Our testers scouted out hundreds of espresso machines in 2019 before picking the best 16 for a series of side-side-tests. An at-home espresso machine can streamline your morning routine and save you some money in the process. However, there is a sense of mystery and magic that surrounds the espresso making process, which can make the thought of doing it yourself a bit daunting. We've found that more effort generally means a better shot or cappuccino, but there are certainly super convenient options that can make a good morning pick-me-up. So wherever you fall on the effort vs taste spectrum, we can help you find the countertop caffeine contraption of your dreams.
The Best Espresso Machines of 2019
$1,299.00 at Amazon
$579.99 at Amazon
$499.95 at Amazon
$379.99 at Amazon
$884.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Excellent espresso and milk steaming, can pull and steam simultaneously, multiple programmable features, relatively user friendly||Great taste, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos||Great taste, exceptional lattes and cappuccinos, mostly automated milk steaming||Great taste, great milk steaming||Incredibly convenient and easy to use, good taste|
|Cons||Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve||Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve||Expensive, no built-in grinder||Has a learning curve, no pressure gauge to help beginners, no grinder||Expensive list price|
|Bottom Line||A great choice for those that want the best possible at-home espresso quality, but comes at a hefty price||A perfect choice for those that don’t mind putting in a little work to get the best tasting shot||A top-notch machine that offers the best (mostly) automated milk steaming we've found||Good choice for experienced baristas that already have a good grinder||A great choice for those looking for the easiest brew at home option, and that don't mind spending a little extra|
|Rating Categories||Breville the Dual...||Breville Barista...||Breville Bambino...||Breville Duo Temp...||Gaggia Anima...|
|Ease Of Use (30%)|
|Ease Of Cleaning (15%)|
|Milk Steaming (15%)|
|Specs||Breville the Dual...||Breville Barista...||Breville Bambino...||Breville Duo Temp...||Gaggia Anima...|
|Dimensions||14.7" x 14.8" x 14.7"||13.2" x 12.5" x 16"||7.7" x 12.6" x 12.2"||15.5" x 13.3" x 17.6"||16.9" x 8.7" x 13.4"|
|Warranty||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited|
|Milk Frother||Steam Wand||Steam Wand||Automatic Steam Wand||Steam Wand||Automatic|
|Cost per Shot||$0.45||$0.47||$0.47||$0.47||$0.38|
|Lifetime Cost per Shot||$1.08||$0.72||$0.72||$0.64||$0.84|
|Cost per Latte||$0.73||$0.75||$0.75||$0.75||$0.66|
|Straight Shot - Percentage cost vs. Cafe||15%||16%||16%||16%||13%|
|Latte - Percentage Cost vs. Cafe||15%||15%||15%||15%||13%|
|Number of Cafe Replacement Shots to Make p list price||588||237||237||158||420|
|Number of Cafe replacement lattes to make up list price||351||141||141||94||253|
Best for Most At-Home Baristas
Breville Barista Express
For those that truly want to recreate a cafe latte or cappuccino at home, and are willing to put in a little practice to do so, the Breville Barista Express is the best option we've found. It is one of the least expensive machines that can compete with the quality of the multi-thousand dollar machines you'll find at most coffee shops. Additionally, the built-in grinder and convenient pressure gauge make things a bit easier for those that are just learning the art of espresso, and the pre-infusion feature is a bit more forgiving on beginners who are just learning the skills of tamping coffee into a portafilter. What really sets this machine apart from others is its steam wand, which is one of the few we've found on a consumer machine that can create the microfoam needed to produce a creamy, cafe-level latte.
Apart from the relatively high price tag (which unfortunately isn't too outrageous in the world of espresso machines), the only real downside to the Barista Express is the extra effort it takes compared to other machines. The classic brewing process results in a great shot of espresso, but also requires that you manually grind, tamp, and brew the coffee, and that you manually steam the milk as well. If you're a newcomer, it will inevitably take a bit of time to get all these new skills dialed. If that amount of effort seems like too much for a groggy morning, you might want to check out the much more convenient Gaggia Anima Prestige or the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro. But if you're after the best at-home latte and don't mind putting in a little bit of sweat equity to get there, this is definitely the machine for you.
Read review: Breville Barista Express
Best for Serious At-Home Baristas
Breville the Dual Boiler
For those that truly want to bring all of the capabilities of a professional-grade machine into their kitchen, and that are willing to pay a premium for it, the Breville Dual Boiler is one of the best options on the market. This literal and figurative giant consistently pulled cafe-quality shots and steamed creamy, luscious milk in our testing. As the name suggests it also has two boilers that allow you to both brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously. This not only cuts down on the time it takes to make a latte, it makes everything taste better because you can pour freshly steamed milk into a freshly brewed shot instead of letting one degrade on the counter while you make the other. Despite this impressive pedigree, the Dual Boiler keeps its user experience fairly straightforward and dare we say beginner-friendly. Yes, you'll need to learn to grind and tamp coffee and steam milk manually, but an intuitive interface and helpful feedback provided by an LCD display and pressure gauge make those processes feel a bit easier than they do with some other semi-automatic machines.
The glaringly obvious downside of the Dual Boiler is its borderline astronomical price tag. And that price doesn't even take into account the fact that you'll need to purchase a separate coffee grinder as well. For most people that are looking to make high-quality lattes at home, we think the Breville Barista Express and its built-in grinder will get you there for a more reasonable cost. However, if you're willing to pay a hefty premium for that extra bit of performance that brings you into true cafe-level capacity, the Dual Boiler won't disappoint.
Read review: Breville Dual Boiler
Top Pick for Convenient Cappuccinos
Gaggia Anima Prestige
We get it, some mornings you just don't want to deal with grinders and gauges to get your caffeine fix. That's where the Gaggia Anima Prestige comes in. At the push of a button, it grinds, tamps, and brews the coffee for you. It can even automatically steam and dispense some milk if you want to turn that espresso shot into a cappuccino. Apart from cleaning the milk dispenser and clearing out the spent grinds periodically, the Prestige requires almost no effort to get your morning caffeine fix. It also lets you use fresh coffee beans, which both improves the taste of the espresso and makes this a better value in the long run when compared to the similarly convenient pod machines.
The clear gut punch that comes with the Prestige is its high price tag. Sure it often sells for a bit less than its list price, but that's still quite an investment. The espresso drinks it produces also aren't quite as tasty as those made with the Breville Barista Express, which costs significantly less. However, it can still make quite a good cappuccino, and if you're willing to pay extra to make that cappuccino incredibly convenient, you're not going to be disappointed with the Prestige.
Read review: Gaggia Anima Prestige
Top Pick for Straight Espresso Shot Convenience
For those looking for the most convenient espresso shot possible, the Nespresso Inissia is hard to beat. Its capsule system allows for espresso at the push of a button (okay, you have to load in a pod first, but close enough). Cleanup involves occasionally disposing of ([and ideally recycling) the spent capsules. This is by far the fastest and easiest way to get a shot of espresso in the morning.
Unfortunately, you do have to make some sacrifices for this convenience. Though Nespresso's aluminum capsules do generally make for a better taste than plastic pods, they are both more expensive and don't taste as good as fresh coffee beans. Also, the Inissia doesn't have any way to froth or steam milk. If you want to make a cappuccino you'll have to buy, and clean, a separate milk frother, which kind of negates the convenience. However, for quick and easy espresso shots in the morning, this is the fastest and most user-friendly machine we've tested.
Read review: Nespresso Inissia
Best Portable Espresso Machine
Wacaco MiniPresso GR
Once you've been indoctrinated to the luxury of fresh espresso every morning, it can be hard to give it up when you're on the road. For those extended camping or road trips the Wacaco MiniPresso GR provides a portable and relatively easy way to get your espresso fix. All you need is hot water and you can pull a pretty decent shot anywhere you happen to find yourself. Plus, it weighs less than a pound, so it won't weigh you down.
Obviously, no portable contraption will be able to match the quality of much more expensive countertop machines, so you do have to temper your expectations just a bit. It also takes a bit of practice to both pump the plunger and aim the stream of espresso into your cup. If you're looking for a portable machine that can also froth milk, the STARESSO SP-200 is a decent choice, though we did experience some issues with its pump jamming after repeated use.
Read review: Wacaco MiniPresso GR
Great for Experienced Baristas and Aficionados
The Rancilio Silvia is the closest thing we've found to a professional level machine that is made for consumers. It provides superb pressure to the brew head, making it feel much more powerful and capable than its size and stature would have you think. The steam wand is also exceptional, providing the capability to create nice, creamy microfoam.
There are a few things that make the Silvia a poor choice for beginners. First, it does not have a built-in grinder, so you'll have to buy a separate one. Second, there is no pressure gauge, which would provide helpful feedback for beginners. Finally, there is no pre-infusion feature, which means you have to get a nice even tamp to get a good shot. All of these things are no sweat for experienced baristas, but could certainly flummox and frustrate a beginner. But if you already have some barista skills, this machine will be a great addition to your kitchen.
Read review: Rancilio Silvia
Best Automated Milk Steaming
Breville Bambino Plus
For a lot of people that dream of making cafe-quality cappuccinos and lattes at home, milk steaming is the thing that stops them in their tracks. While steaming milk manually with a steam wand isn't an incredibly difficult process, it can certainly be a bit intimidating and is understandably something that many people don't want to add to their already rushed morning routines. If you fall into this boat the Breville Bambino Plus is a great choice. Its steam wand is mostly automated, you just have to pour milk into a pitcher, toss it under the steam wand, select your desired level of foam and temperature, and press a button. The resulting milk has much better texture and taste than milk from any other automated frother, and in our opinion is the best way to recreate your favorite cafe drink at home without a crash course in manual milk steaming.
The biggest downside to the Bambino, apart from its high price, is the lack of a built-in grinder. This means you'll have to purchase a high-quality, espresso-worthy grinder as well, which makes the Bambino one of the more costly at-home espresso options overall. However, if you're looking for that optimal mixture of quality and convenience and don't mind paying a bit extra for it, the Bambino will definitely up your morning coffee game.
Read review: Breville Bambino Plus
Why You Should Trust Us
[Michelle Powell, our in-house coffee expert, has spent over a decade working in the Specialty Coffee industry. That journey has seen her train with such hallmark establishments as Blue Bottle Coffee and Four Barrel Coffee, as well as compete multiple times in the Southwest Regional Barista Competition. Having made tens of thousands of lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, Michelle is the cornerstone of our espresso machine testing and evaluation. Max Mutter has been testing and writing about coffee related paraphernalia at TechGearLab for over four years, having now used more than 100 Espresso machines, grinders, and coffee makers.
For this review we bought the best and most well regarded machine's on the market (we buy all of our products at full price, we don't take any freebies from manufacturers). We then spent nearly 200 hours getting dangerously caffeinated, pulling more than 50 shots and steaming more than 30 pitchers of milk with each machine, all while paying close attention to the results produced, the user friendliness, and ease of cleaning of each model.
Related: How We Tested Espresso Machines
Analysis and Test Results
Once the sole domain of experienced baristas wielding large, heavy machines, it is now easier than ever to make espresso at home. The current offering of espresso machines has largely split into two camps: one for those that value convenience over taste and another for those that value taste over all else. Whichever camp you fall into our testing results will be able to guide you towards the right machine.
Related: Buying Advice for Espresso Machines
If an espresso machine is actually going to keep you from spending a few dollars on a latte every morning it must 1) produce good tasting espresso and 2) be easy and simple to use. Consequently half of our testing focused on how good each machine's final products tasted (taking both the espresso and steamed milk into account), while the other half focused on how easy the machines were to use and clean. The following sections detail the results of those individual tests.
Are These Machines Cheaper Than a Cafe?
Across the board these machines can make a shot of espresso or latte for much less than you'd pay in a cafe. If you're a daily latte drinker, even the most expensive machines can make up their cost within a year. You can read more of our thoughts about the finances of these machines, and if they'll really save you money in practice, in the cost section at the end of this article.
Considering solely the upfront cost of each machine, we think the Breville Barista Express offers the best quality to cost ratio of all the machines on the market, offering cafe-level drinks at a cost that isn't too exorbitant, but it does require that you learn to brew espresso and steam milk manually. If you're looking for automated milk steaming the Breville Bambino Plus is a great choice and a good overall value, though it doesn't have a built-in grinder, so you'll have to factor that extra cost into your calculations. Plus, you still have to brew the espresso manually. For those that want a completely automated experience, we think the Gaggia Anima Prestige is the best of the bunch, though that automation inevitably comes at a price.
Espresso is like wine: some will notice subtle differences in taste that can make or break a drink, while others feel it all tastes the same. To cover this spread we enlisted a diverse group of taste testers ranging from casual coffee drinkers to people who've owned an espresso machine for a few years, to professional coffee roasters. We had all of these testers drink both straight espresso and cappuccinos and lattes prepared using each machine, asking them to consider things like texture, mouthfeel, and overall taste. We then deliberated the relative qualities of each machine's offerings. Somehow that discussion got quite animated and energetic…
There were five machines we tested that we felt could truly rival the quality of cafe espresso. Breville dominates this field with the Dual Boiler, the Barista Express, the Bambino Plus, and the Duo Temp Pro leading the pack. The Rancilio Silvia was the only non-Breville machine to make it into this top group. In our testing these machines were all able to make that rich, creamy, bold espresso that quenches a cafe craving. All also have capable steam wands that can make the sweet, velvety steamed milk that anchors any latte. This taste does come at the cost of convenience, as all of these machines are semi-automatic. This means you'll need to grind, tamp, and brew the espresso manually.
All of the super-automatic (read: fully automated) machines we tested were tightly packed in terms of the tastiness of their brews, with the machines that used whole beans slightly besting the single serving capsule systems. Four different machines scored 7 out of 10 in this metric, putting them noticeably but not terribly far behind the top scoring offerings from Breville. In general, these machines make drinks that are good, but you're probably not going to be able to convince anybody that they came from a coffee shop. The Gaggia Brera's espresso had a good taste, but some testers felt it was slightly watery and a bit weak, even when it was set to produce its most robust shot. The steam wand was able to froth milk well and make a good cappuccino, but fell slightly short of that perfect latte worthy steamed milk. The Gaggia Anima Prestige performed very similarly to its sibling. Its espresso had a nice taste but was slightly watery with the shot getting thin towards the end of extraction. The milk drinks it made were very similar to the Brera's, but with the added convenience of an automatic milk frother.
Also in the 7 out of 10 group, the De'Longhi Magnifica's offerings were nice and creamy but slightly on the weak and watery side. The steam wand was able to make a nice amount of foam for a cappuccino, but the milk's texture wasn't quite velvety enough to get that perfect latte. The De'Longhi EC685M made similar espresso that was just on the weak side of perfect. Its steam wand was also similar, excelling at cappuccinos but leaving just a little something lacking when it came to lattes.
Nespresso has had a bit of a stranglehold on the capsule espresso market for a while now (just ask George Clooney) and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. Based on our tests that dominance is well earned, as we found the Nespresso pods to produce a bolder and richer flavor than any of their capsule-based rivals. That being said, we think these shots are still a bit weaker and more watery than those that come from most non-pod machines, but they're good enough that the convenience will make up for that wateriness for many people. We've found that Nespresso capsules produce nearly identical results, regardless of what machine you're using.
Some Nespresso machines provide an option for steaming milk, but the Inissia and Evoluo notably do not. Both can often be purchased in a bundle with the Epica Milk Frother. However, we've found this frother to be much less effective than a steam wand. It can make some very aerated milk for a dry cappuccino, however.
At the bottom of our taste test results was the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista, which scored a 3 out of 10. No matter how much we tinkered we couldn't get it to produce anything but very burnt and bitter tasting espresso. Its automatic milk frother created decent foam, but could not rescue the bad taste of the espresso.
Ease of Use
Apart from taste, ease of use is the most important aspect of a home espresso machine. If your machine isn't easy to use it will end up rusting in an appliance graveyard instead of providing your morning caffeine indulgence. We tested ease of use by making an unhealthy amount of espresso on each machine, paying close attention to the intuitiveness of each interface. We also conducted cappuccino time trials to see how long each machine forces you to wait for your mandatory morning caffeine boost.
When it comes to convenience, it's hard to beat the push-button-get-espresso functionality of the Nespresso Evoluo. Literally, all you have to do is turn the machine on, insert a capsule, and push a button. The machine even has a barcode reader that adjusts its settings based on the type of capsule you inserted. The only downside is that you'll need to get a separate milk frother if you want milk drinks. This simplicity earned it a score of 9 out of 10.
The only machine that could match the Evoluo's user friendliness was the Gaggia Anima Prestige. This Super Automatic machine really only requires you to put fresh coffee beans in the hopper and fill up its milk jug. Then, at the push of a few buttons, the machine grinds, tamps, and brews the coffee, and froths the milk, resulting in the most hassle free home cappuccino you can imagine.
Of the semi-automatic machines we tested, we found the Breville Dual Boiler to be the easiest to use. Its intuitive interface, pressure gauge, LCD screen, and forgiving steam wand make the process of manually making a latte feel a bit less daunting.
Rounding out the group of top scorers was the other single serving capsule machines we tested. The Nespresso Inissia scored an 8 out of 10. It features the most simple and straightforward operation of any of the models we tested. Just insert a capsule and press one button if you want a normal shot and another button if you want a long shot. It didn't score a 9 because that two button simplicity makes it very difficult to make any adjustments if you're not satisfied with the factory setting, and the user manual left a little to be desired. The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro also scored an 8 in this metric. Its use of capsules again makes operation very simple, and we were able to make a cappuccino with the built-in automatic milk frother in less than 2 minutes. It missed out on a higher score because its buttons are only labeled with symbols that aren't completely obvious, so it requires a little manual reading and memorization.
Just behind the top scorers in our ease of use testing was the Gaggia Brera, which earned a 7 out of 10. Its super-automatic functionality meant making espresso was straightforward and simple. It lost some points because using its built-in steam wand pushed its cappuccino making time over 4 minutes, and its buttons aren't intuitively labeled and take a minute to get used to.
Once you drop from super-automatic to semi-automatic you generally have to grind, tamp, and brew the espresso yourself. Of these kinds of machines, we found Breville's the easiest to use. Accordingly, they all fell just behind the super-automatic machines with scores of 6 out of 10. The Barista Express is our favorite of the bunch, as it has a convenient pressure gauge that visually lets you know if you in the right range in terms of grind size and tamping pressure. Though neither the Bambino Plus nor the Duo Temp Pro have this, it's easy enough to time that the espresso starts pouring within the suggested 7-10second window after pressing the brew button. The Bambino Plus even has an automated milk wand that makes milk drinks a breeze.
The De'Longhi Magnifica, which also earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric, offers all the espresso-at-a-button-press convenience of a super-automatic machine. However, its steam wand is manual, and not quite as powerful (and thus as user-friendly) as the wands on the Breville machines. Its buttons are also a bit cryptically labeled, so they take a few go-arounds to get acquainted with.
The De'Longhi EC685M operates in a very similar fashion to the Breville, and accordingly earned the same score of 6 out of 10. It takes a bit of learned to properly grind, dose, and tamp the coffee. The EC685M also does not have a built-in grinder, so you'll either have to buy a nice one suitable for espresso, or buy very finely pre-ground coffee. The milk wand also takes some practice, but yields some decent results once you get the hang of it.
Again at the bottom of the score sheet was the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista, which scored a 4 out of 10. It has a decent interface, but its water tank is very tall and difficult to fill in shallower sinks. Its portafilter is also quite difficult to clean, which pushed its cappuccino making time up to 5 minutes. Not to mention it requires the use of a separate coffee grinder.
Ease of Cleaning
Morning routines are generally better when they are as time efficient as possible. If a machine requires a bunch of extra rinsing and scrubbing it can derail your morning prep and negate any gains you may get from some high-octane espresso. We made hundreds of shots with each machine we tested, taking careful notes on the cleanup that was required each and every time (we're talking cleaning portafilters, wiping steam wands, emptying drip trays, et cetera). We also ran each machine through its long-term descaling process at least twice, both timing the process and noting any annoyances that arose. Descaling removes the mineral buildup that is synonymous with heating water over and over, and must be completed every 2-6 months, depending on how hard your water is.
Three models shared the top of our ease of cleaning podium, all receiving a score of 8 out of 10. The Nespresso Inissia's capsule system leaves almost no cleanup unless you use a separate milk frother to make a milk drink. Its descaling process only took 15 minutes and was fairly straightforward when using the included instructions. The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro also has a cleanup free capsule system. The descaling process was easy and all parts of the automatic milk frother are dishwasher safe (and it can be stored in the fridge to negate the need for daily cleaning). the De'Longhi Magnifica was the only non-capsule machine to grace the top upper tier of our ease of cleaning testing. This was largely due to its super simple and automated descaling process, and the fact that its steam wand breaks down into multiple pieces, making it easy to clean all the nooks and crannies. The only downside is that none of its parts are dishwasher safe.
The Nespresso Evoluo fell slightly behind the other capsule machines in our ease of cleaning testing, scoring a 7 out of 10. Like its compadres, it requires essentially zero daily cleaning, unless you use a separate frother to make milk drinks. It lost points for its descaling process, which took us over 35 minutes and went through so much water it became a hands-on process for refilling the water tanks and making sure things weren't overflowing.
The Gaggia Anima Prestige also scored a 7. Its automatic milk frother can be stored in the fridge to avoid daily cleanings, and every part of it except the tank (which is easy to clean by hand) are dishwasher safe. It descaling process is also easy. The only downside is that the drip tray fills up more quickly than other machines, so it requires a bit more frequent emptying and cleaning.
The final model to earn a 7 out of 10 after our cleaning testing was the De'Longhi EC685M. Emptying and wiping out its portafilter was always quite easy and pain free, and the steam wand quickly disassembles, making rinsing and wiping all of its nooks and crannies a breeze. The only place where the EC685M was a bit of a chore was its descaling process. While straightforward and well explained in the directions, descaling took us 27 minutes and required our attention for most of that time.
Earning a 6 out of 10 in our ease of cleaning testing, the Gaggia Brera was generally easy to tidy up, but did present us with a couple of challenges. Namely, the steam wand tended to get some buildup on the inside of the spout, requiring some diligent scrubbing when used often. The descaling process also took over 40 minutes and required a lot of hands on attention. Apart from that, day-to-day use doesn't require too much cleaning effort.
Thanks to fairly similar designs, all of the Breville models we tested earned the same score of 6 out of 10 in this metric. The portafilters and steam wands that all of these machines use require a bit more rinsing and wiping down than their super-automatic cousins. They also all have drip trays that tend to fill up rather quickly, so you'll have to empty them more often than with some other machines. However, all offer fairly straightforward descaling processes, so long-term cleaning doesn't feel onerous. Overall, these machines take a bit more cleaning effort than super-automatic machines, but for most people the gains in taste quality will be more than worth it.
The lowest score in this metric was a 5 out of 10, awarded to the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista and the Gaggia Classic Pro. You can take the steam wand off the Mr. Coffeeand toss it in the dishwasher, which is nice. However, the portafilter tends to accumulate some hard to scrub buildup and the descaling process is a bit involved. The Gaggia has a very shallow drip tray, and it tends to drip coffee out of the portafilter and milk off of the steam wand, resulting in a mess that requires a significant amount of cleaning with every use.
When many people think of espresso they don't think of straight shots, they think of cappuccinos and lattes. That's why for this metric we specifically focused on each machine's ability to create different textures of steamed milk, as many people will value milk texturing abilities more than espresso making prowess. During our testing we attempted to make everything from the velvety microfoam that creates a creamy latte, to the fluffy foam that defines a dry cappuccino, and every iteration between. Our main conclusion: if you want great milk you'll have to learn to use a manual steam wand, but the automated options are ever so slowly catching up.
If you're looking for the perfect latte steamed milk that can create latte art, the Breville Barista Express and its sibling, the duo Temp Pro, can satisfy those mandates. Accordingly, both these machines scored a 9 out of 10 in this metric. Their steam wands take a bit of practice, but once you find the sweet spot you can create delightfully creamy steamed milk with just a hint of foam on top, exactly what the most exacting milk steamers will be looking for. The only Machine that matched this quality in our testing was the Rancilio Silvia, which is a great machine if you already know how to pull a shot but is frustratingly difficult to use for beginners.
Earning an 8 out of 10 in our milk steaming testing, the Breville Bambino Plus is far and away the best performer when it comes to automated milk steaming. With just the touch of a few buttons it creates a creamy, sweet texture that rivals what you'll get from a cafe. For those that want high-quality espresso drinks at home but don't want to learn how to steam milk manually, this is the machine for you.
After the Breville we had a second tier of machines, all of which scored a 7 out of 10. These machines generally could create steamed milk with a decent texture and some nice fluffy frothed milk, though with some imperfections. The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro and the Gaggia Anima Prestige both have automatic milk frothers that are very consistent and create well-frothed milk, but the bubbles in the foam are a bit larger than the ideal 'microfoam' that creates the perfect cappuccino topping. The steamed milk from these machines tastes more like milk that was heated in a microwave rather than having the velvety texture we were hoping for.
The Gaggia Brera and the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista both scored a 6 in this metric. The Gaggia Brera's steam wand creates a nice foam when frothing, but the foam bubbles were larger, making it feel less creamy than the foam produced by the higher scoring models. It could steam milk fairly well but lacked the nice texture we were looking for, and we could never get that small layer of foam on top that is indicative of perfectly steamed milk. The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista produced similar steamed and frothed milk, though it did so with a more convenient automatic frother.
The Gaggia Classic earned a 3 out of 10 in this metric. It tends to overly aerate milk, making very fluffy foam. This is ok if you like a very dry cappuccino, but otherwise it likely won't please most people's texture palette. The portable STARESSO also earned a 3. Its manual pump produces similarly fluffy, dry foam.
Are These Machines Cheaper Than a Cafe?
The basic answer to that question is yes. All of the machines we tested can both pull a shot of espresso and make a latte for much less than what you'd pay at a cafe. In fact, even the least cost effective machines can produce a latte for just a quarter of the average cafe cost.
Even when you take the cost of the machines themselves into account, things are generally cheaper than a cafe in the long run. Most of the models we tested make up their upfront costs if you replace 100-150 cafe lattes with made-at-home lattes. At the extreme end of the spectrum, the impressively pricey Breville Dual Boiler makes up its cost in 351 lattes, with that figure rising to more like 375 if you add a top-tier grinder into the mix. That may seem like a lot, but if you replace your morning cafe latte run with an at home latte, you make up your investment in a little more than a year.
So, theoretically any of the machines we tested can save you money when compared to going to a cafe, but does that work out in practice? If you're one that runs into a cafe every morning hoping the line is short so you can grab your latte and quickly run to the office, then yes. If you replace that routine with an at-home espresso machine you're almost definitely going to save some money in the long run (and maybe even some time). However, we've found that many people want an espresso machine because they fell in love with lattes while relaxing in a cozy cafe and enjoying the ambiance. We can say from experience that while making quality espresso at home can satisfy part of that craving, you'll probably still find yourself in a cafe from time to time. If you fall into this latter camp, you might need to think of at-home espresso as a luxury rather than a money-saving strategy.
Making espresso at home is a very attainable luxury that can make your life feel surprisingly more decadent. For a bit of an investment and possibly some practice you can cut down on morning coffee runs, vastly improve lazy Sunday mornings, and ease the pain the morning after you've had a few too many. We hope that our testing results have helped you navigate the sometimes intimidating, always delicious world of espresso, and brought some morning magic into your kitchen.
— Michelle Powell, Max Mutter and Steven Tata