Finding the best espresso machine can be a difficult process for any coffee lover. There are so many machines to choose from - different types, price ranges and features.
So how do you know which one is right for you? And which ones actually make great coffee?
If you're looking for this answer you've come to the right place. You're going to learn everything about buying an espresso machine to make fantastic coffee at home.
If you want a quick recommendation, I've summarized some good options below. Keep reading for my detailed espresso machine reviews and buying guide.
Although the right machine varies between people, I find that the Express is the perfect compromise between price, features and durability! The in-built grinder is what sets it apart from its competitors.
If you ask any Barista's for a good entry espresso machine, the Gaggia Classic Pro will be on their list. This machine packs commercial features such as a 58mm group and steam wand for a low price.
About The Reviewer & Guide
As a barista my friends often ask me what espresso machine they should buy. Before giving them my recommendation I always ask them the following questions:
- What type of espresso machine do you want?
- How fast do you want to make coffee?
- What's your budget?
These are the questions I will cover in this buying guide to help you pick your espresso machine. I will draw upon my 7+ years of barista experience and writing this blog to guide you.
If you want to skip past this buying guide you can click below to go straight to our espresso machine reviews.
The first question to ask yourself when deciding what espresso machine to buy is what "type" is best suited for you.
There are three main types to choose from:
- Pod Machines
The way these three types differ is the level of automation they have. Semi-automatic espresso machines have the most amount of control, whereas super-automatic and pod machines have the least amount.
You need to decide much control over the coffee making process you want. This will narrow down what type of espresso machine is best for you.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-Automatic machines are the most similar to those found in your local cafe. They offer the best level of control over the coffee making process.
They best suit the person who wants to make coffee like barista does. AKA coffee geeks like me!
Like a car, semi-automatics require you to manually control the main functions of the machine. You will load coffee into the group head, extract the espresso, and then steam your milk.
The machine's "engine" is what is what makes it "semi" automatic. It controls the boiler, extracting time, and pressure. However more expensive semi-automatics allow you to program in your desired extraction process.
In my opinion semi-automatics make the best coffee after a period of "trial and error".
The reason why I say "trial and error" is because there is a learning curve. It will take you a bit of time before you master the techniques to extract great espresso and make great milk. Once you do, it is worth it! If you don't want a hands on approach, super-automatics may be better suited for you.
- Most similar to professional machines.
- Makes the best coffee out of all types.
- Control over most or all of the coffee making process.
- There is a leaning curve.
- Most require you to buy a separate coffee grinder. So there is extra cost.
Super-Automatic Espresso Makers
Super-automatic coffee machines, as the name suggests, automate the entire coffee making process.
They best suit a person who wants a hassle free coffee making experience. Press one button and you're done!
Continuing with our car analogy, the super-automatic would be a like a Telsa on auto-pilot mode. You press one button and the machine does the rest. It will grind the coffee, extract the espresso, froth the milk, and then pour the milk into your cup!
The down side of super-automatics is that you lose the ability to manually adjust the coffee making process. However they still make a good cup of coffee if you invest in a quality machine. You will find that super-automatics start at a higher price point compared semi-automatics as they have more technology within them.
- One press coffee.
- In built grinder save bench space.
- Programmable drinks.
- No control.
- Starting price is more expensive.
Pod Espresso Machines
The last option are pod espresso machines, like the Nespresso range.
These machines are best suited for people that want a hassle free coffee making experience without spending much money upfront. They are much cheaper than super-automatics.
Pod espresso machines follow the similar philosophy of super-automatic espresso machines. You pop in a pod, press a button, and you're done! Easy. Some versions even come with a milk frother so you can make lattes and cappuccinos.
The down side of these types of machines is that they don't coffee as good as semi and super automatics. This is simply because they don't use freshly ground coffee, nor do they provide the same amount of pressure when extracting espresso. The other down side is the ongoing costs and waste (1) of pods. Pods are more expensive than whole beans on average, but there are cheaper coffee pods you can select.
- Cheap up front cost.
- Very easy to use.
- Not as good quality coffee as semi and super machines.
- On going cost with coffee pods.
Boilers: How Fast Do You Want Your Coffee?
The next question to ask yourself is "how fast do I want my coffee"? The speed of a coffee maker is dictated by the type of boiler it has.
There are three types of boilers to choose from:
- Single Boiler
- Heat Exchange
- Dual Boiler
In terms of speed, the fastest is Dual Boiler, then Heat Exchange, and finally the slowest is Single Boiler.
Single Boiler Coffee Machines
Single boiler machines use one boiler to extract espresso and steam the milk. They are found in most entry level and mid range espresso machines.
The down side of single boilers is that you can't steam milk and extract espresso at the same time. You have to flick a switch and wait for the espresso machine to increase in temperature to allow for steam, and then decrease in temperature to extract espresso (otherwise you'll burn your coffee!). There is usually a minute lag between functions. However for home use, most household will be fine with one boiler and the wait time. Below I've drawn a diagram of how they work.
Heat Exchange Espresso Machines
Heat Exchange boilers are single boilers with a "heat exchange" system that allows you to steam milk and extract espresso at the same time. They do this by having a pipe tubing (2) within the boiler that rapidly heats up water to extract espresso.
These machines are faster than single boilers and are found in mid to high end espresso machines. Think of them as the "happy medium" between single and dual boilers in terms of price and speed. You can see in my diagram below how there is a separate tube that rapidly heats up the water.
Dual Boiler Machines
Dual boilers, as the name suggests, have two boilers. One boiler is dedicated to steaming milk, while the other is responsible for extracting espresso. Dual boilers are typically found in high end espresso machines and are the fastest type of espresso machine.
The benefit of having 2 boilers is that you have instant steam, heat control, and can steam milk and extract espresso at the same time. The down side is that they are the most expensive - due to the fact of having an extra boiler as seen below.
What's Your Budget?
The last question you have to ask yourself is "how much money do I want to spend". Like most things, the more you spend the better machine you can get - but there are exceptions to this rule.
Typically the following factors are impacted depending on your budget:
- The machine's build quality (hard plastics vs stainless steel).
- The type of boiler it uses (single is cheapest, then heat exchange, and dual boiler is the most expensive)
- What type of machine (semi, super, or pod)
- Technology (programmable features, PID temperature controls, shot clocks etc).
Note: Remember, most machines require you to budget for a coffee grinder as well. If you have a small budget it is better to invest a good portion of into your grinder.
A good grind is probably more important that the espresso machine to extract quality coffee. You can use my table below to help you split your budget.
6 Best Espresso Machine Reviews
Now that we have gone through the 3 main things you have to ask yourself before buying an espresso machine, we can discuss some good options.
Below I have outlined 6 good espresso makers that should suit most people's needs. I have outlined good semi-automatic, super-automatic, and pod machines.
1. Breville Barista Express - Best For Most
What I Like
When given the task of picking the best espresso maker for most people, I have to ask myself what the average household needs in a coffee machine. I have to put my barista prejudices on the side and not recommend $2,000+ espresso machines. Most people don't need to spend this much money to produce quality coffee.
When I do this I believe the Breville Barista Express is the best choice for most people. This is because it balances price, features, and build quality to create a product that will satisfy most people's coffee cravings.
What I Like
The feature I like the best about the Express is its in-build coffee grinder. There are a couple reasons for this.
Firstly, it saves you money as you don't need to spend money on a separate coffee grinder. A entry level coffee grinder will set you back $200.00, while a quality one will be over $400.00. The Breville's internal burr grinder is suitable for most people's needs and will allow you to "dial in" your grind to produce quality espresso.
The second thing I like about the Express' grinder is that it saves you bench space. Traditional coffee set ups require you to reserve kitchen space for both a grinder and espresso machine. This can take up a lot room! Being in one neat package allows the espresso machine to fit nicely in your home.
Finally, I like that the Express has a really nice design and features that home baristas need. It has a commercial style steam wand, allowing you to steam milk to make latte art. It has a single boiler that switches functions pretty quickly. It also allows you to override the pre-programmed espresso extraction to go manual.
The Not So Good
Now I did say that the Barista Express was all about "balance". This means that it does need to cut corners in some places in order to keep the price low. So these are the not so good things.
Firstly, the coffee tamper that comes with the machines is bad. It's plastic and way too light. You need a nice and heavy tamper to get consistent tamps. I recommend that you chuck this one out and pay $30 for a stainless steel tamper. I've written a guide here for espresso coffee tampers I recommend.
Next, it uses a mixture of hard plastic and stainless steel. Full stainless steel machines are always preferred as they're gonna last longer. But this is not a deal breaker.
Finally, upgrades. This will only be a con if you decide to upgrade espresso machines in the future. This is because if you want to buy a high end espresso machine you will need to buy a separate grinder. High end machines don't come with integrated grinders. So this be an extra cost in the future.
Who Is This Machine For?
This machine is best suited for the average coffee lover that wants a neat package in their kitchen for a good price that produces good coffee. I written a full review of the Barista Express here.
2. Gaggia Classic Pro - Entry Level Pick
What I Like
For those looking to get into the world of espresso, the Gaggia Classic Pro is widely recommended as a great entry level option. But why is this? It's because it packs in a lot of commercial features in a small stainless steel package.
There a quite a few things I like about the Gaggia Classic Pro.
Firstly, lets start with the group head. It's a professional style 58mm group head. This is the same size used in professional coffee machines. You could literally take this group head out and put it into a cafe's machine. But why is this a big deal? Well, since its a properly cast group head it allows for better heat control, pressure, and ultimately espresso.
The next thing I like is the steam wand. It's a proper steam wand that will allow you to make latte art. The original Gaggia Classic did not have a proper steam wand and it produced lackluster milk. That's why I am really happy that Gaggia heard the cries of coffee lovers and decided to release this new version with a proper steam wand.
Finally I dig its build quality. People have reported (3) that these have lasted for years and produced quality coffee for just as long. This is because it uses good internals that last and are easy to fix if they break.
The Not So Good
Since this is a single boiler machine, the thing I don't like is the wait time between steaming milk and extracting espresso. This isn't a deal breaker, and it should be fine for most households. But if you are looking to make multiple coffees at a time for a family, then you're properly better off looking at a heat exchange or dual boiler machine.
The other thing I don't like about this machine is its looks. Lets be honest, it's not the best looking machine. But you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. In fact, Gaggia has even mitigated this by releasing an all black version of the classic (although its more expensive).
Who Is This Espresso Machine For?
This machine is best suited for the coffee lover who wants a machine that produces good espresso without having an integrated grinder. This machine is built to last and will serve you will in your coffee making journey.
3. Nespresso Inissia - Cheap Option
What I Like
When you start looking at Pod espresso machines there is one name that comes to mind - Nespresso. The "OG" as they say. Pod espresso machines have been on the market for while now and they have found great popularity. However I only recommend these machines if you are on a tight budget. The one I recommend is the Nespresso Inissia.
What I Like
The price. The Inissia is Nespresso's cheapest coffee maker. The reason why I recommend getting the entry level Nespresso machine compared to Nespresso's more expensive versions is because they all do the same thing - produce average tasting espresso. If you get a more expensive Nespresso machine you will not get that much better coffee compared to this lower priced one, so you're better off saving cash.
The next thing I like about the Inissia is that for the price point, it produces passable espresso. If I had the choice of getting a $100.00 espresso machine or a Nespresso machine, I would pick the Nespresso. It's a good machine to enter into the world of espresso without putting out too much money.
The Not So Good
Now for the bad. Although upon writing this review I realized I have been giving "back handed" compliments to the Inissia in the "what I like" section. This is because I strongly believe you are better off getting a semi-automatic espresso machine like the Gaggia Classic. It's a little bit more expensive, but you will be able to make much, much better coffee.
This is because at the end of the day the quality of your coffee relies on the coffee you use and how you grind it. Nespresso will never be able to make a coffee machine that produces better tasting coffee if it uses pods. This is because pods are not fresh coffee and Nespresso does not use a proper boiler.
Who Is This Machine For?
This machine is best suited for a person who wants to get a "taste" of the espresso world at a cheap price. I recommend that you try the pods a local store before buying a Nespresso to make sure you like the taste.
4. Saeco PicoBaristo - Super Automatic
What I Like
The Saeco PicoBaristo is my recommended super-automatic espresso machine. This is because it automates the entire coffee making process. A lot of cheaper machines only automate a portion of the coffee making. I believe that this goes against the philosophy of super automatic machines. All or nothing I say!
What I Like
Press one button and the machine does the rest. The Saeco will grind your coffee, extract the espresso, froth the milk, and then pour the milk and espresso into your glass to create your desired beverage! The main feature that makes this possible is the integrated milk frother and grinder. It allows you to make your selected drink with ease.
The next thing I like about this machine is that it uses freshly ground coffee. This means the coffee will taste much better compared to pod espresso makers. Finally the machine has an auto cleaning feature - it literally does it all. It's almost a set and forget coffee maker.
The Not So Good
The cons of this machine really come down to personal preference. If you want a machine that does everything for you, then this is a good option. If you want a machine that will produce the best coffee possible - you are better off getting a semi-automatic machine. As even though it makes good coffee, you can't "fine tune" it like a semi-automatic espresso maker.
Who Is This Machine For?
This machine is for the person who want a hassle free coffee making experience. You don't want to have to learn to steam milk and extract espresso. You just want good tasting coffee. If this is you, then this machine will serve you well.
5. Breville Dual Boiler - Dual Boiler Option
What I Like
When you start looking at dual boiler coffee machines you will quickly see how expensive they can be! Most start at $2,000.00 and can go a whole lot higher than that!
So when Breville created their dual boiler machine the first thing people noticed was its price. It's actually really cheap compared to other dual boilers! (But still more expensive compared to single boilers).
What I Like
What I like about Breville's Dual Boiler is that it allows consumers to access high end features at a good price point. As discussed, the benefit of having one boiler for steaming milk and the other for extraction is that you get superior speed, control, and temperature stability.
Now lets get into the machine's tech features that benefit from having two boilers. The most interesting is that you can set the temperature of the brew boiler. This means you can experiment with different temperatures when extracting your coffee. Coffee beans can taste different at different temperatures.
The Breville's tech features go even further. You can program in your extraction time, pre-infusion, and it even comes with a shot clock to keep track of your extraction.
It really is a machine built for a coffee geek at a good price.
The Not So Good
On the negative side the Breville has the same issue as the cheaper Barista Express. It comes with a bad tamper! The first thing you'll need to do is chuck it out and get a nice, heavy tamper. I get why Breville includes the tamper in this product - so you have everything needed to make coffee. But they should include a decent one. This isn't a deal breaker, just a slight annoyance.
Since this machine is a dual boiler, Breville had to compromise in the machine's exterior build quality to get the price point down. So again, there is a mixture of hard plastics and stainless steel that makes up this machine.
Who Is This Machine For?
This machine is built is built for two types of people. Firstly, the coffee geek who wants to experiment with temperature controls. Secondly, for the person who wants to make coffee fast and for multiple people.
6. Rocket Appartamento -Enthusiast's Choice
What I Like
I thought I would end this list by recommending a good "prosumer" machine. These are the espresso machines that make our mouths water. The machines where we say F*%k it, disregard budgets, and focus solely on that lustful word: performance.
However, I didn't get too carried away. I actually selected a machine that is a good price for the brand, build quality, and features - The Rocket Appartamento. This machine is on the smaller size compared to others in it category, making it a great choice for home use.
What I Like
Rocket is well known in barista circles for making quality, hand made espresso machines. So it comes to no surprise that the first thing that catches my attention is its design. The Rocket is a beautiful machine made with solid stainless steel and commercial internal components.
This machine has great build quality. If you every need to replace or fix anything, you can take it to your local espresso machine shop to get it fixed. You can't do this with cheaper machines.
The next thing to note about the Rocket is that it allows you to manually control the pre-infusion process. Pre-infusion is the process of wetting the beans before activating the pump to extract the espresso. This allows you get more flavor out of your beans. To do this on the Rocket you simply pull the lever mid-way to pre-infuse, then go all the way to activate the pump. This allows you to experiment with the coffee making process.
Finally, the Appartamento has a heat exchange boiler. This allows you to steam milk and extract coffee at the same time. Making this machine perfect for for coffee lovers that want to quickly serve multiple coffees at a time.
The Not So Good
The negative I have about this machine is its price. It is on the higher end compared to the others on this list. Remember you also have to buy a good grinder to go with this machine. Otherwise you won't bring out its full potential.
It also doesn't have as many "tech" features as the Breville Dual Boiler. But this is simply because Rocket has chosen to invest its budget in its build quality and internals rather than tech - so this machine will last longer. This is a good thing.
Who Is This Machine For?
This machine is for the coffee enthusiast that wants a great looking machine. It's quite expensive, so you really can't justify the cost unless you want something that looks striking in your kitchen and allows you to get the most out of your coffee.
What Tools & Accessories Do You Need?
Now that we've gone through my recommended espresso machines, hopefully you have found one that will suit your needs and budget. Below I have outlined some common tools and accessories you will need along with your espresso machine. Some machines come with the below whiles others don't.
The grinder is the most important tool you need to have with your espresso machine. I might even go as far to say that your grinder is even more important than your machine. This is because if you can't grind good beans, even the best espresso machine will produce poor espresso. In the same light, if you have a cheaper espresso machine teamed up with a good grinder, you will get good coffee. So don't skimp on it!
After you've extracted you espresso you will be left with a hot puck of coffee! You need somewhere to quickly put it before dumping the puck into the bin. This is where you need a knock box. A knock box quickly gets the coffee out of your group head by smacking it down. Just remember to empty the box otherwise mold will grow! I've learnt this from experience...
In order to get a good extraction you need a coffee tamper to compact the coffee inside the group head. You want a nice, heavy tamper to get an even extraction. Some machines come with a free tamper, but most of the time they are not of good quality so you will need to buy a separate one.
This one is optional. A tamping mat is a rubber mat that you place your group head on when you tamp the coffee into it. As you need to put some elbow grease behind a coffee tamp you run the risk of scratching your kitchen counter. A tamping mat prevents this from happening.
This one is optional as well - and to be honest, a bit of a fad. You can get coffee levelers that are used to level your coffee in your group head before you tamp it down. Apparently this helps you get a better extraction. Your figures can do the same thing.
Most espresso machines will come with one or two free milk jugs. You need a milk jug to steam your milk. However I find it is good to have different sized milk jugs. This helps you not waste milk and also helps in creating designs in your coffee, like a latte art heart.
Before you make your coffee you need somewhere to pour it into! You probably have some cups laying around your kitchen that you can use. But it's always nice to get cafe style coffee cups. It really ties in the coffee making experience.
If you're a fan of cappuccinos or hot chocolates you 100% need a coffee shaker. This is the finishing touch to many drinks.
After you've steamed your milk, you need to quickly wipe the steam wand. If you don't the milk will quickly dry and form a crust over the steam wand. A damp kitchen towel or cloth will do the job for this.
Espresso Machine Glossary
The world of espresso has a lot of jargon. Below are some common espresso machine terms and explanations of what each of them mean. This will help you understand what different features mean when comparing espresso makers.
- Group head: The group head is the handle and basket that you put your ground coffee into and insert into your espresso machine. The group heads is used to create the seal where the water passes through to create your espresso. There are several types of group heads such as single, double, and naked group heads.
- Portafilter: The portafilter is the basket inside the group head that you put your ground coffee into. Portafilters usually come in two sizes: single and double shot.
- Boiler: The boiler is the mechanism within the espresso machine that heats up the water to create steam to froth your milk and brew water to extract the coffee.
- Pump: The pump is the tool within the espresso machine that pushes the flow of water from the water reservoir into the boiler. It also a tool that helps create the pressure needed to extract espresso.
- PID temperature control: A PID or "proportional–integral–derivative" is a device within some espresso machines that control the temperature of your boiler. You can use a PID to set the temperature of your coffee machine to match the type of beans you have.
- Pre-infusion: Pre-infusion is the process where you soak the ground coffee within the group head before turning on the pump to extract the espresso. Soaking the coffee before extracting it helps to create an even extraction. Typically more expensive espresso machines allow you to control the pre-infusion. Cheaper coffee machines have set pre-infusion.
- Steam wand: The steam wand is the tool used to froth your milk. There are typically two type of steam wands: manual and assisted. Manual steam wands require you to know how to steam milk to make good milk. Assisted steam wands froth the milk for you - just press a button and the frother does the rest.
- Bar: A "bar" is a unit of pressure used to measure the pressure an espresso machine makes. You need 9 bars to make espresso.
- Drip tray: A drip tray is the tray that sits below the group head that catches any excess water from the espresso brewing process. You need to empty the drip tray when it gets full otherwise it will spill over!
- Water reservoir: The water reservoir is that container the holds the water within the espresso machine before it is transferred into the boiler to be heated. The reservoir empties as you use the machine so you need to refill it.
- Plumbed In: When a person says an espresso machine can be plumbed in it means that it is hooked up to a homes water supply. This means you don't need to refill the water reservoir as the machine does this itself. Furthermore, if a machine is plumbed in, the waste water that goes into the drip tray can also be automatically removed from the machine.
- Latte art: Latte art is the process of making patterns with espresso and milk within your cup. Most semi-automatic espresso machines are capable of making latte art.
Espresso Machine Brands
Below I have listed the names of the most popular coffee machine brands. I have listed both consumer and prosumer focused espresso machines.
Breville is an Australian brand formed in 1932. They are not a espresso specific company, rather they make a wide range of kitchen and home appliances. But this has not deterred them in the coffee making space. In fact I think it has helped them. They make espresso machines that focus on the needs of the average user. This is why they are one of the most popular coffee brands.
Gaggia is an Italian coffee brand formed in 1947. They focus on making both manual and super-automatic espresso machines. They are best known for their Gaggia Classic, but also have a following in the super-automatic space.
Nespresso is the company that took pod coffee to the masses. Founded in 1986 they hold the market share for this new type of coffee - probably due to their good brand associations. Looking at you George! I'm personally not a fan as you can produce better coffee with proper espresso machines. But there is no questioning that they introduced espresso to so many new people. I think that's a good thing.
Founded in 1981, Philips-Saeco is a home appliance manufacturer. In terms of their espresso machines, they are best known for their super-automatic range.
Rocket Espresso is an Italian brand of espresso machines that are made by hand. Founded in the 1970s, Rocket has a reputation of making prosumer espresso machines for home use. Their machines are sturdy and built to last.
Founded in 1902, De'Longhi is another appliance manufacturer that also makes espresso machines. Although De'Longhi does have a range of semi-automatic espresso makers, they are best known for their super-automatics and brand partnerships with Nespresso.
Founded in 1927 in Florence, La Marzocco is a high end coffee brand. They produce both commercial and home espresso machines. They are known in the barista circles as the "workhorse". Their home range of espresso machines are made with the same quality. The down side is they are one of the most expensive brands! But oh, so worth it.
Founded in 2004, Synesso is an American coffee manufacturer of hand made espresso machines. They are a high end coffee brand that produces both commercial and home espresso machines. They are very expensive, but probably the best looking machines I've seen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below I have outlined some common questions friends ask me about espresso machines and coffee making in general. If you have any other questions that need answering, please leave a comment below and I will add the answer to this list.
What coffee do I buy for an espresso machine?
Answer: You should buy freshly roasted beans from a local roaster near you. If you are on a budget, you can get beans from your super market. But to get the best extractions you have to go to your local roaster.
How long after roasting is coffee best to use in a espresso machine?
Answer: The ideal time to drink your roasted coffee within 7-14 days after the roast date. This is the peak point (4) where you get the best taste from your coffee beans.
What milk should I use for my espresso machine?
Answer: You should use full cream milk to get the best tasting coffee. However depending on your diet there are other milk types (5) you can try.
Can you make espresso without a machine?
Answer: No you cannot. You need a machine in order to produce the pressure needed to extract espresso. You need either an electric machine or a manual machine. Electric espresso machines produce the best results.
What is the best pressure to extract espresso?
Answer: 9 bars of pressure is the ideal amount to extract espresso. 9 bars of pressure is 130 PSI (6). Most espresso machines go up to 15 bars of pressure. Although this amount is not needed, it is better to have a more powerful machine so it doesn't struggle to get up to 9 bars.
Do espresso machines make lattes and cappuccinos?
Answer: Yes. You can make lattes and cappuccinos with an espresso machine as long as the espresso machine has a steam wand. A steam wand is needed to create the textured milk for lattes and cappuccinos.
Phew! We have reached the end of this buying guide. Hopefully you have found a machine that will suit your needs and have had all your questions answered. If you have any question about espresso machines, please leave me a comment.