Best Espresso Machines of 2020
An espresso machine gives you the opportunity to delight in espresso at home whenever you desire. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best espresso machine to fit your taste—and your budget.
Wake Up and Smell the Espresso: Your Guide to the Best Espresso Machines
Ah, espresso! Coffee lovers around the world agree: The intoxicating aroma and rich flavor of a well-made espresso is simply irresistible, not to mention uplifting. But a daily fix at your favorite coffee spot can be an expensive habit. An at-home espresso machine can save you time and money.
With countless options available, from lever-style to capsule, choosing an espresso machine is far from straightforward. Need an espresso machine, but have no idea where to start? We're here to help.
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Can't wait to get brewing? Check out our three favorite espresso machines above. For an in-depth look at how to find the best espresso machine for you, you've come to the right place.
DIY to Super Automatic: Types of Espresso Machines
All espresso machines work by forcing pressurized hot water through tamped (tightly packed) coffee grounds. But your level of involvement varies according to the type of espresso machine.
Manual Espresso Machines
Manual espresso machines produce excellent shots when used correctly. They have a considerable learning curve, however, so they're not the most popular choice for a quick and convenient cup. That said, a manual espresso machine is the traditional way to make espresso.
Also known as lever espresso machines, manual espresso machines don't have a water pump but feature a lever or brew handle. You pull the lever down slowly to force hot water through the compressed grounds, which are held in the portafilter.
There are two types of manual espresso machines:
- Spring-Piston Lever: Spring-piston lever espresso machines tend to be easier to use. You compress, or cock, the calibrated spring by pulling the lever. When you let go, the spring releases, pushing water through the packed coffee.
- Direct Lever: With a direct lever espresso machine, it's all up to you. Your hand works as the pump. You create pressure when you push down on the lever to pull a shot. With direct lever espresso machines, the amount of force you use determines the level of pressure.
Pros of Manual Espresso Machines
- With patience and practice, a manual espresso machine can yield superior shots.
- Users have more control with a manual espresso machine.
- The simple design of manual espresso machines makes them more durable.
- Easily the best-looking espresso machines, manual espresso machines add old-world charm to any kitchen.
Cons of Manual Espresso Machines
- Manual espresso machines can be difficult to use. It takes a while to get the hang of pulling perfect shots.
- You'll likely waste quite a bit of coffee while learning proper technique with a manual espresso machine.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-automatic espresso machines are the most popular type of espresso machine for home use. Semi-automatic espresso machines require you to grind your coffee and tamp it into the portafilter, but the electric water pump takes care of the rest.
Pros of Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
- Semi-automatic espresso machines are easier to use than manual espresso machines.
- Users still retain a good level of control with semi-automatic espresso machines.
- Semi-automatic espresso machines can produce high-quality shots.
Cons of Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
- A good semi-automatic espresso machine can be expensive.
- Semi-automatic espresso machines still have a learning curve when it comes to grinding, tamping, and timing.
Automatic Espresso Machines
Automatic espresso machines have all the same features of semi-automatic espresso machines, but they remove a step by controlling the water volume for you.
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
For those who want to use fresh coffee beans but find the ritual of making espresso in manual or automatic machines a hassle, super automatic espresso machines offer the ultimate convenience. These espresso machines quite literally do it all for you: measuring, grinding, tamping, brewing, and—in most cases—milk frothing too. For consistently good shots, just fill up your super automatic espresso machine and press a button.
Pros of Super Automatic Espresso Machines
- Super automatic espresso machines are very easy to use.
- Super automatic espresso machines come with more features and settings than other types of espresso machines.
- Super automatic espresso machines produce the most consistent results.
Cons of Super Automatic Espresso Machines
- Other than the coffee beans, water, and your chosen settings, you have no control over a super automatic espresso machine.
- A host of extra parts increases the likelihood of super automatic espresso machines breaking or malfunctioning.
- Super automatic espresso machines are pricey.
Capsule Espresso Machines
Capsule espresso machines use prepacked capsules, or pods, which allow you to enjoy a single serving of espresso quickly and easily with zero fuss. While capsule espresso machines are convenient, capsules cost a lot more than freshly ground coffee beans. You'll also have no control in the final outcome of your shot.
Pros of Capsule Espresso Machines
- The automatic functions of capsule espresso machines eliminate any guesswork.
- With prepacked capsules, there is no measuring or tamping and little to no mess.
Cons of Capsule Espresso Machines
- Other than selecting a setting, you have no control over a capsule espresso machine.
- You can't modify the richness or flavor of your espresso shots.
- Capsule espresso machines can be expensive. Capsules are more expensive than coffee beans too.
Before You Brew: Features to Consider When Buying an Espresso Machine
Espresso machines come in all shapes and sizes, and larger espresso machines can take up a considerable amount of space in your kitchen. If you're considering buying an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, know that the more parts an espresso machine has, the bigger it's likely to be.
Automatic espresso machines have electrical components, which will likely require maintenance or repair down the line. What your espresso machine is made of also plays a role in its overall durability. A metal espresso machine will not only last longer than plastic, but it may also retain heat more efficiently.
If you plan to savor a shot of espresso several times a day or need to make a few shots in quick succession, speed is an important consideration. A large water tank, dual boiler, and the ability to brew and steam milk at the same time are all qualities that make the process faster. Espresso machines that let you make two servings at a time and super automatic espresso machines are usually the quickest.
The more intricate an espresso machine's parts, the harder it will be to clean. Espresso machines that can be disassembled and put back together quickly are the easiest to clean.
- Water Filter: Water is an important factor in the outcome of your espresso shots. A built-in water filter ensures the best-tasting shots.
- Built-In Grinder: Whether you're looking for an espresso machine that does it all, or you simply don't have counter space to spare, a built-in grinder is a handy feature.
- Cup Warmer: Cold cups leach heat quickly. In a warm cup, your espresso will stay hot longer.
How Much Do Espresso Machines Cost?
Espresso machines vary significantly in price. Factors such as brand, type, and extra features affect how much an espresso machine costs.
- Under $100: These entry-level models won't satisfy connoisseurs, but for the average espresso lover who doesn't want to break the bank, there are some excellent espresso machines in this price range. Steam-driven espresso machines at this price point often lack the power to pull quality shots. If you're considering purchasing a budget espresso machine, look for one with a pump.
- $200 and Up: Espresso machines in this price range are usually pump-driven. You can find good semi-automatic or automatic espresso machines at this price point too.
- $500 and Up: Semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines in this price range are of excellent quality and come with many handy features. At this price point, you will find espresso machines that are worthwhile investments that will eventually pay for themselves.
- $600 and Up: If you're interested in making high-quality shots the traditional way, look for a manual espresso machine in this price range. You'll also find a variety of super automatic espresso machines.
Q. Other than espresso shots, what else can I make with an espresso machine?
A. Espresso is the star of a variety of delicious coffee beverages, and owning an espresso machine opens up a world of possibilities. With the simple addition of milk—steamed, frothed, or foamed—you can make lattes, cappuccinos, or macchiatos. With a little chocolate, you can make mochas. Espresso is the base in all these drinks.
Q. Why is there little or no crema on my espresso?
A. Crema—the top layer of foam—is an important feature of any good espresso. Having little or no crema crowning your cup is a common issue for inexperienced espresso-makers. Luckily, this is easily fixed once the cause is identified. Here are the most common reasons for substandard crema:
- The coffee beans are not fresh enough.
- The grind of the coffee beans isn't fine enough.
- Your tamping, or packing of the coffee into the filter, is uneven or not tight enough.
Q. Can I use decaf coffee beans in my espresso machine?
A. While you can technically make espresso using decaf coffee beans, the process that removes caffeine from coffee beans often removes essential oils as well, so it may be difficult to produce a good crema.