Buying an effective espresso machines is more difficult than you might first imagine but that’s where we step in…
Many coffee machine are quick and easy to buy. If you want a pod-based system, for example, there isn’t too much you need to think about.
Espresso makers are slightly different, though. For this reason, we’ve got a truly bumper guide for you here today.
We’d recommend making yourself a coffee so you can sit back, relax and see exactly how to buy an espresso machine the easy way. Along with frank reviews of all the leading machines, we’ve also got a treasure trove of handy hints for you so you can make the best espresso the easy way.
- Our Top 6 Picks for Espresso Machines
- I. What Is Espresso?
- II. Type of Espresso Machine
- III. Reviews of Best Espresso Machines
- 1. Our Pick: Breville Barista Express
- 2. Runner-Up: DeLonghi Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
- 3. Also Great: Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
- 4. The Best Espresso Machine Under $200: Mr Coffee Café Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
- 5. Best Manual Espresso Maker: Flair Manual Espresso Press
- 6. Nespresso (the best pod espresso machine): Nespresso VertuoPlus Coffee and Espresso Machine
- 7. Upgrade Pick: Breville Barista Touch Espresso Maker
- 8. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
- 9. Breville The Infuser Espresso Machine
- 10. Mr Coffee One-Touch Espresso Maker and Cappuccino Machine
- 11. DeLonghi America Dedica Deluxe Espresso Maker
- 12. Gaggia Brera Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
- 13. Breville Bambino Plus Espresso Machine
- 14. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
- 15. DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine with Sensor Grinder
- IV. Buyer’s Guide
- V. Guide to Using Espresso Machine
- VI. What You Can Make Besides Regular Espresso
- VII. FAQ
- 1) What’s the best type of espresso machine?
- 2) What grind size do I need for espresso?
- 3) Can I only make espresso in an espresso machine?
- 4) Is it really necessary to grind my beans directly before brewing?
- 5) Why is the quality of the water I use so important?
- 6) Does espresso have more caffeine than regular coffee?
- 7) Why can I notice dark streaks in the crema of my espresso? Is this a good sign?
- 8) Why are some espresso machines over $10,000?
- 9) What is a group head?
- 10) What is a heat exchanger?
- 11) What is a portafilter handle?
- 12) What does tamping mean?
- VIII. Conclusion
Our Top 6 Picks for Espresso Machines
Breville Barista Express Our #1 Pick
I. What Is Espresso?
Preparation is what differentiates espresso from regular coffee.
Those short, strong shots beloved by the Italians are produced by pressurizing near-boiling water then sending it at pace through very finely ground coffee beans. If at all possible, grind whole beans directly before brewing and make sure you grind them finely.
The pressure does more than get your espresso in the cup quickly. It also helps to disperse the oils and to develop a rich and golden crema.
In terms of caffeine content, you’ll get roughly the same 80mg of caffeine in a shot as you’d find in a regular, longer coffee. Due to the tiny shots espresso is served in, this translates to less caffeine per cup.
Now, we’ll look into buying an espresso machine in more detail when we get to the buying guide down below.
The first thing you need to clear up is what type of espresso maker makes the best fit for your needs. This will often and understandably be linked to budget so what are your options?
II. Type of Espresso Machine
While espresso machines exist in many different forms, for the purposes of today we’ll be considering 3 main variants:
This type of machine is what you’d normally expect to see in a commercial coffee shop.
Thanks to an automated system, water is driven rapidly through the group head. You’ll need to take care of grinding and tamping. You will also be responsible for monitoring brewing times.
This is arguably the most effective type of espresso machine if you’re confident making coffee.
Prices for semi-automatics vary wildly starting at a few hundred bucks and rising deep into five-figures.
Fully automatic machines work in much the same way as semi-automatics. The key difference is the way in which they can automatically stop water flow.
Prices run from the $500-1000 level up to much, much more for purely commercial machines.
A super-automatic machine will take care of absolutely everything from grinding the beans onward.
While you won’t get any control over the brewing process, consistency is exceptional and ease of use is unimprovable.
This type of machine is perhaps most commonly used in offices although super-automatics are becoming more popular at home, too.
Prices start at several hundred bucks and commonly run into the thousands.
Note: We’ll also be including a manual espresso press today for all the coffee purists out there.
Now we’ve sketched in the basics, we’ll highlight what we feel are the 15 strongest espresso machines up for grabs.
III. Reviews of Best Espresso Machines
1. Our Pick: Breville Barista Express
You’ll get your espresso off to a perfect start by grinding up your beans directly before brewing. The Barista Express comes with a highly effective conical burr grinder onboard. Dose control grinding means the precise dose is delivered to the portafilter with no tinkering around on your part. You can alter the grind size by twisting a dial.
The temperature of your water is also integral to making the finest espresso. The PID digital temperature control allows you to dial this right in.
The manual wand might require a little effort but in return you’ll be rewarded with maximum control over the creation of foam.
If you’re concerned about how long it will take to rack up espresso this good, the answer might surprise you. Expect a lip-smacking shot in your cup in 60 seconds flat.
This model sits roughly in the middle of Breville’s impressive range of espresso makers and it’s priced accordingly. While you could hardly describe it as cheap, we’d argue this machine represents outstanding value. Also, if you act quickly, the Barista Express is available at a steep discount.
Whether you’re looking for a single or double shot in the morning, the Breville might just be the smartest investment you make this year. The generous bundle of accessories thrown in completes a winning package.
Pros: Bean-to-cup grinding. Digital temperature control. Sleek design meets rugged build. Generous bundle of accessories. Manual steam wand for improved flexibility.
Cons: Fairly pricey. Few issues reported with grinder.
Bottom Line: A superb way to introduce gourmet espresso at home with all the benefits of grinding your beans directly before brewing.
2. Runner-Up: DeLonghi Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
Are you hunting for an espresso machine that also allows you to make cappuccino and other longer drinks?
First thing’s first, this super-automatic machine makes first right shots. The integrated grinder allows you to get started on the right foot by grinding your own beans before brewing. You’ll get an impressive 13 settings so you can blitz your beans to precisely the fineness you want them.
Along with a choice of single and double espresso, you can also enjoy cappuccino, latte, and Americano. Hot water on demand completes a robust choice of drinks suitable for the whole family.
Although you’ll be able to tweak settings to customize your drink, operation is push-button simplicity in action.
One of the key selling points of this machine is just how easy it is to clean and maintain. Let’s face it, if your coffee machine is a pain to clean, it doesn’t tend to get too much use. You won’t any chemical cleaning tablets and maintenance is kept to an absolute minimum.
The control panel is a breeze to navigate and you won’t take long to accustom yourself to the various settings. Once you’re up and running, this espresso machine is a true pleasure to use.
Pros: Makes more than just espresso. Onboard grinder for maximum freshness. 13 grind settings. Easy to program and control. Simple cleaning and maintenance.
Cons: Metal grinder could be improved. No temperature adjustment.
Bottom Line: For a no-nonsense and multipurpose espresso machine that looks great and occupies a compact form factor, the DeLonghi is a home run.
3. Also Great: Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
Gaggia is a legend in the coffee industry and the Classic Pro lives up to both parts of its name.
The key draw with this coffee machine is the preponderance of commercial components. While the Gaggia is not especially cheap, when you consider the build quality and expected lifespan, you’re getting a bargain.
Functionality is limited but effective. You’ll be able to choose from a single or double espresso then you can crown your drink with the Pannarello wand.
The generous 72oz water reservoir means you won’t be endlessly scuttling over to the sink while the 1450 watts of power on tap give you more than enough oomph for top-tier espresso.
The pressurized basket accepts either pre-ground coffee or ESE pods giving you great freedom.
Uprated pump mounts on this face-lifted model give you even greater performance with even less noise. The stainless steel housing has also been tweaked. Not only does the machine look better than ever before, you’ll also find it easier to access the water tank. Controls have also been streamlined to improve an already strong machine across the board.
From a cold start, your machine will be warmed up and ready to brew in no more than 5 minutes.
The Gaggia, despite such outstanding performance, comes priced extremely keenly so what are you waiting for?
Pros: Utilitarian design and rugged build. Many commercial components onboard. Get single or double shots with ease. Manual steam wand for latte art.
Cons: Limited choice of drinks. Minimal chance to customize settings.
Bottom Line: A solid machine if you mainly drink espresso and you already have your own grinder or you drink pre-ground coffee.
4. The Best Espresso Machine Under $200: Mr Coffee Café Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
If you didn’t think it was possible to snare an effective espresso machine for less than $200, think again. Mr Coffee has a hard-won reputation for producing bargain basement appliances that punch above their weight. This combined espresso machine and cappuccino maker continues that tradition in fine style.
You should peg your expectations with this machine when it comes to build quality. Top-notch machines cost that much in part because of the expected lifespan. That said, despite feeling slightly flimsy, the Café Barista won’t look out of place on your kitchen counter.
As well as your favorite espresso, you’ll be able to confidently rack up latte and cappuccino even if you’re an absolute beginner.
Using this machine is super-simple and the controls are a cinch to operate.
Cleaning and filling the water and milk tanks is simplified since you can slip them both out.
Milk frothing is automatic. While this doesn’t give you quite the flexibility of a manual wand, you won’t need to put in any effort.
If you have a family with differing tastes in coffee and you don’t want to spend out too much on a machine, the Café Barista is the obvious compromise.
Pros: Makes espresso, latte, and cappuccino. Water and milk reservoirs slide out for ease of cleaning. Easy to make espresso. Seamless to navigate control panel. Exceptional value for money.
Cons: Flimsy feel and questionable build quality.
Bottom Line: While it might not last for decades, the Café Barista from Mr Coffee makes a flexible and powerful addition to your kitchen if you’ve got a tight budget.
5. Best Manual Espresso Maker: Flair Manual Espresso Press
Next up we’ve got something completely different with this show-stopping manual espresso press.
If you’re after pure push-button ease, scroll down to our next offering. If, on the other hand, you want to fine-tune brewing espresso and you appreciate that making great coffee takes time, this manual press is a must.
Due to the portable nature and the carry case thrown in, this makes the ideal companion if you’re a regular traveller and you’re not prepared to compromise the quality of your morning espresso.
Not only does this manual press get the job done admirably, the design also means it makes a real conversation piece on your kitchen counter.
Pop 13 to 18 grams of coffee into the detachable brewing head and you’ll generate a 45ml shot of espresso the Italians would be proud of.
The lever is capable of exerting 6 to 10 bar of pressure which will lead to an impeccable short shot. Extraction time is 30 to 45 seconds.
Make sure you invest in a great conical burr grinder and some awesome beans to get the very best from this manual espresso maker.
Pros: Exercise complete control over the brewing process. Aluminum and stainless steel build is impressive. Completely portable. Silent in operation. Custom carry case thrown in.
Cons: You’ll need to pack plenty of patience. The opposite of plug-and-play simplicity.
Bottom Line: If you’re an espresso fiend looking to take total charge of the brewing process and you don’t mind taking a little time and trouble, there’s no substitute for the Flair manual press.
6. Nespresso (the best pod espresso machine): Nespresso VertuoPlus Coffee and Espresso Machine
If you’re looking for the complete convenience of a pod-based machine, Nespresso boasts a broad and deep range.
Before committing to a pod-based system, you should factor in the ongoing cost of replacement. If you drink coffee occasionally, these machines make perfect sense. If, however, you’ve got a large family of coffee lovers, you might find the expense mounts.
All you need to do it hit a button and you can choose from espresso, double espresso, gran lungo, coffee or alto. You can even pour your freshly brewed espresso over ice if you prefer your coffee cooler.
This machine comes in a number of configurations including the Aeroccino frother and also with coffee capsules bundled. If you want the machine only, you’ll get the best possible price. Even if you buy the machine on its own, you’ll still get a welcome pack of VertuoLine capsules thrown in.
As long as you don’t mind being locked into the selection of proprietary VertuoLine capsules, you won’t find an easier way to get espresso and a range of other specialty coffees at the press of a single button.
Pros: Total convenience of capsule-based system. Settings optimized through bar code technology. Tall, slimline form factor perfect for crowded kitchens. Make a wide choice of drinks at the push of a button.
Cons: You might not be able to get your favorite blend. Reasonably expensive to run thanks to cost of capsules.
Bottom Line: While capsule-based systems are not for everyone, you’ll get no-nonsense espresso and other coffee in seconds flat with no clean-up to worry about.
7. Upgrade Pick: Breville Barista Touch Espresso Maker
Moving up the Breville range, our upgrade pick is the majestic Barista Touch but what justifies that elevated price tag?
Firstly, build quality is exceptional and you’ll get a heavyset machine built to withstand plenty of punishment. While this is not a dedicated commercial machine, you’ll get a rock-solid operator built for years of faithful service.
Ease of use is uppermost with the Barista Touch. Tweak the strength, temperature and milk texture to suit. You can then save and name settings so you’ve got 8 personalized coffees available at the push of a button.
If you appreciate your espresso in a hurry, the ThermoJet heating system ensures the machine is heated in 3 seconds flat.
Touchscreen functionality is a real cinch to use and lends an air of elegance to this sleek, stainless espresso maker.
If you’re on the lookout for an expresso machine that’s build to last the distance and capable of yielding gourmet coffee without any fuss at all, the Breville Barista Touch is a hard-hitting unit that won’t disappoint.
Pros: Easy to store up to 8 personalized coffees. Rapid heat-up time. Commercial-grade machine suitable for home use. Onboard grinder for maximum convenience and freshness. Crisp touchscreen interface.
Cons: Reasonably pricey for a residential coffee machine. Looks polarize opinion.
Bottom Line: If you want an espresso maker that wouldn’t be out of place in a coffee shop but you’d like to keep expenditure below four-figures, the Breville Barista Touch delivers in fine style.
8. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Next up, we’ve got another costly but highly effective espresso machine from industry legend Rancilio. The Silvia is a powerful yet compact espresso maker sharing some parts with the commercial units Rancilio are famous for the world over.
You’ll get no touchscreen on the Silvia so control is shared between dials and buttons. This renders the machine a pleasure to use even if you’re an absolute beginner.
The commercial group head leads to exceptional heating stability and first-class extraction every time.
The articulating steam wand allows you complete control and an extended range of motion when you’re creating lavish latte art.
Although only a single boiler, capacity is the largest in-class for a residential machine.
Not only does this espresso maker heat up in a flash, recovery time between brewing is super-swift, too. This machine makes a great fit in busy kitchens where everyone is rushing around in the morning.
You’ll get a pair of filter baskets (single and double) along with a tamper and scoop so you can grab 7g of coffee without fiddling around.
As an added kicker, you can buy a kit enabling you to use pods when you fancy a more immediate drink.
This Rancilio is a supremely powerful machine that’s built to last the distance so what’s not to love?
Pros: Shares some components with commercial Rancilio machines. Articulating steam wand for maximum control. Utilitarian and boxy design. Pod and adapter kit available for even more flexibility.
Cons: Design not to everyone’s taste. A few reported issues with build quality.
Bottom Line: If you hanker after a commercial espresso machine but you don’t fancy taking out a bank loan, Rancilio offers you the next best thing with the retooled Silvia.
9. Breville The Infuser Espresso Machine
Breville serves up a broad and deep range of coffee machines suitable for all tastes and budgets.
The Infuser is a modern classic and, while it’s not especially cheap, if you act quickly, you can snatch yourself an incredible bargain since it’s currently steeply discounted.
You get things started with a pre-infusion mod. This dials back the pressure so the grinds are gradually soaked.
Temperature is key when you’re making espresso and precise PID control ensures you get this nailed every time. An auto-purge features regulated temperature after steaming then the extraction temperature is optimized. Choose from single or double shots created just the way the Europeans drink them.
Alongside a single and double filter basket, you’ll also get a scoop, a jug, a cleaning tool, and a water filter. You’ll even get some cleaning discs thrown in so there’s no excuse to neglect maintenance. Little and often works well with The Infuser and ensures you’ll never have too much work on your hands.
If you’re wondering why there’s a plastic insert in the stainless filter, this is to minimize heat loss by espresso splashing against ice-cold walls.
For a rock-solid espresso without standing on ceremony, why not opt for Breville’s legendary The Infuser? You won’t regret your decision.
Pros: Pre-infusion gets the process started gently. PID temperature control. Solid batch of accessories bundled. 15 bar pump with volumetric presets and manual override. Elegant aesthetic.
Cons: Doesn’t work on 220 volts. Pricey.
Bottom Line: If you fancy a potent and durable espresso machine from a brand you can trust, Breville’s The Infuser punches dramatically above its weight.
10. Mr Coffee One-Touch Espresso Maker and Cappuccino Machine
Mr Coffee is proof positive that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get yourself a solid espresso maker. This poky little unit even helps you create a range of other coffees so what makes it stand out?
Ease of use is perhaps the key attractor with this compact unit. Drinks are clearly laid out on buttons so this makes a neat fit if you’ve got elderly relatives at home and they struggle with tech.
Choose from espresso, latte or cappuccino covering all main bases. Choose from single or double shots, too.
The frother takes care of foaming automatically. While this gives you slightly less control than a manual wand, it also removes any effort from production.
The drip tray can be easily adjusted so you’ll fit just about any mug under this machine, even taller travel vessels.
There’s a cleaning cycle baked in. All you need to do is hit a button to activate the cycle and the machine does all the hard work for you.
For anyone on the trail of an automated espresso experience requiring little by the way of clean-up or maintenance, Mr Coffee is the go-to choice. Performance meets price in a wonderful unit ideal for families who enjoy their coffee in different ways.
Important note: Follow the instructions closely and make sure you prime your machine before using it for the first time.
Pros: Remarkable price/performance ratio. Straightforward push-button operation. Even heating thanks to thermocoupling system. Adjustable tray accommodates taller travel mugs. Milk reservoir slips out with ease for storage in the fridge.
Cons: Build quality is questionable. Feels slightly flimsy as you’d expect at this price-point.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a budget espresso maker that also serves a turn with longer, creamier drinks, Mr Coffee smashes another home run out the park.
11. DeLonghi America Dedica Deluxe Espresso Maker
Near the low end of DeLonghi’s wide range of coffee machines, the America Dedica Deluxe brings you quality on a budget.
Firstly, this machine looks commanding. Even though it’s small and slim, the burnished stainless finish makes a statement. Luckily, it’s not a case of form over function, here.
Along with single or double espresso, you’ll also be free to rack up latte and cappuccino making this a superb machine for a large family with varying tastes.
Operation couldn’t be much easier. You’ll get the ease of use you’d normally associate with a pod-based machine but you’ll have the advantage of being able to use freshly ground coffee. Remember, for the best possible espresso, you should start by grinding whole beans directly before brewing.
For longer drinks, you’ll benefit from the integrated frother. This is adjustable so you can tweak foam and steam levels to suit.
Automatic flow ensures you’ll get the precise amount of espresso in your cup. You can also fine-tune this to deliver more or less depending on your taste buds.
If we had to use a single word to encapsulate all this powerful little unit has to offer, it would be versatile. Enjoy all that freedom without needing to put in any real effort. How can that not breed success?
Pros: Super-compact form factor perfect for small kitchens. Striking minimalist aesthetic. 15 bars of pressure for optimum espresso extraction. Completely customizable frother. Ease of use. Brand heritage.
Cons: Quite costly for a small machine. Questionable customer service.
Bottom Line: If you’re hunting for a versatile and hard-working espresso machine that looks great on any kitchen counter, you can rely on DeLonghi.
12. Gaggia Brera Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
As we edge to the end of our quest for the best espresso machine in a glutted market, we’ve got another entry from Gaggia, this time a super-automatic espresso machine which comes in mid-priced.
If your main love is espresso, this unit can deliver in fine style. There’s a grinder up above so you get things going the right way.
Your machine will up to speed in no time and you’ll then just need to hit a button for your beverage of choice. Rapid steam technology ensures you won’t be hanging around when you’re busy in the morning while operation is a cakewalk thanks to the touchscreen and dials. While you’ll enjoy excellent functionality, using this machine couldn’t be simpler.
Beyond espresso, take advantage of the milk frother to create longer and creamier drinks. You’ll even be able to draw hot water on demand if you’re partial to a cup of tea.
The drip tray, water tank and dregs container all slide out so cleaning and maintenance is streamlined perfectly.
Crowned by a solid 1-year warranty, you’ve got all you could possibly ask for from a machine at this price-point.
Pros: Pannarello wand for steaming. This wand serves double duty providing hot water on demand. Super-quick heat-up times and impressive recovery times. 1-year limited warranty.
Cons: Not cheap. Grinder kicks out a fair amount of noise.
Bottom Line: If you want to buy into the brand heritage of Gaggia without overextending yourself, this mid-priced super-automatic makes a smart choice.
13. Breville Bambino Plus Espresso Machine
Currently being heavily discounted, there’s never been a better time to invest in Breville’s Bambino Plus, small but perfectly formed.
Ordinarily fairly expensive for a small machine, the Bambino Plus is currently on sale at a steep discount so act quickly and you’ll snare yourself a true bargain.
One thing to note right off the bat, quality control can be lacking. Several disgruntled users complain about broken components so check your package closely upon arrival.
Assuming all’s good, you’re in for a treat. Dose the portafilter with 19g of coffee and then hit the button. Thanks to the thermojet heating system, you’ll achieve the ideal temperature for espresso in just 3 seconds. Extraction is first-rate and you can enjoy a single or double to taste. Pre-infusion ensures things start slow and steady with the grounds perfectly prepared.
Temperature is controlled precisely thanks to PID with the water delivered at exactly the temperature you need.
Milk foaming is automatic so that’s one less job for you to worry about.
For mouthwatering espresso with a rich, golden crema without needing to hit the coffee shop or pick up the stiff daily bill, why not invest in this small but mighty Breville? You won’t regret it.
Pros: Space-saving model ideal for cramped kitchens. Automatic steam wand for total convenience. Pre-infusion to start slowly. PID temperature control. Auto-purge to prepare machine for following shot.
Cons: Some issues with quality control.
Bottom Line: Not everyone wants a huge commercial espresso machine, and if you’ve got a small or busy kitchen, the Bambino Plus hits hard without eating up too much precious real estate.
14. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Machine
DeLonghi has a stable of outstanding coffee machines and this espresso and cappuccino maker is one of the cheapest they offer. Is it any good, though?
As with all cheaper units, you should peg your expectations to avoid disappointment. If you’re hoping for a machine that will last for decades or cope with sustained and heavy punishment, you’ll need to dig deeper. If you want a machine for moderate use and you’re a realist, this machine makes a wise bet.
15 bars of pressure and precise temperature control combine to give you great espresso on the daily. The filters come with double walls to improve the quality of the crema in your cup.
Thanks to the manual milk frother, you’ll enjoy complete control over foaming and texturing. While this initially requires a modicum of effort to master, this is repaid in full once you’re creating innovative latte art to finish off your drinks.
Although the water tank could do with being a little larger, it slips out for easy cleaning and you’ll be able to monitor water levels since it’s transparent.
Waiting time is slashed thanks to the self-priming properties of the machine.
If you fancy a quick and easy experience and espresso you’d be proud to serve dinner guests, this cheap and cheerful DeLonghi is a solid option at a very keen price so act quickly to avoid disappointment.
Pros: Unbeatable price. Self-priming to reduce waiting time. Double-wall filters produce an exceptional crema.
Cons: Capacity is underwhelming. Feels fragile.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a cheap espresso machine that doesn’t stiff you on the performance front, this DeLonghi should be top of your list.
15. DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine with Sensor Grinder
Last but by no means least, the DeLonghi La Specialista is a substantial espresso machine that wouldn’t look out of place behind a coffee shop counter. Is it actually any good, though?
Absolutely. As you’d expect from DeLonghi, this machine is quick to warm up. The moment you fire the machine up, you can start grinding. This, of course, gets your espresso off to the best possible start. Always grind directly before brewing if possible.
Single and double espresso is delivered at the push of a button but this machine extends far beyond short, strong shots. A manual wand allows you to create latte and cappuccino if you prefer creamier coffee.
Dosing is always spot-on thanks to the sensor-grinding tech baked in.
For large families all crying out for different types of coffee in the morning, this espresso maker is a fantastic solution.
Pros: Incredibly quick out the blocks. Exciting design. Rugged build with solid componentry. Smart tamping station keeps mess to the bare minimum. Dual heating system for simultaneous extraction and frothing.
Cons: Not cheap. Relatively noisy. Quite a bulky unit.
Bottom Line: If you’ve got plenty of space on the kitchen counter, this espresso machine looks great and packs a real punch. For anyone with a fluid budget and exacting tastes, La Specialista lives up to its name in fine style.
With those 15 reviews wrapped, you should now have a clear idea of the finest espresso machines across a range of price-points.
Maybe you’re still not sure what you should be looking out for on the buying trail, though.
Well, we’ve got you covered. We’ll walk you through a simple guide to simplify your buying decision further. Once we’re done, we’ll round out with some hints on effectively using your espresso maker before tailing off with a curated list of the most frequently asked questions.
So, grab yourself a quick coffee and buckle up!
IV. Buyer’s Guide
Before you launch into anything more than initial research, decide what type of machine would make the best fit.
Do you want the ease of use provided by an automatic or super-automatic or do you prefer exercising a little more control with a semi-automatic?
Get this right then double down on the following areas:
- Design Options
- Temperature Control
- Variety of Drinks
- Intended Use
- Price/Performance Ratio
You have 3 main varieties of espresso maker within the types we outlined at the very beginning today:
- Single Boiler
- Heat Exchanger
- Double Boiler
This type of machine comes with a single boiler that heats water for both espresso and steam for milk. The machine cannot perform these tasks simultaneously.
You’ll normally find these machines have an internal water reservoir with no option for mains water connection.
This is one of the most cost-effective espresso solutions but you will need to be patient. The lack of temperature control is tiresome and these machines won’t work well for producing large volumes of drinks since you’ll constantly be refilling the reservoir.
This type of machine lets you heat water and steam at the same time. You’ll understandably pay a little more for this privilege.
You’ll enjoy superior temperature control with these machines. They are also especially useful if you frequently prepare milk-based coffee.
A dual-boiler machine operates in similar fashion to one with a heat exchanger. Heat water and steam simultaneously with precise temperature control.
Easy to use but relatively pricey, you’ll have to decide if you’re prepared to pay more for a certain level of convenience.
What else, then?
Water at the right temperature is crucial if you want to enjoy the finest espresso.
The best machine come with PID temperature control allowing you to take total charge and optimize your espresso every step of the way.
Where some features are of questionable value, it pays to source a machine packing PID.
Variety of Drinks
Next, you should think carefully about the types of drinks you and your family most enjoy.
Many espresso machines also offer you the ability to make a much wider range of coffee – more on those directly below.
Add in some frothed milk and you could soon add latte, cappuccino and more to your menu.
In our opinion, if you only plan to drink non-espresso from time to time, it’s not worth angling for this type of machine.
Many espresso machines come with an integrated grinder. This allows you to grind directly before brewing without needing yet another third-party piece of kit.
Look out for a conical burr grinder and make sure you opt for a nice, fine espresso grind.
Obviously, if you already have a grinder or you frequently drink pre-ground coffee, this is not a deal-breaker. If you’re just starting out, this is a feature well worth prioritizing.
Ask yourself how you’ll be using your espresso machine.
If you’ve got a large family constantly hankering after coffee all day, you should make sure you focus on machines capable of handling this degree of punishment.
Think, also, about whether you often use your machine in a hurry. If time is of the essence when you’re getting ready for work, look for a machine that heats up quickly and recovers rapidly between shots.
For more casual use, even cheaper espresso makers will likely be up to the job. Keep it personal and you’ll maximize the chances of finding the best machine for your needs.
Last but certainly not least, you should consider the price. Rather than looking purely at the bottom line, think instead about overall value. After all, it’s senseless getting what looks like a bargain but it’s not fit for its intended purpose.
If you’re looking to use your machine heavily, you’d be well advised to dig slightly deeper. In return, you’ll get a pro-grade espresso maker that should return years of happy service.
Once you’ve got your machine in place, how can you make the best espresso the easy way?
V. Guide to Using Espresso Machine
Since all espresso machines vary so much in terms of functionality, we can’t give you an accurate how-to guide that will span all machines.
What we can do is illustrate the steps you should take if you’ve got a desire for the finest espresso possible so here goes…
- Dose Your Coffee
- Grind Your Beans
- Use Great Water
- Fill The Portafilter
- Start Brewing
- Pour Your Shot
Dose Your Coffee
For maximum precision, use a scale and weigh out 7-9g of coffee beans for a single shot of espresso. Shoot for 14-18g if you’re planning to pour a double shot.
Grind Your Beans
You should grind your beans directly before brewing if at all possible.
Opt for a fine grind roughly the consistency of table salt if you’re making espresso.
With the coffee in place, switch focus to the water you’ll be using.
Use Great Water
Not all water is created equal and since your espresso will be over 90% water, why compromise things with cloudy tap water?
Either use bottled water or a filter to get the best from your faucet water.
If you’re planning to use bottled water, roll with distilled. This type of water is odorless and tasteless. It will also inhibit the scaling which can impair the efficient running of your machine.
Fill The Portafilter
Pop your grounds directly into the portafilter next attempting to distribute them evenly. Tap the sides of the portafilter with your knuckles so the grounds settle.
Grinders with onboard dosers allow you to combine this step with the next, tamping…
When you tamp, shoot for applying perhaps 30 pounds of pressure. This varies depending on the type and roast of coffee as well as the grind size.
When you’re starting out, this is a technique you’ll need to develop. When you’re experimenting, only alter one variable at a time so you can get things dialed in.
Lock in the portafilter and get your machine brewing. You shouldn’t have long to wait…
Pour Your Shot
25 seconds is a sound baseline for extraction time. Allow 5 seconds either way depending on the grind size.
Sit back and enjoy that delectable shot then rinse and repeat as necessary!
So far, so good but how about if you fancy expanding your repertoire? What else can you create beyond those simple shots?
VI. What You Can Make Besides Regular Espresso
One of the advantages of an espresso machine is the ability you’ll get to create far more than just a short shot.
Here’s a quick glimpse at how to make 8 of the most common coffees beyond espresso…
- Americano: All you need to do is add some hot water to a shot of espresso and you’re good to go
- Cappuccino: For a cappuccino, layer a shot of espresso followed by a shot of steamed milk and laced with chocolate and frothy, foamy milk
- Flat White: Originating in Australia and New Zealand, a flat white comes about when the steamed milk from the jug is added to an espresso
- Latte: Add some steamed milk to a strong shot of espresso and that’s café latte for you
- Long Black: Pour some hot water into a cup then add a double shot of espresso for a trademark long black
- Macchiato: Add some foamed milk into a shot of espresso for a macchiato
- Mochaccino: Add some chocolate syrup to a latte for a rock-solid mochaccino
- Ristretto: A ristretto is an espresso with half the amount of water for an even more concentrated burst of coffee at its finest
To finish up today, we’ve got a list of some of the most frequently asked questions concerning espresso…
1) What’s the best type of espresso machine?
There’s no fixed answer here. You should start by closely analyzing your needs. Think about how much you prioritize control over the brewing process set against sheer speed and convenience. Take the time to browse through our guide to the different type of machine and buy accordingly. If you keep things personal, you’ll get the right espresso maker for your needs rather than hunting for a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t exist.
2) What grind size do I need for espresso?
You should grind your beans finely to the stage beyond powder. As a guideline, shoot for a consistency roughly parallel with table salt. You’ve then get the making of the best espresso.
3) Can I only make espresso in an espresso machine?
Some machines are limited but most give you the opportunity to create a range of longer, milkier drinks with your espresso as a base. As we outlined above, don’t look out for this feature unless you’re actually going to use it. With many combination machines, you’ll be able to brew latte, cappuccino and macchiato at the press of a button so you’ve got ample options at your disposal.
4) Is it really necessary to grind my beans directly before brewing?
Necessary is an overstatement. That said, there’s no doubt whatsoever that grinding just before brewing leads to the freshest possible espresso. The beans will not degrade as quickly as they will once ground and you’ll enjoy a coffee just like you’d get in Starbucks without being confronted by the bill.
5) Why is the quality of the water I use so important?
Simple math. The vast bulk of the contents of your cup are water so why shortchange yourself? At minimum, you should filter your faucet water. If possible, buy bottled water instead. Distilled water is the optimum since you’ll get a crisp and clear taste while the water won’t end up scaling up your machine with sediment as much as water taken straight from the tap will do.
6) Does espresso have more caffeine than regular coffee?
The answer might surprise you here. It doesn’t, no. A single shot contains roughly the same amount of caffeine as you’d get in a longer coffee. Since there’s much less water, though, you’ll get proportionally less caffeine in espresso.
7) Why can I notice dark streaks in the crema of my espresso? Is this a good sign?
It’s not a good sign, no. Dark streaks in the crema indicate that the beans could have been burned during roasting. It also suggests the temperature of the machine could be set too high leading the water to burn the coffee. The crema should be all one color and ideally light honey in tone. If the crema is uneven, this means either the coffee has been left sitting for too long after it was ground or the dose wasn’t tamped firmly enough.
8) Why are some espresso machines over $10,000?
Like with any product, if you’re buying a commercial machine, you’ll need to dig much deeper. The type of machine you see in Starbucks – they use the Swiss Mastrena machine – is actually nearer $20,000 than $10,000 but it’s obviously a tool that generates a profit rather than an expense. Unless you plan to start charging your friends for latte, you’ve obviously got different needs at home. So, as with any product, if you’re looking to hit the upper end of the espresso machine ranges, you’ll need to have deep pockets.
9) What is a group head?
This is the beating heart of your espresso machine. The permanent metal attachment sits on the front of the machine and brings water from the machine into the filter basket.
10) What is a heat exchanger?
A heat exchanger is a single boiler that can cope with producing the 2 temperatures needed for making espresso. The lower of the temperatures provided is used for brewing while the upper temperature is for steaming and hot water. Water is heated in the boiler by an element. An internal pipe links up to the group head. With a heat exchanger onboard, you can brew and steam simultaneously.
11) What is a portafilter handle?
You put your ground coffee into this handle. The handle then locks into the espresso machine. As well as the physical handle, you get a portafilter basket along with a spout.
12) What does tamping mean?
When you put your coffee into the portafilter handle, you’ll need to compact it evenly. This is known as tamping. Whichever method you use for this, you’ll need a tamper designed for the job.
Well, we hope by now you’re perfectly placed to pick up the best espresso machine for your home. You’ve got no shortage of suitable models at your disposal and you should now be completely confident about what you should look out for on the buying trail.
Remember, grinding your beans directly before brewing will always lead to a superior shot.
As long as you take the time to think closely about how you and your family will use the machine, you should have no problems at all finding a suitable machine at a price that suits.
Bookmark La Mano Coffee as your one-stop shop for all things caffeinated. We’ve got a busy schedule planned over the holiday season so come back soon as we’ve got plenty of surprises up our sleeve. Don’t forget to follow us on social media, too. Also, if there’s anything specific you’d like us to cover here at La Mano, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll do what we can to help out.