The 30-Second Review

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.

Best Overall

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.

Best Luxury Option

This stunning Italian model ($1,550) allows for more customizations than the Breville. It produces phenomenal espresso, but has a more pronounced learning curve.

Best Budget Option

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.

Finalists for Espresso Machine

From left to right, the Breville,
the Rocket, and the Mr. Coffee.

Our Picks for the Best Espresso Machine

Best Overall

Breville Barista Express BES870XLA forgiving, yet customizable machine that pulls great espresso.

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.

Breville for Espresso Machine

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.

Breville Shot for Espresso Machine

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.

Breville Baskets for Espresso Machine

The Breville's double-walled filter baskets, top, are slightly more forgiving for beginners than single-walled baskets.

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.

Breville Latte for Espresso Machine

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

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso MachineExcellent espresso in a stunningly crafted machine.

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.

Rocket for Espresso Machine

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.

Rocket Shot for Espresso Machine

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.

Rocket Lever for Espresso MAchine

The Rocket's espresso lever,
center, allows for more customization than pushing a button.

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

Mr. Coffee ECMP1000A beginner-friendly machine that beat out models twice as expensive in our taste test.

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 for Espresso Machine

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.

Mr Coffee Shot for Espresso Machine

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.

Mr Coffee Lattee for Espresso Machine

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

Gaggia ClassicGood at espresso, but its poor design makes steaming milk awkward.

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.

Gaggia Classic for Espresso Machine

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.

Gaggio Wand for Espresso Machine

The placement of the Gaggia's steam wand made it difficult to maneuver our milk pitcher without spilling.

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.

Added Equipment for Espresso Machine

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.

The Best Espresso Machine Summed Up

Espresso Machine
The Best
Breville Barista Express BES870XL
Best Overall
Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine
Best Luxury Option
Mr. Coffee ECMP1000
Best Budget Option