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Best Home Espresso Machines

By: Kelly Burgess on January 05, 2017

Semi-automatic espresso makers are the best type 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. Recent reviews from testers at TheSweethome.com and CNET give it nothing but the highest praise -- although Cale Guthrie Weissman at TheSweethome.com tends to be leery of any all-in-one machine.

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, yet 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 top, far more expensive espresso makers, and it pulled the best espresso shot in testing at TheSweethome.com. Many owners and experts at coffee enthusiast sites say it 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 (Est. $120) 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, which we cover in our separate report on coffee grinders.

The semi-automatic machine that TheSweethome.com 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 TheSweethome.com, the Breville BES840XL, "stands out for its ability to replicate very good shots of espresso for such a reasonable price." says Cale Guthrie 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

One espresso machine that's far cheaper than any other semi-automatic espresso maker we review is also one of the most popular: the DeLonghi EC155 (Est. $100) gets more feedback than any other model at online retailers -- most of it highly positive. Users say it gives you a lot of bang for the buck and experts agree: One consumer testing organization gives it an Excellent rating for taste and a Very Good score for frothing ability. At CNET, Brian Bennett says that, while it lacks the power to pull excellent shots, the milk foam was impressive and vastly improved the taste of even bad espresso shots. Owners agree, saying it makes a tasty brew and they love that it's compatible with both fresh grounds and ESE pods.

We saw a few complaints that the frothing wand is poorly positioned, making it difficult to fit a steaming pitcher underneath. Others say that only small demitasse cups will fit under the portafilter or that the machine brews too quickly to achieve proper crema. Still, most agree that these are minor inconveniences considering the low price.

It's a bit more expensive than the DeLonghi EC155, band there are no professional reviews that we found, but the Mr. Coffee ECMP1000 Café Barista (Est. $170) gets a lot of love from thousands of satisfied owners. It's simple to use they, say, and 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. This espresso machine accommodates taller cups than the EC155, although not larger travel mugs -- think short and squat rather than tall and thin.

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. Overall, most say it's a great value to be able to make a wide variety of coffees in an easy-to-use machine. In addition to stainless steel the Café Barista comes in red and white. However, unlike the EC155, the Mr. Coffee does not work with pods.

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