Tired of waiting in line for your latte fix? We bought 12 of the most popular home espresso machines available and put them through the paces, side-by-side, to find which ones can satisfy your caffeine cravings. Making espresso at home can be daunting for a newcomer, especially with espresso machines coming in so many shapes and sizes, and ranging widely in price. Luckily we've done all the hard work for you, closely inspecting and testing every aspect of these machines, and reaching dangerous levels of jitteriness during our taste tests. With our testing results you'll be able to find the machine that most closely aligns with your budget, taste preferences, and preferred balance of convenience and control.
The Best Espresso Machines of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
Our previous Best Buy Award winner, the Gaggia Brera, has raised its list price. We still love that machine, but no longer feel that it represents a particularly good value. Unfortunately, we haven't found a suitable replacement that offers a truly great bang for the buck. The one partial exception is the new De'Longhi EC685M, which is a great value if you already have a good coffee grinder capable of producing a fine espresso grind.
Best Overall Espresso Machine
Breville Barista Express
If you're really looking to create a cafe quality cappuccino at home, the Breville Barista Express is the best way to achieve that goal. It does have a slight learning curve, but once you get dialed in this machine can create caffeinated elixirs that are nearly indistinguishable from those you'd get at the local cafe. The machine itself has a streamlined user interface and useful gauges that help you through the initial learning process. It also has the best consumer steam wand we've tested, which is its secret to amazing cappuccinos and lattes. If you're looking for more foolproof operation, we'd suggest checking out the push-button-get-coffee functionality of the Gaggia Anima Prestige and De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro. Both these machines are incredibly easy to use, but do come with a slight sacrifice in taste quality.
Read review: Breville Barista Express
Top Pick for Ease Of Use
Gaggia Anima Prestige
The Gaggia Anima Prestige was the most convenient machine in our review. The Anima Prestige grinds, tamps, and extracts espresso shots while simultaneously steaming milk. With super-automatic functionality and fully automatic milk steaming, you can make several different kinds of espresso drinks with the push of a button. Aside from regular cleaning and periodic descaling the Anima Prestige requires very little effort and is the second most convenient option from hiring a personal barista. It features four pre-programmed drink settings; espresso, espresso lungo, cappuccino, and latte macchiato. Though you have much more control with the Barista Express and Silvia, the Anima Prestige consistently produces great-tasting drinks with a minimal amount of effort.
Read review: Gaggia Anima Prestige
Top Pick for Straight Espresso Shot Convenience
If you want the quickest shot and least amount of cleanup afterward, the Nespresso Inissia is for you. Its capsule system lets you drop in a pod, push one button, and end up with a shot of espresso a couple of minutes later. The only cleanup required is washing whatever cup you use and, when the spent capsule bin eventually fills up, the capsules can be recycled through a program run by Nespresso. Sure, the shots it pulls aren't quite as rich as the models that use fresh beans, but they're plenty good enough to satisfy all but the most refined espresso palettes.
Read review: Nespresso Inissia
Best Portable Espresso Machine
Wacaco MiniPresso GR
For those espresso junkies that can't leave the decadence of a good shot behind when on the road or camping, the Wacaco MiniPresso GR is a life saver. Anywhere you have access to hot water it can pull a shot that tastes quite rich and creamy, about even with what a Nespresso machine can make. This is very impressive coming from a machine that can fit in any backpack and weighs less than a pound. At first it can be a bit difficult to both work the pump and aim the pouring espresso into your cup, but that skill becomes second nature quickly. If you want a portable machine that can also froth milk, the STARESSO SP-200 is great, but its pump tends to jam up a bit after repeated use.
Read review: Wacaco MiniPresso GR
Great Buy if You Already Have a Grinder
The De'Longhi EC685M pulled quite a nice shot in our testing, and has a slim, stylish body that doesn't take up much counter space. It does require you to dose and tamp the coffee yourself, but we found the process to be fairly straightforward. Even beginners will likely be able to get a good shot from this machine after a minimal amount of trial and error. We were even able to make some nice steamed milk with the steam wand. To boot, this machine often sells for far less than its list price. In fact, we've seen it going for south of the $300 mark online.
The only downside to the EC685M is the fact that it lacks any sort of grinder. If you factor in the extra cost of a nice grinder that can achieve a tight, espresso worthy grind, the EC685M isn't a great deal. However, if you already have a good grinder or have easy access to finely ground coffee, this is a great and economical choice.
Great for Experienced Baristas and Aficionados
The Rancilio Silvia is a great machine that pulls shots and steams milk as well as the Editors' Choice winning Breville. However, we would only recommend this machine to experienced home baristas, as we found that novice espresso makers had a very hard time pulling good shots from this machine. While the Breville comes with a detailed user manual and an easy-to-understand interface, the Rancilio comes with comparably sparse instructions and a somewhat cryptic interface. If you're an experienced barista, this is not an issue, as you have complete control over the length of your shots. Its water pressure can even be adjusted by opening up the machine and turning some screws. For users who plan to experiment with different techniques, the Rancilio Silvia will not limit you in any way. The Breville Barista Express is a better option for users who seek a semi-automatic machine that is a bit more forgiving.
Read review: Rancilio Silvia
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 (summarized in the table below) will be able to guide you towards the right machine. If you're not sure whether you're in the market for a super-automatic, semi-automatic, or capsule style machine, or aren't sure what all those words mean, check out our buying advice article for more information.
If an espresso machine is actually going to keep you from spending $5 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.
When considering the value of an espresso machine, you must look at both the up front cost and the operating costs. For example, the Price vs. Performance chart (above, top) makes the Nespresso machines look like incredible values. However, Nespresso capsules are much more expensive than coffee beans. When you calculate the cost per shot over an average lifetime for each machine, taking both initial and operating costs into consideration (chart above, bottom) you see that models like the EC685M, the Gaggia Brera, and even the Editors' Choice Breville are less expensive in the long run.
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 two machines we tested that we felt could truly rival the quality of cafe espresso, the Breville Barista Express and the Rancilio Silvia, which shared the top score of 9 out of 10. These machines were both able to make that rich, creamy, bold espresso that really hits the spot. Both also have capable steam wands that can make sweet, velvety steamed milk that is truly latte worthy. This taste does come at the cost of convenience, as both of these machines also have a bit of a learning curve.
All of the super-automatic 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 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.
Currently Nespresso pretty much has a corner on the single serving espresso capsule market. We found that these capsules make a very consistent shot, no matter what machine is used to pull it. Nespresso shots earned a taste score of 6 out of 10 in our testing. They were a bit on the watery side and lacked some boldness when compared to most of the semi and super automatic machine we tested, but they were still strong and creamy enough to satisfy an espresso craving.
Two of the Nespresso machines we tested, the Evoluo and the Inissia, lack any way to froth milk to pair with their espresso shots. However, combing their espresso with milk from an Epica Milk Frother created nice cappuccinos with good foam, but the actual milk felt like it was just warmed up, not like the textured steam milk made with a proper steam wand. The De'Longhi Lattissima Pro has a built-in, automatic milk frother. This is convenient, but yielded about the same results as the Epica Milk Frother.
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. If your machine isn't easy to use 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 teh push of a few buttons, he machine grinds, tamps, and brews the coffee, and froths the milk, resulting in the most hassel free home cappucinno you can imagine.
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.
The Breville Barista Express received the relatively low score of 6 in our ease of use testing. This was mostly due to the fact it requires the user to select the grind size, grind, and tamp the coffee manually. If you're interested in having a full espresso making experience this may sound great, but it is undeniably not as easy as the super-automatic machines. It also logged the slowest time in our cappuccino time trial: 5 and a half minutes (though it did make the tastiest one). It somewhat makes up for this with a top-notch user manual and a greater user interface. The De'Longhi Magnifica also scored a 6. It can make espresso at the push of a few buttons and using its steam wand we made a cappuccino in just over four minutes. However, its buttons are only labeled with symbols, which can be a little confusing, and its steam wand often shoots water onto the counter while heating up.
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 take 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
An arduous cleanup process can ruin even the best caffeine high. After making more shots of espresso than we can count, we have a very good idea of what cleaning each one of these machines entails. For this metric we evaluated daily cleaning (portafilters and steam wands), weekly cleaning, things like emptying and washing the drip tray, and long-term cleaning, which is mostly comprised of running a descaling process. This flushes a solution through the machine that removes and mineral buildup. This can be required anywhere from every two months to just once or twice a year depending on how often you use the machine and how hard your water is. See our buying advice article for more info. While no machine felt particularly difficult to clean, we did see significant differences between models.
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.
The Breville Barista Express also scored 6 out of 10 in this metric. Since it uses a traditional portafilter that is one more thing to wipe off when compared to the super automatic machine, and its drip tray fills up somewhat quickly. Other than that the steam wand stays clean as long as you're diligent about wiping it off after each use, and the descaling process was quite straightforward and easy.
The lowest scre in this metric was a 5 out of 10, awarded to the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. You can take the steam wand off and 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.
For this metric, we more closely evaluated the quality each machine's technique for preparing milk, rather than just assessing how it tasted when added to a shot of espresso. We did this because we know some consumers will be more concerned with the milk quality than anything else. This would namely be those that care as much or more about matching the texture of coffee shop latte than they do about the taste notes of the espresso.
If you're looking for the perfect latte steamed milk that can create latte art, the Breville Barista Express can satisfy those mandates. Accordingly, it scored a 9 out of 10 in this metric. Its steam wand takes a bit of practice, but once you find its 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.
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 De'Longhi Magnifica's steam wand lent a little more adjustability to the milk prepping process, but in our testing it produced steamed and frothed milk very similar to the Lattissima and the Prestige, though with much more required effort. It was about the same story with the De'Longhi EC685M, which made a good but not perfect foam, and stemed milk that was smooth but not quite creamy enough to make an exceptional latte.
The Gaggia Brera and the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista both scored a 6 in this metric. The Gaggia Brera's steam wand create 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.
Finally, both the Nespresso Evoluo and the Nespresso Inissia scored a 1 out of 10 in this metric. This was solely because neither machine offers a built-in method for preparing milk. We were able to get some decent milk drink results from these machines by using a standalone milk frother. In our testing we used the Epica Milk Frother and the Nespresso Aeroccino Plus.
Is Owning One of these Machines Really Cheaper than Starbucks?
We know that for many users the decision to buy an espresso machine isn't really about wanting to drink espresso at home, but is more financially driven. And we hear you, it can be painful to shell out as much as you'd spend on a cheap lunch just to get a cup of coffee in the morning. So we did a breakdown to see if these machines really can save you money.
Our first analysis looked at how much it cost to produce a shot of espresso from each machine. For the units that use fresh beans we assumed a cost of $12 for a pound of coffee. To see if they can save you money we compared these to the price of a shot of espresso at Starbucks, which costs roughly $2, depending on your region. We know what you're thinking, you've never made it out of Starbucks only having spent $2. If straight espresso shots aren't your thing you probably get one of Starbucks' specialty lattes, which average around $4 (again, depending on your region). So we threw that into our comparison as well. Our results are in the graph below:
So clearly these machines can make espresso much more cheaply than going to Starbucks. However, they do have the initial cost of buying the machine, a cost that going to Starbucks doesn't have. So we also did a lifetime cost per shot calculation that takes the cost of each machine into account. For this calculation, we assumed an 8-year lifespan for each machine, and an average of 300 shots made per year, for a total of 2400 shots:
So even taking the cost of the machine into account, these products can save you a significant amount of money over going to Starbucks (if you're a latte drinker even factoring in the negligible cost of milk, which shakes out to about $0.17 per drink, won't change much). Also, this analysis makes the more inexpensive capsule machines look less appealing, as the additional cost of the capsules quickly adds up.
Being able to make a good espresso at home can be a game changer. It can eliminate countless morning coffee runs, make lazy Sundays much more decadent, and can ease the pain the morning after you've had a few too many. We know that picking the right machine can be daunting, so we hope our testing results have helped you find the perfect caffeine dispenser for your budget. If you're still deciding, take a look at our buying advice article. It delves into all the intricacies of espresso, and lays out the things you should consider when buying a home mahcine.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.