When it comes to your morning coffee, you’re probably pretty particular about what you like. Making coffee at home can be a smart choice for saving money, saving time in your morning routine, and avoiding disposable travel cups. Unfortunately, you won’t get the same taste or type of coffee drink you can get at a coffee shop. That’s where investing in an espresso machine comes in—the convenience of brewing at home with the complexity of cafe drinks.
Espresso makers are different from traditional coffee makers because they use a special brewing process that many think leads to a better flavor. In this guide, we’ll give you in-depth information about how espresso is different from conventional coffee and what qualifications are needed for a certified espresso machine. We’ll also give you our top picks for the best espresso makers and tips on how to use them.
Our Top Picks: Summary
- Best Overall: Breville Bambino Plus Espresso Machine
- Best Budget: De’Longhi EC155 Espresso Maker
- Best Splurge: Breville Barista Touch Espresso Maker
- Best Super-Automatic: Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine
The Best Espresso Machine: Our Top Picks
The Bambino Plus is a small and simplistic machine that delivers a great espresso.Check Price
Why We Picked It
This espresso machine is relatively small but features a large (64 ounce) water tank that can produce about a dozen shots before needing to be refilled. This Breville model delivers the perfect temperature water with its automatic PID temperature control, and the innovative Thermojet heating system achieves this temperature in just three seconds.
The Bambino Plus features an automatic steam wand that allows you to adjust milk temperature and froth for a perfect drink. Sweet and creamy flavor extraction is achieved through the low-pressure pre-infusion system. This espresso machine produces a rich, barista-quality flavor by using a 19-gram dose of ground coffee, which is sifted through two dual-wall baskets in the portafilter.
Keep in Mind
To make this model more cost-effective, Breville doesn’t include a hot water dispenser or more complex drink options.
In a Nutshell
- Three-second ThermoJet heating system
- Low pressure pre-infusion
- Automatic steam wand
This all-in-one espresso maker gives you the best coffee at the lowest price.Check Price
Why We Picked It
This Italian-style espresso machine can handle a range of coffee beverages while being cost-effective. The De’Longhi EC155 has 15-bar brewing pressure, achieves high-quality results, and has adjustable controls for a personalized drink. The Advanced Cappuccino System maintains the optimal temperature for quick access to your preferred coffee beverage.
The three-in-one filter gives you the option of single-shot, double shot, or easy-serve espresso pods. The De’Longhi model has a decent-sized 35-ounce water tank. Both the water tank and drip tray are removable and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. The EC155 also includes a manual frother and a built-in tamper.
Keep in Mind
This model doesn’t include a milk frothing pitcher or grinder. However, even if you wanted to buy them separately, it would still be less expensive than other models.
In a Nutshell
- Most budget-friendly option
- Makes espresso, cappuccino, and latte
- 15-bar pump pressure
This high-tech and beautifully designed espresso maker gives you cafe-quality drinks at home.Check Price
Why We Picked It
The Barista Touch incorporates high-end technology with its optional manual setting to please any shopper. The built-in grinder, automatic frother, custom drink settings, timers, and even tutorials are accessible through the neatly organized touch screen. There are presets for classic espresso drinks for those who are looking for complete automation and also the ability to program and save custom drinks.
This Breville model also features the Thermojet for three-second heating. Unlike the Bambino, the Barista Touch allows you to the choice between double-wall and single wall-baskets for customized performance. The steam wand can be used automatically with the built-in pitcher or manually for personalized frothing. The built-in grinder works with a single touch and has a dial adjust how fine you want the grounds.
Keep in Mind
The Breville Barista Touch Espresso Maker is the most expensive option on our list.
In a Nutshell
- Save customized drink recipes
- Easy-to-use touch screen
- Automatic and manual features
This Gaggia espresso maker is perfect for coffee drinkers who want a fully automatic machine.Check Price
Why We Picked It
This espresso machine features stainless steel front panels with your choice of silver or black accents. The Brera Super Automatic features push-button controls and LED display for quick and intuitive brewing. The Gaggia Adapting System allows this espresso maker to learn from your coffee and accommodate your preferred bean. A built-in ceramic burr grinder and bypass doser allow you to use either whole bean or pre-ground coffee.
The water reservoir and dregs drawer are accessible from the front while the drip tray and brew group are removable for easy cleaning and maintenance. The Gaggia automatically rinses its mechanism upon startup and when it is shutdown. The Pannarello wand functions as both a frother and hot water dispenser (depending on your specific drink). The Brera can also heat up steam in under ten seconds.
Keep in Mind
Some users find the controls too simplistic for finding the perfect settings.
In a Nutshell
- Easy to remove parts for cleaning
- Gaggia Adapting System
- Pannarello Steam Wand
How We Chose the Best Espresso Machines
To give you the best recommendations, we compared each espresso machine and focused on the features that will provide you with the best brew possible. To give you more information on how we analyzed each product, the key characteristics are explained below.
Control vs. Consistency
We wanted to make sure that the espresso makers we suggested gave you consistent coffee while remaining customizable. Manual espresso machines and manual options give you control over your drink. This is perfect for baristas and espresso aficionados who want to tweak their beverages for the best results. For more casual drinkers or those who have busy mornings, consistency is vital. We found fully-automatic and super-automatic machines that make your morning a breeze and deliver the perfect espresso drink.
You need a certain amount of power to properly extract espresso from finely ground coffee. We focused on finding models that could effortlessly produce the nine or more bars of pressure for optimal brewing. It was also essential to us that the espresso makers had sufficiently powered steam wands to give you soft or creamy milk foam without any extra bubbles.
Ease of Use
How easy a machine is to use will largely depend on how experienced you are with making espresso. That is why we wanted to make sure we gave you options that had manual controls for expert baristas and one-touch operations for the inexperienced. We also paid attention to other attributes that can influence how easy the espresso maker is to use. Some machines have fewer buttons or elaborate displays, both of which can make brewing a hassle. We wanted to find sophisticated machines that didn’t require too much time to learn the controls.
Espresso makers can be pretty expensive machines, but it was crucial for us to find products that warranted their price tag. For more expensive options, we only considered super-automatic espresso machines for ease of use and models with premium features like touch screen displays. We made sure the mid-range machines were still comfortable to use and well designed, but with a focus on durability and less tech-driven innovations. Budget models can skip extra features like built-in grinders as long as the machine gives you a consistent espresso and reliable performance.
User reviews are a major asset when picking out the best espresso machines because they can provide a unique insight into specific parts of the product. With most espresso makers being used for a variety of coffee beverages, customers can point out if one model underperforms with specific tasks. We also use customer complaints to identify any weak points or common defects in a particular brand.
What is an Espresso Machine?
Espresso machines are specifically designed to produce espresso, which is made from regular coffee beans but requires a different process. Drip coffee makers allow water to seep into the grounds, while espresso involves water essentially forced through with more pressure. Espresso also requires finer grounds and uses less water. The coffee is thicker and stronger than traditional drip-brewed coffee.
A true espresso machine needs to meet specific standards to actually be considered an espresso maker. The Italian Espresso National Institute made the conditioned based on original Italian espresso standards and to help avoid falsely labeled espresso drinks. Certified cafes are required to use approved coffee beans as well as qualified machines, grinders, and personnel. Machines can only be certified if they meet the entry water pressure requirement of nine bars and have percolation time between 20 and 30 seconds.
What Types of Espresso Machines Are There?
Finding the best espresso machine is more difficult than shopping for a typical coffee maker because there are several different types to choose from. Below we explained the difference between each type and what characteristics might make them a good or bad choice for you.
- Manual: Manual espresso machines require you to create pressure yourself, which is done by pulling a lever. If you don’t produce enough force, the lack of pressure will make for an uneven extraction. Typically, homebrewers will find it more difficult to make their favorite drinks because each pull can have a slightly different pressure, leading to inconsistent tastes.
- Semi-Automatic: The average espresso makers, including machines used in a cafe, are semi-automatic. A pump is used to create the correct amount of pressure and temperature to produce consistent extraction. Other aspects are still done manually, including grinding, measuring, and tamping the coffee to properly fit into the portafilter.
- Automatic: These models are very similar to semi-automatic. The biggest difference is the one-touch brewing system automatically controls the amount of water pushed through the coffee beans for the type of drink. Fully-automatic espresso machines are good for multi-tasking but are more expensive and less common for home use.
- Super-Automatic: Automatic espresso makers take the guesswork out of brewing to help give you the best coffee beverage every morning. Super-automatic espresso makers grind coffee beans for you on top of having a one-touch brewing system. These models are great for getting consistent coffee drinks, but they don’t allow you to customize your beverage as much as semi-automatic and manual options.
Some people consider stovetop coffee makers and pod machines to also be espresso makers. However, we didn’t consider these in our guide because they do not meet the guidelines set by the Italian Espresso National Institute.
What to Consider When Choosing an Espresso Machine
Picking the best espresso maker means finding the model that works best for your individual needs. Keep the points outlined below in mind while you’re shopping.
There are four different types of espresso machines, each with slightly different methods of producing your favorite coffee beverage. For the most part, the amount of control you have over how it is made will be the most significant factor. People who like a completely customizable drink and full control over the process will want a manual machine. Semi-automatic and automatic machines allow for some hands-on control but feature more automation for consistent results. Super-automatic machines are great for people who just want an easy-to-use espresso machine because it takes care of almost everything for you.
The two types of filter baskets that an espresso machine can have are single- and double-walled. Double-wall filters are more common for automatic models because they do a better job of ensuring uniform saturation of espresso grounds. Single-wall filters have multiple perforations in the bottom (double-walled have a single hole), which can be harder to perfect. However, they can produce more dynamic shots and full flavors.
Espresso machines come in a large variety of styles that cover a huge price range. It’s important that you consider your overall budget and prioritize features that you know you want versus ones that might just be nice to have.
- Under $200: You can find some great espresso machines at a fairly low price. What you’ll be missing out on is built-in features like coffee grinders and more advanced automatic settings. However, if you don’t need all the bells and whistles and aren’t too picky, saving the extra money can be worth it.
- Between $200 and $500: This is the most common price range for espresso machines. These are typically semi-automatic models with a limited number of advanced features.
- Over $500: Espresso machines can get very expensive, with some home models costing over a thousand dollars. The higher the price range, the more advanced features you’ll get. This includes saved drink recipes, completely automatic brewing, and self rinsing functions.
Depending on what you’re looking for in an espresso maker, certain special features might be worth spending extra money. Automatic frothers are useful for anyone new to brewing. Programmable drink recipes allow you to customize your espresso beverage and save it for later. Built-in grinders save you from needing a separate grinder and often will enable you to choose how fine you want your coffee grounds.
With espresso makers being such an investment, you want to protect your purchase with long warranties. Most espresso machines will come with a one-year warranty to protect against any defects, but it is possible to find brands that offer extended warranties.
How to Make Great Espresso
There are a few easy steps to take in order to get the best results from your new espresso machine. It’s important you find a coffee you enjoy for making espresso. There are dozens of brands marketed explicitly for espresso, but you can use any coffee bean you want and try out new ones whenever you please. Dark roast coffee beans will give you the most flavor, and freshly ground beans will taste the best.
New machines or ones that haven’t been run in a while should be primed before brewing. Fill your portafilter with your selection of grounds and tamp them down evenly. After locking in the portafilter, pull your shot (which will typically be for 30 seconds). If you want to add milk, skim milk is great for frothing because it’s very light. The length of your shot and the amount of foam is essentially up to you to adjust to get the perfect espresso drink.
For in-depth reviews of other coffee-making products and tips on how to brew the best coffee, check out the links below.
- The Best Coffee Makers
- The Best Coffee Grinders
- The Best Cold Brew Coffee Makers
- The Best Gifts for Coffee Lovers