Coffee shop getting a bit too crowded? 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. That's why we did all the research for you, scouting out hundreds of models before picking the best 14 for a series of side-side-tests. 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 2018
This month we brought the Breville Duo Temp Pro and the Gaggia Classic into cafe TGL for some testing. The Duo Temp Pro really impressed us as a lower cost alternative to the Breville Barista Express for those that already have an espresso-capable coffee grinder. The Gaggia Classic was underwhelming in most regards, especially considering the fact that it generally sells for more than the excellent Duo Temp Pro.
Best Overall Espresso Machine
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. At $600 it is one of the least expensive machines that can actually compete with the quality of the multi-thousand dollar machines you'll find at most coffee shops. The helpful pressure gauge and built-in grinder provide convenience and good feedback to beginners that are just learning the arts of espresso. We also found that its pre-infusion feature both improves taste, and is a bit more forgiving on beginners who are just learning the art of tamping coffee into a portafilter. What really sets this machine apart from others is its steam wand, which is one of the only ones we've found that can get close to the truly creamy microfoam you want to get a cafe quality drink.
Apart from the $600 price tag (which unfortunately isn't too outrageous in the world of espresso machines), they 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. It also requires a bit of practice to get everything dialed in. 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 cappuccino 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
If you already have an espresso worthy grinder, the Breville Duo Temp Pro is essentially the same machine as the Barista Express, but without a built-in grinder. It also doesn't have the user friendly pressure gauge, so it may not be the best choice for beginners. However, right now it is selling for well below its list price at some online dealers, making it a great buy.
Top Pick for Convenient Cappucinos
Gaggia Anima Prestige
We get it, some morning 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 taste and makes this a better value in the long run when compared to the tantalizingly cheap up front but costly in the long run pod machines.
The clear gut punch that comes with the Prestige is the $1100 price tag. Sure it often sells for a bit less, but that's still quite an investment. The espresso drinks it produces also aren't quite as tasty as those mode form the Breville Barista Express, which costs $500 less. However, it can still take quite a good cappuccino, and if you're willing to pay extra to make that cappuccino incredibly convenient, you're not going to 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, $40 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 for less than $1000. 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
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.
Are These Machines Cheaper than Going to a Cafe?
We know that many people are looking at buying an espresso machine because they're tired of spending $5 on a latte every morning. So can these machines really save you money? The short answer is yes, and we used two different calculations to arrive at that conclusion.
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, and using the manufacturer's recommended amount of coffee. The results below don't take milk costs into account, but even if you're paying an exorbitant $5 for a gallon of milk, you're talking an additional $0.40 to make a 12-ounce latte. Compare all those prices to the at least $2 you'll spend for a straight shot at a coffee shop, and the at least $4 you'll spend for a latte.
Clearly these machines can make espresso much more cheaply than going to a cafe. However, you also need to consider the upfront cost of buying the machine. Therefore 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 a cafe. Also, this analysis makes the more inexpensive capsule machines look less appealing, as the additional cost of the capsules quickly adds up.
Don't Forget Quality
Remember that these machines only save you money if they can effectively replace that joy you get from drinking a cafe-quality latte, and if they are user friendly enough that making a morning caffeine fix doesn't become an unbearable chore. The chart below compares all of the machines' list prices with their overall performance in our tests. It's interesting to note that some of the top performing machines, like the Breville Barista Express and the Gaggia Brera, which cost a bit more up front, are actually much less expensive in the long run than the Nespresso machines, which don't cost much upfront, but require buying into an expensive capsule system.
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 three machines we tested that we felt could truly rival the quality of cafe espresso, the Breville Barista Express, its sibling the Duo Temp Pro, and the Rancilio Silvia, which all 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.
The Gaggia Classic, which also scored a 6 out of 10, provides a similar taste quality and profile to the Nespresso machines. It does have an included steam wand, but it struggled a bit at created truly creamy microfoam.
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 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). The Breville Duo Temp Pro performed almost identically, but it lacks the helpful pressure gauge of tis larger sibling. 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 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.
Sharing the bottom spot was the Gaggia Classic. It has a somewhat cryptic interface that may confuse some beginners. It also tends to drip coffee and milk everywhere, requiring a decent amount of cleanup after each use.
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. Its smaller sibling, the Breville Duo Temp Pro, has an almost identical design, resulting in an almost identical cleaning process.
The lowest score in this metric was a 5 out of 10, awarded to the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista and the Gaggia Classic. 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.
For this metric, we more closely evaluated the quality of 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 people 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 a 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 machine.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.