Monday, May 1, 2017

The best espresso machines you can buy

The best espresso machines you can buy
By Malarie Gokey

The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you'll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

Insider Picks_Buying Guides_Breville 4x3

The Insider Pick:

Coffee lovers start out innocently enough with drip filters, French presses, milk frothers, and stovetop espresso makers; but then next thing you know, they're browsing Amazon for full-on espresso machines with all the bells and whistles.  If you've reached that stage of coffee addiction, don't worry, we're here for you.

We've researched everything you need to know about buying a shiny new espresso machine for your home and we've combed through the details and reviews for dozens of machines so you don't have to. Before we get into the best espresso machines you can buy for your home, let's take a look at all the key terms and information that you need to know to make an informed purchase.

What makes a true espresso?

The Italian Espresso National Institute has very strict standards as to what can be called a true espresso. However, the basic idea is this: Espresso machines force a small amount of nearly boiling water under at least 9 bar of pressure through finely ground coffee to make true espresso.

The result is a thicker, creamier coffee with more caffeine inside. Pressure seems to be the key defining metric of making real espresso, and that's why stovetop espresso machines don't produce "real" espresso, according to the experts (but we still highly recommend them for anyone on a budget).

What kind of espresso machines are there?

There are two kinds of espresso machines in this world: steam-driven and pump-driven. Steam-driven machines come in two types: stovetop espresso makers like the Bialetti Moka Express and pump-less electric machines. Neither are featured in this buying guide, but you can read all about our favorite stovetop espresso makers here.

Pump-driven machines are much more common and there are more varieties that fall under that umbrella, according to CoffeLounge.

  • Manual Lever Pump: It works just like you'd imagine it would — you manually pump the espresso out by hand with no help from electricity.
  • Electronic Pump: With this kind of machine, you set the right temperature and electricity pumps the espresso out for you.
  • Semi-Automatic Pump: Here, you'll grind the beans and tamp them into the filter before turning on the machine. Then, you pump the button to turn it on until the water turns black, at which point you turn it off.
  • Automatic Pump: This machine also makes you grind the beans and tamp them into the portafilter. The machine will automatically turn on to brew the espresso and go off again when it's done.
  • Super Automatic Pump: Finally, a super automatic machine takes everything out of your hands. It grinds the beans, tamps the grounds into the filter, boils the water, pushes it with lots of pressure, and takes care of the waste for you. It's very easy, but it'll cost you a pretty penny.

There are also fully automatic pod machines like the Nespresso, which require zero assistance from you beyond popping in a pod and pressing a button. All of the machines in this buying guide are either semi-automatic or pod machines with one exception: the Minipresso, which is a manual, travel espresso machine.

Things you'll need to make espresso


Some machines come with all the accessories you need to make espresso, but others don't. Check to see if your machine includes any accessories before you buy them. You will need a grinder to have freshly ground espresso, a milk frother or a milk frothing pitcher if you like foamy milk for cappuccinos or lattes, and a tamper to press down the coffee grounds before you make espresso. We explain why you need each one and recommend which ones to buy below:

Cleaning and maintenance

Espresso machines aren't the easiest things to clean. Every machine is different, but CoffeeLounge has some great basic tips for beginners that should apply to most machines.

  • Clean the outside regularly. It's best if you do this before and after each use so that you avoid germs, dust, and other particles interfering with your machine.
  • Clean the inside of your machine by running water through it. Each machine will have a slightly different process, and some manufacturers provide tips and suggestions in user manuals. CoffeeLounge and other suggest mixing 2 oz. of vinegar in 20 oz. of water every now and then to clean out the machine even more thoroughly. After you use vinegar, though, be sure to rinse it three times with water to avoid any lingering vinegar taste in your next espresso.
  • Clean the frothing wand and grinder. You can dust off extra grounds with a brush. Clean both after each use.
  • Disassemble and wash any parts that you can take off and pop them in your dishwasher or sink for a good soap and water scrub. You don't have to do this part every day, but try to do it more than once a month.
  • Follow your machine's instructions. You can also use special espresso cleaners, but be sure to follow all these steps and check the special instructions your machine has in the manual.

Although the semi-automatic Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine is our to pick, for various reasons laid out in the slides below, you should also consider the Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker, the De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker, the Nespresso Inissia Espresso Maker, and the Wacaco MiniPresso GR Espresso Maker.

The best espresso machine overall


Why you'll love it: The semi-automatic Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine makes top-notch espresso and it includes a burr grinder, tamper, and frothing pitcher.

Most espresso machines don't come with everything you need, so you end up buying a bunch of accessories to actually make your coffee. Not so with the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine

It comes with a stainless steel conical burr grinder, a 1/2 pound sealed bean hopper, a 54mm tamper, a steaming wand for frothing your milk, and a frothing pitcher. The only thing you need to buy is the espresso beans. The user manual is very detailed, so you should be able to follow its instructions without too much trouble.

The Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it's a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.

The built-in burr grinder is high quality, and you can easily adjust the grind size and amount with a dial on the front of the machine. You can choose to use either a single- or double-wall filter basket, and the grinder will automatically adjust to give you the right about of coffee grounds for your brew. Reviewers love that it comes with the grinder and praise its quality.

If you push the 54mm stainless steel portafilter into the hands-free grinding cradle, the grounds will go right into the filter. The grinder shuts off when it's done, too, so you don't have to worry about figuring out if you've got the right amount. Finally, the included 54mm tamper ensures that your grounds are evenly pressed, so you get the most out of your beans.

When it comes to deciding how much espresso you want to make, you can choose between two presets for 1 and 2 cup volumes. Alternatively, you can manually override the settings and choose your own amount of espresso.

The Thermocoil heating system controls the water temperature, and you can watch the espresso machine's pressure gauge. If you want frothy milk on top of your espresso, you can use the 360-degree swivel steam wand to whip up some foam in the included milk pitcher. 

A removable drip tray catches any excess, so you don't end up with a huge mess on your hands. You do have to clean that part every day. Breville's machine will also tell you when it needs a thorough cleaning, and it comes with a special cleaning kit. Follow Breville's very detailed care and maintenance guide to keep your machine in working order.

The machine comes with a one-year warranty in case of issues. User reviews on Amazon are very positive, and most people had a very easy time making high-end espresso with the machine. 

Across the web, expert reviewers from Best Products, Digital Trends, Coffee Lounge, Coffee Maker Picks, and Espresso Perfecto all highly recommend this machine.

If you're inexperienced, it's a good machine to learn with, and if you're interested in fiddling around with settings, you can do that, too. It's an all-around great espresso machine, according to several reviews by experts and everyday users. 

The best part about this machine is that it comes with everything you need (except the beans). You don't have to spend an extra $100+ on a good grinder or $25-$100 on a milk frothing pitcher and tamper. You will pay a bit more for it than other machines on this list, but it's well worth it — especially now that this machine costs $599.99 instead of $999.99.

Pros: Built-in burr grinder and frother, makes great crema on your espresso, it's relatively easy to use, lovely design, and a one-year warranty

Cons: Expensive, but it's on sale!

Buy the Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine on Amazon for $599.99 [You save $400]

The best espresso machine for less than $400


Why you'll love it: The Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker costs nearly half as much as our top pick, but it still makes great espresso and it's gorgeous.

If the Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine's $599.99 price tag scared you off, don't worry. The Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker is another great choice with a much lower price point of $355.41.

It has classic Italian good looks, and it comes from a trusted company that started in Milan back in 1938. The Gaggia Classic is made out of high-end materials, and it shows. It's a classy, durable machine with chrome-plated marine-grade brass 58mm portafilters and grouphead. The housing and two filter baskets are made of stainless steel. 

The machine comes with a coffee tamper, a 7-gram measuring scoop, and an instructional CD. You will have to buy the milk frothing pitcher if you want milk foam on your espresso. We recommend this pitcher from Rattleware. The machine's Pannarello steam wand should froth your milk decently. It can even dispense hot water for tea or Americano coffee.

You'll also have to buy your own coffee grinder, which can be expensive. To save money, you can try this $40 manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you should consider the Rancilio Rocky Espresso Coffee Grinder for $355.00.

The Gaggia Classic has a 3.5oz boiler with two external heating elements, a removable 72oz water reservoir, and a 55 watt electric pump. You can control power, steaming, and brewing with simple rocker switches on the machine.

Espresso Perfecto calls the Classic "a quick and snappy machine." The 17-1/2-bar pressure pump is more high-end than most other espresso machines on this list. Its three-way solenoid valve makes it easy to pull shots of espresso quickly because it releases the pressure from the grouphead right after you're done making the first shot.

That way, you can remove the portafilter and get ready to pull your next shot. It's a helpful feature for when you need to make espresso for more than one person. 

Although it's very easy to use — you just fill the portafilter with grounds, attach it to the machine, and press the button to start — The Gaggia Classic isn't as flexible or intuitive as the Breville Barista Express. The user manual is less detailed, too, so you have to have a basic idea of what you're doing or browse the internet for tips. The machine has a one-year warranty if you run into problems. 

It's a bit tricky to clean, too. You have to disassemble it a bit to get at the water filter and clean it. Critics don't recommend the frothing steam wand, either, because it makes inconsistent milk foam. If you're unhappy with the milk foam the steam wand makes, you can read our full guide on the best stand-alone milk frothers here.

Regardless of the negatives, user reviews on Amazon are mostly positive, and several experts also recommend the Gaggia Classic, including The Sweethome, Espresso Perfecto, Fresh Presso, Best Products, and Coffee Lounge.

Pros: Beautiful classic design, makes great espresso for half the price of our top pick, some accessories included, and it has a one-year warranty

Cons: No built-in grinder, the milk frother isn't the best, and the manual is a bit confusing

Buy the Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker on Amazon for $355.41

Buy the Rancilio Rocky Espresso Coffee Grinder on Amazon for $355.00

Buy the Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill on Amazon for $39.49

Buy the Rattleware 20-Ounce Latte Art Milk Frothing Pitcher on Amazon for $18.75

The best espresso machine for less than $100

DeLonghi/Max Pixel/Business Insider

Why you'll love it: The De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is affordable, but it still makes strong espresso.

Not everyone can afford a top-of-the-line espresso machine, but there are some good options out there for less than $100. The De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker is the best of the sub-$100 category with its easy-to-use design and tasty espresso.

It's a basic machine that gets the job done, but it has great Italian design and it's made by a brand that's a household name in Italy.

You get a manual milk frother and a built-in tamper along with the machine, so you do have to buy your own grinder and milk frothing pitcher if you want foam on top. Many reviewers and users complain that the tamper and milk frother aren't that great, though, so you may end up buying those, too.

You can check out our best milk frothers here. Some of you will stick with the machine's frothing wand, but you'll still need a milk frothing pitcher, so we recommend this one from Rattleware. Should you want a better tamper, we recommend this one from Rattleware. To save money on the coffee grinder, you can try this manual Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill, but if you want a high-end one, you may pay more than $200 for it.

Regardless of whether you buy extra accessories, it's still very affordable, and you're really buying this machine for the espresso. The De'Longhi delivers in that regard. It's a 15 bar machine with a self-priming function, so you don't have to go through the hassle of prepping the machine. The 35oz water tank is removable for cleaning and it has a drip tray to catch spills. and a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler to ensure many years of delicious espresso.

Although the machine may not be entirely stainless steel like the high-end machines on this list, it does have stainless steel where it counts: the boiler. The 3-in-1 filter holder lets you choose between has a holder for one espresso shot, a holder for two shots, or one for an espresso pod.

De'Longhi offers a one-year limited warranty and you can check the user manual for extra details.

User reviews on Amazon are mostly positive and it's the number one best-seller on the site for semi-automatic espresso machines. Experts from Best Products, Coffee Lounge, Fresh Presso, and Coffee Maker Picks all recommend the De'Longhi EC 155 Espresso and Cappuccino Maker as a great budget option.

Even if you end up buying everything we recommend for the De'Longhi, you'd still pay a mere $168.47, which is very affordable for an espresso machine.

Pros: Affordable, relatively easy to use, offers real espresso machine performance for less than $100, and it makes good espresso

Cons: No built-in grinder, tricky to clean, built-in milk frother and tamper aren't the best

Buy the De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker on Amazon for $87.28

Buy the Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Mill on Amazon for $39.49

Buy the Rattleware 20-Ounce Latte Art Milk Frothing Pitcher on Amazon for $18.75

Buy the Rattleware 53-Millimeter Aluminum Tamper on Amazon for $22.95

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

May 1, 2017 at 11:45AM
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  41. Thank you, but I already have an espresso machine, I want to buy a milk frother. I found a site with reviews: I think this will help me with the choice.

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