glance
- Breville Barista Express
- DeLonghi BC0430
- Nespresso Vertuo
- Krups EA9010
- DeLonghi EC680
- La Marzocco GS3
- Mr. Coffee Cafè Barista
- Flair Signature Espresso Maker
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 wand also allows 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 Vertuo, you get a quality 40 oz., two-in-one machine capable of producing some pretty tasty results.
The Vertuo features a laser reader that identifies barcodes printed on the edge of compatible 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 — but, in all honesty, you probably won’t want to. This bad boy makes some absolutely delicious espresso, and you can also choose up to five different coffee cup sizes when it’s time to brew.
The best part of the Vertuo 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. For the extremely reasonable price, this puppy makes high-quality espresso — and coffee — and it does so quickly, without confusion.
No matter what type of drink you typically order at the local coffee shop, the Krups EA9010 accurately reproduces it, and often much faster than your favorite barista. 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 to 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 two-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 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.
If you’re after the rich flavor and kick of an espresso beverage but aren’t willing to fork over the cash, look no further than the Cafè Barista espresso, cappuccino, and latte maker from Mr. Coffee. What we love about this machine is that it nails all of the fundamentals of espresso-brewing without bleeding your bank account, and simple one-touch operation means that even an unvetted espresso drinker will be able to whip up a frothy brew.
The Barista uses a powerful 15-bar pump that builds up the perfect amount of pressure for extracting top-notch flavor and boldness from your morning brew. The simple touch panel lets you choose between single or double shots for your beverage. Just place your mug under the spout, load in your grounds, pick a single or double shot, and then you’re ready to brew. We also love the automatic milk frothing with adjustable control knob, so you won’t have to guess how much cream to load into your drink. Both the milk chamber and water reservoir are removable and easy to clean.
For under $200, this countertop champion also comes with a recipe book for experimenting with new espresso delights, or for a handy how-to for whipping up an old favorite.
At first glance, the Flair Signature may look more like life-saving medical gear than an espresso pump, but don’t be fooled by its appearance. For those who demand total control of the brewing process, from boiling to shot presses, the Flair is a completely manual experience with no electric components to speak of.
The pump body is a mix of stainless steel and aluminum, which makes the Flair ideal for easy countertop plunging, or for more rugged brewing, like a night camping with friends or family. The added pressure gauge is similar to a tire-pressure gauge for your car or bike, allowing you to monitor exactly how much pressure you’re exerting when you craft your beverage. Also a first for any espresso machine, the Flair’s brewing head is totally detachable for easy cleaning. Just rinse under cool water and re-attach for your next drink.
This may not be the best espresso option for those looking for an automized brew, or those who don’t own a separate burr grinder (which is unfortunately a requirement); but for the decent price, precision and control, and portability, it felt wrong to not include this model on our list.
Research and buying tips
How do 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, the 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 cup? 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.
Is a more or less automated espresso machine better?
Most manual espresso machines tend to use levers to control specific features. The most automated versions let you pick from a few settings and then take care of all the work by themselves. Then many machines fall in the middle, with either more or fewer automated features. What works best for you depends on your level of skill and how much time you want to invest.
With manual machines, you can adjust the grind, tamp, and sometimes even the pressure and water rate. These features are for people who have plenty of experience making espressos, and the most manual version required expert training and lots of time. Automatic machines will grind and brew for you–you just pick a setting and position a cup. It’s fast and doesn’t require training, but you can’t customize the results very much. Which option is best depends on how personalized you prefer your espresso.
How easy is an espresso machine to clean?
Espresso machines are easy to maintain if you clean them quickly after every use. You don’t want coffee or hot milk residue to linger; otherwise, it sticks on and becomes very difficult to remove. Generally speaking, you can’t put espresso parts in the dishwasher, so cleaning by hand is best. However, be careful of hot parts, particularly steam wands, which can easily burn you if you aren’t careful.
How do I know when I’ve made a great espresso?
The experts refer to the “crema,” or the brown foam that forms on top of the espresso. With practice, you will be able to tell when you have this nice, effervescent layer of foam on your espresso, a sign that the shot came out just right.
Which espresso machine brands are best?
Breville makes high-quality, very tech-smart kitchen appliances and is an excellent choice for espresso machines. DeLonghi is a particularly well-known brand with a great selection of machines. Brands like Nespresso are better for compact, highly automated espresso options.
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