Making espresso at home is both challenging and rewarding. Here are some truly brilliant models to get you started on your barista journey.
So you are thinking about getting a home espresso machine?
Let me both congratulate and warn you; I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but there are a few things you should consider before heading to the big box store.
Getting an espresso machine is similar to some of life’s most significant decisions (Buying your first home, picking the right career). You want to put some thought into it while also listening to your heart if not you’ll be in for frustration down the line.
If you do it the right way, however, you’ll certainly experience the kind of bliss that comes with the combination of caffeine and craftsmanship.
With that in mind, below is the best espresso machine for most people starting their home-barista journey. Read on for the full scoop.
How to pick a home espresso maker?
The first thing you want to consider before thinking about functionality should be your budget.
Whatever, your budget is, make sure to include a grinder as well.
It’s often heard in the world of coffee that the grinder is more important than the coffee maker itself, and like most people, you probably scoff at this seemingly exaggerated proposition.
However, when it comes to espresso, you should not underestimate the importance of the grinder.
Let me explain why real quick:
- If your grinder can’t grind fine enough, you’ll not be able to brew at the necessary 9 bars of pressure.
- Also, if the grinder isn’t capable of making granular adjustments, you will never be able to dial in your shot correctly.
- If you have too big increments, you could be stuck between either too fast or slow a flow rate.
- The quality and texture of the ground coffee is also worth having in mind, but the most crucial things to keep in mind are point 1 and 2
MILK OR NO MILK?
I don’t want to turn this espresso machine review into a magazine personality test, but there’s at least one thing you should quiz yourself about: What is the proportion of espresso to milk-based drinks going to be?
If you’re more interested in lattes and cappuccinos, then that should inform your decision. You’ll need a machine with good steaming capabilities, and you can be more forgiving about the whole ‘pulling shots’ kinda thing.
If you ask me, you can get away with a super-automatic or even a capsule or pod-based device. The quality of the extraction is going to matter less when you add milk to the espresso.
The best espresso machines reviews
1. Breville Infuser Espresso Machine – Best espresso machine for home
This is Breville’s mid-level semi-automatic espresso machine. Even though it’s more budget-friendly than its big brother, the Oracle, it’s still capable of pulling nice shots and creating delicious bubbly steamed milk. This home espresso maker has previously been praised by Stumptown Coffee’s education team.
Compared to its more old-school Italian rivals, the Classic and the Silvia, it’s a lot easier to use and more reliable since it has a built-in PID thermometer and a pressure gauge. This ensures that both the temperature and pressure are correct when pulling shots.
The machine also comes with a decent tamper, a 61 oz water tank, and a good pitcher for frothing milk. When you add it all up, you got a good candidate for the best value when it comes to home espresso makers.
This machine also has a slightly more expensive sibling called the Barista Express that has a built-in grinder. While it generally gets good reviews, I’d much prefer to have two separate units instead of a combo version.
Rancilio Silvia is often called Ms. Silvia among the many loyal long term users. That is because she’s a little bit like a strong-willed Italian lady. Treat her with respect, and she’ll reward you with kindness as well as thick and textured espresso shots. However, if you’re more lackadaisical in your approach to the art of making cappuccino and espresso your results are going to be sub-par.
That being said, Rancilio Silvia is the gold standard when it comes to home espresso makers, and it has been this way for more than two decades now.
This machine is a stainless steel trooper, it has an industrial-sized 58 mm portafilter, and a vintage Italian look. If you want to get serious about making classic Italian espresso or cappuccinos at home, this is a great option.
The main downside is that it doesn’t have a built-in PID thermometer like some of its competitors.
3. Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker – top rated espresso machine
The Gaggia Classic is the long term rival to Rancilio Silvia. It’s similar in many ways; it’s sturdy, compact, and Italian, and also comes with a real commercial-sized portafilter.
It’s known for making great espresso shots, as well as for only being mediocre when it comes to steaming. In espresso machine reviews it’s usually praised for having the best build quality among the budget options.
Gaggia Classic is more affordable than Miss Silvia, and if you ask me, it looks slightly more stylish. Don’t even compare this to the typical entry-level machines from Delonghi; it’s miles ahead.
If you want to brew espresso shots mainly and don’t care much for latte art, I will pick this over its famous rival.
4. Delonghi 15-Bar-Pump Espresso Maker – strong entry-level performance
Okay, this is pretty much the standard home espresso machine. It doesn’t really have any bells or whistles but it will do what you expect it to.
This device has most of the features that a first-time espresso machine buyer could want. It utilizes 15 bar pressure for its shots and heats up quickly.
There is a steam wand so you can make corridors, lattes and flat whites (if you happen to be Aussie).
It can use ESE pods, which is pretty cool if you’re sometimes on the lazy side.
This is a tried and tested model – more than a thousand reviews on Amazon are a testament to that.
Look-wise I guess it would be okay to have on the kitchen counter. It has that nostalgic Italian vibe that some people really love.
Italians have dominated espresso for years. This has been both good and bad for us consumers. Good because they make beautiful machines that can brew tasty coffee, but bad because they tend to be conservative tech-wise.
Breville is an Australian brand that doesn’t mind doing things a bit differently, and that has paid off. I don’t think I’ll offend anyone by saying that they have been the most innovative company when it comes to domestic espresso machines in recent years.
The Oracle Touch is the current top-of-the-line machine. It’s meant for people who want barista level espresso and lattes without the hassle.
Compared to virtually all other super-automatic espresso makers on the market, this machine is a lot closer to the barista craft since it uses a standard portafilter. Still, it doesn’t require much knowledge or skill from the user.
The main downside is that you don’t get quite the same heritage looks as you do with the Italian brands – however, the espresso ought to taste the same.
If money is no concern, and time is, this could be a winner!
I don’t like to recommend Nespresso products. If you ask me there’s not much fun in inserting a capsule and pressing a button. Not to mention, the quality is only mediocre at best.
However, I know there’s a bunch of people for whom this espresso and cappuccino maker would be a good fit. If you don’t want to know anything about barista skills or specialty coffee but still want a drinkable latte or espresso in the morning, this is probably the easiest way to do it.
Note, that even though the machine is rather cheap compared to other espresso makers, you’ll end up overpaying for capsules. Even though Nespresso’s patent has expired, the price for capsule coffee is still slightly inflated for what you get.
On a positive note, recently more specialty coffee roasters have begun producing capsule coffee based on high-quality coffee beans.
7. De’Longhi BAR32 Retro Espresso and Cappuccino Maker -Value for money
I like the Delonghi. It’s an approachable and classical brand. It’s many people’s first touchpoint with espresso.
I got this machine many years ago when I was less of a coffee snob than I am today. Still, I think back on this machine with fondness. It definitely punches above its weight.
The espresso has a nice crema, and the machine heats up in a hurry. The steamer isn’t the best one around, but nobody expects it to be. It will be more than fine for a cappuccino with some big airy foam, but not suitable for latte art.
If you’re looking for something that’s super, super cheap, but still a decent home espresso maker with a portafilter and 9 bars of pressure, this is one of your best bets.
Functions to look for:
A technology that increases temperature stability. It stands for Proportional, Integral, Derivative. This is how La Marzocco explains the system.
“Before PID controllers, espresso boiler temperature was controlled by thermostats or pressure stats small, simple mechanical devices that turn the boiler on when it dips below a certain temperature, and back off once it reaches the desired temperature. These systems worked, but they weren’t very accurate. The boiler had to cool down below a set temperature before turning on, and continued heating up slightly past the shutoff point at the top end, making temperature stability quite volatile and difficult to precisely control.” (Source)
Espresso should be brewed around 6-9 bars of pressure. When you have an indicator, it’s a lot easier to make sure that your shot is extracted at the right pressure. You will have an extra signal to tell you if your grinding size or tamping is not correct.
Commercial Grade Portafilter
The portafilter is where your ground coffee goes. The standard size for commercial machines is 58 mm. For home espresso machines it’s not that crucial precisely what the size is. On cheaper devices, you’ll often see smaller, pressurized portafilters. These help to create pressure (and thus, crema) in the portafilter. However, pressurized portafilters should be avoided if you’re serious about learning the barista craft.
Steaming wand or Milk Frother
If you’re dreaming about making milk coffee concoction with beautiful microfoam and latte art with unicorns you better make sure that you’re getting an espresso machine with a powerful steaming wand. Many of the cheaper models have a so-called ‘Panarello’ wand, which is actually pretty good for making cappuccinos. However, when it comes to latte art, you need a steaming wand capable of creating a vortex in the pitcher. That means that you should be looking for a model with a powerful manual steam wand.
Again, some machines such as the Nespresso come with a standalone milk frother. These can create nice foamy milk but forget about latte art.
Water reservoir or plumbed in
You should pick a machine with a water tank that’s easy to access and refill. However, if the espresso machine is not just for personal use; let’s say it will be used at the office, it might be a good idea to pick a model that can be plumbed in. That way you don’t have to deal with constantly refilling the water reservoir or be cleaning the drip tray.
Single or double boiler?
A single boiler or double boiler is another one worth considering. Most cheap home machines will have the former, while the latter will be available on the prosumer models. The huge benefit to a double boiler is that you can seamlessly from brewing espresso to steaming.
With one boiler you have to wait for the unit to heat before you can steam milk for your macchiato. If you’re going to be making a lot of milk drinks for larger groups of people a single boiler is not ideal. However, if it’s just you and your significant other, you’d probably be okay with waiting a little bit.
Built-in burr grinder
Full automatic espresso machines all come with a grinder built-in. On the surface, this seems rather practical. After all, if you can store two units inside one, why not do it? However, often the grinder will not be of the highest quality. Both espresso machines and burr grinders have a tendency to break down.
If you combine two units in one, you increase the likelihood that you’ll have to say goodbye to both grinders and coffee makers. For that reason, I’d almost always encourage people who ask me to for a quality standalone espresso grinder that can last them for years.
go deeper: espresso history
Water is the basis of life… but espresso is the basis of many of the most popular coffee drinks. There would be no such thing as a latte or a flat white if it weren’t for the espresso machine.
Espresso originated in Italy more than a hundred years ago. In 1901 Luigi Bezzera filed a patent for a raw device that can be seen as the precursor to today’s sophisticated machines.
Along with the rapid modernization, the coffee shop became a favorite place to socialize. The Italian immigrants in the USA helped to spread the concentrated beverage to a new world.
There is some disagreement about the word espresso itself. Some historians claim that it refers to the act of ‘pressing’ out of the beverage. Others claim that the name refers to the ‘express’ nature of the preparation itself.
The evolution of the espresso machine
Espresso machines have undergone a lot of changes over the years. The first machines, in general, relied on a manual lever to deliver the necessary 9 bars of pressure. The next step in the evolution was the semi-automatic machine. For most of us, this is the kind of device that comes to mind when we think of espresso machines.
As with all consumer goods, there’s still some innovation going on, but to some extent, many of these machines haven’t changed that much for the last 25 years. Sure, stuff like PID temperature control is becoming more widespread, but the basics are still the same.
The latest additions to the scene have been super-automatics and capsule machines. Many hardcore coffee snobs may scoff at these kinds of devices, but there’s no doubt that the consumers love the convenience of just pressing a single button.
No matter how you brew your espresso, however, the fundamentals of coffee still apply. You need freshly roasted quality beans to get stellar results.
Espresso step-by-step guide
Turn it on: Give it at least 10 minutes to heat up. If it’s big and heavy give (and old) give it even longer.
Use a digital scale: Espresso is about consistency. Use a scale for weighing the beans instead of eyeballing.
Grind: Experiment with different settings until you find the perfect one for your particular machine and bean.
Dosing: Add the grounds to your portafilter. Either grind directly into the portafilter or into a separate grounds container. If you have a distribution tool such as WDT it will help break up any clumps on the grounds, which will lead to a more even extraction.
Tamp like a champ: Tamping is often made out to be a science but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Just make sure you do it the same way every time. You don’t have to use that much force. Just make sure that the puck is compressed a bit, so there’s no potential for channeling. Spin the tamper a few times to polish the top of the puck.
Pull the shot: Brush off any grounds on the outside of the portafilter with your hand. Attach to the group head, and start brewing. Pay attention to flow rate and time. 25-40 seconds is usually a good brew time depending on the machine and size of the dose.