Purchasing a good espresso machine can guarantee you will be greatly supplied with top notch espressos for several years, in many cases, for over a decade, as these machines are respectful investments all coffee lovers must do at least once. The only problem is that, once you got one, you will surely be getting another in the future when your first ever machine goes bad and die.
Espresso machines are not only the best way to prepare an espresso these days, they are incredibly convenient to facilitate the preparation of many coffee recipes, as well as they are multi task and can be a hot beverages central from where you can get help to prepare teas, milk based shakes or drinks and of course, anything that includes coffee, brewed or ground.
We did a selection with some of the best espresso machines that are available now in the market for 2017, considering their features, their popularity and prices, offering solutions for diverse budgets. As we review these machines we will also explain how espressos are brewed, specially if you are not schooled yet in the espresso universe, so you can follow what these beauties do when it comes to prepare refined espressos and, to enhance your knowledge on espresso machines and the espresso preparation itself, don’t miss our purchase guide at the end of the reviews to catch up some cool tips.
Best Espresso Machine in 2017
Breville BES980XL Oracle
This Breville machine is one of the most expensive you can get in the market and, likewise, it is one of the most praised and approved by customers, with the highest rating by buyers in several online stores. One important thing about this espresso machine though, is the fact it is like most machines on our list, quite automated, so people who are traditionalist may not love it as much as other espresso machines in the market that are more classic but, do not have a rate that high, or are simply obscure to popular knowledge, specifically because they require professional skills to handle and are quite expensive. We will see at least one of these models later and I’ll also explain why we didn’t include more of them in this list.
But back to the Breville Oracle, this espresso machine is the best middle ground between traditionalism and automation. The BES980XL offers one of the best customized espresso services in the market, as you just have one specific ready-made recipe for Americanos, since it is a stronger, double espresso based mix – quite simple for a machine to perform and with no need for you to operate the same task twice. Even though, you can control the strength of this recipe.
From that on, you can make use of the adjustments of extraction, amount of brewed coffee, frothing and grinding size to prepare your own coffee drinks, like cappuccino, mocca and latte. For all them, you can set up personal adjustments to create your own recipe that best suits your taste – or the type of coffee bean your are brewing. Breville has many different adjustable controls for all the espresso creating tasks. You easily set a grind size, temperature of the water, steam pressure for frothing and time of brewing. All these adjustments are digital, you just have to set a measure and get started.
For last, this Oracle has a quite compact build, even though it is a large machine that can prepare two cups simultaneously, meaning it will grind and brew the respective amounts of coffee beans and water necessary for that preparation at once. It’s design fits well any counter as there are no levers, but dialers, designed to save space, including the froth leveler.
DeLonghi Magnifica ESAM3500.N
You probably have seen several times DeLonghi among the best models of coffee machines in the market. They really have a name in the industry and that is not in vain. One of the best espresso machines for a while is the Magnifica. It got already several different versions, but the ESAM3500.N, or simply the Magnifica N is still one of their best releases.
This machine has a quite automated design to prepare milk-based coffee recipes. You can see the milk tank is designed juxtaposed to the brewing valve and that’s specific to prepare lattes and specially, cappuccinos. The Magnifica N can easily brew espressos for all tastes but, different from the Breville’s Oracle that has a standard Americano recipe, this DeLonghi machine does cappuccinos.
That doesn’t mean the frothing system here is mandatory as the whole machine also works with digital controllers so, you can select to brew one single or double espresso, set the strength, time of brewing and amount, grinding size of the coffee beans and let the frothing away for a pure espresso.
Similar to the Oracle, but with a design a bit more intrusive, Magnifica N is oriented to make things faster for a wide array of coffee recipes. Is important to note that, while both these two first machines of our list have this frothing oriented system, this DeLonghi offers a service more automated, so you can’t actually handle the quality of the frothing like you do with the Oracle. Once again is a matter of how you like to prepare your coffee.
Philips Saeco Intellia HD8753/87
Similarly to the Magnifica N espresso machine, Saeco is designed to make creamy coffee brews and also has an intrusive frothing milk system juxtaposed to the extraction valve. This espresso machine developed by Philips is quite famous, one of their most successful appliances with a quite popular rate. As our first two models, Saeco is also a high quality machine for the extraction of great espressos, and while it also offers an automatic cappuccino recipe, Philips developed a model that is quite focused on providing a great espresso in first place.
The built-in grinder has ceramic blades, to avoid any taste alterations that some quite exigent coffee lovers claim to feel with stainless steel blade grinders. All the extraction process also happens quite automated to make your life easier, but Philips offers a great digital interface to make your adjustments as accurate to your taste as possible. Their digital interface is also more friendly and visual than many other LCD displays, so the result is a configuration quite intuitive.
Everytime you create a preset, you can save it either on a single cup or double cup dosage. You can as well prepare the automatic cappuccino, but the machine gives you freedom to test and try your own combinations to prepare lattes, moccas and so many other recipes you may want.This espresso machine also has an automatic cleaning system to help you out even more, keeping the grinder burr, the frothing tank and water tank always clean.
Jura Ena Micro 1
Jura is another great name among coffee machines, they have been developing some of the best home espresso machines in the industry for many years, not to mention their very elegant and unique design that complements their Swiss high quality tradition. Ena is one of the most popular models these days developed by the brand, is a revamp of their successful C series, that include the C1000, one of the most popular models of espresso machines. But different from the C series, the Ena offers a single extraction valve, which makes it a more affordable machine, still with the high quality and refining of Jura’s design.
The only let down of this quite compact is the fact Jura Ena is highly automated. There are no controls for customization of the espresso extraction, and the machine is developed to favor high quality coffee beans as Jura is an excellent crema extractor.
If you meet these requirements, you will do just very well with Ena, a machine that is developed specially for espresso preparations as you may note, there are no frothing system included in this model.Customers that feel a bit phobic to modernism, Jura’s quite minimalist design can become a bother as it is a bit complicated to know where are its main controls, which are not many, but still, are mysterious to be found.
Breville BES870XL Barista Express
This second Breville of our list is a more rustic model compared to the Oracle, it is less automated, but that doesn’t mean it offers you more adjustments. The main difference though is the fact this espresso machine doesn’t have digital interfaces, rather digital controls.
The Barista Express has the same kind of compact design of Oracle, but all its controls are manual adjustments: grinding settings are adjusted through a dialer with graphic indicators, the espresso servings have single buttons – for either single or double serves, while the espresso dosing has a single setting, the Filter button, you can either adjust for single shot or double shot.
The only thing on the Barista Express that is unchangeable via controls is the temperature. Similar to the Jura machine, it is designed to brew a traditional espresso, so the temperature is not up for discussion, it is internally set to 200ºF (93ºC). Breville says you can, actually, change the default set inside the thermocoil of the machine, but this is something for people skilled on that matter and require you to dissemble the machine.
There is also a cleaning program to wash the grinding cradle. When it is required to clean, an indicator light will turn on, so you have to attach the cradle to the steam screw station and the machine will perform the hygienization for you. The machine also comes with a complementary cleaning kit to finish brushing residues, specially to clean the drip tray.
DeLonghi Compact Magnifica S ECAM23210B
One more DeLonghi on our list, the Compact Magnifica S is actually one of the most precious babies of DeLonghi. For many years this espresso machine was a hit and it only is outdoned in popularity by the latest Magnifica series (including the N model we have seen before here).
As the name suggest, Magnifica S is a compact version of the series, a small one, but it still offers all the key features of the most robust Magnifica machines and more. Particularly, many people consider this a superior model, specially because of a clever design. One the design difference that may be quite positive for some is the isolated frothing wand, different from the juxtaposed Magnifica N frothing system.
Here, people who prefer to froth the milk on their own will benefit from the separate frothing wand that is designed elegantly at the left edge of the espresso machine’s face.
The milk tank for sure can’t be seen here, which is a let down for those who prefer to have a visual check, on the other hand, Magnifica S has a sleek and much more elegant design and, with no milk tank on the front of the machine, there is space for serving two espressos at the same time, a big let down of the somehow clumsy design of the Magnifica N.
There is no automatic recipe for this machine, so it is a great way to go for those who prefer to keep it demure when it comes to automation and prepare their own milk-based coffees manually.
Speaking of which, the automated settings here are no little thing compared to the Magnifica N.
There is a good array of options to customize grinding and brewing spontaneously available at the big digital board face. This digital control board is much diverse, it may be easier for some and more confusing for others, depending on how you learn to deal with machines, having all the option in your face may be troubling to remember later, for others, learning steps on a digital display is the hard part, so is up to your ways.
Capresso Ultima Pro Espresso Maker
The last espresso machine of our list is a quite compact, somehow cute and the most affordable espresso machine of our list. Capresso is an American brand from New Jersey, and their machines are developed in the USA, even though they can still keep their products with a quite good cost-benefit.
The difference here from most of the machines we have seen is the capacity. Since it is a small, compact espresso machine, it doesn’t brew a lot of coffee at once, two single espresso shots per brewing and if yo want more you have to add more coffee beans and water. Even though it has its limitations – including the fact it does NOT include a built-in grinder – it still offers a frothing wand and digital controllers to start brewing or frothing.
Another great feature of this compact model is the steam pressure. There are many cheap espresso machines that work more like a drip brewing, but Capresso has the same 15bar of pressure that all previous espresso machines offer. That means you can grind high-quality coffee and brew it for a great crema extraction, one of the reasons why this affordable machine is successful.
BONUS Non-Automated Espresso Machine: La Pavoni PPG-16
To sum up our list, we included what is a classic model for traditional espresso machines, a La Pavoni leveler espresso machine. La Pavoni is, for itself, a quite traditional and renown Italian brand of professional espresso machines. People who seek for the best kind of classic Italian espresso will benefit a lot of this kind of machine, but it not really one to be handled easily.
Leveler machines require some hard work manual job. There is not built-in grinder, so the beans are processed separately, and then later you have to accommodate the ground coffee in the cradle and tamp it with strength to then release manually the steam pressure. If you are schooled on how to operate a leveler barista espresso machine, surely is the way to go, otherwise this will be quite a hard work and, perhaps, even dangerous if you don’t know how to properly handle the tamper.
The PPG-16 is one of the most refined models La Pavoni developed. It is all made of brass and has its distinctive golden look. Nothing here is automated, and the water takes a while to boils its tank has a capacity to brew 16-cups. No wonder this is a professional machine, oriented for commercial use. There is also a froth wand to make cappuccinos, lates and other milk-based coffee recipes, but all requires dexterity and a good knowledge of the machine and a smart eye on the pressure levels.
The reason this is the only non-automated machine we included in the list is the fact they are not really home oriented espresso machines, as we said, they require a barista professional knowledge and will be quite expensive – though, not more than the top automated barista machines we have seen on top of our list.
If you want to really step up on your game preparing espressos, this is one of the most accessible machines. If you are already schooled on professional appliances, this is one the latest and best rated La Pavoni models.
Quick Espresso Machine Purchase Guide
Even if you have purchased before an espresso machine, we have here some interesting tips that will enlighten you on your expertise about these appliances, specially if you are looking for a replacement for an older machine already deceased unfortunately, or if you are looking for something better, with a bigger budget. Espresso machines, like many kitchen appliances, evolve fast in the market. There are not radical changes from generation to generation, but some interesting features are important to know to keep on the right track for the ideal machine for you. Likewise, if you are quite a novice in this universe, you will benefit a lot of these tips as there is one thing that is really important to take into account when choosing a machine: your own preferences and taste. Check out what you must not miss to pair up with the right machine for your needs – if you are somehow already experienced, you can jump midway of this guide to get the more insightful tips.
What is an espresso machine?
An espresso machine works with the steam brewing method, this the most basic definition of an espresso itself, as the pressure of steam brews the coffee ground for an intense extraction that other methods can’t perform with the same efficiency.
To make use of steam, these machines work with pressure valves, have a quite meticulous and complex design of brewing, something that used to be much more laborious and complex with traditional espresso machines like the lever ones.
Espresso machines are actually an evolution of the classic stove top coffee makers, best known as moka pots. As the automation makes the work faster and easier, espresso machines also enable customized extractions, shots, servings and also enable frothing milk technologies.
What are the benefits of an espresso machine?
There are many advantages on buying an espresso machine, starting by the type of coffee you will get, what you will get from the coffee beans and the advantages compared to other kind of brewing methods and machines.
Espresso coffees are not only some sort of elitist standard for coffees, they are in fact one of the best preparations of coffee since they get all they can from the beans. This is the best way to enjoy a high-quality coffee bean. You’ll not want to purchase expensive and refined coffee to brew it with a dripping coffee brewer, where you will loose a lot of flavor and nutrients. For that reasons, espresso machine won’t work well either with cheap coffee as the result can end up quite spoiled.
The extraction with steam pressure enables the brewing to pull most of the nutrients and specially the coffee oil in a rich compound. Pressure is the only way to create a deep infusion, while the preparation will get ready fast and can be enjoyed fast, before the coffee can start cooling down and loosing its flavors and tastes. There is one thing that signals high quality extraction of coffee: the production of crema. We will take in depth about it later as it is something also very important when you are brewing an espresso.
Espresso machines allow you the material source to prepare many kinds of coffee, like cappucinos, moccas, lattes and many others. The espresso is always the bottom line of these coffee preparations, but most espresso machines also come with frothing milk wands so you can make it all at the same time. While there are many frothing systems that work quite together with the extraction of the espresso, many have separate froth wands that allow you to have more freedom when preparing your mixes.
If you want a good cup of espresso, things get much easier when you have an automated machine. Espresso machines are mostly semi-automated (without a built-in grinder) or totally automated. Not everybody has the time or patience to learn how to be a great barista with more manual machines, so these sturdy beauties make all that hard work for you.
This is a topic a bit complex to unravel because it all depends on your standards and your expectations. Espresso machines are for sure the most expensive in the market, and that is simply fair because they do a lot of things and have at least four different kinds of systems entrenched into one single machine. They are designed to work with refined coffee beans, so you have already the expensive machine and the expensive coffee.
That all means, on other words, you will be getting the best, and you will be paying for it, if your standards for coffee are that refined and you are really a coffee aficionado, it is the way to go.
Other types of machines can be much more affordable, but they have a lot of cons that can even make you spend more money on the long term, for example, Nespresso alike machines require you to purchase the coffee pods forever, they are expensive and they don’t even have the best kind of coffee processed – after all, is an industrial coffee already ground and infused with artificial flavors.
Dripping machines can prepare refined coffee beans, but you will lose most of the essential oils of the coffee in the paper filter, not to mention all nutrients that won’t be extracted only with hot water, so is like throwing money in the garbage as the coffee beans will be wasted, you will be toasting your money because you do not want to pay for an equally good machine.
You will not need to be in the mood for a coffee to use your espresso machine. As they have steam services, frothing and boiling, you can use them to prepare teas, boil milk or just have a jar of hot water for any other need.
What should I look for on the best espresso machine?
This section is relevant for both experienced and new users of espresso machines. There is more for choosing the ideal machine than just the services it offer, but how they do offer and what kind of new features they are including these days to make these machines better than previous models.
One of the main issues operating espresso machines is the aftermath of preparing an espresso. Many models we included here have auto-cleaning programs, so you can make use of the steam of the machine to clean it easily and save time performing the maintenance of the appliance. If they don’t offer at all any auto-cleaning services or are not that much complete, these machines should at least be simple to disassemble and include cleaning kits.
The grinder burr requires a quite precise and intensive cleaning. The coffee hopper requires cleaning from time to time as the coffee oil will start to clog the beans and even possibly proliferate microorganisms. The same goes for the milk tank. Many machines include a water steam cleaning system for them, but if that’s not the case, you will have to wash it with dish soap and water.
Metallic burrs vs. Ceramic burrs:
You have noticed that only one of the espresso machines in our list has a ceramic burr. That’s not because they are worse than stainless steel, the most common material for it, but because ceramic is more expensive and quite tricky.
Some advocates of traditional coffee say that metallic alloys like steel clog more oil and “steal” some of it from the final extraction, while ceramic is less reactive with the coffee oil. The result is espressos with a better texture for ceramic burrs than stainless steel.
On the other hand, ceramic burrs when get damaged mean total lost of the machine, the whole equipment must be replaced as it is very hard to substitute the burr – however, is quite hard that scenario may happen.
Either this is your first espresso machine or one of many you have already purchases, warranty policies are always something that must not be skipped and neglected when it comes to espresso machines.
Two companies may offer a standard 2 year warranty, or a premium 5-year warranty, but one can offer a partial cover only on the machine or burr, the other a complete cover, and so on. There are many different scenarios possible, and there are even lifetime – limited though – warranty policies. Depending on the machine you are purchasing is important to keep an strict eye on these limitations.
What is the secret to brew an outstanding espresso with an espresso machine?
Standards of the machine:
First and foremost, an espresso machine must not take too long to boil the water and gather enough pressure to start brewing. This is important because the grinding happens a little bit before this process start, and the beans will be already processed and exposed, the faster the process of grinding and then extracting happens, the better the essential oils of the coffee are conserved – and not clogged around.
All the machines we included in this list have at least a 15bar of pressure and they have a home capacity tanks – from 1.8 to 2L – so they heat up fast enough. The only exception is the Caspresso machine, which has a 1L tank and will actually heat up really fast.
High-quality coffee beans:
It’s useless to covet a premium espresso machine if you are not going to invest the same rigor for the coffee beans. Most importantly, you have to purchase beans and not pre-ground coffee. Only with refined beans you will be able to obtain an authentic espresso. One of the ways for you to detect you did a successful extraction is checking the production of crema. For those who are novices here, crema is the softer, lighter layer that floats over the dark coffee extraction.
A good extraction produces a crema at least 1/5 of the thickness of the whole serve, and it is often a light amber color. When it is too dark or too thin, it means you didn’t a very great job, and that may be part due to bad coffee beans, or a wrong grinding size, or the machine not brewing properly. The crema looks like a milk foam, but there is not milk at all involved at this point. It is simply the essential oil of the coffee mixed with bubbles.
Warm ambient, cups and tray:
There is nothing more puke inducing than drinking a tepid good coffee. The extraction of coffee, depending on what you are brewing, as the size of the ground coffee, servings and the size of serving, can take one to two minutes. If you are running this process inside a cold kitchen, the experience is already getting spoiled. As espresso shots are not a coffee pot, you don’t need to much to cool them down to a point they get spoiled.
Place your espresso machine in an ambient with a normal ambient temperature and, as you have probably seen already on restaurants, keep the cups pre heated so they don’t steal the coffee heat and help to cool it down faster than expected. You can even make use of the hot water from the machine to heat up the trays so they don’t cool down the cups. This kind of precaution seems crazy, but specially during cold seasons, all extra heat helps a lot.
For last, and it also works as a first, don’t try to experiment too much if you don’t really have a high level of expertise on coffee grounds and flavors. Each type of coffee works well with specific guidelines of preparation, some will be great with a coarse grinding but others will be terrible with that same measure. It goes also from strength of extraction – some coffee varieties are naturally a strong bitter, shortening it even more will lead to a terrible outcome.
Most respectful coffee brands offer their guidelines for customers just like any product, follow it strictly, and from this on you should try to adventure yourself testing different approaches if you think what you got is not good enough. Brewing espressos in the dark can lead to a lot of waste of good coffee – as well as waste of your money.
We hope we got it all covered for you, from the best espresso machines to how you can know they are the best for you, either if you are beginning or if you are looking for another espresso machine that works great. Many of these models are in the market for many years, but they are still a top choice for 2016, as a symbol of their quality and efficiency. As a matter of reference, you can dive further into the series of these machines as they have other similar models with slight differences. Surely we could not include all of them, but the most relevant sources for you to research deep are here.