Best Espresso Machines Reviewed and Tested
There is no better way to start the day than a cup of freshly brewed fragrant coffee. But how do you make sure it is a treat you do not miss out on particularly when time is of the essence as you prepare for a busy day ahead?
The answer to that question can be found in the ideal espresso machine. Getting the one which will suit your needs will ensure you make every moment count while also treating yourself to your favorite beverage too.
Criteria for Evaluation
The espresso makers on our list are wildly different. Some are suited for travel, and others can serve multiple guests. It’s difficult to tell what some of them even are, judging by appearances alone. In order to fairly evaluate these different machines, we applied the same set of criterion to them all.
The individual criteria are listed below, and in-depth explanations follow. If you have any further questions, be sure to check out the FAQ at the end of our article.
Quality of Materials and Construction
You can often tell what kind of materials a machine is made of based on its price. Sturdier materials, like stainless steel and other metals, cost more. On the other hand, the more plastic an item contains, the cheaper it may be sold.
Although every item has different qualities, and core performance isn’t directly tied to materials, quality construction makes all the difference. It’s also true that weaker materials break under far less strain. This increases the chances of broken products arriving at your home.
In fact, since it doesn’t fit tidily into any of our other criteria, shipping damages fall under this consideration. Packaging is a reflection of a manufacturer’s investment in a product.
Poorly packaged espresso machines usually come from manufacturers with poor customer support and little interest in the performance of their products. The stronger the materials, the better the construction, and the safer the shipping arrangements, the higher a product will rate in this category.
Ease of Use
The more hassle a user must engage in to get a good cup of coffee, the lower a product will rank in this category. Considerations include things like ease of access to the water reservoir. How easy is it to pour water into? Is it easy to spill? Are measurements clearly marked on the machine so it’s easy to make the right amount of espresso?
The milk frother needs to be a convenient length, and it can’t just send all the milk spewing out of the cup.
Multiple preparation options make the machine easier and more convenient. Machines that can provide one or two cups at a time also increase an espresso maker’s ease of use score. It’s easier to make two cups at a time rather than one at a time if you’re entertaining. Noise is another concern in this category.
After all, if your partner is still in bed when you need to grab your coffee and go to work, silence is golden. Cleanup falls under maintenance, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
Core performance is all about how well a product fulfills its intended use. In this case, this criterion is all about how well an espresso maker makes espresso.
Core performance includes some secondary factors in this case, however. Since espresso machines typically make other drinks, like lattes, these secondary functions also count towards core performance.
After all, people rarely buy espresso machines to make espresso alone.
One of the most important aspects of core performance in this instance is speed. Most consumers take their coffee in the morning. During the daily juggle of preparing for work, taking care of family, and preparing the morning meal, people need a machine that makes espresso quickly and with relatively little effort. While people still expect to have to froth the milk themselves, they shouldn’t have to babysit the machine throughout the entire process.
Core performance addresses the quality of the final drink as well. While the type of beans used will obviously make a big difference in this category, the espresso maker should easily get hot enough, and be well-sealed enough to get a strong, dark brew.
If your espresso maker leaves you with coffee that could have come from a percolator, then it has failed core performance entirely.
Other traits that count against core performance include nuisances like coffee grounds in the cup with the espresso. If an espresso maker requires a ridiculous amount of beans in order to meet core performance criteria, then is also loses some points. Highly breakable parts technically belong in the materials and construction category, but they influence core performance ratings, too.
Any kitchen appliance you use every day needs to be extremely easy to clean. Regular cleaning increases the lifespan of essentially any kitchen product, and it prevents a lot of bacteria, mold, and other undesirables from making a home in the same containers you use to make food. However, cleaning isn’t always easy.
An espresso machine has a lot of moving parts and deep troughs. Since it uses electricity to function, you can’t just chuck the entire thing in the dishwasher, either. The best way to clean most of these devices to wipe down the exterior and accessible interior spaces with a damp towel.
To get an optimal maintenance score, however, an espresso machines needs at least one or two removable parts. These are often cups used to hold espresso grounds, drip trays, and even water reservoirs. The more of these a machine boasts, the better its maintenance score will be.
Design also plays a role in maintenance. If there are small joints in the area where you insert the grounds, they will inevitably prove tricky to clean. They’ll also get dirty just about every time you use the machine. A sleek finish isn’t just nice to look at. It’s also nicer to clean. Since coffee is highly acidic, good, easy maintenance prevents your brew from slowly eating away at your machine’s looks.
5 Tips to Make a Mean Italian Coffee
Italian coffee is a favorite around the world, but making this particular kind of brew can be tricky, especially for beginners. It’s the polar opposite of Americano, which literally waters down espresso. In order to help you master your coffee making skills, here are five tips for making a great cup of Italian coffee.
Pick the Right Machine
There’s more than one way to make great Italian coffee, but you need to know in advance what you want to make. Moka pots are the low tech, traditional stove-top percolators that most Italians actually use to make regular coffee. The coffee they make is what Americans would consider espresso, and they may actually use espresso grounds to make it.
By far the simplest way to make espresso is to buy an espresso maker and master it through practice and experimentation. Still, some people enjoy the simpler process of making coffee with espresso grounds in a moka pot.
Keep in mind that if you plan on drinking anything besides a simple Italian coffee, you’ll either need the attachments that come with an espresso maker, or you’ll have to buy additional tools. At the top of this list is a milk frother.
You may also want to buy a canoical burr grinder so you can buy whole beans and grind them fresh at home. Most espresso makers come with the tools you’ll need to make lattes and cappuccinos, but you’ll probably have to buy a grinder separately. Selecting the right tools is essential to making a mean Italian coffee, so take your time when you go shopping. This is the foundation of your new coffee habit, after all.
Use the Right Kind of Grounds
The beans are the greatest determining factor in the flavor and quality of your coffee. When you’re looking to make an Italian coffee, it’s best to look for espresso. Italian style coffee uses extremely dark roasts. The beans must be ground extremely finely, too.
As we mentioned in the previous tip, you may want to invest in grinder. While there’s nothing wrong with using pre-ground espresso, purists almost always insist on grinding whole beans fresh at home. A regular grinder is fine for percolated or French press techniques, but Italian coffee is closer to espresso. Bladed grinders can’t always grind the beans as evenly or finely as they need to be.
The best grinders are burr grinders. If you cannot afford a grinder for whole beans right now, then make sure you buy the right kind of ground beans at the store. When in doubt, go with espresso. Pre-ground coffee labeled as espresso will have the right grind and roast. If you’re buying whole beans, choose from the darkest roasts available.
Use Cold Water
It’s tempting to put hot or warm water into your machine to speed up the process, but that’s never a good idea. For one thing, it throws off percolation time and temp in moka pots. It can also confuse espresso making machines. Great Italian coffee needs specific temperatures in order to create the right kind of brew. Any kind of espresso machine or percolator is designed for cold water. This gives the beans time to brew, and it’s easier to reach the planned temperatures.
This is all doubly true in the case of espresso and Italian coffee. The final brew isn’t just darker; it’s thicker. Cold water gives the process enough time to extract solids from the coffee, which give espresso its thicker consistency. Without this, espresso ends up looking and tasting like a drip coffee maker’s version of dark roast. Some things cannot be rushed. No matter how much of a hurry you’re in, always go with cold water.
Don’t Pack Your Grounds
Whether you’re using a fancy machine or a traditional moka pot, don’t pack your grounds. We’re trained to pack things that look like coffee grounds from our days of home economics cooking classes. You’re supposed to pack brown sugar, for instance. You should only fill the grounds chamber on any type of coffee maker to the top, however.
Level off the top with a straight edge, but don’t tamp the grounds down. This alters the consistency of the brew, because the hot water cannot flow through at the usual speed. In the worst case scenario, this could actually flood your machine. The best case scenario involves a bitter brew, which is a tragedy in and of itself. In either case, packed coffee grounds often create a sludgy beverage that wouldn’t qualify as a traditional espresso or any other type of Italian coffee.
Break Down Your Sugar Before Filling the Cup
Not many people like straight espresso. Most like sugar, even if they prefer their coffee black. While you can put sugar into your Italian coffee after it’s poured, that’s not really the best way to do it. That technique will never give you that sugary foam that sits at the top of your drink, either. The trick to putting sugar into Italian coffee is to put a few drips of the coffee into the sugar first.
If you’re using a moka pot, you can add a few drips as soon as it starts to percolate. Then you return the pot to the stove to finish percolating while you turn your sugar into cream.
It’s a great time management strategy and ensures everything is fresh and ready at exactly the right time. If you’re using an espresso maker and can’t use that trick, however, all is not lost.
Simply add about a tablespoon of the espresso the sugar as soon as it’s ready. Stir the espresso and sugar mixture until the sugar breaks down. It should look almost like a light, tan cream, even though there’s no dairy involved. Once this concoction is ready, you can add the rest of your espresso the cup.
These tips will help you master the art of making Italian coffees much more quickly. You can avoid weak and sludgy brews, add sugar like a pro, and start on the right foot with the right equipment. Of course, the ultimate tip is to take time to sit back and enjoy your perfect Italian coffee.
Q: Are portable espresso machines available?
They may not be the most efficient solution for daily use, however, especially if you need to make espresso for multiple people. After all, portable appliances have to be small. They’re usually battery powered, too, and they can drain those batteries quickly. If you plan to take a portable espresso maker camping, make sure you take along lots of extra batteries, or you may be stuck carrying an appliance through the wilderness that can’t even help you get up and moving in the mornings. Nothing makes for grumpy campers like a lack of good coffee.
Q: Can I use regular coffee grounds in my espresso machine?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is no. First of all, understand that espresso beans don’t come from a different plant or region. They are just prepared a little differently. Espresso must be very finely ground in order to do well in espresso makers. The beans also need a very dark roast in order to deliver the kind of strong flavor drinkers expect. Regular grounds won’t do as well, but they could still potentially work in your machine. The resulting drink won’t taste much like espresso, though.
Q: Do I need to buy whole beans and a grinder to make good espresso?
This is ultimately a question of taste and lifestyle. Many coffee enthusiasts refuse any kind of coffee, espresso or otherwise, if it hasn’t been made from freshly ground beans.
Depending on the brand, roast, and brew time, even a casual drinker may be able to determine the difference between freshly ground whole beans and pre-ground coffee. On the other hand, there are lots of people who just don’t see – or taste – a difference.
The best way to figure out which you prefer to experiment. That’s the advantage of buying your own machine, after all: freedom.
The next question to address is lifestyle. A lot of people simply don’t have time to stop and grind beans every morning. It’s a very noisy process, too, which makes it difficult to prepare beans early in the morning.
Time and noise restraints mean lots of people who insist on whole beans in general often compromise with pre-ground espresso.
The good news is that there’s a happy medium. You can get the best parts of whole bean flavor without grinding fresh coffee beans every morning.
Many specialty coffee shops offer free grinding for any purchased coffee. This is a common practice in major chains and gourmet boutiques alike. By buying coffee as you need it, you can have fairly freshly ground beans every day.
You can also buy any coffee at the store, take it home, and grind it all at once. Coffee keeps its flavor well in the freezer. If you prefer to grind your own beans, then just grind a week’s worth in advance and store them in the freezer.
Before you rush out to buy coffee beans, however, there are some espresso basics you should know. Espresso requires an extra fine grind.
When espresso goes into the machine, it should look almost like powder. While you could probably have this done at a store, not all home grinders can process beans finely enough for espresso.
This also contributes to part of the reason why even the greatest coffee snobs are willing to buy pre-ground espresso. When in doubt, remember that espresso is more about roast that freshness. So long as the initial roast is good, you’ll enjoy a great cup of espresso in the end.
Q: Is an espresso maker safe for kids to use?
This depends a lot on the age of the kids in question. If you have small children, then no. Unlike coffee percolators, espresso makers require handling while they’re still dangerously hot.
Although the likelihood of an adult being burned is low, the chances are much higher for a child.
You can safely help a child pour in water and slide in grounds to either type of machine, but keep kids well away from espresso makers during the actual espresso-making process. Espresso makers are like pressure cookers for coffee.
If you have older children, and you’re considering teaching them the fine art of coffee-making, then the decision is really up to you.
The chances of injuries are much lower, and the greatest danger is faces by your machine. After all, even the best students make mistakes, and a mistake with an espresso maker may result in a broken machine.
Espresso makers are often the most expensive countertop appliance in a consumer’s kitchen, so assess the risks carefully before you give any responsibilities to children.
Q: How much skill is required to make great coffee from espresso machines?
Most good food appliances provide features which are suitable for both beginners and more experienced coffee enthusiasts.
However certain items which are manually operated may require some level of skill which can easily be acquired through the continuous use of the product.