A 2020 survey by the National Coffee Association (NCA) revealed that seven out of 10 Americans consume coffee each week and that 62 percent of Americans have coffee every day. You can enjoy espresso in a variety of ways. Espressos can be more difficult than making a cup of coffee. While some people associate espresso with a capsule that goes in their Nespresso machine, more skilled coffee connoisseurs know that espresso making is an art form.
You can master the art of espresso making at home with the right espresso machine. We spoke with experts on espresso makers to help you choose the best one.
What are the differences between espresso machines?
There are many types and models of espresso machines. They can all be bucketed based on the mechanism they use to create pressure, which is a crucial component of creating espresso.
Pump-driven espresso machines
These machines are the most popular on the market. These machines use an electronic pump to heat the coffee beans at the right pressure, approximately 9 bars. There are many types of pump-driven machines. Each one gives you some manual control over the espresso-making process. There are four main categories for most pump machines: manual, semi-automatic and manual.
A automatic Espresso machine, like the JuraX8, does the majority of the work. Jessica Rodriguez, the certifications program manager at the Specialty Coffee Association, explained that automatic machines can grind, dose, tamp, extract and steam espresso to the right temperature all at the touch a button. She also manages the Commercial Espresso Machine and Certified
Home Brewer programs. Blue Bottle Coffee’s director for coffee culture Michael Phillips stated that an automatic machine is the best choice if you don’t have the patience or time to learn how to work with espresso and milk.
According to Phillips, a semi-automatic Espresso machine such as the Calphalon Tempe iQ will be what you most commonly find in cafes. These machines require that you grind, dose, and steam the coffee on your own. You also have to activate and deactivate manually the brew pump. Rodriguez stated that the user has greater control over how to prepare espresso. Semi-automatic machines tend to be more expensive because they produce better results and are more sophisticated. However, Phillips stated that semi-automatic machines can still deliver great espresso and milk drinks.
You have complete control over the brewing process with a manual espresso maker such as the Classic Flair Espresso Maker. These machines are among the most difficult to use and “barely exist anymore,” says Graham Peeples (Director of Beverage at methodical coffee).
Phillips said that a capsule espresso maker such as the Lavazza Blue is the “pinnacle” of speed and ease. However, he pointed out that you can simply load a cup of coffee into the machine and then press the button to heat the water. He said that you lose control over the quality and consistency of the shot. Nespresso is one of the most popular coffee maker manufacturers.
Steam-driven espresso machines
A spokesperson for the NCA stated that steam-driven machines heat water to make steam, which is used to heat the espresso beans. Machines such as the Capresso steam PRO or the SoWTECH Espresso Machine produce less pressure than others — about 1.5 bars versus the ideal 9 bars. These machines are low in pressure but the NCA said they were “a budget-friendly and easy-to-clean choice.”
Manual-lever driven espresso machines
The Elektra Microcasa Lever Espresso Machine manual lever-driven machines “use the operator’s physical force to pull a shot and offer the greatest control over pressure and flow rate, infusion times and infusion time,” according to NCA. This machine is preferred by experienced espresso makers.
Best espresso machines
Phillips stated that, in general, “a good machine won’t have many reviews about it breaking down after one year.”
We have compiled a list of capsule, semi-automatic, and automatic espresso machines, based on expert recommendations at different price points. Experts advised against home brewers purchasing steam-driven or manual lever-driven machines because of the lower pressure and complexity. However, if you are interested in exploring that route, here are some guides starting with Coffee Brewing Techniques (on steam machines), and Espresso or Bust on manual lever-driven machine.
Phillips and Peeples both highlighted Breville among the top espresso machine brands. Peeples noted that the semi-automatic Breville Infuser, which costs less than $600 is one of the most affordable home brewers. You can control the volume of each pour and it also has digital PID temperature control.
Breville Barista Pro
The Barista Pro is another great machine by Breville. The Barista Pro is another great machine from Breville. You can choose from Damson Blue, Royal Champagne, and Black Truffle colors.
Peeples praised the Gaggia Classic for being a “no frills machine that will do the job,” and also noted that it is relatively affordable. The semi-automatic machine features a rapid heating boiler and 3-way solenoid valve. It also has a 58-millimeter chromeplated brass portafilter. The machine also features a commercial steam wand that can produce foamy, frothy dairy milk.
La Marzocco Linea Mini
Blue Bottle’s brand La Marzocco uses it in all its stores. Phillips said that the semi-automatic Linea mini is inspired by La Marzocco’s Linea Classic. The La Marzocco App allows you to turn the machine on and off, adjust the boiler temperature, allow pre-brewing, and much more. Phillips said that this machine is more expensive, but that it is worth the investment.
Rocket is the best espresso machine for experienced baristas.
Rocket Espresso Appartmento
Peeples recommended that you look into Rocket products if the Linea Mini’s high price tag is too much for your budget. Although the Rocket Espresso Appartmento may still be a good investment, this semi-automatic machine has a heat exchange boiler as well as a heated grouphead to heat your water to the right temperature. This will allow you to make your espresso while steaming your milk.
Ascaso Steel Programmable Machine
Peeples says Ascaso Steel machines look amazing and have all the features you would want in a home machine. The Steel DUO PID has a 58 millimeter portafilter, dual thermoblock insulation that heats water quickly to ensure continuous steam and keeps it warm. You can adjust the temperature of your espresso with the PID temperature control.
The Nespresso VertuoPlus is the best option if you value convenience above all else. Gideon Grudo, shopping editor at NBC News, said that the Nespresso VertuoPlus is his favorite coffee maker because it is easy to use and doesn’t require any extra effort. If you want to use the frother with your favorite espresso, you will need to purchase it separately or as part of a bundle.
How to choose an espresso machine
Espresso machines have many parts. Each part determines the quality, consistency, and flavor of your coffee. These are the top things experts recommended that you look at when shopping for an espresso machine:
How big should the portafilter be?
The portafilter, a spoon-shaped device that holds coffee grounds, is called a spoon. Peeples stated that the portafilter’s size is important to consider. The 58mm standard size portafilter basket size will make it easier to upgrade and find accessories such as distribution tools, tamps and other tools.
How many boilers does this machine have?
The majority of espresso machines can be powered by either a single boiler, or dual boilers. Peeples stated that dual boiler espresso machines, where the steam wand as well as the group head each have their own boilers, are more efficient and less time-consuming. Single boiler machines use the same boiler as the steam wand, and you will need to wait until the machine builds pressure before steaming milk.
How does the machine control the temperature?
According to all the experts that we spoke with, a good espresso machine should maintain a steady temperature. Higher-end espresso machines often use PIDs, which are Proportional, Integral and Derivative controllers. This allows you to adjust the temperature to your espresso to the exact degree. Peeples said that this feature is helpful because it “keeps water at a constant temperature instead of letting them fluctuate.” He suggested keeping the temperature between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.