Caffeine enthusiasts know that when it comes to coffee, espresso is the cream of the crop. From simple shots to foamy cappuccinos, there’s a lot you can make with an espresso machine, and the best espresso machines will generate a perfect extraction that results in deliciously thick, creamy espresso.
What is the difference between an espresso machine and other coffee makers?
The central difference between coffee and espresso is how they are made. Unlike drip coffee, French press, or stovetop percolation processes, an espresso machine uses pressurization (about 130 pounds per square inch, or nine bars, of pressure is ideal) in addition to hot water to quickly extract flavor and caffeine from the beans. It’s so fast that the process should only last about 25 seconds. There’s also a difference in the beans themselves. For espresso, you should use a dark roast — which is best for consistently producing a full-bodied, less acidic espresso topped with crema — and the beans should be ground very finely right before you use them.
Basic Espresso Machine Features To Consider:
In general, espresso machines that include more features and offer more beverage customization options typically cost more than their simpler counterparts. When deciding which espresso machine is best for you, take a look at all the features the machine offers and think about which kinds of drinks you’d like to make. If you enjoy drinking cappuccinos or lattes, you may want to consider a machine that includes a milk steamer or frother rather than one that just makes espresso shots. Also, some models include grinders either built into the machine or as accessories, and others require you to buy them separately. If space is an issue, you should keep in mind that the more accessories and features a machine has, the larger it tends to be.
Choosing Between Semi-Automatic & Automatic Espresso Machines:
You should also consider whether you’d prefer a semi-automatic espresso machine or a manual one. Semi-automatic machines use electric pumps to generate the pressure needed for espresso, while manual machines require — you guessed it — a bit of arm muscle to create the pressure. Lastly, you’ll have to decide if you prefer to use loose beans and grounds or pods with your machine. Pod machines, which require purchasing prepackaged capsules to insert into the machine, can be convenient and simpler to use, but you may find that you’re more limited with bean options than when you select and grind your own. If you alternate between drinking drip coffee and espresso, a pod machine that can make both could be a good fit for you.
Why 'Bars Of Pressure' Is An Important Spec To Look At:
It’s important to ensure that whatever machine you choose can produce the nine bars of pressure needed to create true espresso. Some machines on the market are listed as espresso machines but can only generate three to four bars. All of the semi-automatic, pod, and manual espresso machines on this list can produce the right amount of pressure for espresso. (If you'd prefer a non-pod espresso machine that doesn't require manually grinding the beans, you can opt for a fully automatic espresso machine instead.)
From easy-to-use pod machines to manual models, here are the best espresso machines you can buy on Amazon.
1. The Best Overall Espresso Machine With A Built-In Steamer & Grinder
The Breville Barista Express is a one stop shop for delicious espresso creations. I have this machine at home and — I do not exaggerate — it has changed my life. Whipping up custom drinks every day has made me feel like a bonafide barista. The machine gives you control over all of its settings — dials on the machine control the grind size and grind amount and you tamp down the grounds after using the built-in grinder. You can measure how effective your extraction is with the pressure gauge that sits front and center on the machine.
This machine can make one or two shots of espresso at a time and the removable water tank holds about two liters. Turn the large knob on the side of the machine to use the steam wand or turn on the hot water for an Americano. At the top of the machine you'll find a cup warming tray, which heats up your cup while you’re preparing the grounds. That said, don't forget to purchase a set of espresso cups, too, because the Breville Barista Express doesn't include them.
It measures 13.2 x 12.5 x 15.8 inches, so it’s pretty big and needs some counter space. (Pro tip: Do what I did and display it on a cool bar cart if you don't have enough counter space in your kitchen!) The Breville Barista Express comes with a one-year warranty.
What It Comes With: Semi-automatic espresso machine, 1-cup and 2-cup single and dual wall filter baskets, razor dose trimming tool, stainless steel port filter, coffee scoop, tamper, stainless steel milk cup, cleaning kit (brush, tool, Allen key, and cleaning disc and tablets), water filter holder, and water filter
Bars Of Pressure: nine
2. The Best Budget Espresso Machine With A Built-In Steamer
At 9.8 x 9 x 11.5 inches, the EspressoWorks seven-piece espresso machine is smaller than the above Breville model, but it has a lot of similar features at a much lower price point, including a steaming wand, cup warming tray, easy-to-clean removable drip tray, and indicator lights that show you when the machine is on and ready to use. It doesn't have a pressure gauge and the coffee grinder is separate from the machine, rather than built-in, but it does come with two ceramic cups so you can hit the ground running.
The EspressoWorks machine is protected from overheating and overpressuring and its 1.25-liter water tank is clear and removable for easy filling. It also comes with a one-year warranty.
What It Comes With: Semi-automatic espresso machine, measuring spoon and tamper, electric bean grinder, two 3.6-ounce ceramic cups, stainless steel filter, and stainless steel milk cup
Bars Of Pressure: 15
3. The Best Pod Espresso Machine
You can make two sizes of espresso — 1.35 ounces or 5 ounces — with the Breville-Nespresso Essenza Mini espresso machine. Simply fill the removable 0.6-liter water tank, insert an espresso capsule, and press one of its two start buttons (one for the small size and one for the larger one). The capsule tank can hold up to six used capsules.
The machine only takes 25 seconds to heat up and automatically turns off after nine minutes. True to its mini name, it's super slim and compact — it only measures 12.9 x 3.3 x 8 inches — making it perfect for small spaces. It doesn't come with a milk steamer or frother, but you have the option of upgrading to a machine with an Aeroccino frother bundle if you'd like to make drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. It comes with a two-year warranty.
What It Comes With: Pod espresso machine and 16 OriginaLine Capsules
Bars Of Pressure: 19
4. The Best Pod Machine For Both Espresso And Coffee
This Nespresso Vertuo coffee and espresso machine is a great option for folks who alternate between drinking espresso-based beverages and drip coffee. Depending on the pod you insert, the machine can generate espresso or coffee, and it can brew five different size cups ranging from a 1.35-ounce espresso shot to a 14-ounce cup of coffee. Its one-button functionality makes it very straightforward to use, and it heats up in just 15 seconds and turns off after nine minutes of inactivity.
The drip tray is removable, the water tank's capacity is about 1.5 liters, and the used capsule container can hold up to 17 capsules. The machine has a one-year warranty.
Want to toss in a milk frother? Opt for the espresso machine bundle at checkout and the machine will come with an Aeroccino frother.
What It Comes With: Pod espresso machine and 12 VertuoLine capsules
Bars Of Pressure: up to 19
5. The Best Manual Espresso Machine
The Flair espresso machine is great for anyone who wants to get really hands-on with their espresso-making. With this machine, you control every aspect of the process, from the grind amount to applying the pressure. You'll grind your beans and boil the water separately, pour them into separate compartments in the machine, then slowly pull down the lever to pressurize. The water cylinder has a 60-milliliter capacity.
This Flair machine is 12 x 6 x 10 inches when assembled, but when you take it apart and put it in the carrying case it’s very portable. Plus, it doesn’t need to be plugged in since it’s manual, so you don't have to worry about storing it near an outlet.
The machine comes with a five-year warranty, and you can upgrade to the pressure kit, which includes a pressure gauge and stainless steel tamper, if you want to make sure your extraction is just right. A don't forget that you'll need to snag a separate coffee grinder for espresso beans to use this one.
What It Comes With: Manual espresso machine, measuring cup/tamper, funnel, and carrying case
Bars Of Pressure: six to nine
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