Do you mind a learning curve? Semi-automatic and manual machines require some practice and finesse to get brewing right. Some require a lot. The good news is that there are videos, forums and helpful experts all over the Internet at coffee specialty sites; the bad news is that some people never figure it out to their satisfaction and end up trading in their espresso machines and going back to Starbucks or buying a super automatic machine.
Are you impatient? In general, making espresso is not a quick proposition. You have to grind the beans, heat the water (or wait for it to heat) wait for the immersion and extraction processes, etc. It can take 15 minutes or more before you actually end up with a beverage. For some, that's a soothing, satisfying process. For others, it's just that much time out of their lives they'll never get back. Again, for the latter, we recommend either pods or a super automatic machine.
Should you buy an espresso machine or a coffee maker? The difference between regular coffee and espresso is the brewing method. Both processes require ground beans and a pressure system to squeeze water through the grounds to extract flavor. However, espresso is, at its core, a "shot" of very strong coffee; not more than about 1.5 ounces. It's not exactly a cup of coffee. If you prefer a true coffee, to sip or to keep going back to the carafe for more, see our report on coffee makers. If you drink coffee throughout the day and like a fresh cup each time, without the additional "cooking" that comes with a glass carafe sitting on a heating element, you'll want to check out our report on single cup coffee makers.
Will you use your espresso machine every day? Espresso makers designed for home use can be bulky, and will require a permanent spot on the countertop. Measure the dimensions of your cabinets and the space beneath to be sure your machine will fit. If you want an espresso maker for occasional use, look for a model that can be conveniently stored when not in use.
Top-rated espresso machines cost hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars, more than what many are willing to spend on a kitchen appliance of this type. However, if you visit a local coffee shop every morning for an espresso or latte, you're likely shelling out at least that much per year anyway.
In budgeting for an espresso machine, be sure you include any other accessories you will need in addition to whatever machine you buy. Unless you buy a super automatic machine with a built-in grinder, you'll need to invest in a top-quality burr grinder, which can run you from $100 to $300. (See our report on coffee grinders for our recommendations). In addition, you may need a frother, a stainless steel frothing mug, tamper, etc. Some machines come with these accessories, but they don't work as well as some aftermarket versions, so you may want to upgrade. Some machines don't include them at all. Be sure you add up the extras to reach your total cost outlay.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Espresso Machines: The six best espresso machines as identified by expert reviews, user reviews, and our own analysis. Choose from manual, semi-automatic and super-automatic.
Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: Semi-automatic espresso machines are the most popular espresso makers, with a nice balance of automated and customizable options.
Best Super Automatic Espresso Machines: From bean to cup, these espresso makers do it all for you, quickly, easily and deliciously.
Best Manual Espresso Machines: For those who like the ultimate in hands on, highly customizable espresso, these are the top manual and stovetop espresso makers. We found a great milk frother too!
Our Sources: Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top espresso machines, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.