I won’t sugarcoat it: Making espresso at home is finicky and expensive, especially if you’re in search of the very best espresso machine on the market. If you’re not completely obsessive about your coffee, you might find that a nice pour-over setup is enough to get you out of bed each morning. But, if like me, you feel tethered to the barista station at your local coffee shop, and drip just will not do, there’s a machine for you. Read on for the best espresso machines for your kitchen and your caffeine habit.
One note: Espresso machines can easily go for well over $1,000, but if you’re looking for your first machine, there are plenty of exceptional machines under that benchmark. So, in the interest of saving some budget for premium beans (and of course, new espresso cups and mugs) I’ve kept my top picks under a grand and included two espresso-like alternatives for under $100.
Breville’s Bambino Plus straddles the world of barista-quality espresso and amateur usability, making it my top pick for most homes. It’s one of Breville’s smallest machines, but, unlike the original Bambino, which was actually too compact to feel stable when locking in the Portafilter, this one is weighty enough to handle the twisting motion of loading. The large, removable water filter on the back allows you to pull plenty of shots before refilling, and the cup warmer on top is a nice touch for such a small machine. But the espresso itself and the easy auto-froth feature are what really set this machine apart. It’s easy (and speedy!) to pull flavorful, robust shots, and steam exquisitely silky, frothy milk.
You can buy pre-ground coffee beans, of course, but to get the freshest, tastiest coffee, you’re best off grinding at home. Pair the Breville Bambino Plus with a Baratza machine like the beloved Sette 30, a well-made, durable burr grinder.
The Bambino’s upgrade, the Barista Touch, is a big step up in price, but it comes with an included grinder and has a more extensive interface for those looking for something a bit more advanced for their home espresso machine. The touch screen, though fairly advanced in what it lets you do (like saving eight different coffee settings, so each person in your household can cue up their favorite drink), is fairly intuitive. A quick browse of the manual—not hours spent on YouTube—are all that’s needed to start grinding, pulling, and frothing with ease.
If you’re willing to forgo traditional espresso for the ease and cost efficiency of a pod machine, the Nespresso Essenza Mini is an excellent choice. This baby is compact: The dimensions are just 8.1” x 12.8” x 4.3”, but the removable water tank holds 20.3 ounces, so you won’t be refilling after every two coffee drinks. It’ll produce smooth espressos and lungos, and nothing frivolous. That includes drinks that require the addition of a milk frother, but you can easily buy a frother separately. Or, better yet, buy a frothing wand and a small stovetop milk pot: Both are considerably easier to clean than the Nespresso option anyway, and the milk pot can be used to froth milk and serve as a butter or sauce warmer as well.
Okay, technically, a Bialetti, otherwise known as a moka pot, doesn’t make espresso. But it does use steam to create a rich, deeply flavored, concentrated cup of coffee, and for an under-$50 price tag, that’s a close enough comparison. A Bialetti is also a cinch to use. Just fill the central compartment with grounds and the bottom compartment with water. Then, wait a few minutes as the pot reverse-brews your coffee grounds, pushing coffee up into the top chamber. Just be sure to pour into another vessel (a mug or, if you’ve made more than one cup, a waiting thermos) as soon as it’s finished to avoid the dreaded burned taste moka pot coffee can take on when it lingers on the stove or in the pot too long.
Best Travel Espresso Machine: AeroPress
Again, not quite espresso, but this tiny pressurized coffee maker will yield a similar result that you can make in the office or from a hotel room with ease. All you need is hot water and a mug or, if you opt for the AeroPress travel kit, the gear container doubles as your cup. Both the AeroPress and the Go make one to three high-quality servings per pressing, and as you’ll be creating that pressure yourself (this is a muscle-operated device), it’s definitely better for one- or two-person households—especially where counter space is at a premium.
If you usually drink French press at home and have been toying with an entry-level espresso machine, try the AeroPress as an intermediate step. You’ll be hooked on the smoothness of the coffee, as you totally bypass the acidity French press develops from a long brewing process.
This article was firstly published here, and it was adapted for our blog for our section about Espresso.