THE BEST ESPRESSO MACHINES OF 2019
Kitchen & Cooking December 5, 2019 mahbub
If you’re serious about home brewing, your counters host an arsenal of coffee products, including a coffee grinder, pour-over coffee maker, and French press. But how’s your espresso game? Like most people, you probably have to head to the nearest coffee shop and pay more than you’d like to get a shot of that liquid gold.
Shelling out $5,000 for an entry-level, at-home espresso machine like a La Marzocco is unrealistic for most people. But making espresso at home doesn’t have to be a fantasy. If you’re willing to spend between $500 to $1,000 and have the patience to learn, you can have quality espresso right in your kitchen.
To help you navigate the world of espresso, we selected 10 of the most top-rated and popular espresso machines across mid-range price points and put them to the test. We judged the machines on both objective and subjective test results, including ease of use, durability, versatility, and taste. Although our best value pick, the Gaggia Classic Pro (available at Amazon) pulled the most delicious shots of coffee, we chose the Breville Barista Touch (available at Amazon for $972.99) as our winner for its convenience and excellent performance across a variety of tasks. With its intuitive touchscreen design, it’s a perfect appliance for both beginners and experienced espresso snobs who appreciate consistent and high-quality shots of coffee.
Here are the best espresso machines we tested ranked, in order:
- Breville Barista Touch
- Gaggia Classic Pro
- Breville Infuser
- De’Longhi La Specialista
- Breville Barista Pro
- De’Longhi Dedica
- Breville Bambino Plus
- Cuisinart EM-200
- Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista
- Sowtech Espresso Maker
Our Favorite Espresso Machines of 2019
Breville Barista Touch
Gaggia Classic Pro
The Barista Touch is by far the most intuitive, user-friendly, and reliable espresso machine we tested. Pulling a perfect shot of espresso takes practice, patience, and some understanding of science, but the Barista Touch significantly reduces the guesswork. With its advanced digital temperature controller (also known as PID), the Barista Touch was able to produce shot after shot of creamy, smooth, and flavorful espresso of consistent quality. Another key element is its thermojet heating system, which allowed us to get the machine ready in just three seconds.
We were blown away by the touchscreen, a feature that sets the Barista Touch apart from the competition. If you have no knowledge of coffee at all, you’ll be able to pull an espresso shot within minutes. Simply by touching the options on the LCD display, the machine can walk you through the ins-and-outs of making the perfect latte. For advanced drinkers, it gives you the option to save the specifications of your desired drinks. For instance, you can pre-program the weight of the ground coffee, the grind size, the time of brewing, the temperature of the steam wand, and the texture of the milk by touching the screen.
The package comes with four filter baskets, including a single-walled basket for aficionados who want to hone their espresso skills. The stainless steel, magnetic tamper felt heavy while in use, which made tamping easy. The razor trimmed off any excess ground coffee once it was tightly packed into the portafilter, and further guaranteed every shot we made was exactly the same.
Overall, the Barista Touch was the easiest machine to dial in, as its user-friendly features allowed us to adjust the ground weight and grind size without difficulty. What made it really remarkable was how it’s perfect for coffee drinkers who are at different levels of espresso fluency. For intermediate enthusiasts, they can watch the tutorials on the touchscreen and troubleshoot any problems that may occur. For professional drinkers, the versatility and customization can maximize their creativity in pulling the perfect shot.
The Barista Touch also has its limits compared to the commercial-grade machines. Though it’s excellent at making coffee drinks at your fingertips, the taste of espresso itself isn’t extraordinary for connoisseurs who enjoy the diverse tasting profile and depth from single origin beans, which require a more professional device to extract. The automatic frothing system also isn’t consistent for users who appreciate their milk foam with uniform quality. But for the price, we were incredibly impressed—and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better.
Though it may not look as exciting as the Breville models we tested, the Gaggia Classic Pro constantly pulled the best shots of espresso in our roundup. As an upgrade from Gaggia’s popular espresso machine, the Classic, the Pro features many components that are commonly seen with commercial-grade espresso makers, including a three-way solenoid, over-pressure valve that helps discard dry coffee puck easily.
The chrome-brass 58-millimeter wide portafilter is on par with commercial-grade portafilters, which may explain why it continuously pulled shots of espresso that had superior texture and full-bodied flavor in our taste tests. The Gaggia model was also the only machine we tested that produced crema with little leopard-like speckles, which gave each shot a unique depth. The taste was pleasant, with notes of caramel and cocoa, which indicated a high-quality coffee. The commercial-grade steam wand frothed velvety milk foam that helped us create the perfect lattes. The machine comes with three filter baskets: one pressurized basket for consistency, one single-walled for creativity, and a pod basket for ESE pods. (They’re specialty espresso pods different from Nesprssso capsules. You can buy them from Illy on Amazon.)
Although we’re satisfied with its overall performance, the Gaggia isn’t without flaws. It took about five minutes to brew a double shot from start to finish—four minutes longer than the average time for our top pick. Due to the lack of a PID system that monitors temperature digitally, it took about 30 seconds to heat up, trailing behind the Breville models. Additionally, Gaggia is less user-friendly than Breville Barista Touch as we struggled to insert the portafilter under the brewhead. However, if you’re interested in learning about espresso and pulling a cafe-quality shot, this Gaggia is your best choice for the value.
When it comes to balancing convenience and affordability, the Infuser is right in the middle—it provides the majority of Breville’s most advanced features, without costing you an arm and a leg.
Like the Barista Touch, this model has a pre-infusion function that gives the coffee grounds a thorough low-pressure wash before pumping pressure through them. The PID heating system accurately controls the water temperature for the best brewing results, which is also adjustable at 4°F increments. It’s also programmable, which allowed us to save our favorite coffee presets for easy brewing during testing. The analog pressure gauge can tell you whether the pressure has reached the required level, and whether you’re over- or under-extracting your coffee. This specific feature made dialing in much easier and took out the guesswork when we first tested it.
Ultimately, the Infuser makes a great learning tool for beginners who want to learn how to become an at-home barista.
How We Tested
I’m Valerie Li, Reviewed’s cooking and kitchen staff writer—and I’m an avid coffee and tea drinker. For me, a day officially starts when I take my first shot of espresso, brewed by my beloved De’Longhi machine. From moseying to 7-Eleven for a quick caffeine fix to traveling to Blue Mountain plantation in Jamaica, I’ve sampled coffee of many different origins and varieties. Like everyone else at Reviewed, I’m passionate about scientific testing, which I use alongside my own palate to judge a good shot of espresso.
We spent around 80 hours researching and testing 10 espresso machines that are popular on the market. In our tests, we used Peets’ Major Dickerson coffee beans to find out if each machine was able to produce coffee with the same flavor profile.
We used our favorite coffee grinder, the Baratza Encore (available at Amazon), to dial in the espresso machines that don’t come with a built-in grinder. For the ones with built-in grinders, we also took into account the reliability and ease of use of the grinders, measured by how long it took to dial in the best shot of espresso. We evaluated the consistency of the temperature, taste, and the frothing wands’ ability to create microfoam for latte art. We pulled four shots and frothed two cups of milk from each machine and asked our Reviewed staff to participate in the taste tests.
What You Should Know About Espresso Machines
Venturing into the world of espresso machines is like learning a new language. To help you get started and choose an espresso machine that’s best catered to your needs, here are some things to know about brewing basics.
What Does ‘Dialing In’ Mean?
Dialing in refers to modifying the dial on the side of the grinder until the barista has the right grind setting to the right brewing time and brewing ratio, controlling the ultimate taste of the coffee. This is the first thing we looked for when testing each machine, and it’s important to understand as you begin making espresso.
What’s a Brewing Ratio?
The next thing you’ll need to know about espresso shots is the brewing ratio, which is the weight of ground coffee to the weight of liquid espresso in the cup. By adjusting the ratio of a shot, we can change the taste and mouthfeel of the espresso. Generally, a 1:1 to 1:2 ratio is a ristretto espresso, a 1:2 to 1:3 ratio is a normale espresso, and a 1:3 to 1:4 ratio is a lungo espresso. The smaller the ratio, the more full-bodied the texture, but the larger ratio entails more clarity in the shot. To put the ratio into context, a typical cup of brewed coffee is around a 1:15 ratio.
To achieve the most precise shot of espresso, we highly recommend buying a digital scale to measure the coffee grounds. Every country (and even specific regions within countries) has different brewing ratios, as the barometric pressure varies because of climate, which leads to changes in the humidity of the coffee grounds. We took the brewing ratio to heart and measured the ratio during our tests to best eliminate any chance of unfair judgment on a cup of coffee.
What’s a Portafilter?
A portafilter is a spoon-like device that houses the coffee grounds and attaches to the grouphead (brewing head) while the brewing process takes place. It has a handle, a spout, a filter basket, and a spring clip. Typically, an espresso machine offers two sizes of filter baskets. For more advanced machines, it might include four filter baskets that include two single-walled filter baskets. The single-walled baskets are for experienced users, who are more comfortable with creating espresso shots with personal preferences.
To securely attach the portafilter to the brewing head, insert the notches (on the edge of the filter) under the grouphead and give it a slight twist. Although the mechanism is almost always the same, different types of portafilters can suit different needs. For beginners, it’s wise to start with a pressurized portafilter as it gives the ground coffee additional pressure to ensure consistency. It greatly reduces small mistakes that newbies might make in terms of tamping and grind size. As your skills improve, you can move onto the more advanced portafilters and baskets, such as those that are bottomless.
How Much Pressure is Enough?
By forcing hot water under high pressure through finely-ground coffee beans, an espresso machine, either automatic or manual, produces the syrupy, dense drink we can’t live without. In 1884, Italian inventor Angelo Moriondo patented the first known steam-driven espresso machine—and now with electricity, they’re even more powerful. Today, the optimal output pressure on the grouphead is between 9 to 10 bars. To acquire such pressure, the water pump must achieve 15 bars, minimum. There are machines with more powerful pressure pumps on the market, but for at-home use, we don’t think anything exceeding 15-bar is necessary. It might also increase your utility bill!
What Difference Does a Steam Wand Make?
To create the most nuanced latte, an espresso machine must be able to produce silky, velvety microfoam without large bubbles. The quality of the steam wand sometimes changes the whole value of a machine as the lower-grade ones tend to create milk foam that’d be called a “latte-cino,” which is a barista’s nightmare.
What’s the Verdict on Built-In Grinders?
In our roundup, we tested four machines with built-in burr grinders. It was hard to judge whether having a built-in grinder was a pro or a con because it was impossible to find out how well-made the grinders are. Although Breville sells the burr replacements on Amazon, it may still be a hassle to have to fix a broken grinder. Another point to keep in mind is to avoid oily coffee beans if you’re determined to buy a machine with a built-in grinder, as the oil increases the difficulty of cleaning and maintaining. For coffee drinkers with a tight budget, we advise dividing the budget in half and getting a high-quality grinder as opposed to focusing only on the espresso machine. It’s especially important because a low-end grinder doesn’t allow you to micro-manage the size of the grind, which makes it impossible to dial-in a perfect double-shot of espresso.
Other Espresso Machines We Tested
De’Longhi’s La Specialista features a dual-boiling system that heats the coffee and milk separately, which is common for commercial-grade machines. At first glance, we were curious about how it actually worked—as we can almost guarantee that there’s no brand-new dual-boiler espresso maker under the $1,000 mark on the market, at least for now. A dual-boiling system shortens the wait time and makes the coffee brewing process a lot quicker, which is why the high-end espresso machines at busy coffee shops almost always have at least a dual-coil heating system. We don’t think a dual-boiler system is necessary since all the single-boiler Brevilles we tested are equipped with the quick-heating system that makes coffee drinks as fast as the De’Longhi with double boilers.
It feels like De’Longhi was trying to acquire a larger market share in an already jam-packed espresso market by adding as many luxurious features as possible: a built-in conical grinder, a smart tamping station, two separate boiling systems for coffee and milk, an analog pressure gauge, 19-bar pump pressure, and active temperature monitoring. However, some of the features didn’t prove to be useful during our testing.
The Specialista is the only machine with a smart tamping station, which means zero mess. After filling the portafilter, we used the lever on the side of the machine to tamp down the coffee grounds and voilà! We were good to go. The coffee received high marks in our taste test, as it consistently pulled full-bodied espresso shots with clarity and flavor. For Americano drinkers, there’s a water spout next to the portafilter for easy dispensing.
Despite the coffee’s delicious taste, the Specialista has some seemingly fancy functions that we don’t think are necessary. First, the 19-bar pump pressure is frivolous. No matter how powerful the water pump (at the back of the machine) is, the output pressure on the grouphead will always be between 9 to 10 bars, which is what an espresso shot requires, no more, no less. A 15-bar pump is what’s needed for that optimal brew head pressure, and the extra pressure will result in water pumped into the drip tray, which is located under the water tank. And with a grinder and two boilers, the machine is the tallest, heaviest, and bulkiest in our roundup. If you live in a small apartment, we don’t suggest investing in this one.
As we unboxed the Barista Pro, we were immediately impressed by its brushed stainless steel appearance and heavy-duty build quality. It’s the widest among all the machines we tested, resembling a classic La Cimbali espresso machine you might find in an artisanal coffee shop. Once turned on, the machine automatically started a cleaning cycle, dispensing cold and hot water for about two minutes.
The machine comes with a conical built-in burr grinder, an LCD screen, and an adjustable steam wand. The burr grinder offers 30 grind sizes from coarse to fine, while the portafilter can pack up to 19 grams of ground coffee, which can be adjusted from a few seconds to 15 seconds of grinding. The built-in grinder has a smart sensor, which means ground coffee automatically starts to fill in the portafilter once it touches the grinder sensor.
Another highlight of the model is the pre-programmed brew presets, which guarantee the same shot every time you use it. For drinkers who like to explore different settings, the Barista Pro has customization settings that are easy to maneuver with the twist of a knob.
This model features a thermojet heating system and a digital temperature control system (PID), just like the other Brevilles we tested, which primed the machine to be ready in just three seconds. The low-pressure, pre-infusion design allows the coffee ground to soak in water evenly in low-pressure before the high-pressure pump kicks in, giving the coffee consistency and smooth taste. It’s also very simple to use when making an Americano—after pulling a double shot of espresso in a 10-ounce glass, simply trim the knob to the water position and hot water will come directly from a nozzle in the same area as the portafilter spout.
The Barista Pro had the potential to be a winner of our roundup. Sadly, its gigantic size makes it less appealing, as we took portability and counter-space-friendliness into account in our tests. For beginners, the technicality of this machine may also make it intimidating to use. As its name suggests, it may be a better choice for the experienced home baristas with room to spare.
As a loyal De’Longhi user, I enjoyed how easy it was to set up the Dedica. It was the slimmest espresso machine in our tests, but the small footprint didn’t affect its overall performance. It has all of the basics: an adjustable steam wand, a sturdy portafilter, and a 15-bar pump, which gives the coffee ground about 9-bar pressure on the grouphead, the optimal pressure for espresso shots.It comes with three dual-walled filter baskets, including one for ESE pods.
The steam wand can froth two types of foams: one for lattes and one for cappuccinos. We like the manual milk frothing wand because it allows you to customize the texture of the foam, but there isn’t an option to optimize the temperature. Throughout testing, it frothed average quality foam but didn’t perform well on the microfoam test, which allows users to create latte art.
The other downside of the Dedica is how long it takes to brew a double-shot of espresso—five minutes from start to finish. The Breville Barista Touch, for instance, took two minutes. It also took five attempts for us to dial in a double-shot in under 30 seconds, which was another key criterion to judge if the machine was worth buying. For at-home brewing on a tight budget, the Dedica is sufficient, but requires a good grinder to optimize coffee quality.
Like the other espresso machines from Breville, the Bambino Plus has an innovative thermojet heating system, which means it reaches the optimal temperature for a nice shot of espresso faster than a regular espresso machine. It also features, like other Brevilles, the precise temperature control to ensure consistency. Thanks to its compact size, the Bambino Plus is a perfect fit for small apartments with limited countertop space. The 54-millimeter-wide portafilter packs 19 grams of coffee, which is on the heavy side of the traditional espresso weight. In Italy, baristas typically uses 7 grams for ristretto and 14 grams for espresso normale.
The frothing wand boasts the ability to both adjust the temperature and texture of the milk, making it easy to create microfoam for cappuccinos, lattes, and designing latte art for advanced espresso drinkers. The only thing we didn’t like about the frothing wand was how it pulled towards the user, as opposed to pulling to the side, which made it difficult for the user to visually monitor the milk foam.
What knocked the Bambino Plus down a few spots in our testing was its long dial-in time. It doesn’t offer any guidance on dialing in the perfect shot other than eye-balling the weight of coffee grounds, which makes the machine a simplified version by comparison to the upgraded models from Breville. Though it comes with the best heating and pressure system, pulling consistently smooth shots from Bambino Plus was still a struggle for us. Bambino Plus was not a bad product for the job but it was just that other espresso machines performed a better job without any struggle for our testers. The accessories are simple: two dual-walled filter baskets, a tamper, a milk jug, and a razor. I like dual-walled filter baskets, but having options for single-walled baskets allows more creativity for experienced drinkers.
My family can’t stop raving about this Cuisinart—but in testing, it never captured the full-bodied flavor of our beans. It gives more room for customization and creativity than the Mr. Coffee model, but it doesn’t pull high-quality espresso shots. It can brew both pods and ground coffee, which makes it versatile for different needs and occasions. During our testing, the machine kept on pulling out relatively consistent shots with the same weight and amount of crema. However, the coffee lacked clarity, which is key in determining whether an espresso machine is of high quality. Overall, this machine is just mediocre.
Upon first impression, Mr. Coffee’s espresso and cappuccino maker seemed to cover the basic needs: a 15-bar pressure pump, a set of accessories that include a plastic tamper and a scooper, options for single- and double-shot espresso, and an automatic milk frother that takes out all the guesswork when it comes to frothing. Unfortunately, not every feature impressed.
The lid on the water tank doesn’t open or close at a convenient angle, and the automatic milk frother delivered disappointing milk foam that wasn’t made for lattes and cappuccinos. For a similar price, a pod-espresso maker or a pod coffee maker can do a much better job than this model from Mr. Coffee.