- Investing in an espresso machine might be a daunting prospect, but if you’re regularly hitting up Starbucks, it might pay for itself a whole lot quicker than you think.
- The semi-automatic Breville Barista Express is the best machine for most people. It is (relatively) affordable, comes with Breville’s Smart Grinder built-in, and is equipped with a powerful enough motor to produce true, bona fide espresso-thick, frothy crema and all.
Coffee lovers start out innocently enough with drip filters, French presses, milk frothers, and stovetop espresso makers; but then next thing you know, they’re browsing Amazon for full-on espresso machines with all the bells and whistles. If you’ve reached that stage of coffee addiction, don’t worry, we’re here for you.
We’ve researched everything you need to know about buying a shiny new espresso machine for your home and we’ve combed through the details and reviews for dozens of machines so you don’t have to. Before we get into the best espresso machines you can buy for your home, let’s take a look at all the key terms and information that you need to know to make an informed purchase.
What makes a true espresso?
The Italian Espresso National Institute has very strict standards as to what can be called a true espresso. However, the basic idea is this: Espresso machines force a small amount of nearly boiling water under at least 9 bars of pressure through finely ground coffee to make true espresso.
The result is a thicker, creamier coffee with more caffeine inside. Pressure seems to be the key defining metric of making real espresso, and that’s why stovetop espresso machines don’t produce “real” espresso, according to the experts (but we still highly recommend them for anyone on a budget).
What kind of espresso machines are there?
There are two kinds of espresso machines in this world: steam-driven and pump-driven. Steam-driven machines come in two types: stovetop espresso makers like the Bialetti Moka Express and pump-less electric machines.
Pump-driven machines are much more common and there are more varieties that fall under that umbrella, according to CoffeLounge.
- Manual Lever Pump: It works just like you’d imagine it would – you manually pump the espresso out by hand with no help from electricity.
- Electronic Pump: With this kind of machine, you set the right temperature and electricity pumps the espresso out for you.
- Semi-Automatic Pump: Here, you’ll grind the beans and tamp them into the filter before turning on the machine. Then, you pump the button to turn it on until the water turns black, at which point you turn it off.
- Automatic Pump: This machine also makes you grind the beans and tamp them into the portafilter. The machine will automatically turn on to brew the espresso and go off again when it’s done.
- Super Automatic Pump: Finally, a super automatic machine takes everything out of your hands. It grinds the beans, tamps the grounds into the filter, boils the water, pushes it with lots of pressure, and takes care of the waste for you. It’s very easy, but it’ll cost you a pretty penny.
There are also fully automatic pod machines like the Nespresso, which require zero assistance from you beyond popping in a pod and pressing a button. All of the machines in this buying guide are either semi-automatic or pod machines.
Here are our top picks for the best espresso machines:
- Best overall: Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine
- Best budget machine: De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso Maker
- Best pod machine: Nespresso VertuoPlus Coffee and Espresso Maker
- Best manual device: Flair Espresso Maker
- Best lever machine: La Pavoni Europiccola
Prices and links are current as of 2/11/2020. We updated this guide to include some long-term usage results. We added information regarding the newer Breville Barista Pro in comparison to our overall pick. We downgraded the Breville Barista Touch and explained why. We are currently testing and researching other new options for consideration.
The best espresso machine overall
- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
The semi-automatic Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine makes top-notch espresso and it includes a burr grinder, tamper, and frothing pitcher.
Most espresso machines don’t come with everything you need, so you end up buying a bunch of accessories to actually make your coffee. Not so with the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine.
It comes with a stainless steel conical burr grinder, a 1/2 pound sealed bean hopper, a 54mm tamper, a steaming wand for frothing your milk, and a frothing pitcher. The only thing you need to buy is the espresso beans. The user manual is very detailed, so you should be able to follow its instructions without too much trouble.
Based on our testing, learning how to use the machine is well worth the effort, and the result is absolutely beautiful tasting coffee. It’s actually really easy to use, and you’ll have the process down after two or three attempts.
The Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it’s a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.
The built-in burr grinder is high quality, and you can easily adjust the grind size and amount with a dial on the front of the machine. You can choose to use either a single- or double-wall filter basket, and the grinder will automatically adjust to give you the right amount of coffee grounds for your brew. Reviewers love that it comes with the grinder and praise its quality.
If you push the 54mm stainless steel portafilter into the hands-free grinding cradle, the grounds will go right into the filter. The grinder shuts off when it’s done, too, so you don’t have to worry about figuring out if you’ve got the right amount. Finally, the included 54mm tamper ensures that your grounds are evenly pressed, so you get the most out of your beans.
When it comes to deciding how much espresso you want to make, you can choose between two presets for 1- and 2-cup volumes. Alternatively, you can manually override the settings and choose your own amount of espresso.
The Thermocoil heating system controls the water temperature, and you can watch the espresso machine’s pressure gauge. If you want frothy milk on top of your espresso, you can use the 360-degree swivel steam wand to whip up some foam in the included milk pitcher.
A removable drip tray catches any excess, so you don’t end up with a huge mess on your hands. You do have to clean that part every day. Breville’s machine will also tell you when it needs a thorough cleaning, and it comes with a special cleaning kit. Follow Breville’s very detailed care and maintenance guide to keep your machine in working order.
The machine comes with a one-year warranty in case of issues. User feedback is very positive, and most people had a very easy time making high-end espresso with the machine.
If you’re inexperienced, it’s a good machine to learn with, and if you’re interested in fiddling around with settings, you can do that, too. It’s an all-around great espresso machine, according to several reviews by experts and everyday users.
The best part about this machine is that it comes with everything you need (except the beans). You don’t have to spend an extra $100+ on a good grinder or $25-$100 on a milk frothing pitcher and tamper. You will pay a bit more for it than some other machines on this list, but it’s well worth it.
Before you purchase the Breville Express, be aware that Breville will probably phase out this model soon with the newer and faster Breville Barista Pro. We recently tested it and there’s a lot to like, and we think it may become our new overall pick in our next update. However, until it’s actually out of stock, we find that the Express works just as well as the Pro, albeit a bit slower. It’s also cheaper, so it remains our overall pick for now. – Owen Burke and Malarie Gokey
Pros: Built-in burr grinder and frother, makes great crema on your espresso, it’s relatively easy to use, lovely design, and a one-year warranty
Cons: Slower than the newer Breville Pro
The best budget espresso machine
The De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is affordable, but it still makes strong espresso.
Not everyone can afford a top-of-the-line espresso machine, but there are some good budget options. The De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is the best in the sub-$100 category, thanks to its ease-of-use design and tasty espresso.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: It won’t deliver a cup of espresso like a more expensive espresso machine would. But as an affordable and basic machine, it gets close. And, it has great Italian design and it’s made by a brand that’s a household name in Italy.
You get a manual milk frother and a built-in tamper along with the machine, so you do have to buy your own grinder and milk frothing pitcher if you want foam on top. Many reviewers and users complain that the tamper and milk frother aren’t that great, though, so you may end up replacing those, too.
You can check out our best milk frothers here. Some of you will stick with the machine’s frothing wand, but you’ll still need a milk frothing pitcher, so we recommend this one from Rattleware. Should you want a better tamper, we recommend this one from Rattleware. To save money on the coffee grinder, you can try this manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you may pay more than $200 for it.
Regardless of whether you buy extra accessories, it’s still very affordable, and you’re really buying this machine for the espresso. The De’Longhi mostly delivers in that regard. It’s a 15-bar (unit of pressure) machine with a self-priming function, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of prepping the machine. The 35-ounce water tank is removable for cleaning and it has a drip tray to catch spills. and a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler to ensure many years of delicious espresso.
Although the machine may not be entirely stainless steel like the high-end machines on this list, it does have stainless steel where it counts: the boiler. The three-in-one filter holder lets you choose between has a holder for one espresso shot, a holder for two shots, or one for an espresso pod.
Pros: Affordable, relatively easy to use, offers real espresso machine performance, makes good espresso
Cons: No built-in grinder, tricky to clean, built-in milk frother and tamper aren’t the best, not a lot of crema, does not generate enough pressure as we would like
The best pod espresso machine
The Nespresso VertuoPlus Coffee and Espresso Maker by De’Longhitakes all the work out of making espresso at home, and you can get tons of differently flavored pods.
True espresso purists may shudder at the thought of popping coffee in a pod and pressing a button to extract espresso from it, but convenience is king these days. Nespresso made espresso pods popular, and now they’re everywhere. If you want to go that route, the Nespresso VertuoPlus Coffee and Espresso Maker by De’Longhi is the best one.
The first thing you need to know is that the pods are expensive – a lot more than a bag of good espresso beans. However, if ease-of-use and convenience are more important to you than money, the Nespresso VertuoPlus espresso machine will be worth its weight in gold. Just don’t forget to recycle!
The Nespresso machine takes all the grinding, tamping, and measuring out of the equation. You just turn it on, pop some pods in, and press the button to make espresso. It has a fast pre-heating time, and the pump offers 19 bar of pressure. The water tank has a 40-ounce capacity.
However, you can probably do better with the other options on our list if you’re willing to put in a bit of effort for better espresso, and the De’Longhi EC 155 Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is actually cheaper. – Malarie Gokey
Pros: You don’t have to do anything, pods are easy to buy online, fun flavors, easy to use, and it’s inexpensive
Cons: You have to recycle the pods, pods are expensive, not the best espresso you can make at home
The best manual espresso machine
- Flair Espresso/Facebook
The Flair Espresso machine is the best shot of espresso you’re going to pull at home, and you can get the machine for less than $200.
Being a full-blown espresso fiend, my quest for the perfect espresso is never-ending. I’ve generally been pleased with the $5,000+ machines from which my café shots come, but getting anywhere near that quality at home has been a constant challenge. Sure, I am, on occasion, impressed with my successes while working with my simple stovetop Bialetti Mokka Pot or GROSCHE stovetop espresso machine.
I originally liked the Flair as a potential portable espresso maker for camping, and perhaps for a camper van, but it quickly found a home on my kitchen counter and hasn’t left since.
Pulling a shot of espresso with the Flair is something of a chore in the beginning, but it really only takes somewhere between three and five minutes. If you’re used to using any type of espresso machine or pot, you’ll pick it up quickly. The first piece of advice I’ll give you is that an investment in a burr grinder is going to make your life with the Flair a lot better, and your grounds more consistent.
I started out with a regular blade grinder, ground my beans a little too finely after a few shots, and found that I couldn’t get it to operate as easily. I pulled a little harder, and then harder still, thinking I might unclog it. At some point I decided, out of curiosity, to put the balance of my bodyweight down on the thing, at which point the copper-colored part of the stand snapped. If I had read the instruction manual or even the little warning sticker on the machine, I would have realized that half of my bodyweight was easily the contraption’s limit and well above the pressure required to pull a good shot anyhow.
Since receiving a replacement part, I’ve been a little more cautious, and ultimately, the issue was that sometimes I was grinding my beans too finely, preventing me from pulling a shot at all. Suffice it to say that investing in a burr grinder was the best move.
The most unique thing about the Flair is that it comes with a detachable brewing head, which you can also buy separately so if you’re pulling shots for a few people, you can stack them up and not have to clean and tamp shots between pulling each one. – Owen Burke
Pros: Affordable, produces thick and cream-rich shots, easy to clean, looks beautiful on the counter
Cons: It can be a bit of a pain to reload it if you’re making espresso for more than just yourself (but this will more or less be the case with any single-cup espresso machine)
The best lever espresso machine
- La Pavoni
La Pavoni’s Europiccola is a timeless machine that looks great and pulls a perfect shot.
You might be a little intimidated at first: This is your step up from the Flair, but keep in mind that operating this machine and its attached boiler and steamer still requires a bit of work. Your tamping and grinding skills are still at play, and only practice will get you to the point of being able to pull a good shot more often than not.
There are several companies making lever espresso machines, but La Pavoni has been making them for more than a hundred years, and we like to think the company knows what it’s doing. La Pavoni lever machines are built like tanks, using hardly any plastic, save for the boiler cap, handle, and steam knob, which can be swapped out for wood. This makes cleaning a cinch, and it also means that these things are built to last. So long as you don’t do anything catastrophic, you’ll most likely be passing it on to future generations.
But, until you pass your La Pavoni on down the line, it probably won’t be doing much moving. At 14 pounds, the best thing to do is pick a convenient, aesthetically-pleasing perch atop a kitchen counter and never really move it. This is not a portable machine by any stretch, and if you’re looking for something you can tuck away, this is not it.
In short, take even moderately good care of your La Pavoni and it will likely take excellent care of you and yours for decades to come. – Owen Burke
Pros: A classic design that’ll look good in any kitchen, few plastic parts
Cons: Not cheap, takes a little time to perfect pulling a shot
What else we considered
Breville Barista Touch: The Barista Touch was recently one of our recommendations. It’s a great espresso machine that incorporates technology to produce a tasty cup of espresso that’s as close as you would find in a high-end coffee shop. Using the touchscreen, you can pick a drink from the menu or save custom ones. We liked that it has a built-in grinder and a three-second heat-up time, and found it easy to use.
But after much research and consideration, we think its fancy features don’t justify the cost. For the same ease of use and better performance, we think the Barista Pro is a better buy, not to mention it’s slightly more affordable. Don’t get us wrong: If you can afford it and the touchscreen functions appeal to you, it’s a great machine – it’s just not the best machine for everyone.
How to clean your espresso machine
Espresso machines aren’t the easiest things to clean. Every machine is different, but CoffeeLounge has some great basic tips for beginners that should apply to most machines.
- Clean the outside regularly. It’s best if you do this before and after each use so that you avoid germs, dust, and other particles interfering with your machine.
- Clean the inside of your machine by running water through it. Each machine will have a slightly different process, and some manufacturers provide tips and suggestions in user manuals. CoffeeLounge and other suggest mixing 2 oz. of vinegar in 20 oz. of water every now and then to clean out the machine even more thoroughly. After you use vinegar, though, be sure to rinse it three times with water to avoid any lingering vinegar taste in your next espresso.
- Clean the frothing wand and grinder. You can dust off extra grounds with a brush. Clean both after each use.
- Disassemble and wash any removable parts and pop them in your dishwasher or sink for a good soap and water scrub. You don’t have to do this part every day, but try to do it more than once a month.
- Follow your machine’s instructions. You can also use special espresso cleaners, but be sure to follow all these steps and check the special instructions your machine has in the manual.
Everything you need to make espresso
Some machines come with all the accessories you need to make espresso, but others don’t. Check to see if your machine includes any accessories before you buy them. You will need a grinder to have freshly ground espresso, a milk frother or a milk frothing pitcher if you like foamy milk for cappuccinos or lattes, and a tamper to press down the coffee grounds before you make espresso. We explain why you need each one and recommend which ones to buy below.
If your machine doesn’t have a grinder built-in and it doesn’t use pods, you’ll need to buy a grinder. Burr grinders are best, and you should try to get the most powerful one you can find. It’s key to have evenly ground coffee that’s meant for an espresso machine. You’ll get the most flavor and crema out of perfectly ground beans.
You’ll need a milk frothing pitcher for most of these machines and a milk frother for others on this list.
If your machine doesn’t have a steam frothing wand, you can read our full guide on the best milk frothers here.
If your machine has a steam frothing wand but no frothing pitcher, you can buy the Rattleware 20-Ounce Latte Art Milk Frothing Pitcher on Amazon
The tamper is a nifty tool that evenly presses your grounds so you can make the most out of your coffee beans while making espresso.
Check out our other great coffee gear guides
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You can brew coffee in a number of ways, but many caffeine addicts swear by the French Press method. Of all the French Presses we researched, these are our favorites:
After hours and hours of research, testing, and countless ensuing caffeine overloads, these are the best stovetop espresso makers we’ve found to make strong, delicious coffee right at home:
Freshly ground coffee is addictive and delicious. If you want to make the perfect brew each morning, you need a coffee grinder. After much research and some testing, we found that these to be the best coffee grinders you can buy:
If you love cappuccinos, you need a great milk frother. After much research and testing, here are the best we’ve found:
If you love to make espresso at home, you need a high-quality tamper to ensure that your grounds are ready to make the best shot of espresso possible.