The Best Espresso Machine
The best espresso machine should produce great-tasting shots and be forgiving enough for first-time owners to master. We scoured the web for popular models, then tested the nine most promising for ourselves. In the end, three machines offered the perfect balance between simple design, customizable settings, and delicious espresso.
The Breville ($600) is our favorite: A forgiving espresso maker that produces great-tasting shots with minimal effort. It offers a moderate range of customizations so you can tweak your espresso to your tastes, and — like our other picks — it can steam milk for lattes and cappuccinos. It’s our only pick to include a built-in grinder, so you won't need to buy one separately.
This stunning Italian model ($1,550) allows for more customizations than the Breville. It produces phenomenal espresso, but has a more pronounced learning curve.
Mr. Coffee ECMP1000
Compared to our other picks, the espresso isn’t quite as good, but the Mr. Coffee ($133) still outperformed machines twice as expensive. It offers fewer customizations, but its simple design is easy to master.
The Best Espresso Machine
Caffè Espresso translates to “pressed-out coffee.” It’s what happens when you force hot, pressurized water through finely ground coffee beans. This brewing method is challenging to master, since pressure and temperature matter a lot — slight variations in either can produce an extremely unpalatable shot. But the best espresso machine extracts rich flavor from its beans, offering a complex balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.
Our overall favorite is the Breville Barista Express ($600). For first-time espresso machine owners, the Breville offers the perfect balance between hand-holding and customization. You’re in charge of basic steps like measuring out and pulling your shot, but the Breville makes it easy to adjust things like the coarseness of your grind and how much espresso you want to use. We were able to produce great-tasting espresso with only a few tweaks to the machine’s default settings. Like all of our picks, the machine also steams milk for lattes and cappuccinos. Unlike our other picks, it has a built-in grinder, so that you don’t have to buy one separately.
If you’re ready to drop serious money on a high-quality espresso machine, our pick is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine ($1550). Hand-tooled in Italy, this espresso maker produced shots that were hands-down our favorite, with a more complex flavor than we got out of the Breville. It’s not as forgiving of user errors, so expect to pull some terrible-tasting espresso until you've finished calibrating it. But the trade-off is that it offers more customization, letting you craft shots with a nuanced range of flavors once you figure out what you’re doing.
On the other end of the price spectrum is the Mr. Coffee ECMP1000 ($133). We were skeptical of this less-than-glamorous brand, and Mr. Coffee’s shots do lack the richness and complexity of coffee from the Rocket or the Breville. But our espresso was still delicious and tasted better than the shots we pulled from models that were twice as expensive. The Mr. Coffee offers fewer customization options — a good thing if you just want your espresso as quickly as possible — and has a simple milk-steaming method that requires less work than our other picks.
How We Found the Best Espresso Machine
We began by compiling a list of machines recommended by espresso-centric websites like Clive Coffee and Seattle Coffee Gear. We were selective about which brands we chose, skipping the popular Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine after reading Home-Barista’s lukewarm review of it. We wanted machines that were both well-known and well-regarded. After looking at top sellers from Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, we also included the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. This addition drew the skepticism of the coffee experts we spoke with, but we couldn’t ignore its 1,700 Amazon reviews.
We had two other requirements: We skipped models that couldn’t steam milk, ensuring our top picks could make lattes and cappuccinos in addition to espresso. We also looked only at “entry level” machines — those billed as semi-automatic and super-automatic — meaning they do some of the work for you. A third type, manual machines, allow more personalization, but require a much longer learning curve and aren’t typically a good fit for first-time users.
- Ascaso Dream Espresso Machine ($600)
- Breville Barista Express BES870XL ($600)
- DeLonghi Dedica EC 680.MB ($300)
- DeLonghi EC 155 ($100)
- Gaggia Classic ($370
- Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista ECMP1000 ($135)
- Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine ($1,550)
- Gaggia Brera ($440)
- Jura IMPRESSA C9 Automatic Coffee Machine ($1,300)
If you’re wondering about the exact difference between our two categories, semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder. Learn more about these add-ons below.
Super-automatic machines turn brewing espresso into pushing a button — and perhaps turning a dial or pressing a second button if you’re feeling adventurous. These machines have built-in grinders and are programmed to pull shots all on their own, without requiring you to grind, dose, or tamp.
If you’re new to the world of espresso, these are the four steps you traditionally have to follow:
- Grinding: Run recently roasted coffee beans through a high-quality grinder. The coarseness of the grind that you need will vary depending on your espresso maker. Trial-and-error is normal.
- Dosing: Use a scale to weigh your ground coffee, then place it into your machine’s portafilter (the little basket that holds the grounds in place as hot water runs over them).
- Tamping: To ensure the espresso is evenly packed, your machine will come with a tamp, which you’ll press into the basket against the grounds.
- Pulling your shot: Place the portafilter into the espresso machine, and allow pressurized water to run through the grounds and into your waiting shot glass.
We carefully monitored the shot-pulling process and taste-tested our end results.
Once we unpacked our machines, we primed them first with water (rinsing out any residual plastic or metallic taste), and then with beans. Then we pulled a lot of shots, following the Italian Espresso National Institute's measurement guidelines.
Above all, good espresso requires precision: Your machine needs to achieve a lot within a short timeframe.
If you’re looking for phenomenal tasting notes, flavor balance, and texture, there is simply no room for error in the machine, the beans, the user, or even the weather. And if you’re just happy with espresso that tastes good, the margin for error is still slim. So we paid close attention to:
Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot will taste sour. Too hot, and it will taste burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees.
But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Both the DeLonghi EC155 and the DeLonghi Dedica consistently pulled sour shots — a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough. Even letting the machines warm up for 10 minutes didn’t help.
We had the opposite problem with the Ascaso Dream. We loved that it displayed a water temperature thermometer — but this just let us know exactly how badly our espresso was being burned. No matter how much water we ran through the boiler in an attempt to cool it, the thermometer always climbed over 200 degrees, resulting in scorched shots.
And both the super-automatic machines that we tested proved to be low performers, the Jura producing shots that were both sour and bitter, while the Gaggia Brera's were bitter and watery.
You might have heard that purchasing a double-boiler espresso machine or a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller will give you more accuracy and control over temperature. They’re definitely features to dig into for advanced espresso crafters, but expect to instantly add $400 for a PID and $800 or more for a second boiler. Since we wanted to focus on beginner machines, we stuck to single-boiler models without PID controllers.
Does evenly tamped espresso really matter that much?Short answer: Yes. When you pull a shot, the water will go to the place of least resistance, avoiding densely packed areas. This denser espresso won’t be properly saturated, making it under-extracted and sour, while the looser espresso will be over-extracted and bitter.
Good espresso machines are pricey, despite being what Alton Brown would categorize as a single-use tool. So we also wanted to find a model that would be easy to use and maintain. We paid close attention to several aspects.
Basket Design: Most espresso machines come with two portafilter baskets: one to hold enough grounds for a single shot (7 grams), and one to hold enough grounds for a double shot (14 grams). For good flavor, it’s important that these grounds are tamped down evenly. But two of our models came with double-shot baskets that could barely hold 14 grams of coffee, making them extremely difficult to dose and tamp evenly.
Tamp Design: Creating an evenly tamped shot is why it’s also important that the tamp fits into the portafilter basket precisely. Each machine comes with its own tamp, so we were surprised to find that not all of them fit. The Gaggia Classic’s tamp was too small, leaving behind a crescent moon of untouched coffee. It’s possible to try and compress in sections, but you’ll run the risk of re-tamping some of the grounds and producing an unpalatable shot.
Portafilter Design: Portafilters hold the basket of grounds in place under the machine. They also hold the basket still while you knock out the used grounds. But some of them held their baskets a little too loosely: When we went to knock out our used grounds, the DeLonghi Dedica’s basket fell out with the gentlest of taps, and the EC155’s basket wasn’t locked in at all.
Weight: While we appreciated the light weight of some machines when we needed to lift them out of the box, we had to hold them down just to affix portafilter to machine. They didn’t have enough weight to withstand the pressure on their own, skidding sideways across the counter. We appreciated the Breville and the Rocket, which were both on the heavier side and didn’t need any help staying put.
Customization and Programmability
For consistent testing, we followed Italian espresso-making guidelines. But many people want the ability to customize to their taste. So as we tested each machine, we noted whether we could play with different parts of the brew cycle. We also took note of the ability to pre-program settings, for when we found our perfect cup of espresso.
The Breville starts out with its recommended settings, but lets you both tinker with, and reprogram them, as did several other machines. In addition to the Breville's preset pull times, for instance, you can also program the machine so that when you press the “one shot” or “two shot” buttons, it knows exactly how many seconds you want water running through your grounds.
Most people will hit the sweet spot of great espresso by letting water run through their coffee grounds for between 20 and 30 seconds. Once you get good shots in this range, you might try cutting it short, which can produce a sweeter shot, sometimes called ristretto. Or you might try a long shot, which results in a more bitter flavor.
Extremely high-end espresso machines will allow you to tinker with even the smallest details: The $8,000 Slayer V3 allows you to adjust the flow rate of the water through your grounds.
Our Picks for the Best Espresso Machine
The Breville Barista Express is technically a semi-automatic espresso maker, since it requires you to dose and tamp your own shots. But it has a built-in grinder, and we found it more forgiving than true super-automatics despite allowing for a wider range of customizations. If you want an all-in-one machine, it’s our favorite.
We loved that it walked us through each part of the brewing process: The user manual offers recommended initial settings, and from there we only had to make a few minor tweaks to get good espresso. Our shots were beautifully layered, and after testing the DeLonghis, it was a relief to find a machine whose espresso didn’t look and taste like a watery mess. The Breville was one of the few that gave us truly gorgeous colors as the espresso flowed out of the portafilter.
Default settings are rarely perfectThe performance of an espresso machine depends partly on air temperature and humidity. Default settings try to find a solid middle ground, but it’s normal to have to do some adjusting.
Altering the default settings is easy, thanks to a display panel that clearly labels all buttons and lights. Changing the amount of ground coffee that you want in your shot requires turning a dial — or you can press the portafilter firmly against the dispensing cradle: A button at the back allows you to dose as much or as little coffee as you wish. And though the Breville has a built-in burr grinder, the machine lets you adjust grind coarseness.
And for beginners, the Breville offers something we loved: dual-wall filter baskets — in addition to two standard single-wall baskets. The dual walls add extra pressure to the shot, providing a tiny amount of forgiveness for mistakes that users might make either in the grind or in the tamping of the shot.
Steaming milk is straightforward with a simple on/off switch, and we got some gorgeous microfoam, although the process isn’t flawless. You’ll need to prime the steam wand prior to using it on your milk, or else water will drip into your pitcher as the steam begins to sputter out. This sputtering caused us to have a few larger bubbles, frowned upon by hardcore espresso lovers.
The Breville packs nicely. Its tamp attaches to the machine magnetically, making it easy to keep track of, and most of its other accessories fit into a storage drawer behind the drip tray. The Breville’s primary flaw is this drawer. We accidentally knocked it a little farther into the machine than intended, and it was a perfect fit. It doesn’t have a handle, so it took a few minutes to pry it out again.
There’s one thing the Breville can’t do on its own, at least not without a hefty repair bill. If you love dark roasts, any machine that features an internal grinder is off limits. The oily shine characteristic of dark roasts builds up in any grinder — but you can disassemble and clean standalone grinders, which is rarely an option for internal ones. The residual oil left in an internal grinder will at best give future shots a rancid flavor. At worst, the oil will clog the grinder entirely. If you want to brew dark roasts on the Breville, plan on buying a separate grinder.
Best Luxury Option
The Rocket looks, works, and performs like it belongs in a small coffee shop, despite fitting tidily on your kitchen counter. Each machine is handtooled and bench-tested in Italy, which buys you a beautiful espresso maker that is fairly easy to learn, makes excellent espresso, and should last for 10 to 15 years. Less expensive machines might survive the five-year mark, and some can’t be expected to reach three.
We weren’t surprised to find that the Rocket bested the competition during testing. After an initial calibration, we got excellent espresso quickly, with only a few test shots. Compared to the Breville, the Rocket’s shots tasted smoother, though both were leagues away from the sour shots of the DeLonghi, or the watery and bitter shots of the super-automatics.
The machine lets you cycle quickly between steaming milk and pulling espresso: It uses a heat exchanger, rather than the more typical thermoblock, which means that the Rocket’s boiler heats all the way up to milk-steaming temperatures when you first turn it on. When you’re ready to pull shots, the heat-exchanger sends a burst of cool water through a copper tube in the boiler, bringing the temperature briefly back to espresso-friendly levels before heating back up. In addition to being convenient for lattes, this features makes it easy to quickly pull a bunch of shots without worrying about about the water getting cold, convenient if you're hosting a large group of people.
The Rocket’s espresso lever is an upgrade from the simple on/off button used by most of our models. By only moving the lever partway up, you can play around with pre-infusing your coffee grounds before pulling the shot. Pre-infusion can be fun to tinker with, as you try to home in on what makes your perfect espresso. This gives the Rocket an additional level of customization not available on the other models we tested.
We loved the sheer quality of every part included with our Rocket. Of our seven semi-automatics, only the Ascaso, the Breville, and the Rocket included a metal — not plastic — tamp. The Rocket’s has a solid heft to it, and perfectly fits the machine’s 58mm portafilter baskets. It was so perfectly sized that we started using it for our Gaggia Classic basket, which was also sized to 58mm, but whose plastic tamp couldn’t cover all the grounds in one go.
The Rocket takes small details that are nice individually and combines them to make a machine that not only looks good, but performs beautifully. Our one complaint is that because it’s entirely metal, the whole machine gets uncomfortably warm when it’s been running for 20 minutes.
Best Budget Option
We’ll be honest: Mr. Coffee doesn’t make the best espresso, but it does beat out machines nearly 10 times its price. When we talked to the folks at Seattle Coffee Gear, they told us to expect coffee closer to a thick Americano than a true espresso from this brand. We weren’t surprised that this prediction was correct. But we were surprised at how much better the Mr. Coffee tasted compared not only to the $100 DeLonghi, but also to the $300 DeLonghi — and even the $1,300 Jura super-automatic.
Mr. Coffee’s espresso lacks the richness of true espresso, but it’s fuller than an Americano. Its layer of crema disappeared quickly, and its shots lack the gorgeous, gradient colors that you’d get from a machine like the Rocket. That said, it ranked fourth for taste among the machines we tested.
It’s also the only machine to offer a hands-off milk-steaming experience. Prep your espresso, pour your milk into the milk reservoir, and you can press a button and walk away. Your latte or cappuccino will be ready in less than a minute.
The boiler heats up fairly quickly, too. It doesn’t ask for a 15- to 30-minute warmup time like the Gaggia Classic and Rocket Appartamento, instead taking about 5-10 minutes. This makes it nice to use both for your morning coffee routine, and if you feel like having an off-the-cuff latte or a late-night hot chocolate.
Whether you choose to steam milk as part of making a latte, or for a mug of hot chocolate, the Mr. Coffee steams differently compared to most espresso machines. Instead of inserting a steam wand into the milk, it draws small amounts of milk into the machine and expels steam and foamy milk into your cup.
This technique does make foam, and you can customize how much foam you want, from lattes to cappuccinos. But the foam quality is on the lower end, full of larger bubbles both from the steaming method, and as the milk dribbles into the cup.
The Mr. Coffee is a good machine for dipping a toe into the world of espresso. It comes with two portafilter baskets (the standard single- and double-shot), as well as a tamp/scoop combination tool. And if you want to take a break from grinding and dosing your own espresso, Mr. Coffee sells a Café Barista Easy Serving Espresso Pod Filter for $3.
Another to Consider
The Gaggia Classic ranked third in our taste test for espresso, after the Rocket and the Breville. Its sleek design makes it easy to fit in on a kitchen counter, but the Gaggia Classic takes the trophy for “least user-friendly” among the espresso machines we tested.
To start, the tamp is too small. It doesn’t fit the portafilter basket, so the user will need robotic precision to compress all the grounds evenly. The grip is also too short. When our testers tried to use the tamp after taking the portafilter out of the machine, and refilling the basket, they singed their hands against the portafilter’s still-hot metal.
Our testers weren’t thrilled with the steam wand, either. While it made good quality microfoam, with only a few larger bubbles, the wand doesn’t pivot up. It only swivels out, which makes angling a milk pitcher onto or off of the wand without spilling anything awkward — and we were using a fairly small pitcher.
When we changed from steaming milk to brewing espresso, and did the standard heat purge, the Gaggia let off a loud “foomph” as a cloud of steam blossomed out of the brewhead. The steam was too cool by the time it reached us to be dangerous, but it felt intimidating, even when we knew it was going to happen.
All of these problems are solvable — if you’re willing to throw money at them. A good quality 58mm tamp will solve the first problem, and retrofitting the machine with a PID controller should help with the second: It will regulate the temperature to at least let you know how much steam to expect when opening up the brewhead. And if you’re primarily looking for an espresso-only machine, even after investing in a new tamp, the Gaggia Classic is a fairly economical choice.
Don’t forget you’ll need to purchase additional equipment.
Espresso machines rarely come with all of the equipment you need to actually make espresso. Here’s what else you should have on hand before you start pulling shots:
For Both Super-Automatics and Semi-Automatics:
- Water Filter Pitcher: Great quality espresso requires great water. Filtering out unwanted minerals will remove undesirable flavor notes in your espresso and reduce the frequency with which you need to descale your machine.
- Milk Frothing Pitcher: For anyone who wants to make drinks other than straight espresso. You can try to steam milk directly into your cup, but a frothing pitcher’s shape and handle are easier to maneuver.
Semi-Automatics Also Need:
Be prepared to spend a lot of money on a good grinder.An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
- Burr Grinder: Changing the distance between the interlocking teeth of a burr grinder lets you adjust the coarseness of your coffee — while ensuring that each bean is chopped up to the same size as the others. This extremely even texture helps you extract shots evenly and consistently.
- Tamping Mat: This thick rubber mat lets you tamp coffee evenly into your machine’s portafilter basket. The mat has enough give to lean into your portafilter without damaging the spouts underneath, and protects your counters from getting dinged up.
- Scale: Espresso requires precision. Most machines come with a coffee scoop, but how much coffee goes into a shot should be determined by weight, not volume. And weight will differ by roast and grind. For a scale accurate enough to give you consistent shots, look for a model that measures up to a tenth of a gram.
Did You Know?
Light roasted coffee beans have a higher caffeine content.
There are three general categories of roasts: light, medium, and dark. Each roast starts off with green coffee beans. As the beans heat, they’ll reach the first crack, when each bean makes a sound like crackling popcorn and releases a tiny bit of oil. Roast a bean far enough, and it will reach the second crack, which is softer and quieter than the first.
Light roasts have the most caffeine, because their roasting process stops after that first crack. Most of the oil of the coffee bean is still in the bean. Dark roasts continue on until the second crack, by which point a lot of the oil has escaped, and with it, most of the caffeine. Medium roasts are stopped sometime after the first crack, but before the second and have a caffeine content between light and dark.
If you want to experience how coffee varies by region, it’ll be easier to detect these differences with a lighter roast. The longer the coffee bean is roasted, the more it also takes on the flavor of the roasting process, which means a darker roast will give you more insight into how flavors change between roasters.
Espresso blends pair best with milk.
Blends are typically designed for a purpose, usually to balance flavors. If you see a roast marketed as an “Espresso Blend,” it’s been structured to pair well with milk. Single-origins can allow for some unique flavors to come through, but can be a hit-or-miss on whether they will pair well with a latte.
Store your coffee carefully to keep it fresh.
Picking up a bag of coffee beans from the roaster is a great way to make sure you have fresh beans. You won’t want to use them the same day that they’ve been roasted, though. They need a couple days to degas from the roasting process. But espresso connoisseurs recommend using beans within two weeks of their roast date. This is because the coffee gets damaged as it’s exposed to air. Some of this is unavoidable — we do need to open the bag to fill our grinder. But there are a few easy steps to maximize your coffee’s life.
- Do make sure to keep the beans sealed tight. Most roasters offer a resealable bag for this reason.
- Don’t grind the beans ahead of time. Grinding exposes all of the oils of the coffee bean. Left in the open, this oil will evaporate more quickly than with a whole bean, taking away some of the flavor from your coffee.
- Don’t store the beans in the fridge or the freezer. Coffee beans are damaged with moisture, too. Changing temperatures on them will increase the likelihood of condensation. The air in your freezer is also extremely dry, and will dry out your coffee beans faster than if you leave them in the cupboard.