While the best espresso machines for home can be expensive, in the long run they can pay for themselves by making yourself your favorite java drink at home instead of buying it in a cafe. That is why we recommend that you spend a little extra money to purchase a quality espresso maker. There are models that can cost thousands of dollars, but plenty of options are available below $1000 or even a couple hundred dollars. There are several different types of machines ranging from manual to semi-automatic to completely automatic. There are also pod machines that are very convenient, but give you a little less control over the strength of your espresso.
We reviewed all the top models and came up with our list of the best espresso machines found below. For our list we focused on units that cost less than $1000. If you need some more advice please see our Espresso Machine Buying Guide.
About the only negative, besides the price, is that you need very precise grinds to get a good result, so a good coffee grinder is a must. Overall we highly recommend this machine to all users, although, as with all the units on this list, you should watch an instructional video as to how to get the best results.
The biggest drawback seems to be that it is a bit messy with coffee grounds spilling out every time, but that issue is a minor one and should not detract from an otherwise outstanding model.
The one main negative is that this model only takes Nespresso coffe capsules. You also do not have control over the strength of your coffee, and while you can control the temperature of your milk, you may find you cannot get it as hot as you would like.
There are two main negatives to the Magnifica – it does not work well with oily beans and it is also really noisy when grinding.
The main drawback is that you must use Nespresso capsules only which are a bit pricey compared to grinding your own beans.
The Nespresso Inissia requires you to use Nespresso capsules, but it is the cheapest and most compact Nespresso model available.
However, it can be a little bit confusing and difficult to use at first so we recommend viewing videos online of how to properly use this model.
On the downside the automatic controls give you less control over your shots. It also does not really foam that well, so it only creates mediocre lattes and cappuccinos.
The price of the DeLonghi EC155 is very attractive to budget conscious shoppers, but don’t expect the end product to compete with the more expensive models. It also is a bit messy and the frother makes foam that is more watery than foamy.
Espresso Machine Buying Guide
Espresso is made by forcing hot, 190-200 degrees F, pressurized water through finely ground and compacted coffee beans, often called a puck. This extracts more flavor, oils, and aromatics than any other brewing method and the result is a thick dark liquid topped off with a reddish-brown dense froth known as crema. A single shot is between 1.25 to 1.75 ounces with a double shot about 3 oz.
An espresso machine really needs to do two things. Heat the water to the proper temperature between 90°C and 96°C and then pump the water through the coffee puck at a pressure of 9 BAR. How it goes about doing this is what separates the machines.
Spring Levers – With this oldest system an operator pulls a lever which forces a piston through a cylinder to pressurize the water. Commercial level machines of this style use an uncoiling spring to power the piston. This system applies pressure smoothly without vibrations that motor pumps can cause, which results in slightly less crema, but a more pure taste with less bitterness.
Rotary Pumps – Most commercial units use rotary pumps because they can produce enough flow at 9 BAR to serve multiple customers at the same time. You can precisely adjust the pressure on these machines and the flow rate will not effect the pressure. They are not really necessary for home models, although some users like the cleaner taste and adjustability of these types.
Vibratory Pumps – Found in most home espresso makers, vibratory pumps are cheap small units that can pump just enough water at 9 BAR for a double espresso. They create more vibration which can lead to an uneven taste, but does produce a bit more crema. They create a pressure that is inverse to the rate of flow, which means a slower pouring shot will have far higher pressure and a faster pouring shot will have far lower pressures.
Steam Driven – Cheap models typically use steam to generate the pressure, however this does not create true espresso with crema. We recommend staying away from this type unless cost is the utmost concern for you.
Single Boiler – Many smaller home models have a single boiler which heats the water to the proper temperature for brewing. If they are not dual use, then they cannot provide steam for a steam wand.
Single Boiler (Dual Use) – These types have two thermostats to control temperature for both brewing and steam. Since the temperature for steam is hotter, it takes time for this type of machine to switch between one mode to the other.
Heat Exchanger – Many commercial and large home models use a heat exchanger. In this system a single boiler keeps water at steam temperature, but a coiled pipe inside of it holds the liquid for brewing which picks up some heat from the steam without rising too hot. These machines can be difficult at times to get the just right brewing temperature. The advantage of these units is that you can make shots and steam milk at the same time.
Double Boiler – Most commercial and some high end home models use a double broiler which uses on broiler for brewing and a separate one for steam. This should result in very consistent temperatures for both features.
Thermoblock – Cheap units may use a thermoblock which is a heating element that does not store water, but instead water is flash heated as it passes through. These models do not usually get to the proper pressure which results in a weak shot and thus we recommend avoiding them.
How much input is required from the user also separates these appliances into different categories which include:
- Manual – A user must pull a lever and manually determine the amount of water to run through the coffee ground puck.
- Semi-Auto – Uses a pump instead of hand-power to deliver the water. The operator simply pushes a button to turn the pump on and off, meanwhile the boiler temperature controls are automated.
- Automatic – This machine regulates the amount of water that flows through the grounds automatically, turning the pump off when done. They usually still have the controls of a semi-auto to fall back on.
- Super Automatic – These machines grind the coffee beans, tamp them down, and extract the shot all automatically. The user only has to fill the hopper with coffee beans and add water to the tank unless it is hooked up to an incoming water line. They provide great convenience, but give the user less control in how they like their espresso made.
In all models expect for super automatic machines, you still must grind the beans and tamp them down. This is an essential part in getting a great cup of espresso.
One special type of espresso machine is one that accepts pods or capsules. In these types you put a pod in the unit then push a button to get your shot of espresso. This type is convenient and easy to clean, and the capsules can keep the coffee very fresh. However, most brands make you only use their particular pods. They also cost most more than ground coffee and you have less control over the strength of your shot.
Some other features to look for include a movable steam arm, a removable water tank, and cup warmer.