Let's set something straight before we begin: espresso machines—good espresso machines—are expensive. Like, really expensive (think comparable in price to an entire living room's worth of furniture.) So when we were rounding up our list of top-notch espresso makers, we had to cut ourselves off at $1,000 before things got astronomical. With that budget in mind, here are the best 13 machines on the market.
Now, if you're a true espresso
snob aficionado, you'll know that there are so many different factors at play to craft a superior cup (after all, it's the holy grail of coffee). Some say your grinder is arguably more important than the machine itself as without a consistent grind, your $$$ machine is basically worthless. And don't get a caffeine connoisseur get started with their diatribe on water or bean origin, because you will be in for quite a discourse. We are by no means discounting all of those crucial components (particularly the importance of fresh beans and grounds), though, that come together to create a heavenly, frothy, dense espresso, but for the amateur, or heck, even somewhat dedicated consumer, the machine itself is a critical first step to sipping on black gold.
There different types of machines, each in their own category, to some degree:
- Moka Pots: This is the most economical type of espresso maker, as it's not mechanical and you use it on the stovetop. It relies on steam pressure to force water through the ground coffee. It brews sub-par espresso, but is a good solution for someone with limited counter space or budget.
- Pump-Driven: When you think of a household espresso machine, it's most likely a pump-driven machine. All the types listed below fall into this category, and are characterized by an electrical pump to produce the right pressure (at least 9 bars, and as much as 15 bars) to extract the espresso. These machines also have a boiler in which the water is heated to the correct temperature (between 195-200 degrees), though less expensive machines with a single boiler element typically heat water to steam temperature (212 degrees). More expensive (and arguably better) machines have two heating elements (one for espresso, one for the steam wand) and a water reservoir.
- Semiautomatic: This pump-driven machine is part manual, part automatic. You load the espresso grounds into the portafilter and hit the start/stop switch to get the machine brewing as much espresso as you desire.
- Fully Automatic: Similar to semiautomatic, but with several buttons that can be programmed to get different brew amounts.
- Super Automatic: All the same features of a fully automatic machine, but it also grinds your beans and loads the grounds for you. Typically, it also comes with some more bells and whistles, like a warming tray for your espresso cups, and the option to make different types of drinks (cappucinos, lattes, etc.) The higher-end models also detect the drink you have selected and adjust the water temperature to produce high-quality results.
- Ultra Automatic: The boss of all espresso machines. It basically does everything, including heating/steaming your milk for you.
This Italian-made moka pot is also available in 1-, 3-, 9-, and 12-cup options.
When I moved into my first apartment after college, this was my morning buddy. It uses steam to brew the espresso, which creates a product I can more closely compare to really strong coffee. It also has a steam wand for frothing milk, though I found it always left my milk a little watery. For under $40, it got me through for many years.
Consider this an introductory fully automatic machine that also happens to steam your milk for you. It's pretty lightweight as the body is predominantly plastic, but it has a water reservoir, built-in milk frother and pre-programmed drink options.
We like this Capresso machine for the price, especially as it has the option of one or two shots of espresso. Reviewers comment on the nice crema it creates, but also note it takes a bit of time to heat up.
Our Previous Lists:
- 3 Espresso Machines to Make You Into An Instant Barista
- Touch Screen Coffee & Espresso Machines
- Top 10 Coffee Machines
- Futuristic Espresso Machines: Perfect For the Java Junkie
DeLonghi makes some pretty nice espresso machines at different price points, and this one has consistently good ratings from buyers. Features include a cup warmer on top, it's self-priming (meaning you don't want to wait as long for water to come to temperature for brewing), and has a double spout to make two separate shots at a time.
Espresso devotees might scoff at a pod machine, but this is the direction I went when upgrading from my Mr. Coffee. I've had my CitiZ for about a year now, and don't regret it for an instant. It's super sleek and takes up little precious counter space, has a sizable water reservoir, and heats up relatively quickly. You can program the length of the brew for a ristretto or lungo; plus Nespresso offers pods in a plethora of strengths to get your espresso right-on for your tastes. And if you're concerned with the waste of pods, don't worry, the company offers a recycling program that's really easy to actually follow through with.
This machine by Gaggia is a constant on "best espresso maker" lists. It doesn't have a ton of bells and whistles, but perhaps that's what keeps it a favorite. It's simple and dependable, though some reviewers comment that the steam wand leaves something to be desired. No reviewers, however, deny that it makes a great shot of espresso.
If you've ever been to Italy, Lavazza might be a name you recognize. A regular at coffee bars and restaurants in the espresso-loving country, the brand is a mainstay in the java world. This machine in particular uses specific pods for a mess-free and basically mindless coffee experience.
There may be more expensive machines on this roundup, but Breville's BES870XL (which also comes in stainless) is consistently heralded as top-notch for its capabilities. It's programmable conical grinder creates even, consistent grounds, which sets you up from the get go for a great shot of espresso.
Other Good Resources:
- Automated and Capsule Espresso Machine Reviews - Espresso Gusto
- The Best Espresso Machine, Grinder, and Accessories for Beginners - The Sweethome
Some machines (even a few on this list) claim up to 15 bars of pressure, though 9 bars of pressure is arguably the sweet spot for great espresso. The Sylvia falls into that sweet spot. Consistently top-rated, it's a commercial-type machine in a much smaller home-appropriate package.
The Swiss don't mess around with their product design. If its not sleek and sexy, they don't bother. At just 9" wide, 12.7" tall and 17.5" deep, it packs a caffeine punch in less square footage than other machines in its category. A few discrete buttons on the top of the machine allow you to chose between two aroma strengths and three cup sizes before it'll grind and prep your beans for a beautiful shot of espresso.
Saeco is known for its spectacular espresso machines, though they come with a hefty price tag. The Intelia is a superautomatic machine, which means it does everything for you short of injecting caffeine straight into your blood system.
This is a fun little toy for the espresso devotee. It has super sensitive programming options to adjust just about everything about your brew. The espresso spout adjusts in height depending on the cup you're using, and it also has a hot water dispenser for the tea drinker in your home.