5 Best Espresso Machines 2017
People associate their childhood with different scents and aromas. For some, it’s the waxy smell of a box of crayons that triggers the nostalgia. In others, it’s the subtle but invigorating aroma of freshly ground coffee, which causes a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
Oh yes, the good old days when making your morning decaf used to be an activity that was programmed on autopilot. Kickstart your creaky engine with a dopamine boost that seems to bring you level with ground realities.
You could sip the Joe without having to worry about the ground size, the tamping or the exact pressure needed for a wholesome extract.
And then, the alchemy entered into coffee making, turning it into a science that only the pros supposedly could master.
The Coffee landscape underwent a dramatic change and the ideal place to sip a cup, changed from your living room den sofa to the neighborhood café. Starbucks started to mushroom in every corner.
Cappuccinos, Lattes, the Macchiato and the Frappuccino invaded our shores.
Today, to enjoy a shot of pure unadulterated espresso, you have to brave the morning traffic, stand in a serpentine queue and pay an exorbitant sum of money.
If your taste buds veer towards the more exotic versions, then you cough up even more money.
With the average American consuming more than two cups a day and Britain consuming more than 70,000,000 cups every day, it’s clearly a lifestyle choice that shows no sign of waning.
Why not get an espresso machine home and brew your own poison then?
The Espresso Machine Myth Busted
Think Espresso Machines and one pictures the futuristic looking glossy machines with all the paraphernalia that dot the big cafes in town. It’d probably cost a fortune and take you years to master the science behind brewing espressos with one of those. Right?
Ever since the Moka Pot took the mystery out of brewing coffee and made it a one-button-click affair for homes around the world, coffee machines have become user friendlier and boast of cutting edge technology with ingenious designs.
In fact, it would be fair to say that with some hands on practice, one can easily rival the taste and the consistency of your neighborhood Starbucks, and, it can also be considered as a rite of passage for novice coffee lovers.
Let me bust some myths about Home Espresso Machines that a lot of people have.
- They are not obscenely priced
- They are not impossible to operate
- You can still get your morning Java without having to tinker with machinery
- It’s not mandatory that you know the precise temperature or pressure to extract good bean juice
- A good espresso shot is not the mysterious potion that it is made out to be
- You can make a potent shot for yourself every single morning
- And you can save yourself some valuable time and money
All said and done, if you are venturing into the market for the first time looking for espresso machines, then you’d be more confused than a cow on Astroturf. There are probably a million different brands and an equal number of varieties to choose from, that makes the task seem scary.
What if you overspend on a machine that you can barely operate and end up with a concoction that tastes like a shabbily made imitation of the original?
You’d be surprised to know that there are Espresso machines for coffee lovers with all kinds of skillsets. From the novice to the coffee-fanatic to the alchemist, everyone can brew a decent Espresso shot with a home espresso machine.
The caveat, is that you understand the tech to ensure that you pick only one of the best espresso machines for yourself. So, let us go right to the root of all this conundrum, the espresso.
What is an Espresso?
This may sound like an amateurish thing to write about, but a recent conversation with a friend revealed to me that despite being the self-proclaimed ‘coffee savant’ of our small group, he had no clue what an espresso is.
Like a lot of other people, he always thought that it is a type of a bean that is used to create a distinct brew.
For the ignoramus, Espresso is one of the many popular methods to brew coffee. Any coffee bean or ground can be used to brew an Espresso. Although, some types of coffee beans taste way better than the others when used to brew it.
The typical way of brewing an Espresso is to push hot water through coffee grounds at high pressure (the average pressure is 8-bar. But some of the best espresso machines can offer up to 15 bar). There are numerous ways to customize this further to suit ones palate. The ground size can be altered (tamping), the temperature can be increased or reduced and so can the pressure.
What is crema?
Crema is considered to be the ‘coup de grace’ while making an Espresso. This tawny colored frothy liquid is the holy grail of the Espresso shot, without which, it feels like watered down moonshine. Crema is produced at approximately 8-bar of pressure. So, if you choose an espresso machine which cannot generate that pressure, you will not be able to get the ‘Guinness effect’. Without getting into the chemistry, Crema is the first light liquid that fills the cup during the extraction process.
The types of Best Espresso machines for home use
There are three main categories of espresso machines for home use.
Electric Steam Driven Espresso Machines: Often considered as entry level machines for home brewers, Steam driven Espresso machines are also the most inexpensive type. Water is boiled in an airtight chamber until it becomes steam, which is then pushed through the puck, extracting coffee into a cup or carafe. If the water is boiled up to 200 degrees, the machine can generate a pressure of up to 3-bar. Most steam espresso machines though, fall way short of the recommended pressure for extracting pure espressos, which is about 8-bar. Some models feature a steam wand that allows you to froth milk for your cappuccinos.
Skills Required: None
- Low Priced Starter Espresso machines
- Are mostly considered as gift items to someone who has never made espressos at home before
- To create at least 3-bar of pressure, the water needs to be heated to 200 degrees which results in the coffee grounds getting scalded
- Heat it any lesser and the pressure is reduced further, which results in an under extracted espresso without crema
- It cannot be used to make back to back espressos, as the machine must cool down before it can be used again.
- Can be dangerous to use, especially if you are new to it and accidentally remove the boiler cap before the pressure is released
Pump Espresso Machines: Pump Espresso Machines are slightly more advanced than steam powered machines and they can produce a much better quality espresso shot with crema. Water is flash-heated in a thermo-block system (a series of coils that looks like a radiator) and pushed through the coffee grounds, at a temperature that is more appropriate for making espressos. Most pump machines can produce up to 15-bar pressure, when used correctly.
There are two different types of Pump Espresso Machines.
- Manual Lever/Piston Espresso Machines: A purist would opine that there is only one ‘true’ way of extracting a perfect Espresso. It is through manual extraction or using a Manual Espresso Machine, the way it was extracted in the days of yore. This is as hands-down as you can get while making an Espresso. You grind your own beans, dose it, tamp it, feed it and then use your own brute strength to force the water through the grounds.
Oh yes, the pressure needed to force the water is generated by the hand of the Barista, giving rise to the phrase, ‘Pulling a shot’. If done correctly, a Manual Piston Espresso Machine can easily produce up to 8-bar pressure, which is considered by most connoisseurs, as the perfect pressure to extract an Espresso. Since it uses a thermo-block system, it allows you to continue heating the water to generate steam for frothing or steaming your milk.
Skills Required: Grinding, Tamping, Controlling Water flow, temperature and pressure.
- Allows you to customize the Espresso according to your preferences. You can get involved in even the tiniest detail and tailor it.
- Can generate up to 8-bar pressure making it the perfect manual way to make an espresso with delicious crema
- The only espresso making machine vetted by the true connoisseurs of coffee making.
- You need expert hands and a clear understanding of the process to make a good shot
- If you do not have practice, you can easily ruin the espresso
- It takes significant force to control the pressure by pulling the lever until the shot is extracted completely
Electric Pump Espresso Machines
The Electric Pump Espresso Machine is a more automated way of using a pump to push the water through the coffee grounds and extract an espresso. Instead of pulling a lever, all you have to do is press the brew button. The water will then be pushed into the boiler, heated there and then pushed through the grounds. Electric Pump machines allow you to preset the temperature that the water needs to be boiled up to.
There are three different types of Electric Pump Machines.
1.Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-Automatic espresso machines are considered by many to be the best espresso machines for home use. It automates some of the more tedious steps involved in extracting an Espresso, while giving you enough control to create your signature cup of decaf. For example, you can control dosing and tamping while the machine presets the appropriate temperature and pressure, which is where most inexperienced baristas get it wrong. You can use either fresh ground coffee, pre-ground coffee or ESE pods and you can also choose to steam or froth the milk.
It is right at the cusp of automation and old-school coffee brewing which makes it, a unique but extremely effective choice. If you prefer getting involved in the brewing process without complicating things too much, then this one is the best choice for you.
Skills Required: Grinding, Tamping, controlling water flow
- Almost a bean-to-cup Espresso solution
- You can control the water flow and steam according to your preferences
- Since you have to turn the pump on and off yourself, it gives you complete control over the extraction process
- Semi-Automatic Espresso machines do not have a built in grinder and you have to fill the porta filter with the puck (tamped coffee grounds)
- You will need to buy a good quality grinder
- You will need to clean the porta filter after every use
2.Automatic Espresso Machines
Automatic Espresso Machines are exactly like Semi-Automatic machines, except, you cannot control the time at which the extraction process will stop. The machine stops itself after a certain period of time, which it feels is appropriate for brewing.
3.Super Automatic Espresso Machines
These are like the Cadillacs of the Espresso world. They are sleek, fast and will get you bean-to-cup in no time. They have all the bells and whistles that you’d ever want in an espresso machine and all you have to do is press the button. It will grind, tamp, set the right temperature, generate just the right amount of pressure and even eject the used puck out of the porta filter. How about that? That’s not all though. You can froth and steam milk and they come with pre-set settings for most of the popular drinks like cappuccinos, Latte and Macchiato. It is the true one-touch espresso machine.
Skills Required: None.
- Complete automation from bean to cup
- Produces consistently good espresso shots with crema
- All that you need to do is add coffee grounds and remove the used puck from knock box
- One touch settings for most popular types of drinks like latte, cappuccino and macchiato
- The most expensive type of home espresso machine
Now that you know how each type of machine works, which one would be the best choice for your home? Let’s find out.
Things to consider before buying an espresso machine
Before you swipe your card and buy the swankiest looking espresso machine, you would like to know a few important things. A lot of people make the mistake of buying their espresso machines pig in a poke and they end up feeling disappointed with it or put it up for sale on eBay after a while.
It’s all about your personal preferences, your skill level and the intended use of the machine. Anything that does not serve this purpose is money down the drain. So choose wisely.
Your Skills: How experienced are you at making your own espresso shots? If you have a pretty good idea and would like to get involved in the process, then a manual espresso machine or a semiautomatic seems like a good choice. However, if you prefer to sleepwalk out of your room and press on a button to fill the cup, then go for a super-automatic espresso machine. Each one has its own pros and cons which are mentioned above.
Your Preferences: Are you a die-hard Espresso fanatic who cannot think beyond guzzling shot after shot of pure unadulterated java? Then you can look for espresso machines without a steam wand or frothing capabilities. On the other hand, if you like to enjoy a cappuccino or a latte from time to time, then look for one that includes a steam wand.
The Capacity: Some espresso machines can make up to 4 cups of Espressos at a time while others can only brew one cup. If you have a large extended family, then you may want to consider a machine that can brew multiple cups fast, without any lag in between. On the other hand, if you are a lone wolf, then even the most basic machine would suffice for you.
The Aesthetics: If you have a small sized kitchen with limited room, then you’d want to consider the footprint and the shape, design of the espresso machine.
The Price: Contrary to popular notion, even a basic steam espresso machine can produce a very good espresso shot. But if you are obsessed about coffee extracted at the perfect pressure, then you may splurge on the extra features you get with higher priced models.
The best Espresso machines in the market currently
#1 – Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine
If you like your espressos fast and you like it fresh, then the Breville BES870XL is just what you need. This semiautomatic espresso machine will go from bean to cup in less than 60 seconds, making it the prefect choice for home use and for small commercial operations.
It allows you to automate the time consuming part of espresso brewing, while letting you tinker with the process in just the right places, to fully customize your joe. Featuring an integrated burr grinder, 15 bar pump and dual wall pressurized filters, it offers enough room for the experienced barista and makes it easy for the budding novice.
Breville BES870XL Review
At the forefront of the redesign done in the BES870XL, is a sleek new stainless steel-chassis which gives it a professional appearance. To add to this, there is a robust steel portafilter, a large bean hopper, a companion grinder and a pressure gauge that amplify the aesthetics. These features are commonly seen in higher priced super automatic models and are considered as a premium addition at this price point.
The pressure gauge placed at the center gives you a clear indication of the optimum pressure at which the internal pump is pushing the hot water through the coffee grounds. On either side of the dial, we have the circular power button, the filter size button and the program buttons along with two options to select single or double espresso shots.
You also have a large knob to select the amount of coffee grounds that is needed for different sized espresso filters.
Coffee grounds fall directly into the portafilter and all you need to do is use the metal tamper (also included) to tamp it and use the handle to swivel it into place under the brew head.
To the right of the brew head, we have the steam wand and a hot water nozzle, which can be controlled with a large knob that’s again on the right side. The grind size selector is on the far left of the machine and features 18 different settings for customizing the grind size. You can choose from coarse to fine and everything in between according to your preferences.
At the underside of the machine, there are no-slip feet which prevents it from moving when the burr grinder is working.
Let’s take a quick look at the features that make the Breville BES870XL stand out among other similar priced models.
The integrated burr grinder: The conical burr grinder not only eliminates the need for a separate grinder but also rivals the performance of more professional girnder attachments. The grind quality is exceptional and it saves you a lot of time when making multiple espresso shots of consistent quality. With freshly ground coffee, you get more flavor in each shot.
Intuitively placed controls: The dials and knobs are placed intuitively and allow you to customize your espressos to the tiniest detail with your fingertips. Choose the grind size, switch between full loads and single espresso shots and switch filter sizes with ease.
Control Cup: Allows you to choose between 1 or 2 cups with a manual override function in case you decide against it. Shot sizes can be reprogrammed with ease.
Bean-to-cup: For those who prefer hands-off operation, it goes from bean to cup in less than 60 seconds giving you café quality espresso shots at home.
Who should buy the Breville BES870XL?
If you wish to really understand the essential details that goes behind the making of a perfect espresso, then there is no better choice than the Breville BES870XL Express. At the same time, it allows you to go automated, when the situation demands. All in all, this is a complete package that can give you professional quality espressos and other drinks at your home.
#2 – Rancilio HSD-SILVIA
A list of the best espresso machines wouldn’t be complete without an Italian espresso maker, would it? Not to take anything away from the other manufacturers, but think of it like an ode to the place where it all began. Of course that has nothing to do with why the Rancilio HSD-Silvia is our #2 rated espresso machine.
This is a beast in every way. It has an ingenious design, a brilliant liner housing, it’s made of iron and stainless steel and it weighs around 30 pounds. So it certainly looks straight out of a Starbucks kitchen. The best part though, is that Rancilio walks the talk with the HSD-Silvia. By integrating their commercial grade group head to allow better control and precision over the heat levels and the extraction process, they have thinned the gap between a home espresso machine and a professional one.
Rancilio HSD Silvia Review
What greets you out of the box is the chrome plated iron and stainless steel chassis. It makes the machine a lot more durable than other models at this price point. If you see a white laser film coating, then don’t be alarmed. You’ll just have to peel it off to reveal the stainless steel body.
If you have used the Rancilio Silvia before, then you’d notice the marked difference in the earlier models and the HSD-Silvia straight away.
On the left side, we have three different buttons for brew, steam and hot water, which is a unique addition to the Silvia. So, unlike other espresso machines, you do not have to hit the brew button and open the steam wand to get hot water. All you need to do is flip a switch.
On the right side, we have the commercial steam knob along with an articulating steam wand that can move around for full motion, whereas the previous models featured one that could only go side to side.
The 58 mm chrome plated brass portafilter with an ergonomic handle, is the exact one that is used in Rancilio’s professional espresso machines and it also has a commercial styled group head that assists in retaining heat and maintaining consistency in your shots.
At the heart of the HSD Silvia is a 12 ounce brass boiler that gives better temperature stability and steam power. Also, it is the largest volume capacity single boiler in any home espresso machine, in the world.
What makes the Silvia HSD one of the bestsellers from Rancilio? Let’s find out.
The Druability: The stainless steel and iron chassis make it one of the most durable semiautomatic espresso machines. The Silvia is made to last for years.
Easy Controls: With most controls placed intuitively, it makes brewing espressos a no-brainer. All you need to do is flip switches and watch the machine produce the most deliciously potent shots.
Commercial grade components: Be it the external chassis or the portafilter or the group head, Rancilio does not cut corners here. They have made it to look and function like a commercial espresso machine.
Steam Wand: The Rancilio Silvia features a steam wand that provides full range of motion.
Three way Solenoid Valve: Cleaning the HSD Silvia is as easy as it gets. Thanks to the three way solenoid valve, post-brew drip and splatter can be cleaned in a jiffy.
15 BAR water pump: When you need to go above the 8-bar and need some extra force, the 15-bar water pump ensures that you get it.
Pre-heat cups: The surface on top of the machine gets warm from the ambient heat of the boiler allowing you to pre-heat your cups.
Who should buy the Rancilio HSD Silva?
Anybody who likes a solidly built semiautomatic with enough commercial grade components peppered in for good measure. Even though it is sold as a home espresso machine, it is used by many small to medium sized coffee shops for its consistency and versatility.
#3 – Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine
It would be an understatement to say that Gaggia, one of the most reputed names in the espresso world, have pulled out a rabbit from their hat with the Gaggia 14100 Classic. It is one of the best semiautomatic espresso machines that costs way less than other similar models do, but includes features that are on-par with the best in class. At least, ‘Money Magazine’ thinks so too.
Featuring a classic design, with enough bells and whistles to impress even a seasoned espresso lover, this is the perfect espresso machine for anyone who is cash strapped but desires premium features in their home setup.
Gaggia 14101 Review
Don’t let the price fool you into thinking that this is any lesser than some of the higher end home espresso machines. It has a very heavy duty stainless steel casing that not only scores high on aesthetics, but also keeps the machine free of dents and scratches.
On the front, we have the three main switches for power, brew and steam. To turn on the pump and the brewing process, all you need to do is flip on the brew switch. To the right side, we have the steam knob to control the steam or hot water and the steam wand is placed pretty high off the counter, allowing you to use even large sized mugs or pitchers under it.
The drip tray is accessible from the front and can be removed and cleaned with ease. The water reservoir with a 72 ounce capacity, is more than sufficient for home use.
The portafilter and the group head are commercial sized and made of chrome plated brass, which takes the performance of this machine on par with some of the best in the business.
It also features a commercial grade boiler with twin heating elements and a three way solenoid valve that allows you to extract a dry puck (less splatter).
Included in the box are three filter baskets for single shot, double shot and one for ESE pods.
We could go on raving about the Gaggia 14101 Classic and still, have more to say. But here are a few features that make it tick.
Commercial Grade Portafiler and brew group: With a 58 mm commercial grade portafilter, you get more surface area for the coffee allowing the most wholesome extracts every single time. The marine brass brewing group, allows temperature stability and heat retention, which improves the consistency of the shot.
High quality aluminum boiler: The super-conductive aluminum boiler with the two external heating elements on either side allows uniform heat distribution.
Preheater: You can preheat up to 5 cups at a time with the built-in passive cup warmer in the Gaggia 14101 classic.
Chrome plated brass filter: The chrome plated brass filter keeps the temperature steady during the extraction and brewing process.
Who should buy the Gaggia 14101 Classic?
Anyone who’s looking for a feature rich semi-automatic for a throwaway price should serious consider buying this. It has a bundle of features, consistent quality and a proven track record. You cannot go wrong with this.
#4 – De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump
A lot of people who first hear about the De’Longhi EC155 15 Bar Pump are thrown off by the under $100 price tag. But this home espresso maker is a pocket sized powerhouse that has a lot of impressive features and delivers good quality espresso shots and cappuccinos. Being a pump (vibratory) espresso maker, it offers tremendous value for money.
While it would be absurd to expect it to perform like a $600 semiautomatic, it produces surprisingly good quality espressos, with the richest foams. Features like a stainless steel boiler with dual thermostats, multiple shot options and a three-in-one filter make it an excellent choice for anyone looking for a feature packed machine at this price point.
De’Longhi EC155 15 Bar Review
Very similar in design to a pod-style coffee maker, the De’Longhi EC155 15 Bar Pump has a very small footprint [(10.5 (H) x 7 inches (W) X 8.25 (D)]. So, if you are short of valuable countertop space, this will fit snugly into a corner. Also, it weighs just over 7 pounds. So if ever you wanted a portable espresso maker, this one fits the bill perfectly.
It has a big selector knob on the front of the machine that lets you select between resting mode, heating, espresso brewing and steaming. Just to the right of this knob, there is a temperature indicator light that automatically turns green when the machine detects the optimum temperature for brewing or for steaming.
On the top of the machine, there is a steam controller knob that can be swiveled to control the flow of steam from the steam wand.
The portafilter is not the best that we have seen. But it is pretty effective and provides enough surface area for a decent espresso shot. It comes with a metal handle that has a rubber grip on the end. You have two metal filters to choose from and both fit perfectly in the portafilter basket.
The 34 ounce water reservoir with a built-in handle is easy to remove and drop back into the machine.
The De’Longhi EC155 15 Bar Pump is testimony to the fact a good home espresso maker need not be obscenely priced. Here are some of the features that we loved.
Filter Holder: You can use ground coffee or an ESE Pod with the filter holder making it a versatile choice.
Self-Priming: If you like your espresso shots to be hands-off, then the De’Longhi EC155 gives you just that with minimal pre-brewing hassles to deal with. Just prime the machine and you are set to go.
Jet Frother: The jet frother really packs a punch with its performance and gives you the thickest froth for your lattes and cappuccinos. Also, it offers a full range of motion while serving.
Two Thermostats: With two different thermostats, you can switch temperatures at the blink of an eye. Go from espresso to cappuccino in seconds while brewing both simultaneously.
Who should buy the De’Longhi EC155 15
If you are not too bothered about the tamp, the ground size or the optimum temperature or pressure, but still like to enjoy a good coffee at home, then this is one model you should seriously consider. Can it produce an espresso like your neighborhood Starbucks? Probably not. But can you make out the difference?
#5 – Mr. Coffee ECMP50 Espresso Maker
If you are not a coffee alchemist who likes to measure the percentage of Total Dissolved Solids and likes to experiment with ground sizes and beans, but would still like to satiate the occasional craving for a decent cup of joe without heading to Starbucks, then take a look at the Mr. Coffee ECMP50 Espresso Maker.
Like the De’Longhi EC155, it is good choice for anyone looking for a barebones espresso and cappuccino maker without spending a fortune. It boasts of a vibratory pump, 15-bar pump pressure, steam and froth capabilities, which suffice for most entry-level models.
Mr. Cofffee ECMP50 Review
Despite falling in the same price bracket as the De’Longhi EC155 15, the Mr. Coffee EXMP50 has a noticeably large footprint [(12.6 (T) X 11 (W) X 12 (D)], which is partly due to the large 52 ounce water tank (although the company claims it to be 40 ounces only).
At the front of the machine, there are the two buttons for brew and steam and on either side of these buttons we have the power and ready indicator lights.
On the right side, there is a control knob which can be used for brewing, steam and switch off. You cannot vary the steam control.
Included in the pack are two filters for single and double shots. The portafilter is decently made, although and as expected, we have seen much better.
Removing the water reservoir is trickier than it looks and you should be careful while attempting to lift the machine off the counter because of the risk of the water tank detaching from the machine.
As expected at the price point, the Mr. Coffee ECMP50 has a few niggles. Very finely ground coffee tends to clog the machine and bring it to a complete stop after a while. So you have to be careful to select a ground size that doesn’t do this. But it has many important features to keep the casual coffee lover impressed.
15-Bar Pump Pressure: Despite an innocuous appearance, the ECMP50 boasts of a 15-bar pressure pump that ensures that water is heated quickly and there is very little downtime from brewing to steaming.
Steam Wand: The steam wand is able to produce creamy and rich lattes and cappuccinos and really ups the performance of this compact espresso machine.
Removable Drip Tray: The drip tray can be easily removed and cleaned.
Cup Warmer: The top of the machine doubles up as a cup warmer for those perfect espresso shots.
Who should buy the Mr. Coffee ECMP50?
People who need a compact sized and low priced home espresso maker with the ability to make exceptionally good milk based drinks, should consider the Mr. Coffee ECMP50 as a wonderful option. It is not to be mistaken as a high end machine but it can produce a pretty good espresso and very good lattes and cappuccinos, at the cost of 10-12 lattes at a Starbucks. Not a bad choice at all!