We love espresso. There’s just no getting around that, and we find it just knocks regular coffee out of the water. And we love regular coffee. There’s just nothing like the aroma of a finely pulled shot, whether straight up on its own or poured with perfectly steamed milk – a meticulous cream on top.
Sadly, when it comes to espresso makers for your home, they tend to pricey. While you can easily head out to the nearest store and get a good drip coffee maker for under $50, you won’t find any espresso machines for that little. The few you do find under $250-$300 will be weak, unreliable, and pull poor shots. Thankfully, however, some of the best espresso machines for home use are within reach.
One of the most popular and best espresso machines on the market, this is our go-to machine. The Barista Express is an all-in-one machine features a canonical steel burr grinder, which grinds the beans straight from the hopper into the brew handle to pull a perfect shot; brew times are automatic, with buttons for both single and double shots. A pre-brew functions builds up the proper pressure and makes sure the shot is evenly pulled throughout. The swivel steam wand and powerful pump steam milk to perfection – or as well as you do. Double and single walled filters are included to account the various brewing properties of different beans and grinds.
Drawbacks? The only thing that really annoys us is that the single pump can only handle one task at a time – pulling shots or steaming milk – but not both. For that, you’ll need to upgrade to the BES920XL Dual Boiler, at twice the price. This adds some time to your drinkmaking, but otherwise isn’t a huge deal. The sleek, modern stainless-steel build fits well in any kitchen, and comes in black and red, as well.
When you take your espresso seriously and are ready to invest, this is the machine you want. The Oracle is a fully-functional, automatic machine, the big brother to the Barista Express. It has automatic grinding, dosing, tamping and milk texturing – the two most labor-intensive parts of the process. Furthermore, the double boiler lets you extract espresso and steam milk at the same time – unlike the Barista Express – meaning it takes less than a minute to go from beans to latte. Digital temperature control (PID) ensures the water is exactly the right temperature for espresso, and the Over Pressure Valve limits the maximum pressure throughout the extraction to prevent any bitter flavors. The settings you choose can be programmed into the machine, letting you have the perfect settings for your choice of beans day after day.
Oracle also features the innovative One Touch Americano mode, which makes a delivers a double espresso and fills it with hot water through a dedicated spout, to turn out a perfect American in the same manner as any other commercial machine. Furthermore, the steam wand is automatic, and can be set to milk to your favorite taste and temperature – whether it’s smooth steamed milk or foamy bubbles. This makes it far easier to get a perfect brew, but thankfully – doesn’t take away the fun of it.
The Gaggia Classic is a mainstay of espresso machines, relatively unchanged from the original models released decades ago. Unlike the Breville machines above, the Classic is fully manual, meaning you will have grind, pull and time your shots yourself. The Pannarello wand is perfect for frothing for cappuccinos & lattes, and also doubles as a hot water dispenser. The water reservoir is easy to access and remove for filling up. The portafilter includes three different baskets to choose from, for whatever grind or bean you prefer.
As a manual machine, the Gaggia Classic will require a little bit more skill and practice to operate than one of the Breville Machines above. And that’s great – nothing but being able to do it yourself. For the money, it’s a well-made machine that will last you years to come.
So you don’t have to drop multiple hundreds of dollars on an espresso machine – if you’re willing to give up the fun and skill – and ability to steam – and just use some espresso pods. Nespresso uses Nespresso capsules, which come in both espresso and regular coffee configurations. You simply pop in a pod and press the one-touch brewing button, just like using a K-Cup. The VertuoPlus lets you choose from 3 different cup sizes – 14oz, 8oz, and 1.35oz shots – and uses a Centrifusion brewing technology, which spins up to 7,000 rotations per minute in order to the perfectly blend it with water. It also uses an intelligent extraction system, that recognizes the barcode on the rim of the capsule, and adjust to the appropriate brewing parameters automatically, meaning you never have to mess with settings.
The VertuoPlus is all you need if all you want is good espresso, and don’t care for making it yourself. It’s also quite affordable compared to other models.
The Delonghi America Dedica looks a bit different from most other espresso machines, but don’t let that deter you – it brews java every bit as rich as any of the best espresso machines, and steams the milk to go with it. A 15 bar pump, coupled with an automatic Flow Stop features, ensures each shot is pulled to perfection, while the Premium Adjustable Frother wand lets you customize the foam and steam levels for whatever you’re craving – cappuccino, flat white, cortado. It also features a Rapid Cappuccino and Thermoblock Heating System, which maintains the optimal temperature constantly, so you can go from brewing one cup to another.
And thanks to the slim profile design, the Delonghi takes up very little room on your countertop. We wish it had a swivel wand, as opposed to the fixed one it has, that offers very little flexibility and can be a pain to properly get the milk under. Still, it’s our choice for a compact, easy-to-use espresso maker that competes with the big boys.
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