Top 10 Espresso Machines
In 2002, when I was a student at Michigan State University, I was struggling to keep my eyes open during my Philosophy of Politics class. It was long, in the afternoon, and brutally boring. I had zero experience with coffee, but I thought I’d stop into Espresso Royale, a local coffee shop, for their advice on what I should do. Barron, a white dude with dreadlocks down to his butt, hooked me up with a quadruple-shot espresso. What followed was a blur, but needless to say, I stayed awake.
I was also hooked. I was shelling out tens of dollars a week to get my fix, always chasing that initial high. Eventually, my girlfriend bought me an espresso machine for my birthday. Since then, the best espresso machines have played an integral part in my life. I can go longer without food, water, love, shelter, breathing, and the Internet than I can go without espresso. Here’s what to look for in a great espresso maker.
Types of Espresso Machines
There are essentially four types of espresso machines:
The amount and delivery of the water in the espresso making process is all automated with a fully automatic espresso machine. This is great if you are not a control freak and are down to spend hundreds of dollars on quality espresso. Another pitfall is that there are more parts prone to breaking since more of the product is automated.
Control freaks rejoice! Manual espresso machines let you do everything. There is a high learning curve, and these machines tend to get pricey. But, manual machines are ideal for pretentious hipsters and baristas. I’m not a big fan and did not include any of these types of makers on my list.
Also referred to as “super automatic espresso machines,” these espresso makers do everything for you, including cleaning your kitchen after your macchiato is done. Of course, when you get cool features like built-in grinders and programmable settings, it comes at a cost.
To me, this is the porridge that Goldilocks ate. It gives you a great balance of control without being too hard for a bonehead like me to figure out. Plus, there are models to fit all pricing points. You basically just fill the water reservoir, turn on the machine to heat up the elements, then allow it to perform its espresso voodoo once it is ready to go. Easy peasy.
What to Look for in an Espresso Machine
To support my addiction, I have bought a number of espresso machines for home and the office. Here is what I look for:
- Cost – No matter how much I love espresso, I simply cannot afford one of those Nuova Simonelli commercial-grade rigs. Have a budget going in (I recommend at least $100) and don’t get carried away unless you are reading this from your own private island.
- Easy to Use – If you are currently or were at one time a barista, you might enjoy a more complicated machine. For the rest of us, the easier and more automated the appliance is, the better. If you want straight espresso, most machines are easy to use. When you want cappuccinos, there is quite a bit more variance.
- Durability – Are you like me? Of course, you are. You drink six shots of espresso every day without fail. Therefore, you need a rig that can keep up with your addictive lifestyle. You can get an idea of which are durable by reading espresso machine reviews. Or, if you don’t want to take my word for it, get one that has a nice long warranty.
- Extra Features – There are endless extra features available with espresso makers, including programmable settings, built-in coffee grinders, frothing wands, cup warmers, and water filters. Determine if you are willing to shell out the extra cabbage for these add-ons.
- Capsules – Some of the machines use espresso pods with pre-proportioned grounds in them. If you would prefer to use your own grounds, then don’t buy a model that requires espresso capsules, unless you also hate yourself.
Now that you have a crash course on what to look for, here are my top 10 best espresso machines reviews:
- Brew ready in half a minute
- Simple insertion and ejection of capsules/pods
- Used capsule container, backlight indicators, auto power-off, and water level detection
The Nespresso Pixie is a dream for any no-nonsense espresso lover. Your drink comes out perfectly every time with a nice layer of crema on top. One of the downsides is that this Nespresso coffee machine does not come with a milk frother, but you can get a decent one, the Cafe Casa Milk Frother, for under $25. Also, you need to use Nespresso OriginalLine Capsules for the machine, which are less than 75 cents each, and these espresso pods just plain taste great. User Pixie espresso machine reviews are almost uniformly positive.
- 19 Bar high-pressure pump
- Programmable button for lungo and espresso preparation
- Tall recipe glasses accommodated by folding cup tray
Nespresso is the top name in espresso machines. They even have a special club, where they give you personalized advice. I like to call them up and get angry when they refuse to call espresso “eXpresso.” Anyway, the Inissia Nespresso coffee machine is basically the same as the Pixie except it is made out of plastic in China. The Pixie is made out of stainless steel in Switzerland. Two highlights of this Nespresso coffee machine are its small counter footprint and the fact you can have your fix within a minute. This model also requires special espresso capsules.
- Two-liter removable water tank with handle
- Adjust water temp automatically for optimal espresso extraction
- Half-pound sealed bean hopper and conical burr grinder
If you like to wear a monocle and stick your pinky out while drinking your espresso and your butler is on (hopefully paid) sick leave, the Breville BE870XL is for you. It does everything for you. You just have to read the user manual. The BES870XL even tells you when it needs to be cleaned, bathed, and taken for a walk. Users say that it makes amazing espresso as long as you clean it. Unfortunately, I’m one of those guys who lets his espresso machine build up a good layer of grounds on every surface before I clean it.
- Adjustable cup tray to accommodate your “World’s Greatest Dad” mug
- Automatic milk frother makes lattes and cappuccinos effortless
- One-touch control panel for whatever drink you want, except pousse-cafes
Dr. Harold Coffee was having a great day down in the lab when he invented the Mr. Coffee ECMP1000. It does a lot for its relatively low price tag. All you need to do is press a button, and it takes care of brewing the espresso, frothing the milk, and making the rest of your breakfast for you. The only concerns among users are that you may have to clean the appliance before you use it and be careful that you put the milk spout up before you remove the reservoir, or you’ll make a mess.
- Removable drip catcher for easy cleaning
- Frothing arm
- 15-Bar pump system
Mr. Coffee has only been doing one thing for nearly half a century: brewing coffee drinks. They don’t even take a break to use the bathroom. The ECMP50 is one of the best espresso machines you will find for under $100. If you like buying bags of coffee that are already ground, you’re in luck. This uses regular drip coffee grounds.
- One-year warranty
- Large 72-ounce reservoir so you don’t have to keep refilling it all day long
- Uses a frothing wand
The Gaggia Classic lives up to its name. It’s a classic. It will last you for decades. It will give you a cute crema mustache. Users have said there is a bit of a learning curve to it, though, because they do things a little different in Europe. Also, the frother leaves a bit to be desired.
- Swivel jet frother
- Takes both ground coffee and those damn pods
- Has separate thermostats for steam and water
I use the DeLonghi coffee machine EC155 for my day-to-day espresso drinking. It’s held up well for over two years of use four times per day. I exclusively drink straight espresso. I don’t want milk, water, sugar, hamburgers, or anything else in it. On the other hand, my wife likes to get creative and make lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas, and other Italian words I will never understand. The EC155 DeLonghi coffee machine does all of these things easily. You just need to be careful that you do not grind your coffee beans too fine.
- Aerodynamic design is great for tossing
- Self-priming operation
- Easy-to-remove parts for fast cleaning
The BAR32 DeLonghi coffee machine has a bit of a learning curve to it. Like the model I have above (the EC155), you will have a helluva time trying to make espresso if you use an espresso grind. You gotta go a bit coarser. For the added cost, it is not much of an improvement over the EC155.
- Self-primes automatically
- 44-ounce removable water tank
- One-touch control with automatic flow stop
Although they’re all ranked below the Nespresso coffee machines, DeLonghi is the only manufacturer with three machines on this list. DeLonghi coffee machines are darn good at what they do since espresso makers are one of the few appliances they make. The EC702 is great. However, for the price of the EC702, there are several better alternatives.
- 5 Bars of pressure
- Have to refill with water each time you want to make espresso
- Comes with a scoop you’ll use exactly three times
I used the BELLA Personal Espresso Maker for my daily buzz at one time. You can pretty much count on breaking the decanter within the first month or two, but you’ll do fine without it. Just measure out a quarter cup of water for each shot of espresso you want, and put a coffee mug under the spigot.
Can I tell you a funny story? I bought one of these for work once when I was a desk jockey. The cleaning people threw away the little inner filter/basket that holds the grounds. I was young and had looser morals and decided to replace the basket by visiting my local Target and taking it out of the display espresso maker. Target, if you’re listening, I will gladly pay for the basket if you’re petty enough to ask for it.
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