Choose the right machine for you

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Make no mistake: an espresso machine is the longest and most tedious way to make coffee at home. But for those willing to put in the effort, the reward is the best coffee you’re likely to make yourself.

Espresso machines tend to be expensive, much more so than filter or pod coffee machines. Still, they’re cheaper than a bean maker and take up much less space on your kitchen counter. They are also some of the most attractive small home appliances.

If you don’t know your portafilter from your group leader, check out our guide after the table to familiarize yourself with the features and make sure the machine you’re settling on meets your needs.

But if you’re not sure whether an espresso machine is right for you and want to know the pros and cons of different types of coffee makers – drip, espresso, pod or bean-to-cup – we have some advice. .

Otherwise, read on to browse our favorite espresso machines.

Reviews of the best espresso machines

1

Breville Barista Max – Integrated Conical Grinder

  • Benefits
    • All-in-one solution
    • High quality grinder
    • Solidly built
  • The inconvenients
    • Massive kitchen counter footprint

If you like to use a portafilter, tamp, and get your own espresso, but want to grind the beans yourself, the Barista Max might be just what you’re looking for.

It’s a great alternative to a bean machine, allowing all the convenient customization of an espresso machine, but with a built-in conical grinder that has 30 settings. What’s really compelling is the price: it’s about the same price as competing espresso machines, none of which feature a grinder.

It is well-designed, with handy features such as the Tap & Go Grinding Cradle, a half hoop in which you stick the portafilter. Press down, the grinder starts and the coffee is placed directly in the basket. A light even comes on to illuminate the process.

On the negative side, it has a huge footprint on the counter and the plastic water tank is less than attractive – but thankfully tucked away at the back of the unit.

Read our full review of the Breville Barista Max VCF126

2

Sage Bambino – Best Compact Machine

Sage Bambino

  • Benefits
    • Fast heating
    • Pre-infusion
    • Adjustable coffee volume
  • The inconvenients

This espresso machine is attractive, compact and feature-rich. It features a built-in steam wand, hot water dispenser, and adjustable automatic settings for brewing one and two cups of espresso.

It comes with single- and double-walled portafilter baskets for one and two cups, meaning the machine can be used alike by baristas-in-training who want to experiment to get the perfect shot and those who just want a decently brewed coffee without too much fuss.

It’s large enough to serve straight from a cup, has a generous drip tray with a bright red float, and enough space on top to warm two cups. There are lots of great design features, like the handle on top of the water tank that lets you lift it easily and the removable water filter. Plus, it comes with all the accessories you’ll need, including a stainless steel milk jug.

More importantly, it has an impressive build quality and it’s easy to use.

Read our full Sage Bambino review

3

Smeg espresso coffee maker – The most elegant

Smeg ECF01 espresso coffee maker

  • Benefits
    • For use with ESE pods or ground coffee
    • Narrow and compact
    • Easy to use
  • The inconvenients
    • Price
    • Plastic construction
    • Tamper / fragile shovel

Smeg’s espresso machine is in the brand’s signature retro design: all the curves and chrome accents. And that’s a thing of beauty. However, it’s almost entirely covered in shiny plastic, while other machines have a stainless steel exterior.

It is light, narrow and compact, so you will easily find its place on your countertop. It heats up quickly and is easy to use, with just one button, but you can change water temperature, water volume and set water hardness.

It also has a built-in milk/hot water dispenser. The machine heats up quickly and you can go from making coffee to steaming milk without waiting for it to cool down.

However, it only comes with the most basic accessories: a portafilter, one and two cup baskets and a plastic tamper/scoop, which is a disappointment at this price.

It comes in a range of colors but you may have to shop around to find the one you want. It’s worth it because its nice design is what you pay a premium for.

Read our full review of the Smeg ECF01 espresso coffee maker

4

Breville Bijou – The Best Budget Choice

Breville Bijou Espresso Machine (VCF149)

  • Benefits
    • Compact
    • Integrated steam wand
    • Good value for money
  • The inconvenients
    • Steep learning curve
    • Manual distribution
    • Takes a long time to make multiple coffees

The very compact Bijou would make a good entry level machine for aspiring baristas looking to learn the art of espresso making. It’s not such a great option for people who just want to make a quick coffee.

It’s a manual dispensing machine, and the instruction manual provides little guidance on volume, dispensing time, or tamping. So if you buy, you should be prepared to research how to use it and experiment with the machine.

It comes with a portafilter, two double-walled baskets (for one and two cups) and a scoop/tamper, but you’ll need to provide your own milk jug.

The budget price is manifested in the fact that it takes several minutes to heat up and needs time to cool down between using the steam wand and dispensing the coffee. This means that brewing multiple coffees at once can take some time.

Read our full review of the Breville Bijou Espresso Machine (VCF149)

5

Dualit 3-in-1 – The most versatile

Dualit DCM2X 3-in-1 espresso machine

  • Benefits
    • Works with ground coffee, ESE pods, NX and Nespresso capsules
  • The inconvenients
    • Light and slightly flimsy construction
    • Noisy
    • Capsules must be pierced before use

Not only does this machine work as an espresso machine, using ground coffee, but it’s also compatible with ESE pods, NX and Nespresso capsules, making it a good choice for a busy household that wants a quick morning coffee. but the option of a good espresso on the weekends.

And it produces good espresso – reliably. It heats up quickly thanks to Thermoblock technology, has a cup warmer space on the top and a drip tray with float.

It’s an attractive machine, with a stainless steel exterior. On the negative size, it is light and largely plastic and does not sit securely when attaching the portafilter. Also, it can’t fit a full size cup under the dispenser. It is also very noisy when in use.

Read our full review of the Dualit DCM2X 3-in-1 espresso machine

What to look for in an espresso machine

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As with any coffee machine, before settling on any particular appliance, check your kitchen counter space. An espresso machine needs a dedicated spot on your kitchen counter. They’re not always lightweight or easy to move around and, given the drip tray and coffee grounds around the machine, moving one around could create a lot of mess.

Measure the counter space you have and check the height of your overhead cabinets to give you approximate dimensions of the space you could spare for an espresso machine.

Variable parameters

Most espresso machines will allow you to dispense a one and two cup volume.

You will also probably be able to adjust the volume of water dispensed. But what to look for here is if you have full manual control (which equates to no guidance) or if you are able to modify an existing dispense volume.

Steam lance

Most espresso machines come with a built-in steam wand, which will allow you to heat and texturize milk for cappuccinos and lattes. Usually the steam wand also dispenses hot water for longer coffees.

Some may also come with a stainless steel milk jug.

Filter holder

The portafilter is the long-handled device in which the basket sits. Fill the basket with ground coffee, tamp it down and insert it into the group head, which will dispense your coffee. Sound easy? Getting the right amount of coffee, at the right fineness, and giving it the right amount of tamp is key to great espresso.

Portafilter baskets

Portafilter baskets are available in two sizes: single and double shot. But there are also two different types: double-walled and single-walled baskets.

Double-walled baskets are also called pressurized baskets. These are best for beginner baristas or people looking to make a drinkable espresso without having to spend too much time getting the perfect grind and dispense time. The increased pressure improves the consistency of the coffee and means you can use a less consistent coffee grind.

A single-wall basket is the choice of the home barista. There is no safety net while brewing, so you have to build pressure by getting the fineness, dispensing time and tamping just right.

The Sage Bambino comes with both types of portafilter basket, so it’s a good choice for households where only one person is interested in experimenting with espresso brewing.

Built-in grinder

Espresso machines generally cannot grind their own beans. You will need to use ground coffee in them. However, there are a few exceptions, such as the Breville Barista Max, which has a built-in conical grinder.

Manometer

A pressure gauge is another nice feature in a home espresso machine, but very few affordable machines on the market have one. You can’t change the pressure on an espresso machine, but the gauge can tell you if your machine is starting to break down.

You can also use the gauge to know if your grind is correct. Lower pressure during brewing may indicate that your coffee is too finely ground.

To alter

Most espresso machines come with a tamper, a handy little tool you use to compress the coffee in the basket. More economical devices often come with a single plastic tool, with a shovel at one end and a pestle at the other. Espresso enthusiasts may want to invest in a higher quality tamper, often made of solid wood and stainless steel.

ESE pods

In addition to taking ground coffee, some espresso machines take ESE (Easy Serve Espresso) pods. They are like tea bags but for coffee: pre-filled and perforated bags. They won’t provide as delicious a cup as fresh ground beans, but they have the advantage of being consistent, quick and clean to use. The Dualit 3-in-1 coffee machine accepts not only ESE pods, but also Nespresso capsules.

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