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Best Espresso Machines

By: Kelly Burgess on November 14, 2017

Semi-automatic espresso makers are the best for most people

The most popular types of home espresso machines are semi-automatic because they offer the espresso aficionado a nice balance of automatic functions, such as a pump and temperature controls so you don't have to boil your own water, with some manual functions to control when the pump is activated so you can tweak the final result. In most cases you'll still need a top coffee grinder, though, and we cover those in a separate report. If you prefer that the machine do all the work, see our discussion of super automatic espresso machines elsewhere in this report. On the other hand, if you're a very hands on type of person who wants to control every step of the process, see our discussion of manual espresso machines.

Although most semi-automatic espresso machines do not include a built-in grinder, one that does, the Breville BES870XL (Est. $600), gets a lot of praise from both experts and owners. The BES870XL has been around for a while -- it won a 2013 Best New Product Award for equipment from the Specialty Coffee Association of America -- and it continues to please. Expert testers at Reviews.com, Wirecutter and CNET give it nothing but the highest praise.

With the option of pressurized or non-pressurized portafilters (which hold the coffee grounds) and the single hole, articulating steam arm, you can use the Breville BES870XL as a semi-automatic or super automatic machine (we specifically discuss super automatic espresso machines elsewhere in this report), which is something users love because that makes it more suitable for families with a range of skills as well as for beginners who want the option of becoming an expert barista. You can start by using the BES870XL as a super automatic espresso maker, then, with practice, become more hands on with your espresso prep. We even found quite a few folks who use the BES870XL both ways -- as a fully automatic machine when they're in a rush, and taking the time to customize their brew when they're not.

The BES870XL has a built in conical burr grinder that users describe as very accurate and highly adjustable. The bean hopper is removable so you can easily store leftover beans to keep them fresh. The hot water dispenser means you can make other types of drinks as well, such as Americanos, making it an incredibly versatile machine.

Many owners say they came to the Breville BES870XL after getting tired of having to use two separate appliances to grind and then brew -- they love having the built-in grinder option, thus saving space and a step in the process. However, this feature is more popular with those who don't like the inconsistent results of having to be more hands on; it's not a darling of serious espresso aficionados, who feel it's a bit too much like an automated coffee maker and who are often scornful of any espresso machine that's not manufactured in Italy (Breville is an Australian company); but most users are plenty pleased.

If you are one of those Italian-espresso purists, you can't do better than the Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine (Est. $700). Reviewers say it's built like a tank, with a stainless-steel housing and marine-brass group head (which holds the portafilter) and boiler for better heat retention. The multidirectional steam arm offers a user-friendly experience and it has an ergonomic portafilter that users appreciate.

Most experts say that the Rancilio Silvia is the only sub-$1,000 machine that ranks up there with the very best, but far more expensive espresso makers. It pulled the best espresso shot in testing at Wirecutter, although Cale Guthrie Weissman notes that it can be finicky to use.

Many owners and experts at coffee enthusiast sites say the Rancilio Silvia boasts close to commercial quality construction. Users also note that the Silvia's resale value is excellent and replacement parts are readily available, important for a machine that can be expected to last 10 to 15 years, or more.

There's a learning curve to mastering every espresso maker, and the Rancilio Silvia is a bit finicky in terms of temperature, tamping density and grind fineness. Overall, though, it's very user-friendly and its design makes it suitable for a wide range of users. That includes anyone from beginners who are serious about learning, to hard-core espresso devotees who will appreciate the option of adding extra features such as proportional-integral-derivative (PID) technology, which allows for highly precise temperature control.

Several owners suggest buying a higher-quality tamper than the one included, and a pod adaptor kit is available for those who prefer the convenience of coffee pods. Since a precise grind is essential for optimal use and taste, experts and more experienced owners recommend using the Silvia in combination with a top-quality burr grinder, and those are covered in our separate report on coffee grinders.

The semi-automatic machine that Wirecutter names the best (albeit for beginners), is the Breville BES840XL the Infuser (Est. $500) and it's a good choice for those who want to get started on espresso making, or for those who are already pretty savvy home baristas, but don't need or want the built-in grinder.

In testing at Wirecutter, the Breville BES840XL, "stands out for its ability to replicate very good shots of espresso for such a reasonable price." says Weissman. It's also very easy to use, she notes. Owners agree, saying it's faster than most other machines they have owned, yet makes as good of an espresso, or even better than, more expensive espresso makers. Of course, you'll need a grinder as well, which some experts feel makes this not quite as good of a value as the Breville BES870XL, since it's not quite as versatile.

One semi-automatic espresso machines that gets generally good reviews and is considered mid-priced is the Gaggia 14101 Classic (Est. $380). It earns praise from both professional reviewers and owners, with several saying it rivals the Silvia. The Gaggia has a 72-ounce water reservoir and stainless-steel housing, and boasts many of the same high-end features as the Rancilio. The Classic's frothing head is easy to use and clean, and users like that it produces perfect crema (the thin layer of foam that sits on top of the espresso). Complaints that keep it out of the top spot include a dark water reservoir that makes it difficult to judge water levels and an aluminum boiler that's more susceptible to corrosion than brass.

Besides price, the Classic does have one advantage over the Silvia: It can make espresso from freshly ground coffee or Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pods without having to purchase a separate adaptor. The Gaggia Classic's build quality is also applauded in reviews, with multiple users saying they've owned this machine for years without a single issue.

Cheap espresso machines get a lot of love from owners

The Mr. Coffee Café Barista (Est. $150) was a runner up in this report last year because it had just been released, but since then testing has "shot" it to the top of the heap. Reviews.com names the Café Barista the Best Budget Option, saying it, "outperformed machines twice as expensive." And, while the espresso isn't the best, it's pretty dang good, they say.

This super simple-to-use Mr. Coffee espresso machine also gets plenty of praise from thousands of satisfied owners. In addition to being easy to use, they love the included recipe book that walks you through making cappuccinos, lattes, a vast variety of flavored and specialty drinks, and, of course, espresso. To make it even simpler, you can use ESE pods with an optional adapter.

This Mr. Coffee espresso maker offers the option of one or two espresso shots, and the automatic milk frother is reported to work well, with some even saying you have to be a bit careful on double shots or it will overflow the mug. In addition to stainless steel the Café Barista comes in red and white.

Achieve coffee Zen with a manual espresso maker

True coffee aficionados who want the full home barista experience turn to manual espresso makers. These require a high level of tweaking -- of grind, quantity, water temperature, tamp, pressure and more. For those who prefer something that gives them at least some help -- the ability to control water temperature and a pump at least -- see our section on the best home espresso machines, which are all semi-automatic. If you would prefer to just push a button and get a delicious espresso with no fussing on your part, see our discussion of super automatic espresso machines.

No manual espresso maker gets the praise from experts and users as the ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker (Est. $130). In one professional test, it produces a "rich, flavorful espresso and velvety crema." Users agree, saying that, once you master the learning curve, it makes the best espresso they have ever had -- comparable to specialty coffee shops and expert baristas. It's a simple, lever-driven technology that allows you to control the amount of pressure to customize each cup. It includes a frother for making latte, cappuccino and other specialty drinks.

Like all manual espresso makers, you will have to experiment quite a bit to get to the point where you get a consistent result. And it takes time -- this is not a push-a-button-receive-espresso machine. By the time you grind, boil and brew it can take 15 minutes or more. You may also need to upgrade your tamper, users say, as the included one is curved too much to be effective. The ROK is made to last for many years, and the company backs up their quality construction with a 10-year warranty.

Another manual espresso maker that gets great reviews is the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker (Est. $30). While many consider this more suitable as a one-cup coffee maker, many say it makes terrific espresso as well. It's fairly easy to use, reviewers say: Simply insert a disc-shaped paper filter in the plastic tube, add coffee grounds, place the tube over a cup, pour in hot water, let it steep, and press the plunger down. Owners say it's easy to control the strength of coffee or espresso by adjusting the amount of coffee grounds used and the length of time the coffee is immersed. However, there will still be a learning curve to get espresso exactly as you like it, and to consistently achieve those results. The AeroPress is made of tough, BPA-free plastic and is highly portable, making it popular for travel.

Stove top espresso makers are highly affordable

Yes, we know, technically moka pots are not espresso makers (although one professional review source refers to them as the "poor man's espresso machine,") but they still make delicious, espresso-like coffee that is rich, complex and bold. Among moka pots, the Bialetti Moka Express (Est. $30 for 6-cup size) gets high marks from reviewers for its flavorful brew. It has a learning curve, they say, but not to the extent of the ROK. It's not quick either, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to brew one shot of espresso.

The Bialetti Moka is an eight-sided aluminum pot that evenly diffuses heat, forcing it up through the coffee grounds. It requires no electricity and users often mention using it for camping as it can be used over a campfire, or an electric or gas stove. However, be careful of the handle. It's plastic and if you leave it unattended and the flame gets up too high it can melt. The Bialetti is available in five sizes -- 1-, 3-, 6-, 9- and 12-cups -- but they're not true, 8-ounce cup sizes. Rather, the "cup" is the equivalent of one shot of espresso, or about an ounce.

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