So, you’ve gotten tired of spending five bucks every day for a latte from your favorite local coffee shop and have decided to take the plunge and buy a home espresso machine. Congratulations, that is indeed a big step. Compared to regular automatic drip coffee machines or the simpler-still pour-over coffee makers, espresso machines are expensive, complicated and, if we’re being honest, intimidating. It can be difficult to know where to start when shopping for one to set up on your kitchen counter, but this guide should make your journey a bit easier.
Additional reporting by Nick Caruso.
How We Tested
We’re always in search of great coffee, and that means getting our hands on some of the best espresso machines on the market. We’ve tested top machines from Breville, De’Longhi, La Marzocco and more, both fully automatic and manual, while taking into account things like ease of use, how clean the machines are to use every day (and how easy they are to clean) and, of course, the quality of the drinks they produce. Our testers included rabbit hole-diving espresso enthusiasts, casual at-home baristas and total beginners, and these are the machines we believe are best suited to all buyers and budgets.
Breville Barista Express
For middle-of-the-road money, it’s tough to beat the Barista Express. This semi-automatic machine will do most of the work for you when you want, from grinding to extracting to giving you a single or double shot at the press of a button. But it also offers the user quite a bit of control. You do the tamping yourself, you can opt to manually control the size of your shot and you manually adjust the microfoam milk texturing. And since this is the Barista “Express,” you can do all of this in under a minute (with some practice).
You’re still getting a lot of what you get in the much more expensive Breville Oracle with the Barista Express, including automatic grinding and dosing, 9-bar extraction and PID temperature control. But you’re losing a lot of customization elements and additional automatic components of the Oracle, as well as more premium features like the dual boiler and professional 58-mm portafilter.
Like other Brevilles, the amount of plastic on the Barista Express will be offensive to some. Thankfully, due to the machine’s popularity, metal replacement parts — like this steam wand from Crema Coffee Products — are readily available. Our tester actually swapped out the included 54-mm portafilter on his unit for an aftermarket bottomless portafilter, and while he could do without the extra splatter and misses the ability to split spots, he’s found that it’s improved his experience with the machine overall, as the unobstructed view allows him to better identify extraction issues to improve his shots and there’s noticeably more crema. (Naturally, this is more of an issue for more experienced users.) You should also be aware that swapping out manufacturer parts, like the steam wand, may void your machine’s warranty, so you’ll have to weigh your pros and cons there.
Breville Barista Touch Impress
Breville’s newest machine, released in 2023, essentially takes all of the knowledge and customer feedback the brand has gained over the years to craft the ultimate espresso machine for the modern consumer. The Barista Touch Impress is dead-simple to use: There’s a full-color touchscreen in place of traditional buttons and knobs, and you simply follow picture prompts to make your drink of choice. Our tester found the system to be pretty foolproof, making him feel like an expert in no time following the somewhat lengthy and involved initial setup (but the machine even holds your hand through that process).
The machine boasts a built-in grinder that also incorporates Breville’s Impress tamping system. This consists of a lever on the side of the machine that you use to tamp your grinds down without having to remove the portafilter, and it takes just one or two tries for the machine to get the right amount of coffee after switching to new beans or a new basket. This translates to one of the cleanest espresso machines on the market, as our tester never experienced spilled grinds or other messes with this machine. Even the steam wand is self-cleaning after a quick wipe with a damp cloth, and that’s not all it does automatically: The wand will automatically create microfoam for you, tailoring the texture and temperature to your preferred milk choice (the screen lets you choose from dairy, oat, soy or almond milk).
Although the Breville Barista Touch Impress is incredibly easy to use (not to mention blazing fast), refreshingly clean and extremely consistent when it comes to the quality of the drinks it produces, it still isn’t perfect. Our reviewer was annoyed by the difficulty of accessing the wide water tank on the back of the machine, especially when the machine is below a cabinet. And the look of the machine, with its abundance of plastic and prominent touchscreen, certainly doesn’t match the beauty of traditional espresso machines. But if you can get by those minor hurdles, the Barista Touch Impress is an ideal home espresso machine for the vast majority of people.
Gaggia Classic Pro
The name Gaggia should be one familiar to lovers of espresso. The brand’s founder essentially invented modern espresso in 1938 with his patented high-pressure, crema-producing machine, and the brand also produced the first-ever home espresso machine in 1952 with the Gaggia Gilda. So it’s no surprise that 70 years later, this Italian original is still cranking out espresso machines that are among the best in the industry.
The Classic Pro falls on the affordable end of the spectrum, mainly due to its simplicity. Take one look at the machine and you’ll see what I mean. Not exactly the most beautiful espresso machine in existence, the industrial-looking Gaggia looks like something you might see behind the counter in a diner. But it’s very well-made (in Italy), consisting mostly of metal parts and boasting a commercial-grade steam wand, 58-mm portafilter and solenoid valve to prevent dripping.
The Classic Pro features just three big blocky rocker switches on its front and not a single screen or display anywhere. Those switches turn the machine on and off, pour a shot of espresso and activate the steam wand. Throw in the knob on the side for controlling your steam, and that’s it. It’s very easy to use, while still requiring you to be active and involved, but offers pretty much nothing in the way of customization. If you want anything more in terms of features and attachments, you’re going to have to look elsewhere — and probably spend more.
De’Longhi La Specialista Prestigio
Our tester says this “manual” machine is about as automatic as it gets. Yes, you select the coarseness of the grounds, but they’re passed down to the portafilter using De’Longhi’s proprietary Sensor Grinding Technology and tamped at the Smart Tamping Station, a built-in lever system that takes the guesswork out of preparing espresso. Then, when it comes time to pull it, you can choose from three preset pours, Espresso, Americano and Coffee. There’s also a button to dispense plain hot water. But it’s the My button where this machine turns manual.
To create your custom drink, you follow the steps to make a coffee but press My before hitting OK, which kickstarts an espresso. This is how you can achieve longer pulls, shorter pulls, etc., making whatever drink your barista brain thinks up possible, even on a decidedly at-home machine.
Be warned, though, if you live in an older city apartment. Hard water will trigger the ‘descale’ light — and fast. Our tester lives in Pittsburgh, and he finds that he has to descale the machine once a month. To avoid this, one could use gallons of softer, bottled water but that’s a tad excessive. It’s easier to embrace the fact that you’ll have to do it — hey, at least you’re cleaning it — once a month and order the descaling solution in bulk.
Back in the Before Times, this is the machine that lived at the Gear Patrol offices, so it’s safe to say that the team is quite familiar with it. And it really is an impressive machine, though it isn’t perfect. With its all-in-one design, the Oracle is essentially a combination of Breville’s Dual Boiler and Smart Grinder (which Breville will sell you as a combo), but with more automation and a smaller footprint.
Since the machine has a dual boiler, that means you can steam milk and pull shots at the same time. This matters sometimes if you’re making more than one drink at a time or if you’re very picky with the timing of building your drink, says our tester. The sensing steam wand allows you to set foam consistency, and on the coffee side, you can customize your temperature, volume and shot duration. The built-in burr grinder is also adjustable and after it grinds for you, it will automatically tamp your grinds in the basket. Our tester describes the Oracle as easy enough for anyone to learn how to use it but customizable enough so that baristas can also enjoy making drinks.
On the downside, and a frequent criticism leveled against Breville’s machines, is the fact that the Oracle does have a lot of plastic. Our tester notes that it’s not as sturdy feeling as pro-style machines, as the knobs and levers don’t feel great to the touch. The Oracle is also not the most economical setup in the world. That aforementioned Dual Boiler and Smart Grinder sells for $500 less than the Oracle, which isn’t exactly a negligible sum. Finally, it’s worth noting that for the gadget lovers out there that Breville also now sells a touchscreen version of the Oracle called the Oracle Touch, but we’ve yet to get hands-on with it.
La Marzocco Linea Micra
La Marzocco is definitely in the upper echelon of espresso machine makers, with the Italian brand having been in business for nearly a century at this point. The brand is mainly known for its commercial machines — and for Miami Heat star and noted coffee enthusiast Jimmy Butler lugging around its smallest such machine, the Linea Mini, to road games. But in 2022, La Marzocco got into the home espresso machine game with the ultra-high-end Linea Micra.
Like the larger (and retroactively confusingly-named) Mini, the Micra is a scaled-down version of the Linea Classic S that’s designed to fit in an even smaller footprint on your counter. But despite its compact size, the Micra still packs in a ton of premium features. You’re getting dual boilers, full temperature control and a PID controller to keep those temperatures stable. Uniquely, the Micra also features a new convertible portafilter that allows you to easily change between a single-spout, double-spout, and bottomless portafilter. And, since it’s based on the Linea Classic S, you’re getting the same Italian café-worthy looks and build quality that should last for decades.
On the downside, the Linea Micra is definitely aimed more at barista-level shot-pullers than your average Joe. The learning curve is steeper, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it lacks some of the more substantial bells and whistles that you get in other (cheaper) machines, like a built-in grinder. For instance, our tester loved the powerful steam produced by the machine, noting it was leagues ahead of the steam produced by Breville’s automatic machines, but he also noted that said steam does not come on demand like with a Breville: The Linea Micra takes about 20 minutes to fully heat up after turning the machine on. And deciding which is more important to you — making an espresso drink quickly and easily or taking your time in a careful process to craft your beverage — will likely be the determining factor of whether you want a La Marzocco over a Breville. Well, that and the fact that this machine costs about four grand.
Breville Bambino Plus
Hopefully you aren’t sick of Breville yet, as we’ve got one more machine for you. The brand currently offers 11 different espresso machines, not counting its collabs with Nespresso, and all of them are easy to use and produce solid homemade espresso. The Bambino Plus is one of Breville’s most popular and best-reviewed machines, and it really has a lot going for it — especially if you don’t have a ton of counter space.
The Bambino Plus measures just 7.7″ x 12.6″ x 12.2″, easily making it the smallest machine in this guide. But this being a Breville machine, the Bambino Plus is still absolutely packed with features. It’s equipped with a 15-bar Italian pump that extracts at 9 bars, just as Breville’s larger machines do, and it featured PID control for its quick-heating “ThermoJet” heating system that reaches optimal brewing temperatures in just three seconds — Breville’s speediest time. Its intuitiveness also makes even a novice look like they know what they’re doing. Our tester found that it yielded café-quality microfoam even if the user had zero technical knowledge of how to do so.
Of course, with the smaller footprint, some features had to be jettisoned on the Bambino Plus. There’s no built-in grinder or dosing tool. These omissions result in a smaller and more affordable machine, but also some reduced functionality. Plus, as our tester notes, you’re still going to have to set aside some coin — and counter space — to pick those items up. Our tester also found that the smaller size of the Bambino Plus translated to a messier countertop, with less of the machine’s spillover contained within itself.
You probably expected to see a Nespresso machine here. After all, the brand practically invented capsule-based espresso machines and has a whole dedicated culture behind it. And that’s sort of why the brand isn’t represented here. At this point, having a shot from a Nespresso machine is an experience in itself. You’re drinking Nespresso, not espresso. This brings us to Bruvi.
Bruvi is the new kid on the block. Released in 2022 after four years of development, the machine’s entire purpose is to make capsule-based coffee that tastes better and is more sustainable. The machine, which is quite the looker, can whip up regular coffee, cold brew and, obviously since it’s in this guide, espresso shots (and Americanos). Our tester found the Bruvi to be stupid-easy to use. You just pop in your espresso pod, and the machine automatically reads it and brings up the correct options on the touchscreen, with settings that allow you to adjust temperature, acidity, strength and drink size (single, double, triple or Americano). After you choose your setting the machine takes over and pulls your shot.
While Bruvi describes its espresso as a true, high-pressure espresso shot, it’s not really comparable to what you’ll get from a real espresso machine. Our tester found the espresso produced by Bruvi to be both strong and tasty, but the crema was lacking, and no one would confuse a shot from Bruvi with one pulled from any of the other machines in this guide. There’s also no steam wand, so if you want any lattes, you’ll need to get a separate frother. But for what it is — a ~$300 smart single-serve machine that makes all sorts of coffee drinks — Bruvi pulls an espresso shot much better than it has any business doing.
What to Look for in an Espresso Machine
Types of Espresso Machines
Traditionally, there are four types of espresso machines: manual, semi-automatic, fully-automatic and super-automatic. Technically, each of these terms has a strict definition, but in practical terms, they’re a bit more wishy-washy, with various brands and retailers using some terms interchangeably.
Manual: True manual espresso machines are lever operated. They don’t maintain constant water pressure on their own, users must push water through the coffee manually, which can vary the quality of the final product. In short, these machines should be considered by experienced home baristas only. For that reason, we’re not recommending any true manual machines in this guide, and instead will use the term to refer to machines that give the user some control over their shot (a definition used by manufacturers like De’Longhi.
Semi-Automatic: Semi-Auto espresso makers came to be thanks to Achilles Gaggia’s 1938 patent, which introduced electric pumps to devices, resulting in even, hands-free water pressure. Because operators can decide when to turn the pump on and off (hence “semi” automatic), and because boiler temperature controls are automated on these makers, this is the most popular type of traditional machine in use today.
Fully-Automatic: Fully-Auto machines are very similar to semi-auto machines but include an electronic nanny to regulate the amount of water passing through the espresso. It is often the case that full automatics include redundant semi-automatic controls.
Super-Automatic: Super Automatic machines, sometimes referred to as all-in-one espresso machines are fully-automatic machines that have all the bells and whistles, like a built-in grinder and other related gadgets, incorporated into a single machine.
Espresso Machine Features
Perhaps the main question you’ll need to ask yourself before purchasing an espresso machine is what type of drinks you’re going to make with it. If you’re only interested in espresso shots and Americanos, then you won’t need to worry about getting a machine with a steam wand. But if you plan on making drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, you’re going to need that wand, and perhaps even a dual boiler to properly heat your espresso and milk at the same time — a godsend when making drinks for a crowd.
Machines under $1,000 are commonly single-boiler, dual-use setups: because these use a single thermostat to control the water temp (switchable from one boiler to the other at the user’s behest), these machines can’t brew and steam milk simultaneously. Above the $1,000 mark, you’ll come across mostly single-boiler, heat-exchanger machines, which feature a larger boiler that keeps water at or around 240 degrees Fahrenheit and make it possible to brew and steam simultaneously. Dual-boiler machines tend to cost well over $2,000, and feature two separate boilers for simultaneous brewing and steaming.
Enrico Maso, one-time senior product manager at DeLonghi, previously told Gear Patrol more factors to consider before purchasing your espresso machine. “Check out the max pump pressure, and if it’s self-priming, know what type of boiler setup you’re looking at and if there is a thermostat involved — this will determine how much personal effort you’ll need to put into each drink,” Maso said. “Furthermore, is the water tank a good size (indeed, is there a water tank at all?), and do you like the size and design of the machine as a whole? Espresso machines can be large and heavy, and they run the aesthetic gamut.”
How to Clean an Espresso Machine
Maso recommends cleaning your espresso machine after every time you use it to get rid of any residue left behind, as failing to do so can cause over-extraction, staleness and a burnt-tasting final product. “De’Longhi’s home espresso machines are designed to be easy to clean,” Maso said. “(Some) feature a clean button that automatically performs a clean cycle on the milk tank and removes unwanted residue. Many espresso machines also feature easily removable parts, making them easy to wipe down with a cloth.”
Even if every day you’re emptying your pucks into a knock box, rinsing out your portafilter and wiping down any removable parts, you’re still going to have to perform a deep clean by descaling your machine every now and then, perhaps as often as once a month, depending on the hardness of your water and how often you use your machine. This will remove any mineral buildup in your machine that can mess with the taste of your coffee. To descale your espresso machine, you’ll need to mix a descaling solution with water and run it through the brewing process and steam wand, following the instructions of whichever descaling solution you’re using (and your machine).
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