Types of Espresso Machines
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
These are the most popular type of espresso maker and are widely considered to be the best type of espresso machine for most users. They have some automated features, like temperature controls for the boiler, a pump, and switches to activate the pump. You control when the pump is turned off and on, which means you can decide when to pause the brew to adjust the strength and flavor of the final product. A few include a grinder, but most don't.
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
As the name implies super automatic espresso makers are much easier to use because they are fully automatic from the beginning of the process to the end. They grind the beans, dose (transfer the ground beans to the basket), tamp (compress the ground coffee), extract (the process of mixing the coffee with the water to get your beverage), and, finally, eject the waste. Purists don't like fully automatic machines, preferring some degree of hands on brewing, but a good super automatic espresso machine can make great espresso without much hassle.
Pod-Style Espresso Machines
Although these are considered super automatic, in that they do all the work for you, pod-style models are not, technically, espresso machines. Still, experts agree that for all but the die-hard espresso purist, pod-style machines make a terrific espresso or espresso-based drinks, and they do it quickly and easily.
Manual Espresso Makers
Ranging from lever-style machines to stove top moka pots, these espresso makers are hands on from start to finish. Lever-style machines can be difficult to learn and to use, because they require quite a bit of tweaking, and you can't expect much consistency unless you're a pro or until you've had a lot of practice. However, these are the choice of true espresso aficionados who like to control every step of the brewing process for the ultimate in customized brews. Stove top moka pots, sometimes referred to as "the poor man's espresso machine," make a strong, complex coffee that is close to espresso. They are easy to use and very inexpensive, but still very hands on.
You can make perfect espresso at home
Espresso machines designed for home use are popular with
coffee lovers who love a perfectly personalized shot of espresso. Espresso is
also the base for other specialty coffee drinks like cappuccino, latte,
Americanos and other concoctions that add water or warmed milk to the espresso
shot. However, you may need additional equipment, such as a milk frother or
stainless steel frothing jug for that expanded repertoire.
Most espresso machines use ground beans, and one of the most
important things to know about an espresso machine is that unless you opt for
an espresso machine that includes a grinder, you MUST have a top-quality coffee grinder, and we cover some great choices in a separate report. Experts and
users all agree that this is important because the best espresso is made from
the freshest beans and using the correct grind. For those willing to sacrifice
espresso perfection for convenience, some espresso machines use pods
(pre-measured, pre-ground and pre-packaged coffee), however, either exclusively
or in addition to ground beans.
All of the espresso machines in this report are pump-driven
machines -- the only type that makes real espresso. Steam-driven units are less
expensive, but can't brew true espresso because water is forced through coffee
grounds at only one to three bars of pressure, far less than the minimum nine
bars required to make espresso (one bar is equal to the air pressure at sea
level). With a steam-driven machine you are brewing concentrated coffee, rather
Do you need a coffee maker instead?
Espresso refers to a special preparation of coffee beans for
a small, concentrated shot of coffee.. You then consume it over a fairly short
period of time. Think of it more as a snack, rather than a full meal. Making
espresso can also be a hassle, quite frankly, and requires time, dedication,
patience and, often, a good chunk of change. We read many a lament by people
who were hoping to be able to make espresso at home and found that it is not as
easy as their local barista makes it look -- even with a high-end machine.
Those who don't have the time and patience will need a super automatic machine
or a pod-style espresso maker instead.
Also, an espresso machine is not a coffee maker. If you're
the type who likes to sip coffee all morning, or are making coffee for a crowd,
see our report on coffee makers. If you like a cup of fresh coffee
whenever you feel like it and like a high degree of variety with each cup, see
our report on single cup coffee makers.
Finding The Best Espresso Machines
"Manual Espresso Makers"
"Buyer's Guides and Reviews"
While there aren't a lot of professional roundups or tests
of espresso machines, we found a few quality expert sources, including
TheSweethome.com, which focuses on espresso making for beginners, and CNET,
which does thorough, well-documented reviews of individual espresso makers
across a range of types and price points. Older, but still valuable, tests from
Cook's Illustrated and ConsumerReports.org were also helpful. We also looked at
reviews of individual machines by knowledgeable editors of coffee-oriented
sites like Home-Barista.com, SeattleCoffeeGear.com, and WholeLatteLove.com.
Most important, we evaluated hundreds (sometimes thousands) of owner reviews to
determine how each of these machines work in real-life situations. The results
of our research are the best espresso machines available, from high-end (and high-priced!)
machines that do all of the work for you, to the best, manual, hands on models
that allow you to customize every sip.