While it’s very much easy ordering espresso-style drinks at your local coffee shop, nothing beats making them at home. When you can brew whenever you want and however you like. To control the many variables in the espresso-making process, making you feel like a bonafide barista while you are at it.
But how do you know which maker is right for you? To help you sort through a bevy of makers out there, I’ve narrowed down only the best makers worthy of occupying your kitchen counter.
Here are the best espresso machines you can buy in 2017.
- Best Espresso Machines of 2017
- Best Espresso Machines Under $200
- Best Super Automatic Espresso Machines
- Best Automatic Espresso Machines
- Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
Other Topics of Interests
Best Espresso Machines of 2017
#1 Breville Express BES870XL
Hands down, the Breville Express is the best espresso machine you can buy today. That’s because it’s very easy to set up, easy to use, consistent in performance, and easy to clean. A fast, smooth, flavorful cup of espresso is almost certain to be made with it, even if you are just starting out—and exactly whom the maker is perfect for.
Seriously, do not be intimidated by the Express’s looks, with its large circular pressure gauge and circular buttons; where in fact, it’s actually a breeze to operate. You remove its water reservoir, pour water into it, put it back in place, and push the power button. After that, wait for a “beep” sound— indicating the water is heated to the brewing temperature, which is less than a minute—then take the portafilter, fill it with your coffee grounds, and attach it to the machine. Finally, when everything’s in place, you then hit the brew button to create the extraction.
Whether you want a single or double shot—which can select from a preset or start/stop the extraction manually—the outcome of this extraction is said to be an espresso with a nice mouthfeel and good amount of crema on top. While it’s said its best shot may not surpass the best shot of what the Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia may be able to pull, it’s more consistent though, which is exactly why it came out on top.
As to why this is, many experts have surmised it’s because of the Express’s built-in electronic, PID (which stands for proportional integral derivative) temperature controller. What this does is allow water to maintain very closely to the desired brewing temperature. Because accurate temperatures make for great-tasting, consistent coffee, that’s why the addition of this controller makes all the difference.
A PID of course is not limited to the Express, as you can also get it separately, but it will set you back a few hundred dollars while you also need to know how to properly install it in order to make it work. But besides the PID, the Express is also outfitted with a built-in grinder, a rare feature in a semi-automatic espresso machine, making dosing coffee hassle free. Optionally—and this is highly recommended, as a good, solid grinder is said to be the most important factor to making better espresso— you can also get an external grinder here.
Get the Breville Express here
#2 Gaggia Classic
The Gaggia Classic has been around since the 90s, and it is still highly regarded today for the simple fact that it still produces one of the best-tasting cups of espresso there is. In terms of taste consistency though, it is not nearly as good as the Express, which is why it came in second on this list.
The main reason for this is said to be the finicky tendencies of its pump, with it sometimes not being able to maintain constant pressure when it matters most. Moreover, its steam wand also left a lot left to be desired, as it’s made of plastic and doesn’t quite foam milk with micro bubbles. Foaming milk with adequate micro foam, is of course very much dependent on the maker’s prowess; however, the experts have tried this themselves, but with no such luck thus far.
Thankfully, this steam wand can easily be replaced, and it’s also very straightforward to do it. You may learn more on how to do this here, or get a quality steam wand here. After getting the recommended wand, if you like, you may also learn how to create latte art here. Yes, in case if you didn’t know by now, the steam wand provided out-of-the-box by the Classic is not quite good enough to produce latte art, but only good enough to produce cappuccino foam.
That said though, what’s excellent about the Classic, in fact something it can confidently boast over the Express, is that it is easier to make mods on it than on the latter. Because it has fewer moving parts, and they are also easier to dismantle, you can personalize the machine as to how you please. No doubt, you will still need to know what you’re doing in order to get the results you want, but this in effect will give you a hobby or sorts to immerse yourself in.
Due to this, it’s said that the Classic is more of a good pick for the home tinkerer, who enjoys poking around and customizing his or her machine, while the Express is said to be more of a good pick for beginners.
Get the Gaggia Classic here
#3 Rancilio Silvia
To be honest, it’s a toss-up between this and the Classic for second position because they’re so very similar—leaving me no choice but to bump down one of it here. Both are made in Italy, have stainless steel housings, and similar in size. Both also offer a 58mm, chrome-plated brass portafilter (a handle that holds your coffee grounds) and have a 3-way selenoid valve, which helps make espresso easier and cleaner. (You can learn more about what’s a group head here, and more about what’s a 3-way selenoid valve here.)
In terms of pricing though, the Silvia is noticeably more expensive, like twice the amount of the Classic, which begs the question, why is this? In this regard, it’s said that the Silvia has what it takes to make the absolute best cup of espresso, even more so than the Classic, or the Express for that matter. When the right variables come together with the right settings, many pros have found that the Silvia is capable of hitting the highest high that few can come close.
That said, like the Classic though, the pump responsible for this, is also prone to fluctuations, with it sometimes not being able to keep consistent pressure throughout the extraction process. This, according to the experts, is apparently a problem common in makers under $1,000; therefore, neither the Silvia nor the Classic is alone in this area.
But besides the price difference, the other key difference between the Silvia and the Classic lies in the filter baskets. While the Silvia offers non-pressurized baskets, the Classic offers pressurized baskets. Essentially, how a pressurized basket differs from a non-pressurized basket is that there is a second filter, or wall, within the basket to create a greater level of pressure for the extraction. Due to this offering, you also have the option to use pre-ground coffee or Easy Serving Espresso pod (E.S.E. pod) with the Classic, whereas you’ll need to purchase a pod adapter kit to use them with the Silvia.
So, which maker should you pick? In short, it all boils down to how much you’re willing to pay for the highest highs. The Silvia does have the capability to make the best cup, and it’s also said to have better steaming power with a larger boiler, but it is not as easy to use and versatile as the Classic. Moreover, it’s also said it’s faster to have the Classic ready to brew after steaming due to its smaller but more powerful boiler.
In any case, regardless of which you pick, both have achieved “a legend of sorts” status when it comes to their durability, ensuring you will get your money’s worth with either one.
Get the Silvia here
What is Espresso?
Here is something you may not know: Espresso is not a blend, nor a bean, nor a roasting method. It is a method of preparation in which the drink is obtained by forcing hot water through a bed of very fine grind of coffee. Because this hot water is highly pressurized, under at least 9 bars of pressure, this allows it to penetrate deep into the grounds and dissolve them, resulting in a rich, thick, creamy coffee loaded with caffeine. It is distinctly in this dark beverage, without any additional addictive or artificial flavoring, that most of us define as espresso.
What Qualifies as Espresso?
In order to qualify as something that can be called as “true” espresso, there are certain requirements that the beverage must satisfy, according to the Italian Espresso National Institute. These requirements are of course not created and intended to mesh with any coffee purist- or anti-purist ideology, but to safeguard Italy’s national pride. After all, espresso is regarded one of the most successful exports of Italy, of which the Italians have every right to protect and be proud of.
What is Certified Italian Espresso?
So, what exactly is true espresso? In order be known as that, it has to conform to strict production specifications issued by the the Italian Espresso National Institute as well as approved by a third-party Body operating in accordance with ISO standard 45011. More specifically, it has to meet certain taste tests with the following sensory profile:
How to tell if It”s Certified Italian Espresso?
Certified Italian espresso can be distinguished by its sight, smell, texture, and taste. On sight, it has a “shade of brown that is near reddish” froth, which is also very compact and absent of small or large bubbles. On scent, it has strong fruity, flowery, chocolatey, and even toasted bread notes. These sensations are said to be felt after taking your first mouthful, which aroma could also then linger in your mouth for several seconds, or sometimes minutes even. Finally on taste, certified Italian espresso has a smooth, round, well-balanced taste that is both sour and bitter, but with neither one overpowering the other. Also, bitterness normally associated with “normal” espresso is barely perceptible or absent.
To put it plainly, certified Italian espresso tastes freaking darn good, and it’s understandable that you want a piece of it too. I guess the only sensible thing to ask next is how to make it, and that’s what we will try to find out.
How to Make Certified Italian Espresso?
According to the Italian Espresso National Institute, which I am paraphrasing here, “certified Italian espresso can only be made at the hands of a trained barista whom is processing a quality blend by means of a qualified grinder-dispenser and a precision machine.”
In other words, what the Institute is really saying is that you need four fundamental elements to pull consistently great-tasting espresso: high quality coffee beans, quality coffee grinder, and quality espresso machine put in the hands of someone who knows what he or she is doing.
The first variable is something you can buy online or get at your local coffee shop or local internet listings, and that’s not what you’re going to find here. Here on this site, it’s all about the other two variables: You can quickly know the best espresso machine and coffee grinder to get—with what I choose to recommend based on makers that have received generally positive reviews on a number sites and coffee blogs, including Amazon, The Sweethome, Walmart, Target, Home Barista, and CoffeeGeek, as well as highly rated models on Amazon.
As for the last variable, the good news is you can be that person after much experimenting, testing, tasting, and refining. Espresso making is after all an art in which you can get better by constantly going at it, practicing.
How to Select an Espresso Machine
A good espresso machine is not just something that just makes good espresso, it should also be durable, user-friendly, easy to clean and safe to use.
When determining those points, you’ll need an eye for quality parts that make up the espresso machine. Are they sturdy or flimsy? What material are they made of? Metal is certainly better than plastic. Look at the boiler too. A copper boiler is better than a stainless steel boiler and the latter is better than an aluminum boiler. Two boilers are better than one.
Aside from the parts, look at the design of the machine. Is it easy to fill up with water? Are parts removable for cleaning? Are the spouts adjustable so that you can make a long black as well as an espresso shot?
Types of Espresso Machines
In the world of espresso making, there are two types of machines that are made to brew our beloved cups of espresso: steam-driven and pump-driven. Both types have more varieties that fall under them, with the steam-driven type having two varieties: stovetop espresso machines and pump-less electric machines; while the pump-driven type having five varieties: manual lever pump, electronic pump, semi-automatic pump, automatic pump, and super automatic pump.
Because the steam-driven type, according to experts, is unable to produce the constant pressure needed to making “real” espresso, it’s not featured it in this buying guide, but you can check it out on my other pages nonetheless.
Manual Lever Pump
To better understand how the manual level pump espresso machine, or any other machine, works, let’s recap on how espresso is made. In order to make espresso, a measured amount of hot water is forced through a bed of tightly packed, fine grind of coffee, which then produces the thick, brown liquid we love. Notice that the key defining metric here is the water pressure, as without it none of it would happen in the first place. This pressure can be applied electronically or by hand, but in the case of this machine type, it is applied by hand.
To create the pressure that will force the hot water through the finely ground beans, you will pull a lever to do this with this machine. How much force you exert on the lever will then translate to how much pressure you’re pushing water through the coffee grounds. It should be worth noting that what is being mentioned here is also known as the non-spring model, whereas the other model (yes there are two), the spring piston machine, works on the same principle but with the addition of a spring to push the water. More specifically, instead of pulling the lever to exert the force, you are pulling the lever to “cock” a spring, which when released then exerts the force to create the extraction.
While the manual lever pump espresso machine does indeed let you have more control of the espresso making process, it usually leads to imprecise, inconsistent coffee, as the water pressure is dependent on your arm strength.
Due to this, it’s very much recommended that you only select this machine type if you are a true espresso connoisseur, who wants to be very hands on in the espresso-making process, but not someone who is just starting out, or someone who values convenience for that matter.
Best Manual Espresso Machines
Electronic pump espresso machines don’t rely on your arm strength to force water through the coffee grounds, but instead uses a pump which is powered by electricity. To start brewing with this machine, you will set the right temperature, and the electricity will then heat the water and activate the pump to create the right amount of brewing pressure for the extraction.
Not surprisingly, due to its ease of use over manual lever pump espresso machines, this machine type is also the more popular choice for most people, be they hobbyists, busy balancers, or enthusiasts, even.
To understand what classifies as a semi-automatic, automatic, or super-automatic espresso machine, we just need to understand what levels of automation the machine affords you; or in other words, what you will need to do to brew espresso with it. With the semi-automatic, you will be required to do the most. You will need to fill the portafilter with your coffee grounds, tamp and level the grounds, and then finally flip the activate/deactivate pump switch to start and stop the extraction.
It is exactly in the final feature that is said to be the main deciding factor for most when choosing between a semi-automatic machine and an automatic or super automatic machine. Whereas with a semi-automatic, you will need to manually stop your shot, the automatic or super-automatic machine will automatically stop it for you.
So, which machine should you pick?
That depends on what you value more. No doubt that the machine that can end your extraction automatically will invariably make things easier for you, as you need not flip the switch to end it yourself every time you’re making a shot. However, the drawback of this is that the auto feature can also end your shot too soon, thereby missing out on extracting more of your desirable coffee grounds.
The bottom line therefore is if you value convenience over personalization, then the automatic or super-automatic will be more suitable for you; however, if you value the latter over the former, and is someone who wants more control over the brewing process, then the semi-automatic will be more suitable for you.
Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
Check out my reviews of best semi automatic espresso machines
The automatic espresso machine stands in between the semi-automatic and the super-automatic maker in the levels of automation it affords you. Quite simply, it offers more features to help remove more of the manual work involved with the semi-automatic but not as many as the super-automatic maker. For instance, after grinding your coffee beans and tamping them into the portafilter, the maker will then automatically measure and dose the required amount of coffee and water to pull the shot of espresso for you, using an internal sensor.
In many models, the automatic machine can also be programmed to start and stop whenever you want. A good time to start the maker will be in the morning so that it will be ready to brew when you wake up, for example.
Start waking up to a great shot of espresso and keep yourself productive throughout your day with the help of these automatic espresso makers below:
Check out my reviews of best automatic espresso machines
The super automatic espresso makers are also considered the all-in-one espresso makers because they can do it all: they grind, tamp, brew your coffee, and even steam and froth milk; all at a push of a button. Only thing you will need to do to brew espresso with them, besides pushing the button, is fill your ingredients in the machine. Because almost everything is automated, it’s said that these makers are also very consistent in delivering quality espresso and espresso-style drinks, like latte and cappuccino.
More often than not, these makers will also offer features like self-cleaning function, temperature control, and programmable buttons. The last feature in particular lets you preset a drink that is tailored to your taste so that you can have your favorite brew in a snap. While the super automatic espresso makers are the most feature-rich, they generally carry the heaviest price tag. Which is said to be their only drawback.
However, if you’re someone who is constantly on the move due to work commitments, and always requires a quick, delicious caffeine fix to function at your optimum, then the super automatic espresso maker can actually be a good, worthwhile investment.
Get the best prices for these best makers below.
Best Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Check out my reviews of best super automatic espresso machines