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For everyone who has ever marveled at the skill of a barista as he or she works magic behind a coffee shop counter: take heart.
It’s much easier than it looks.
In fact, you can create delicious cappuccinos, lattes, and espressos in the comfort of your own home.
All you need is a great espresso machine! A quality cappuccino or latte begins with a perfectly pulled espresso.
Espresso is a rich, black coffee that results when pressured water and steam are forced through fine coffee grounds.
Steamed milk, when layered on top of espresso, creates the variety of coffee beverages found at your neighborhood coffee establishment.
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If you’re interested in purchasing a espresso maker, we invite you to examine the five top products in our matrix, above.
If you’d like to learn more about the intricacies of espresso makers, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Espresso machines fall into four main categories: semi-automatic, fully automatic, manual, and super automatic.
Semi-automatic and fully automatic machines are the most popular types on the market today, largely because of their convenience.
Semi-automatic machines deliver even, hands-free water pressure, and the user decides when to turn the pump on and off.
Fully automatic machines regulate the amount of water traveling through the machine; users don't control the pump at all.
Manual machines require more labor, as the user must manually push water through the machine. Because of this, results can vary — experienced espresso makers tend to fare well with this type of machine.
Super automatic machines do all the hard work and often include features such as a built-in grinding apparatus.
The best espresso machines cater to the daily needs of coffee lovers who have little time on their hands. These machines are durable, reliable, and yield delicious results every time.
The De'Longhi EC155 Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is a semi-automatic espresso machine with a dual filter that gives you the choice of brewing ground espresso or pods.
Most espresso-making demands are easily met by its 1,100 watts of power.
We recommend this unit for beginners and seasoned espresso drinkers alike.
Even if you've never made espresso before, the De'Longhi is quite easy to use.
The Mr. Coffee Steam Espresso System is a steam-driven espresso machine that gives you the flexibility of making flavorful cappuccinos, rich espressos, and creamy lattes.
A decanter with measuring marks and a removable frothing aid assist users in making the perfect cup of whatever they choose.
A few owners told us that this machine doesn't match the pressure or level of cream you get with a pump-driven machine.
However, as a steam-driven machine, the Mr. Coffee is especially popular with users for its lattes and cappuccinos.
Some of the best espresso machines have a built-in grinder. By pushing the portafilter into the machine, the grinder carefully loads it with perfectly ground beans.
The Breville Barista Express is a super automatic espresso machine with a powerful, 1,600-watt thermocoil heating system. This superior model renders optimum results in every sense of the word. An integrated burr grinder conveniently grinds your coffee in short order — although it may take a bit of experimenting with this grinder before you find the best consistency for your drink. We especially like the Breville's purge function, which automatically adjusts the water temperature after steam for the right espresso extraction temperature.
The La Pavoni Europiccola Espresso Machine is a manual espresso machine. Experienced baristas and coffee drinkers use this machine to make specialty coffee drinks at home. The automatic milk foamer captures our attention, ensuring the right flavor and consistency each time. A helpful instructional video, which is included, is useful for getting started. Even with the help of this video, however, some users caution that the La Pavoni requires a lot of patience and precision. Therefore, in spite of its high quality, this pro-grade model might not be the best choice for "impatient" coffee drinkers.
The La Pavoni Europiccola is an excellent manual espresso machine. Experienced baristas and coffee drinkers love it, but it may not suit those who are new to brewing.
While clever baristas are always coming up with twists on common coffee staples, the most popular beverages are based on a shot or more of espresso and steamed milk with a layer of foam artistically placed on top. Cappuccino is among the most popular espresso-based drinks, but with some clever applications of milk and cream, they sky is the limit as to what you can create.
Some espresso machines allow you to manipulate the strength of your espresso with an adjustable pressure gauge and/or multiple frothing settings.
Here’s a look at six of the most popular coffee shop drinks you could be enjoying at home with the help of an espresso machine:
A double espresso with hot milk and a layer of froth or milk foam, cappuccino is often served with cinnamon or nutmeg sprinkled on top.
This is espresso with steamed milk. In some areas of Europe, caffè latte is known as café au lait.
This strong drink is espresso with hot water added to taste.
Espresso con panna
Literally translated, this Italian culinary delight is espresso with whipped cream.
This is steamed milk mixed in over a double shot of espresso.
Order this if you want espresso with just a dollop of steamed milk.
The six beverages above represent the basics. By adding syrups, chocolate, liqueurs, and even tea, a clever home barista could potentially brew a different espresso drink every day of the week.
Filtered water is a must for the best espresso. That’s because rich coffee is comprised of 90% water. If you want the best coffee, begin with the best ingredients.
The ideal espresso is rich, smooth, velvety, and strong. Creating the perfect cup is an art that requires some trial and error.
The steps may vary slightly by machine, but here’s a general list of procedures to follow:
Obtain some dark-roasted coffee beans. The best varieties hail from Italy.
Grind the beans down to a powder-like consistency.
Pour the espresso into the machine’s portafilter. A portafilter is a handle with a small cup holder at the end.
After the portafilter is filled, use a small, flat-edged device to tamp down, or “flatter,” the grounds.
Attach the portafilter to the gasket, which locks it into place. Turn the portafilter about 20 degrees counterclockwise until it tightens into place.
Suzanne Stagg, a café owner in Hobart, Australia, holds the Guinness Book of Records achievement of making 289 cappuccinos in one hour.
If you’re taking an espresso shot, pour the dark goodness into a six-ounce cup and enjoy.
If you’re making cappuccino, pour the coffee into a slightly larger cup. Layer on the steamed milk and top with some froth.
Different espresso machines perform in different ways. Some machines make multiple servings while others brew just one cup at a time. Some machines allow you to prepare more than one type of drink at a time. The size and power of an espresso machine correlate with its required power supply.
In terms of maintenance, more complex machines tend to require more cleaning. Accessories like pumps, boiler setups, and thermostats usually forecast the amount of cleanup and maintenance that will be required over time. Buyers should be aware that machines with plastic outer coatings can crack with repeated use, leading to the need for expensive repairs or even replacement.
The first Starbucks was located at First and Pike in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
It's easy to make a delicious cappuccino with the De'Longhi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker.
When you're finished making your beverage, simply remove the 35-ounce water tank and drip tray for easy cleanup and reassemble the machine.
A convenient indicator light lets users know when it's time for a deeper cleaning.
Beverages prepared in the De’Longhi EC155 Espresso and Cappuccino Maker taste even better if you preheat the machine for about 15 minutes before use.
The steam-powered Mr. Coffee Steam Espresso Machine can brew up to 20 ounces at a time in a matter of minutes. We found that this unit's 12-pump bar pressure is enough to satisfy the basic espresso and latte demands of most consumers. A removable frothing aid and drip tray ensure easy cleaning.
The Breville Barista Express has quality written all over it. A 15-bar Italian pump and 1,600-watt thermocoil heating system provide this deluxe espresso machine with ample power. The stainless steel water coil accurately controls water temperature, but one of our favorite features is the "Clean Me" light. We appreciate this feature because it promptly alerts the user when the machine needs to be cleaned and sanitized. As an added convenience, this machine comes with its own cleaning kit. Some users caution that the Breville can get a bit "messy" when making a drink, but they also note that cleanup is relatively easy.
As a manual machine, the La Pavoni's performance depends largely on the effort and expertise of the user.
This machine requires users to pull a lever to make a drink. The piston-operated product features internal thermostats that continually monitor steam pressure for optimal results. Most users feel the La Pavoni's 1,000-watt system offers plenty of power.
Regarding maintenance/cleanup, we find the removable drip tray to be a particularly useful feature.
Owners should be sure to clean and shine the La Pavani's plastic cover periodically, as it tends to collect dirt.
Are you looking for an easy route to your morning espresso or cappuccino? The Saeco Philips Intelia is a fully automatic espresso machine that does most of the work for you.
All espresso machines do essentially the same thing: they create rich, dark coffee. But individual models differ in their “ease of use” and the amount of control they offer the home barista.
How much espresso do you want to make at once? The size of your machine’s water reservoir determines this. The market offers models with tanks large and small. Some machines include a filter that removes impurities from the water.
Plenty of espresso machines on today’s market can accommodate “regular” beans, but some machines require specially designed pods. For example, Keurig machines accept pods.
You’ll also notice that some espresso machines have a built-in bean grinder whereas others require you to grind your beans elsewhere.
Always begin the milk steaming process with cold milk.
The amount of time it takes a machine to reach the perfect temperature depends on its heating element. High-end machines from the likes of Breville and Keurig often reach their ideal temperature in less than 10 minutes. Machines from other manufacturers may take longer.
Frothing aids, decanters with measuring marks, cool-touch handles, and removable drip trays are just a few of the other features you may wish to consider before making a purchase. Read on to learn more about the particular features offered by each product in our matrix.
When choosing an espresso machine, be sure to scrutinize features like water tank storage, overall size and design, bean requirements, and whether the machine self-primes.
The De'Longhi comes with a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler which would serve you well over time.
Other notable features include a swivel jet frother for easy cappuccino and latte prep, a dual-function filter holder that gives you a choice between ground coffee and pods, and a self-priming function which we recommend for the absolute best results.
A few owners told us they wished the frother performed its job with more authenticity, but overall, this is a solid product that delivers quality results.
The De'Longhi's two thermostats, which control water and steam pressure separately, make it easy to brew your drinks at the perfect temperature.
Unlike the De'Longhi, our research suggests that Mr. Coffee's frother is particularly powerful when making lattes and other foamy drinks.
Other great features you get with this product include a decanter with measuring marks, a stay-cool handle for safety, a drip-free pouring spout, and convenient cord storage — perfect for crowded counter tops and other small spaces.
The Breville's conical burr grinder, made of stainless steel, effortlessly grinds coffee beans and optimizes flavor extraction by maximizing the surface area of the grinds.
A 54mm tamper ensures expert tamping control, and a hands-free grinding cradle leaves all the hard work to the machine.
Our favorite features are the Breville's grind size/grind amount selector dials, which enable you to customize grinds from fine to coarse.
Satisfied owners tell us this machine meets their demands every time.
The Breville Barista Express features grind size/grind amount selector dials that allow you to customize your grinds from fine to coarse.
The La Pavoni Europiccola Espresso Machine features an all-steel construction with heavy chrome plating. These materials look beautiful on the counter and enhance the machine's durability and performance. Other notable features include a tamper, measuring ladle, cappuccino attachment (for accurate and tasty results), and an easy-to-use handle that gives users complete control over pressure.
Delightfully rich, flavorful espresso is the name of the game with the Saeco Philips Intelia Deluxe Espresso Machine.
You’ll find great espresso machines from manufacturers like Mr. Coffee and DeLonghi in this price bracket. Machines in this range often boast automated features and versatility.
If you want to be daring, you could purchase a stovetop espresso maker for under $25 and take the “old school” approach to creating espresso. The process required here is as simple as automatic machines, but the principle is the same: you heat water through finely ground coffee. This approach isn’t for amateurs, but it’s a fun experience.
A top-notch espresso maker could cost up to $600. If this price gives you pause, consider that a 16-ounce cappuccino from a coffee shop costs around $4. That means that after 150 drinks at home, you’d break even on the cost of the machine.
An espresso machine's type, size, and features usually dictate its price. Stainless steel costs more than plastic, but it's also more durable. Higher-end espresso machines can cost $600 or even more. Lower-end machines often sell for less than $100.
A price tag of $80 makes the De'Longhi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker one of the more affordable espresso machines on our shortlist.
Some potential buyers might be skeptical of the price. After all, a higher-priced machine typically produces better drinks. However, the De'Longhi is a capable contender that delivers rich, tasty coffee beverages thanks to features like the swivel jet frother and self-priming function.
This machine does make a bit of noise while brewing, but that's a fairly common characteristic in lower-priced machines, and it doesn't affect beverage quality.
Don't let the De’Longhi’s lower price fool you. It is an affordable machine that performs consistently, and is the best economical choice on the market today for your coffee cravings.
With a price of just $35, the Mr. Coffee ECM160 is a highly affordable machine. Its budget price comes as a relief to cash-conscious consumers who might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the pricier options on the market. For the money, users get a product with a moderate output of one to four cups of coffee at a time. A removable froth aid, stay-cool handle, and drip-free pouring spout provide extra "creature comforts" that make this unit worth the investment.
A few users complained that the included tamper is not very effective. An even smaller number of customers told us that their machine broke down or quit shortly after purchase. However, these were rare occurrences.
The Breville Barista Express Machine has a price tag of $599, making it a solid mid-range contender. With a 15-bar Italian pump and 1,600-watt thermocoil heating system, the Breville produces strong, flavorful results with every cup. For the money, you enjoy plenty of control over your coffee grinds, leading to a fresh and bold cup of java every time.
Before purchasing this item, however, make sure you are okay with the fact that the grinder comes attached to this model. Some other models come with separate grinders, and if you're a serious coffee connoisseur, this may or may not be important to you.
Unlike some other models, the Breville Barista Express' grinder is attached to the machine.
A price tag of $859 makes the La Pavoni Europiccola a stretch for budget-conscious consumers. The product has a lot to offer, though, including an attractive, all-steel construction with heavy chrome plating and a cappuccino attachment. Owners admit that this machine takes work, practice, and patience to get great results, but they insist that the extra effort is worth it in the end.
Want to create fancy designs on top of your drinks? The lower the fat content, the easier it is to “texture” hot milk.
The Breville Barista Express’ superior performance, array of features, and consistent results prompt us to give it our "Best of the Best" award. With a price tag of $599, this model falls solidly in the middle of our price range. As we stated earlier, espresso machines can run the gamut from $100 to $1,000. Although this isn't a budget model, it doesn't have an outrageous price tag, either.
Espresso lovers searching for a low-cost machine may hesitate at the price tag. That’s understandable. However, given this machine's high customer ratings, excellent performance, and generous number of features, we think it's a worthy investment.
The Breville Barista Express garners lots of praise from satisfied customers, and for good reason. Once you get the hang of it, this machine is quite easy to use — although it may take a bit of trial and error at first.
We're especially impressed by this model's 15-bar Italian pump and 1,600-watt thermocoil heating system, as well as its stainless steel conical grinder with sealed bean hopper. Indeed, you get lots of power and control over how your beans are ground and how your drink will taste when you use this machine.
We recommend this product to both experienced baristas and novice coffee makers. In fact, we believe anyone who enjoys the taste of java would appreciate this luxurious product. Efficient and reliable, you simply cannot find a better espresso machine on the market today. We highly endorse the Breville Barista Express as the Best of the Best.
The Breville Barista Express has quality written all over it. It's a mid-priced machine that yields deluxe results.
If you're looking for a capable espresso and cappuccino maker that delivers quality results without breaking the bank, the De'Longhi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is a stellar option. We give this machine our "Best Bang for Your Buck" award for many reasons, including its convenient self-priming operation and 15-bar pump pressure.
The drawbacks we uncovered in our product research were minor and included a frother that does not always "froth" as much as some would like and a slight noise during coffee preparation. In light of how inexpensive this product is, however, most people agree that these minor imperfections are no big deal. Considering that you COULD be paying over $1,000 for an espresso machine, we find the De'Longhi 15-BAR Pump to be a particularly good bargain.
Q. How should I care for my espresso machine?
A. After every brewing session, run a shot of water through the machine to keep it clean. Sediment can build up through repeated use.
If your machine permits it, you should also perform a clean water backflush every 10 to 15 shots. This requires you to put a stopper in your portafilter to reverse the water flow.
Q. What is a “Red Eye”?
A. It’s a powerful combination of espresso and strong drip coffee. It can be drunk with our without milk or creamer.
Q. I know that Seattle is the nation’s top coffee-drinking city. Where was its first espresso bar?
A. Seattle’s first espresso bar was Cafe Allegro, located near the University of Washington. The owners worked with Starbucks to create the company’s original espresso blend.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.