Five Espresso Machines to Level Up Your Coffee Habit
You made the mistake of tallying how much you spend on espresso at coffee shops during the week, and it's the GDP of a small country. Something must be done.
Maybe you love the taste of delicious coffee, but your barista gives you weird looks when you come in with your robe and fuzzy slippers.
It's settled. You need an espresso machine.
We've put together a list of our favorite espresso machines for different kinds of budgets. We've also answered a few questions you might have. Let's take a look.
La Marzocco Linea Mini
This is no ordinary espresso machine, but a work of art. It's a favorite among high-end home espresso machines and has the price tag to prove it.
What you get in return is a beautiful, minimal machine that creates coffee-shop-worthy espresso quickly and intuitively. It has a built-in reservoir that holds two liters of water, and a dual boiler allows the device to maintain temperature consistency.
You adjust the temperature using the wheel on the side. It dials in the correct temperature but doesn't show exact temperatures, so you might have to experiment.
The smaller flash boiler handles brewing the espresso while a separate, larger boiler controls the hot water and steam distribution. You get quicker shots without the massive footprint of a commercial machine.
What sets this machine apart is the construction quality. It feels like a commercial machine, with no plastic parts. Cleaning is manual with a removable screen for descaling and locks for backflushing.
The barista lights turn on during brewing, so you can see the tray. The brew paddle comes with pre-infusion for more consistent shots. It plugs into any standard 110/120-volt outlet. If properly maintained, it should last as long as La Marzocco's commercial machines.
Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista
A near commercial level brewing machine might be too much. Mr. Coffee makes an excellent entry level espresso machine at a fraction of the investment. While it might not have the commercial durability of some others, it does deliver consistently good espresso.
It's a super automatic machine. Besides pushing the start button, everything else is programmed and set for you. The only other decision is if you want your milk frothed or not. It allows you to churn out shots without being stuck in the kitchen dialing precise temperature measurements.
If you're more concerned about turning that espresso shot into a latte or a mocha, this machine is all you'll need. It has easy fill water and milk reservoirs and features a one-touch control panel for multiple kinds of drinks.
It produces shots and double shots of espresso in about 30 seconds, which is plenty of time to extract most of the flavor but still get drinks done quickly. It plugs into a standard kitchen outlet. You can even remove the milk reservoir for fridge storage if you don't use it all in one session.
Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler
This is another dual boiler machine designed for the home kitchen but featuring lots of commercial machine perks. (See what we did there?)
It heats the water for the espresso and steam separately. It comes preset for temperature and pressure so that the beginner espresso brewer can get started with the machine. As you get more familiar with your preferences, you can adjust all these settings through the menu.
The display is bright and clear. Changing preferences is intuitive. It offers highly stable brew temperatures that are consistent throughout different shots. It has an adjustable preinfusion function as well, though we didn't notice much difference.
The milk steamer is a bit slow, which might knock some points off for you latte lovers, but overall it produces excellent espresso in a reasonable amount of time. It might have a slight learning curve, but it's one of the better 'home professional' machines for those still learning how to brew the perfect espresso.
Gaggia 14101 Classic
The Gaggia hasn't changed since it was first introduced. It's that consistent. It's a 17-bar pressure machine with a 72-ounce water reservoir. It's a straightforward operation with both a single and a double basket. A third basket allows you to use pods.
It has a brass portafilter for better heat stability and faster brewing times. It doesn't offer a lot of customization, but it provides an excellent all-purpose brew. It's stainless steel plated but takes up minimal space on your countertop.
The intake hole in the steam wand siphons air directly into the milk for better foam. It's easier to control than some other manual frothers. Once you steam your milk, the machine automatically backflushes, helping it run more consistently over time.
It might not be as intuitive as some of the fancier machines, but the pressure creates a nice shot of espresso with just the right crema on top. You do have to pull the machine out a bit to top off the water, but it's a small inconvenience.
Overall, it's an excellent mid-range espresso machine with enough heft and heat to give you a solid shot every time.
This De'Longhi model is another good introductory espresso machine with the ability to make multiple kinds of drinks. It has a 35-ounce water reservoir that's removable for easy cleaning. It has a three in one filter for single and double espresso plus espresso pods.
You can control the water and steam pressure separately for more consistent brews each time. It has a swivel jet frother, and a dial to close off steam when you don't want to use it. It uses a 15-bar pressure to get a great shot of espresso every time without having to fiddle with the controls too much.
It has a temperature maintenance system that allows you faster brew times between shots. The ability to use pods opens the machine up for crowd-pleasing coffee and means your guests can brew their coffee without having a Ph.D. in espresso machines.
It doesn't offer a lot of customization, but for the investment, it's a great way to get your feet wet in brewing espresso without sacrificing too much coffee maker space.
Espresso Machine Buyer's Guide
So how do you choose the right espresso maker? Let's take a look at a few different options.
Ease of Use
Super-Automatic machines are suitable for beginners because they require no more than water and grind. As long as both the water reservoir and the basket are full, you do nothing besides push a button.
They come preprogrammed for different types of drinks and how much. If you don't make a lot of espresso, and it's usually a party trick, these are fast and intuitive.
The downside is that you don't get to play with your coffee. You'll likely grow out of your espresso maker soon if you have any interest in flavor profiles and brewing the best shot of espresso in your neighborhood.
Semi-Automatic machines take care of some of the steps for you, but they still require some manual intervention. Once the water reservoir is full and you've filled your coffee basket, you push the brew button.
After the brew volume is satisfactory, turn off the brew feature. These machines brew a thicker, creamier espresso than super automatic. Plus, with fewer internal components, there's less of a chance something will go wrong down the line.
The downside is you'll have to decide further if you want pressurized or nonpressurized models. Pressurized restricts the flow to force a good crema from the espresso grind (even if it's stale). These don't allow as much experimentation, but they do deliver dependable shots.
Nonpressurized models rely solely on the grind of the coffee and the tamp in the basket. If your grind is course or you haven't packed it sufficiently, the results aren't going to be as good. The upside is once you can brew good espresso from these, you're well on your way to being a brewing champion.
Manual Lever Brewing
Before fancy electronics, manual brewers used a lever to force pressurized water into the basket for brewing. They certainly are cool, but unless you're a real aficionado, they might be more trouble than they're worth.
The tradeoff is beautifully rich and complex espresso made possible with an extra fine grind, perfect tamping, and the right pressure (and timing and a little prayer). Worth it in the end. Plus, these machines can last a lifetime.
Temperature and Pressure Gauges
To stand out from the novice espresso maker, you need to control temperature and pressure. Espresso needs to be hot, not just because you like hot espresso, but because the bean requires high temps to extract fully.
Good machines allow you to experiment with what temperature you prefer for the taste of each type of espresso bean you have. Many allow you to adjust temperature precisely.
Pressure is also essential. The right pressure gives the espresso the rich crema, and without it, you get a weak shot.
The steam wand is also essential, so you can get the right pillowy milk. Low-cost machines won't give you the right kind of foam.
Some also have more than one drip spout. Moderate coffee drinkers should be fine with a single spout, but if you have a serious coffee habit, you might want to brew more than one shot at a time to get the drink you want.