The 7 Best Espresso Machines, Picked by Food Network Kitchen
Thanks to our serious love for coffee drinks of all kinds, we know which espresso machines pull the perfect shot.
By Sharon Franke for Food Network Kitchen
Our Top Espresso Machine Picks:
- Best Overall: Breville Bambino Plus
- Best Value: DeLonghi Stilosa Espresso Machine
- Best for Coffee Geeks: Gaggia Classic Pro
- Best Automatic with a Grinder: Magnifica Automatic Espresso Machine, Cappuccino Maker
- Best Capsule Espresso Machine: Nespresso Essenza Mini + Aeroccino Milk Frother
- Design Statement: Illy X7.1 iperEspresso Machine
- Splurge for Latte Lovers: Philips 3200 Series Espresso Machine LatteGo
With an espresso machine on your countertop, you can quickly and easily treat yourself to everything from a breakfast latte to a mid-day cappuccino to an after-dinner espresso. But which model to buy can be daunting with prices ranging from less than a hundred to thousands of dollars. Some espresso makers only brew coffee, others also foam milk. Some require skill on the part of the home barista, others are completely automatic. To help you decide which model is right for you, here’s a rundown on the different machines on the market and recommendations regardless of your beverage of choice and how much you have to spend.
What Is an Espresso Machine?
Espresso machines use pressure to force or express almost-boiling water through finely-ground coffee in less than 30 seconds. They produce a small "shot" of full-bodied, intensely flavored coffee that has a frothy golden layer on top called crema. Espresso-making requires finely ground coffee beans and is generally made with dark roasted coffee beans. However, you can make espresso with any coffee varietal that is finely ground, and brew drip coffee with a dark espresso-type roast.
What Are the Different Espresso Machines?
There are four basic types of machines that cater to different types of coffee drinkers. Before you decide which kind to buy, it’s a good idea to figure out which category will suit your needs.
These hand-operated machines make quite a statement on your countertop. To operate them, you pull a lever, which is how the term pull came to be used for making a cup of espresso. If you put some time into mastering how to use one, you’ll be rewarded with complete control over the size and strength of your shot of espresso. However, because they require a steep learning curve and cost a pretty penny, they’re primarily used by professionals or serious (and wealthy) coffee connoisseurs. And these beauties are strictly for espresso. You’ll need another piece of equipment to heat and froth milk.
With these espresso makers, an electric pump maintains consistent pressure and flow. You control how much coffee is in your cup by stopping the extraction process. Almost all semiautomatics have a steam wand or some other mechanism for heating and frothing milk. Most don’t have a built-in grinder. Those that do, take up more space and cost a premium.
With a fully automatic espresso maker, all you have to do is set it up with beans, water and milk. The machine does everything from grinding the beans to pulling the shot to frothing the milk for your drink of choice whether it’s a short espresso or a double latte. Most allow you to customize the grind, the temperature, the strength, and/or the volume of espresso to your preference. Because they have so many features, these machines take up a chunk of countertop space and don’t come cheap.
These machines are the ultimate in ease of use and a consistent cup of espresso. You pop in a capsule, press a button or push down a lever and in seconds, can enjoy a crema-topped cup of espresso. The only thing you have to do is keep a supply of coffee capsules or pods on hand and the tank filled with water. A wide variety of styles, with and without frothers or steaming wands, are available.
The Bambino Plus is a compact and beautifully designed machine that consistently turns out a superb cup of coffee with minimal effort on your part. From the time you turn it on, it needs only 3 seconds to be ready to pull single or double shots. If you want, you can adjust the espresso settings for a shorter or longer cupful. While you have to set a pitcher of milk beneath the steam wand and turn on the frother, you don’t have to hold or swirl the pitcher or determine when to stop frothing. The frothing results are truly impressive and you can adjust the temperature and the texture of your foam.
You can easily remove the 2-liter water reservoir to fill it at the sink. After you froth, the machine automatically rinses milk from the wand. With the Bambino you get a tamper (a very useful tool to trim the tamped coffee), a milk pitcher, and cleaning tools. What you don’t get is a built-in coffee grinder or a spout for making hot water for Americanos or a cup of tea. Choose from seven colors including champagne and oyster shell.
If you want a very affordable model but don’t want to compromise on the quality of espresso in your cup, look no further than the Stilosa. You will have to do the grinding, measuring and tamping, as well as the frothing, yourself but after one or two pulls, it’s easy to get the hang of the process. While some of the parts are less durable than on more expensive machines, the all-important boiler is constructed of stainless steel, making this a durable machine.
You have the option of brewing into a travel mug and making either 1 or 2 cups at once. The removable water tank on this compact model only holds about a quart of water but that’s enough for many cups of espresso or several cappuccinos. The Stilosa is a great choice for espresso drinkers on a budget who don’t mind putting a little effort into making their fix.
This is a serious espresso maker with commercial grade parts and a no-nonsense design. While it provides absolute consistent pressure and temperature during the extraction process, the user has to grind and tamp the coffee and time the brewing process as well as hold and move the pitcher when frothing. That makes the Gaggia ideal for someone who likes to be hands on and fine tune the size of the grind and intensity of their espresso as well as the volume of their foam.
The Gaggia has three large rocker switches for on/off, making coffee, and frothing which makes it make it exceptionally easy to use. Its water tank holds about 2 quarts and is filled from the top but can’t be removed and taken to the sink. Filters like the ones the pros uses for one and two cups are included as well as a fail-proof filter for beginners, a scoop and a tamper.
With the Magnifica, you get an espresso maker that automates the brewing process at a price that’s less than a monthly mortgage bill. To make a shot of espresso, all you have to do is load the machine with beans. It grinds, fills the filter basket, tamps, and delivers the coffee. You do have the option to customize the strength and volume of your shot. After it’s finished, the machine dispenses the used coffee grounds into an interior container and when the bin is full, it prompts you to empty it. It has a steam-wand but you have to manually froth milk in a pitcher to top off cappuccino.
The Magnifica’s reservoir holds 60 ounces of water, enough for up to 30 shots, and can be removed to be filled under the tap. It’s conveniently located at the front where it’s easy to either remove or fill. Unlike on most espresso makers, you can take out the brewing chamber to give it a thorough cleaning. A descaling light comes on when it’s time to "clean the pipes".
Like all Nespresso machines, the Essenza Mini delivers espresso with a picture-perfect layer of crema cup after cup. You pop a recyclable aluminum capsule into the chamber and the machine reads the bar code on the capsule to determine the brewing time for the varietal. With just two settings for an espresso and a bigger but less intense lungo, operating this machine couldn’t be more convenient: Press down on the lever and select your beverage. If you like your drinks a little more or less concentrated, you can reprogram the volume for each setting.
As shown here, the Essenza comes with a stand-alone Aeroccino milk frother which only requires the push of a button to whip up clouds of foamy milk. For $50 less you can purchase it without the frother. The Essenza has a removable 20-ounce water tank and comes in several colors and two shapes, straight-sided and triangular.
This machine is Nespresso’s smallest and least expensive. Other models work exactly the same way and produce the same excellent espresso. However, they offer additional features such as larger reservoirs, more cup size settings, digital displays, and steaming wands. If one of them meets your needs and you can afford to upgrade, you can buy it with confidence that you’ll get a perfect cup. Nespresso offers a wide assortment of coffees including flavored ones, single origins, and decaf. At about 70 cents each, they’re not inexpensive.
Anyone who walks into your kitchen is bound to comment on the Illy’s design. It has the retro look of an Italian sports car, complete with a digital display to show the temperature rising that mimics a dashboard’s analog speedometer. The machine comes in glossy black, white, and red and is particularly stunning in red. It works with Illy Metodo Iperespresso capsules that create an absolutely delicious cup of authentic espresso. You drop them into the portafilter, making both set up and clean up convenient.
With only one setting for coffee, this machine is straightforward to use. You can reprogram the volume of an espresso but there are no other settings. The removable tank holds 40 ounces. This is an appliance for people who appreciate a classic cup of espresso and want to put minimal fuss into making it. There is an onboard steam wand for those times when you want to indulge in a cappuccino.
Capsules come in several varieties and cost close to $1. Used capsules can be mailed to Illy for recycling.
If you’re looking for total automation and are willing to pay for it, you’ll love the Philips 3200 LatteGo. You can select one or two cups of espresso, cappuccino, coffee, latte macchiato, americano, or hot water on the touch control panel. In addition to grinding, tamping, and brewing, the LatteGo tops your espresso with foamy milk automatically. It has an innovative system consisting of a frothing chamber with a spout that hooks onto the front of the appliance. Before pulling a shot, the LatteGo whips up milk in the chamber and dispenses it into your cup.
You can adjust the grind of your beans and the temperature, strength, and volume of your brew and quantity of froth to your preference. To fill the 50-ounce water tank, you remove it from the front and bring it to the tap. One of the best parts: All the LatteGo parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The machine comes installed with a water filter that lets it work longer than most before it needs to be descaled. There aren’t too many downsides other than the price. As the Philips doesn’t have a traditional steam wind, you can’t heat and froth a pitcher of Mexican hot chocolate. And you will have to clear some counterspace to accommodate it.
How We Picked
To select our best espresso machines, we relied on our experience using them both in the test kitchen and in our own homes. We checked review sites to see what recommendations were made by other sources and also read user comments to find out what home baristas have to say.
In addition to considering whether they make consistently great cups of espresso, we considered how easy they were to use and what special features they offered. Our picks contain a selection of different types of machines at various price points to make sure there’s a great choice for every type of coffee drinker afficionado.
Sharon Franke has been testing and writing about kitchen equipment for over 30 years. Before becoming a cooking tools expert, she spent seven years working as a professional chef in New York City restaurants. In her free time, she's busy baking sourdough bread and rustling pots and pans on her own stove.