Updated: October 14, 2021 by Owen Richardson
Making espresso at home or at the office can seem quite daunting. The elaborate process and technique you see applied in a coffee shop doesn’t always look like something the average person can do easily.
Luckily, home espresso machines these days are pretty spectacular! There are certainly duds on the market, which we’ll help you steer clear of. But the best espresso machines out there are convenient, low-maintenance, and supremely good at making a quick cuppa.
We’ve put together this guide to introduce you to our favorite espresso machines today! We’ve compiled in-depth reviews of each of our recommendations, as well as a helpful buying guide!
Here’s a quick look at our top three, to get you started!
*Clarification: all the recommendations you see on this page cost several hundred dollars. If you’re looking for something less expensive, make sure you head over to our guide to the best espresso machine under $200! We’ve rounded up all our favorite inexpensive espresso solutions for you there.
Best Espresso Machine Reviews
- Breville Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine, Stainless Steel
- De’Longhi America EN750MB Nespresso Lattissima Pro Machine
- Saeco HD8927/47 Picobaristo Super Automatic Espresso Machine
- Miele CM6350 Countertop Coffee System
1. Breville Duo Temp Pro Espresso Machine, Stainless Steel
This Breville machine is our least expensive recommendation for an espresso machine. It’s budget-priced, but it has heavy-duty build quality and all the key features you need to make excellent espresso. If you can make do without a lot of automatic conveniences and extra features, this is a very affordable choice.
Like any good espresso machine, it has a full pump onboard! The Breville’s is relatively quiet, but it still packs a 15-bar punch for maximum flavor extraction. We think this is the least you can spend for a machine with the power to give you amazing espresso.
In addition to the main pump infusion stage, the Breville has a “pre-infusion” stage. It uses a lower pressure setting to help make sure all the grounds extract evenly, by helping them expand before the high-pressure setting activates. This is a very smart feature, even if its impact on taste results is difficult to measure.
The biggest advantage the Breville has over the competition in its price range is its heating power and precision. It has precise electronic temperature control, and a 1600W integrated stainless steel coil. That gives you a lot more heat than the competition at this price. Most budget models are woefully underpowered, but the Breville definitely isn’t!
It also does an excellent job keeping things at the optimal temperature range without drastic fluctuations. The auto-purge feature automatically adjusts the temperature after steam to get the optimal espresso extraction.
This model has a unique trimming tool for making precise doses of espresso. A blade trims down the puck for ideal extraction, controlling the exact amount of grounds in the basket.
The Breville includes 4 filter baskets, so you have a choice between single-wall and dual-wall, single shot and double shot options. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, don’t worry. The nature of a manual machine like this is that you have to choose which basket to use each time you brew. The helpful manual explains it all, and it’s great to have so many options out of the box!
- The filters are all 54mm, and the machine comes with a 54mm tamper to match them.
- The 61fl. oz. water tank allows you to make lots of cups of espresso between refills. It’s clear, so you can see how much water you have left. We also like that it removes easily for filling and cleaning.
- One excellent feature that you won’t find on other models this inexpensive is the Breville’s integrated filtration system. Since the machine filters water in the tank, you can use ordinary tap water for your brews! That’s not recommended with many other models.
- You don’t have to stop at making espresso! The Breville is designed to help you make all sorts of espresso-based beverages. It has a commercial-style steam wand for milk frothing, with 360-degree swivel range. We love the micro-foam it produces. It lasts a long time, and has a nice, creamy texture.
- The wand is powered by a 1700w element, and follows a traditional single-hole format. It’s manual, so you can do whatever you want with it: froth milk, froth the whole beverage, or make unique designs when you’re serving guests!
- The machine comes with a small stainless steel vessel for milk, too. It’s simple and serviceable, if not large enough to make a big batch of drinks.
- You can also use the wand to dispense hot water for tea or Americanos. There’s an easy button to switch between the two, and indicator lights to tell you which one is currently selected.
- One deluxe feature for the price: a warming tray for cups!
- The Breville’s removable drip tray indicates when it’s full, and removes for emptying.
- You can store your accessories onboard the machine.
- It’s constructed mostly from stainless steel. The Breville feels remarkably sturdy for the low price! It also looks fantastic. You could easily mistake this for an appliance that costs twice as much as it actually does.
- All the plastic components are BPA-free.
- It’s covered by a 1-year warranty.
- It’s not automatic. While the Breville does a lot of things mechanically, you’ll still need to grind your own beans, froth your own milk, time the extraction and stop the flow yourself. Those things are all pretty simple to do once you’ve read the manual thoroughly, but they’re less convenient than a having a machine that does it all for you.
- The frothing wand is fairly straightforward, but it’s still a manual tool. It’s nowhere near as convenient or effortless as using a machine with an integrated frother.
- It’s made in China. While we have no real complaints about build quality with the Breville, most other machines at this price are made in Europe.
- The crema isn’t quite as good as our more expensive picks, though it’s very satisfying for the price.
- This is designed to make espresso or espresso-based beverages. You can’t make a standard cup of coffee. Of course, you can always add water to get an Americano, but there aren’t any extra modes or functions on this one.
- You can’t make more than one cup at a time.
This De’Longhi system is a European-made dream machine for anyone who wants to make espresso the pod way! We love its intuitive navigation system, as well as the wide range of features and adjustments on such a relatively inexpensive machine. It makes excellent espresso, and it can make a range of other beverages too.
If you like to use pods for your espresso and other coffee beverages, we think this is by far the best you can do!
This model uses the Nespresso pod system. It’s actually the only pod system we recommend, so if you’re thinking of using pods to make all your caffeinated beverages, this will be the ideal machine for you!
Keurigs and other pod makers have notoriously poor bean quality, and machines that are pretty much worthless. The De’Longhi combines an excellent European-made machine with high-quality, recyclable pods. Nespresso beans taste great, and the aluminum pods are much more environmentally-friendly than plastic.
You can recycle the pods in your standard bin. You don’t have to bring them to any special location.
Like the Breville, the De’Longhi is designed for versatility. You can use it to make any number of delicious beverages: ristretto, espresso, lungo, cappuccino, latte, hot milk and hot water function for tea.
The key difference is that the De’Longhi does a lot more to help you out! All the drink options are pre-programmed, and the machine knows what to do to make each of them. It’ll adjust the brewing settings, use different amounts of water, and even tweak the crema.
While the Breville simply makes espresso as a base for more elaborate drinks, the De’Longhi makes those drinks from start to finish!
In addition to having frothing capabilities, the De’Longhi actually froths for you! No need to use a manual wand. Not only that, but there’s a dial to allow you to adjust the texture of the froth!
The programmable LED touchscreen makes for a user-friendly and intuitive navigation system. Each beverage/function gets its own dedicated button right on the panel. After you load a pod, all you have to do is press a button to get brewing!
- You can adjust the volume settings for each drink. That’s a feature you won’t get on many machines for this price! So, if you like a stronger espresso than normal, or want an extra large latte, it’s all doable.
- We also like that the settings button stays in view at all times, so you don’t get lost in menus.
- The De’Longhi might look less industrial than the Breville, but it actually packs more power under the hood. It produces 19 bars of pressure for extracting espresso flavors! That’s why the results are by far the tastiest of any pod espresso machine we’ve reviewed.
- It only takes one touch to add fresh milk into any beverage. You can get steamed milk for latte, or frothed milk for cappuccino and macchiato
- The De’Longhi is covered by a 2-year warranty, and has a much better reliability record
- It comes with a starter set of capsules, so you can get a sense of what’s available in the Nespresso range.
The milk container is detachable, so you can take it quickly in and out of the refrigerator. It holds about half a liter at a time. It’s much less wasteful than a vessel like the Breville’s, where you have to froth a whole batch of milk, without being able to save the leftovers. The De’Longhi uses just as much as each beverage needs. It’s nearly the same system as the more expensive Miele uses!
In addition to the different texture settings, the milk vessel has an self-cleaning cycle built-in, certified by a European food safety board. The cycle sends about 15 seconds of sanitizing steam through the milk hose, so the system is clean for your next brew cycle.
Since you’ll be using pods, there’s no need to grind your own beans, pick your filters, or anything like that. The machine does all the decision-making for you! It’s very, very convenient to use. Preheating takes less than 30 seconds, and adding milk of any kind only takes half that! You don’t have to spend time grinding, and you can get your beverage in under a minute.
We love the De’Longhi’s versatile cups support. It folds out for making smaller volume drinks like espresso. Sitting on the shelf allows smaller cups to get up close and personal to the spouts. you can also pivot it out of the way for making larger drinks
As with the Breville, you can remove the water compartment for easy refills. It’ll hold about 44oz. at a time. We also appreciate the De’Longhi’s built-in compartment for spent pods. The machine will hold up to 16 empties at a time, so you can recycle a batch at once.
The De’Longhi can also use tap water, just like the Breville. That’s not because it has a filtration system, though. It simply adjusts its descaling prompts to the hardness of your water. There’s a test strip in the box, so you can figure out exactly how to program your machine.
The die-case stainless steel housing is even more sturdy than the Breville’s. This is a rock-solid machine made entirely in Europe. Since it’s so robust, it masks noise much better than the lightweight Keurig machines on the market.
At first glance, you might think that this machine has all the same features as the Miele that costs more than twice as much. However, there’s a difference in the degree to which the machines are well-designed and well-made:
For instance, the De’Longhi’s the milk container is plastic, not insulated stainless steel like the Miele’s. It’s also more complicated to clean, since it has so many components.
It’s also a lot harder to adjust the ratios on this than on the Miele. On the Miele, you just dial through the settings, whereas on this one, you have to manually set the amounts you want. You can’t create user profiles with different preferences, and everything takes a bit longer to get to.
No pod system will ever beat a fresh-ground brewer in the taste department. There’s simply no comparison. This is by far the best of the pod options, but if you had to choose between a drink from the De’Longhi and a drink from the Miele, you’d go for the Miele’s cuppa every time. Pod machines’ advantage is convenience, not taste.
Pods are also inevitably more expensive than beans, sometimes inordinately so. We think the Nespresso pods are fairly reasonable if you get into a subscription deal, but there’s no question you’ll spend more than you would on beans to feed into an all-in-one like the Saeco or Miele.
Quality control on these isn’t nearly as good as Miele’s, even though both are made in Europe. The De’Longhi’s are reported to suffer from heating issues on a number of units, though we haven’t run into that ourselves.
We’ve also hear complaints about computer board issues prompting repairs for no reason. De’Longhi’s saving grace is a good customer service department. Still, they’re not as reliable as Miele’s.
This Saeco machine is our least expensive recommendation for an espresso machine which grinds and brews its own beans. It’s our top all-in-one recommendation for folks who are primarily interested in espresso, and don’t need as many frills and features as you get on a premium system like the Miele. It makes espresso all by itself, and has frothing/steaming capabilities to help you make latte, macchiato, or whatever else you might want!
This produces hands-down better taste results than the De’Longhi, even though it’s not too much more expensive. That’s because it has its own grinder onboard! You aren’t limited by the quality of your pods, or by the inferior taste results they produce. This one produces espresso that’s as fresh as fresh can be!
It makes 11 beverages all by itself, including espresso, espresso lungo (closest to normal coffee), hot water (for tea or Americano) and milk froth.
Since it has milk functionality onboard, you can also make more complicated beverages. Things like latte are all fairly straightforward, as long as you’re confident in deciding on proportions yourself.
The LED display and control panel allow for lots of customization. It’s intuitive to use, and offers plenty of options. You can adjust the volume and dosage level for each espresso, you can adjust the grind amount (5 settings), as well as the fineness (10 settings). There are three temperature options as well!
Each beverage preset is easy to access via the dedicated buttons. You can also save your preferences in the machine’s user profile, so that the machine will use all your preferred settings when you click the espresso button, for instance. It gives the machine a personal touch and makes things easier each time you use it!
You can adjust the automatic shutoff to save as much energy as you want. The time range you can choose from is anywhere from 15 to 180 minutes.
The display panel will also give you alerts for descaling, filter changing, and more. It’ll tell you when to empty the old grounds, when to refill the water tank, and when to do any necessary maintenance.
The Saeco’s thermoblock heating system is much better than the coils in all our cheaper recommendations. It works faster, and reaches proper temps more reliably.
Even though it’s not a pod system, it comes close to beating the De’Longhi in a race. You only need 1 minute and 15 seconds to get from preheating to a fully-brewed cup. And don’t forget, that includes grinding time!
It has two different milk functions onboard. Both allow you to make elaborate beverages like latte and macchiato.
The first tool is a cappuccinatore, which does everything automatically. It uses a suction hose to take milk directly from a container inside the machine.
There, it froths and dispenses all by itself. You have to control the amount, but the machine does all the heavy lifting. The best part of the Saeco’s cappuccinatore is that it’s refreshingly easy to clean! These systems can often be a major pain to deal with.
The second tool is called a panarello. It’s essentially a steam wand like the Breville’s. With the panarello, texture and temperature are easy to adjust by hand, if you want to get more personal with your drink creations.
The Saeco comes with a simple carafe to use for dispensing fresh milk. You can can also feed directly from any container you want to use with the included hose.
It’s got the best built-in grinder on the market! While we prefer the Miele as an overall espresso machine, the Saeco is unbeatable in terms of grind. It has ceramic burrs in the grinder, which last longer than steel and resist deteriorating that can result in inconsistent grinds. Its grinder has an estimated working life of 15,000 cups.
The bean hopper loads from the top of the machine, and holds about 300g at a time. It also has a bypass dose function. That allows you to skip over the grinder and brew from pre-ground beans for decaf or specialty cups with a different roast. They’re stored in a smaller, secondary compartment. It’s essentially the same system as the Miele, only half the price.
Like the Breville, the Saeco uses a pre-brewing phase to soak beans before they’re extracted.
The Saeco has a generous 50oz. water tank, and you can also add an optional filtration system if you prefer to use one.
It’s made entirely in Italy. The rugged stainless steel looks great and stands up very well over time. This is a heavy-duty home machine!
The Saeco is smaller than many all-in-one’s. At 10’’ W x 14” H x 17’’, it fits easily between appliances and in tighter nooks. The water tank and spent grounds compartments are both front-loading, too!
This one makes cleaning much easier than other all-in-one’s at its price. The brewing components are all easy to remove, and are safe to put in the dishwasher for cleaning. The Saeco also rinses the full system when you turn the machine on or off.
While the semi-automatic milk frothing tools take a bit more effort and finesse than the Miele, it’s easy to use once you watch the company’s helpful instructional videos.
It’s covered by a 1-year warranty.
Dealing with milk additions on the Saeco isn’t as effortless as with the Miele. You have to adjust the proportions yourself, and if you use the manual wand, you do need some skill. The instructional videos on Saeco’s YouTube channel are super helpful, but it’s simply not as convenient as the Miele.
There aren’t as many options, either. The Miele will make latte, macchiato, and more all by itself, whereas the Saeco just makes espresso and lungo, then supplies milk for you to make whatever other drinks you want.
You can only make one drink at a time, too. On the Miele, you can order what you want, and then press one button to have it duplicated at the same time.
The Saeco doesn’t have a cup warmer.
One common downside of any super-automatic: you have to avoid very dark, oily beans. They don’t feed well through grinders, and they can leave a lot of residue to gunk up the mechanisms. Try to use roasts listed as “super automatic-friendly”.
There’s a red standby light that blinks continuously while the machine is on. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but it’s a bit irritating once you notice it.
The warranty is rather short, though there is an extended policy available which matches the Miele’s.
Our ultimate recommendation for an espresso machine is the Miele CM 6350. It’s essentially a more versatile, automatic version of the Saeco. The Miele makes even more types of drinks, and it every part of the process itself. If you like to make lots of other espresso-based drinks as well as plain shots, this is the absolute best on the market! It’s user-friendly, endlessly convenient, and produces phenomenal flavor results.
Like the Saeco, it has an onboard grinder. The Miele’s uses stainless steel burrs instead of ceramic, but it’s so good that you shouldn’t have anything to complain about. The grinder is consistent, smooth, and most of all, quiet!
It has a phenomenal brewing mechanism to match. The Miele’s brew head combines a pump with a kind of press system, like a mix between an espresso head and a french press. It produces flawless results in terms of both pressure and infusion. The Miele makes the best-tasting espresso of any machine we’ve reviewed!
It’s a lot more versatile than the Saeco. The Miele will make espresso, coffee, cappuccino, Americano, ristretto and latte macchiato, not counting the hot water and milk froth features. That’s about as many options as you could possibly want!
The other big difference is that the Miele does absolutely everything for you. It not only froths milk, but it dispenses it in measured doses so you don’t have to decide manually how much to add to a drink. All you have to do is keep it topped up, press a button, and it’ll do the rest.
The display is very easy to use, with an intuitive layout, and uncluttered design. After a few minutes with the manual, you’ll know your way around this thing easily.
The four main drinks all have their own dedicated buttons: espresso, coffee, cappuccino, and latte macchiato. Or, you can go into the “additional programs” menu to get to things like Americano, ristretto, hot water, or milk froth
The Miele is even more customizable than the Saeco! You can adjust the flavor and volume of all the drinks, right from the control panel. Plus, since the machine froths and adds the milk itself, you can control the ratios! You can also choose between three temperature settings, customize the pre-infusion time, and select different grinder textures.
Absolutely every aspect of your beverages is adjustable on the Miele, and none of the drinks require you to do any extra steps once you’ve chosen your settings. As long as the machine has water, beans, and milk to run, you’re just a button away from your drink!
You can save your preferences for each brew, just like on the Saeco. The Miele one-ups the Italian machine by giving you 4 different user profiles to choose from, so everyone who uses the machine can have their preferences saved onboard.
The onboard hopper stores up to a pound of beans, more than you can get in the compact Saeco. It’s a top-loading design, with rubber seals to protect flavor.
Like the Saeco, the Miele also has a secondary compartment for pre-ground beans. You can easily set the machine to skip the grind stage and brew from your prepared grounds.
One of our favorite aspects of the Miele is the way it deals with milk. As we mentioned above, the machine froths, heats, and dispenses the milk all by itself. It measures proportions exactly, so you can get each drink the way you like it. Overall, it’s far more convenient than the Saeco, which does the heavy lifting, but still leaves you to make the drink manually.
The Miele also differs from the Saeco in that it comes with a very convenient milk container. It’s made from insulated stainless steel, and it’s designed to keep milk cold when it’s hooked up to the machine. The idea is you can take it in and out of the fridge as needed, so you don’t have to deal with filling open vessels and wasting frothed milk.
We absolutely love it. While integrated tanks can look a bit sleeker, they’re not as practical as being able to take the flask in and out of the fridge. This one’s completely sealed and sanitary, and you’ll be surprised how well it keeps milk cold while it’s on your countertop.
There’s also a second hose in the box, in case you’d like to draw from a different vessel or straight from the container. It’s a nice extra to have!
The Miele does an excellent job heating milk before integrating it–a big weak point on other machines. Texture and temp on the froth are superb, and espresso/espresso-based drinks are always at the proper temperature!
In addition to giving you more drink options than the Saeco, the Miele will make two drinks at once! It even has a dedicated button. You just select the drink you want, and press the doubling button.
Like the Saeco, the Miele cleans and descales automatically. Also like the Saeco, the Miele’s brewing unit comes off for manual washing periodically. It has to be washed by hand, but it’s very simple to do. The Miele also cleans its own milk piping, and the whole system is automatically flushed before and after each brew.
The helpful prompts on the display make all the maintenance procedures very easy to do!
Unlike our other picks, the Miele has a cup-warmer built in so that your drinks don’t lose temperature and stop enriching when they hit your porcelain. It’s conveniently on the top of the machine, so it’s a great place to store a few cups as well!
The water tank is removable, just like our other picks.
The Miele’s drip tray is stainless steel, and the best of the bunch! It’s rugged, tells you when it’s full, and detaches for easy emptying.
The brew head is adjustable, so you can tweak its height to better suit your preferred cups.
You can program it to turn on automatically when you wake up and turn off when you head out the door for work. You can also customize the automatic power-saving feature, and pick the best shut-off time that works for you.
You can get one of these in both black and white finish options. Both look fantastic, with glossy finishes and stainless steel accents. They’re very modern, but they work with a wide range of decor.
Even though it’s by far the most expensive machine we recommended, it’s still a lot cheaper than Saeco’s full-feature automatics! The Miele gives you basically the same build quality and functionality, but saves you hundreds of dollars.
It’s made entirely in Switzerland. The Miele has sturdy metal internals, and dense plastic housing. It’s not quite as rugged as the Saeco, but we haven’t heard of any reliability issues with these.
It has a fantastic track record for reliability. Like the Saeco, the Miele is a steep investment but it’ll last for years of daily use! Miele also offer very good extended warranty policies, which we recommend snagging at the checkout.
It takes up more space than the Saeco. This is about the size of two average drip coffee makers side-by-side. You also have to have clearance to the right side of the Miele in order to open the side panel, which is where you can access the grinder settings and secondary milk hose. Make sure you check the measurements and measure your space before you buy this one!
It has a metal burr grinder instead of ceramic. There’s definitely a difference between the two materials in terms of longevity, and the Miele’s burrs probably won’t last you as long as the Saeco’s. Having said that, burrs are rarely the first thing to go on a big super-automatic machine, so you shouldn’t be too concerned about it.
You might not be thrilled about how the separate milk vessel looks when it’s hooked up. It certainly does detract from the overall sleekness of the design, but we think that the practicality of the system more than makes up for any aesthetic shortcomings.
Everything’s automatic as far as frothing and milk additions. There’s no manual steam wand, so you can’t really customize your drinks to the extent that you can on the Saeco.
Like the Saeco and the rest of the super-automatic offerings on the market, oily beans don’t play well with the Miele.
We would prefer if the grinder could be adjusted from the main panel, so you could park this close to something else on the right-hand side.
The plastic housing is slightly disappointing compared to the Saeco. We don’t have any specific durability complaints with the Miele, but it would definitely feel more like a machine of its price tag with all-metal housing.
Which of these espresso machines should be your new home barista?
The Breville is the clear choice if you’re on a tight budget. It’s much cheaper than our other recommendations, but it still has very solid build quality. The Breville makes great espresso, and should last for quite a few years with care.
What the Breville packs in power and durability, though, it does lack in convenience. This is basically a very nice manual system. While it’ll help you out to an extent, you’ll be in charge of controlling things like volume, taste, and milk froth, which our more expensive picks do for you.
The De’Longhi is our top espresso pick for folks who like to use pods. It’s much more reliable than other pod systems, and the scanning system is super convenient. The De’Longhi knows what to do with any pod you load, so the only part you have to do is froth to your heart’s desire.
Sadly, it’s just a fact of nature that no pod system can really compete with an espresso machine that uses fresh grounds. Don’t expect the De’Longhi to match our other recommendations in the taste department. It’s also imperfect in terms of reliability, even though it’s better than the competition.
The Saeco is our more affordable choice for the espresso-lover who wants something to grind as well as brew espresso. It’s very user-friendly, and it’s actually a bit heavier-duty than the Miele in the build quality department. You can adjust nearly all the same parameters of the brew and grind that you can on the Miele, too. The best part is the price–this costs half as much as the Miele.
The biggest differences are in versatility and convenience. The Saeco has less than half the programmed beverage options that the Miele does. While the Saeco will dispense and froth milk for you, it doesn’t measure out the amounts. You’ve also got to make more elaborate drinks without much help from the machine. The Miele is the better choice for people who like lots of cappuccino, macchiato latte, and so forth. The Saeco also won’t allow you to store preferences for multiple users.
The Miele CM 6350 is our ultimate recommendation to the most passionate espresso lovers. It’s the most convenient, versatile, and automatic of all our recommendations. We also think it’s the best value in the premium category, even if it’s still pricey. It offers most of the same features and functions that comparable Saeco models boast, but you’ll save a few hundred dollars. It will make you any drink you could possibly want, exactly the way you want it.
The only real downside is the price. This is a very expensive machine, and you’re not likely to find any discounts. Some people might also quibble about the plastic casing, but the structure of the Miele is metal, and even the plastic components hold up very well. If you don’t need as many drink options or the ability to create user profiles, you can do very well with the Saeco for half the price.
|Breville Duo Temp Pro||$$||Semi-automatic w/o grinder|
|De’Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro||$$||Semi-automatic pod system|
|Saeco Intelia Deluxe||$$$||Super0-automatic w/ grinder|
|Miele CM6350||$$$$||Super0-automatic w/ grinder|
How to Pick the Best Espresso Machine
As you’ve seen in this guide, there are a whole range of machines that can be used to make great espresso at home or at the office. All of our recommendations are high-quality, but each suits a different kind of person. So, here are some pointers to help you figure out which is the best choice for you!
Know What Makes a Great Espresso
First and foremost, the defining feature of any great espresso is flavor. A good machine should help extract maximum flavor from your beans. It should have a pre-immersion stage that soaks and expands grounds before the blast of hot water which extracts flavor in the brewing stage. It should also have a powerful pump to force hot water through the grounds at a high pressure, to create a rich, robust brew.
The other defining aspect of top-notch espresso is crema. Crema is the Italian term for the rich, velvety texture that the top layer of an espresso should have. It can be almost froth-like in some cases, and it is actually a foam made just from the brew. You can see it best in clear cups, where there’s a visibly different color on the top layer of the brew.
Crema is considered to be the ultimate sign of fine espresso by aficionados. You’ll find whole forums devoted to the art/science of perfecting a crema. It’s mostly down to the beans you use, though. So, don’t expect your machine to do everything for you!
Think About Versatility
What other beverages do you want to make beside espresso? Espresso is a common base, so most people who buy an espresso machine are also looking to make things like macchiato, latte, etc.
If you’re not, you’re in luck! Machines that make only espresso and lungo are much less expensive than those that make many different beverages.
If you know you want to be able to make other beverages, be sure to check which options are pre-programmed on your new machine. Bear in mind that even if something’s not listed, you can still make it if you have a way to add milk and froth your dairy product. You’ll just have to do more of the work yourself.
The best espresso machines will make espresso, macchiato latte, cappuccino, and Americano all by themselves.
To Froth or Not to Froth?
If you’re going to make other beverages, this is an important point to consider! Frothing is one of the most important elements of any espresso-based beverage. Frothed milk makes espresso into macchiato latte or cappuccino!
Some machines will help you froth/steam milk, but using manual implements like a steam wand. Others will do the frothing and steaming inside the machine, but expect you to measure things out yourself. The best espresso machines will do it all for you, so that all you have to do is connect milk and press go!
The more espresso-based beverages you want to make, the more convenient a frothing mechanism you’ll want. If you only want espresso, don’t worry about frothing. You’ll still get excellent crema and flavor from any of our recommendations.
If you already have a separate frother/steam wand that you like to use, you can save a lot of money by using it!
Expect Solid Build Quality
Build quality is especially important with espresso machines, since these use high pressure to extract their brews. Look for lots of metal parts, and focus on the internals. They’re the most important thing as far as durability.
If you’re spending over $500, expect something made in Europe (Italy, Germany, and Switzerland are common manufacturing countries for fine espresso makers). We recommend that anyone who can afford to buy something made in Europe. European-made machines offer superior design, build quality, and quality control compared to cheaper imports.
If you’re trying to save money, keep it sturdy and simple rather than springing for something fancy that’s made from mostly plastic.
Aside from manual espresso makers, which you can find reviewed in our Espresso Machines Under $200 guide, there are a number of different machine formats you can use.
Pod systems are increasingly common these days. They’re just like pod coffee systems, only with an extraction pump for espresso. Most good pod systems will handle both coffee and espresso easily.
Pod systems are extremely convenient, since most will brew in under a minute. All you have to do is fill the water compartment and load a pod. The downside of pod systems is that your taste results will be limited by the pods. No prepackaged grounds will taste as good as a machine that uses fresh grounds.
The next category of machines are semiautomatic. They have most of the same features a as super-automatic espresso machines, but they’ll rely on you to do more of the finessing.
So, while a super-automatic model would froth and dispense milk by itself, one of these semiautomatic models will give you the tools to froth and dispense but expect you to determine your own ratios and such. You’ll have the taste benefits of using fresh-ground beans, but you’ll have to grind them on your own.
All-in-one’s or super-automatic’s are the last category, and the most expensive by a long shot. They’ll do absolutely everything for you, from grinding your beans to frothing and measuring the milk for each drink.
The only real downside is the exorbitant prices you’ll see for most of these models. They start around $750, and can cost as much as $2500!
Consider Automatic Features
We’ve already mentioned how more expensive espresso machines will do more of the process for you, from frothing milk internally to measuring out proportions. There are lots of other automatic conveniences to consider, too!
The main thing here is to ask yourself how much you want the machine to do for you. Think about which programmed settings could be useful. Do you want something that can make automatic adjustments to volume and taste? How about programmable settings that let you save your beverage preferences? Multiple user profiles are available in the very nicest machines. Automatic cleaning features are super convenient, too, and you’ll find the the nicer the machine, the less manual cleaning you’ll have to put up with.
Decide on Your Budget
Last but certainly not least, figure out how much you can afford to spend on your new espresso machine! Our recommendations in this guide range from around $350-$2000. That’s a very wide range so you should put some time into considering what kind of use you’ll get out of your machine, and what you need it to do.
If you want something that will grind beans for you, expect to pay $750+. If you’re fine with grinding separately, you can do very well for less than that.
The more you pay, the better build quality you can expect. More expensive models usually have more metal components, and superior reliability ratings.
You’ll also find that versatility increases drastically as you go up the price scale. The least expensive espresso machines will make espresso and lungo, but not much else. If you want to use them for more elaborate drinks based on espresso, you’ll probably have to do the frothing yourself.
Once you start looking over $500, you’ll see machines that have more built-in beverage functions. If you drink lots of different espresso-based beverages, you should be prepared to spend more for a drink that will do it all.
If you want versatility, but can’t afford to spend a lot, don’t worry! Most models between $350 and $750 can be used to make drinks with frothed milk. You’ll just have to learn how to use a steam wand manually. It’s not that hard, and the small amount of time you’ll need to spend to use one may be very reasonable in contrast to the cost of a machine that will do the frothing and milk ratios for you.
* If you want something even less expensive than our budget pick in this guide, be sure to have a look at our guide for budget espresso machines under $200!*
If one of our recommendations in this guide piques your interest, great! You can find out all the pertinent details by clicking on the links in our review. You may also view other types of coffee makers in our review roundup here.