According to a 2020 survey from the National Coffee Association (NCA), a staggering seven in 10 Americans beverage coffee every week, and 62 percent consume coffee every single day. There are plenty of ways to ingest the brewed drink — hot, cold, over ice, blended — and most prefer it in the form of an espresso, which uses a pressurized brewing method to produce a small, strong shot of coffee. Espressos are a little bit more complex to make than a pot of coffee — while some consumers equate the espresso with a humble capsule that goes into their Nespresso, more experienced coffee connoisseurs typically know that making an espresso coffee is an art (and leave it to their local barista).
The good news is that with the right espresso machine, you can know how to ideal the art of the espresso from home and start dosing (grinding the proper amount of beans for your machine), tamping (compressing the coffee grinds) and extracting (turning your beans into beautiful liquid gold). If you’re in the market for an espresso coffee maker, we spoke to coffee experts about how to shop for the right one and the different kinds of espresso machines out there.
What are the different kinds of espresso coffee machines?
There are lots of forms of espresso machines — they can be bucketed by what mechanism they use to produce pressure, a necessary component in the creation of an espresso coffee.
Pump-driven espresso coffee machines
These are the the majority of common kinds of espresso coffee machine on the market. They utilize an electronic pump to send hot water through the coffee beans at the perfect pressure — around 9 bars. There are different kinds of pump-driven machines, and each of them offers the user a certain amount of manual control over the espresso-making method. Most pump machines can be put into among four categories: automatic, semi-automatic, manual or capsule.
- An automatic espresso coffee machine like the Jura X8 does most of the work for you. “Some automatic machines can grind, dosage, tamp, extract espresso and steam milk to the fantastic temperature, all at the touch of a button,” pointed out Jessica Rodriguez, certifications program manager for the Specialty Coffee Association who manages and develops the Certified Home Brewer and Commercial Espresso coffee Machine programs. Michael Phillips, Blue Bottle Coffee’s director of coffee culture, noted that “if you don’t have the time or patience to understand the craft of working with espresso and milk, [an automatic machine] is probably your best option.”
- A semi-automatic espresso machine like the Calphalon Temp iQ is what you will a lot of often find in cafes, according to Phillips. These machines require you to grind, dose, tamp and steam on your own, plus activate and deactivate the brew pump manually. “The user has more control over preparing the espresso coffee,” Rodriguez noted. Due to the fact that they are more advanced and produce higher-quality effects, semi-automatic machines are typically more expensive, too, but Phillips said this is “what you want” if you “want to achieve the highest manifestation of ideal cafe-style espresso coffee and milk drinks.”
- A manual espresso coffee machine like the Classic Flair Espresso coffee Maker provides you pretty much complete control over your brewing experience. As such, these are some of the the majority of complicated machines to operate, and they “barely exist anymore,” according to Graham Peeples, Director of Beverage at Methodical Coffee.
- A capsule espresso coffee machine like the Lavazza BLUE is the “pinnacle of ease of utilize and speed,” according to Phillips, although he noted that they tend to “fall behind on quality.” Peeples pointed out that these machines require you to basically load a capsule of coffee and push a button to pump pressurized hot water through the capsule and into your cup. “You lose many control over the quality of the shot itself,” he said. One of the many common capsule machine makers is Nespresso.
Steam-driven espresso machines
According to a spokesperson for the NCA, steam-driven machines boil water to create steam that is then used to heat the espresso coffee grounds. Machines like the Capresso Steam PRO and the SOWTECH Espresso coffee Machine typically produce less pressure than other espresso coffee machines — around 1.5 bars, compared to the perfect 9 bars. Even though these machines have a low pressure, the NCA noted that they are “a budget-friendly, easy-to-clean option.”
Manual-lever driven espresso coffee machines
Manual lever-driven machines like the Elektra Microcasa Lever Espresso coffee Machine “use the operator’s physical force to pull the shot and offer the the majority of control over pressure, flow rate and steeping times,” according to the NCA. This type of machine is often preferred by more experienced espresso makers.
Best espresso coffee machines
In general, Phillips noted that “a good machine will not have most reviews talking about it breaking down after a year.” He added that a good machine will have “stable pressure and temperature along with the ability to steam at least 12 ounces of milk inside of 30 seconds.”
Below, we rounded up some automatic, semi-automatic and capsule espresso coffee machines based on expert recommendations across various price points. The experts we consulted advised against home brewers buying steam-driven and manual lever-driven machines due to the lower pressure and complexity, respectively, however if you want to explore that route, here are some guides to check out from Coffee preparation Methods (on steam machines) and Coffee or Bust (on manual lever-driven machines).
Perfect overall, economical espresso coffee machine: Breville
Both Peeples and Phillips highlighted Breville as among the perfect espresso machine brands on the market. At under $600, Peeples specifically noted that the semi-automatic Breville Infuser is among the perfect budget options for home brewers. The machine allows you to control the volume of each of your pours, plus it has digital PID temperature control and a pressure gauge that assists you optimize your extraction.
Perfect espresso machine with built-in grinder: Breville
Breville Barista Pro
Another good machine from Breville is the Barista Pro. According to Peeples, this is a “really popular option that seems to be a good preference for people looking for an all-in-one solution.” This automatic espresso machine is built with Breville’s ThermoJet heating system, designed to hit the best extraction temperature in 3 seconds. It comes in a number of colors, including Damson Blue, Royal Champagne and Black Truffle.
Best espresso coffee machine for beginners: Gaggia
Peeples highlighted the Gaggia Classic as a “no-frills machine that will get the job done,” noting that it’s likewise relatively inexpensive. This semi-automatic machine has a rapid heating boiler, 3-way solenoid valve and 58-millimeter chrome-plated brass portafilter. It likewise has a built-in commercial steam wand to produce foamy, frothy milk.
Perfect espresso coffee machine for experienced baristas: La Marzocco
La Marzocco Linea Mini
La Marzocco is the brand that Blue Bottle uses in all of its stores, which is why Phillips mentioned as it “the working barista’s preference.” The semi-automatic Linea Mini is modeled after La Marzocco’s Linea Classic, which the brand says is popular among professional baristas. With the La Marzocco app, you can turn the machine on or off, set the boiler temperature, enable pre-brewing and more. Even though this machine is substantially pricier, Phillips noted that “the build quality is very high, it has stable temperature and pressure, looks fantastic in a kitchen and just works.” Peeples added that with this machine, “you’ll have professional-level quality on your hands with nothing to stress about.”
Best economical espresso machine for experienced baristas: Rocket
Rocket Espresso Appartmento
If the Linea Mini’s price tag is out of your range, Peeples demonstrated checking out anything from Rocket. The Rocket Espresso coffee Appartmento is still certainly an investment nevertheless this semi-automatic machine features a heat exchange boiler and a heated group head to help heat the water in your machine to the optimal temperature and steam milk while you pull your espresso coffee.
Best-looking, high-end espresso machine: Ascaso Steel
Ascaso Steel PID Programmable Machine
According to Peeples, Ascaso Steel machines “look incredible and have all the features you’d want in a home machine.” The Steel DUO PID features a 58-millimeter portafilter and dual thermoblock insulation that heats water quickly and ensures continuous steam. With the PID temperature control on this machine, you can also control the temperature of your espresso coffee in one-degree increments.
Best capsule espresso coffee machine: Nespresso
If you’re looking for accessibility over everything, the Nespresso VertuoPlus is a wonderful preference. Shopping editor Gideon Grudo previously noted that this machine is among his favorite coffee makers since “your coffee is completely in your hands and won’t require too much work if you don’t want it to.” In order to work with this machine, you need to buy pods directly from Nespresso. You also need to either buy the frother separately or as a bundle if it’s part of your preferred espresso.
What to look for when shopping for an espresso machine
Espresso coffee machines are composed of a number of parts, all of which determine the temperature, flavor profile, strength and consistency of your coffee. Here are some of the things the experts we consulted said to look for while shopping for your espresso maker:
How big is the portafilter?
The portafilter is the spoon-like equipment that holds the coffee grounds. Peeples said the size of the portafilter is “a big thing to consider” — the basic size for a portafilter is 58 millimeters and this size “will make upgrading your portafilter and its basket and finding accessories like distribution tools and tamps a lot easier,” he said.
How several boilers does the machine have?
Many espresso coffee machines are either powered by a single boiler or dual boilers. Peeples noted that “getting an espresso machine with dual boilers [where the steam wand and the group head have their own boilers] is really beneficial due to the truth that you won’t have to wait on the machine to catch up when pulling shots of espresso and steaming milk at the same time.” These dual boiler machines are typically more expensive. Single boiler machines, meanwhile, use the same boiler for the steam wand and the group head, so after you pull a shot of espresso coffee, you’ll have to wait for the machine to build pressure before you can steam milk.
How is the temperature on the machine controlled?
All of the experts we spoke to said that a good machine will have a stable temperature. A number of higher-end espresso coffee machines work with PIDs — or Proportional, Integral, Derivative controllers — to allow you to control the temperature of your espresso coffee down to the level. Peeples noted that this is a helpful feature as it “keeps your water at a steady temperature instead of letting it fluctuate.” If you have this option, he demonstrated maintaining a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Does the machine come with a built-in mill?
“Without a good grinding machine, an espresso machine is literally a paperweight,” said Phillips. “The quality of your mill will be the limiting factor for the quality of your espresso set-up.” He said you should look for a coffee mill designed specifically for espresso with a “step-less” grind adjustment that allows you to make “very tiny adjustments” to your grind size. Some machines come with built-in grinders — nevertheless while these are convenient, Phillips warned that “they [often] break down or get to the point of performing poorly relatively quickly.”
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This article was firstly published here, and it was adapted for our blog for our section about Espresso.