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Best Espresso Machine of 2020

By Michelle Powell, Max Mutter and Steven Tata  ⋅  Sep 3, 2020
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
After researching more than 50 models we bought 16 of the best espresso machines on the market in 2020. Pulling more than 500 shots, and making more than 200 lattes, we had everyone from professional baristas and coffee roasters to espresso newbies use every machine and taste test the results. We also ran through each machine's cleaning cycle multiple times, assessing the relative difficulty of each. Whether you just want the fastest and most convenient home espresso possible, or are willing to put in a little work to perfect your barista skills, we can help you find the right caffeine contraption.

Top 16 Product Ratings

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Best for Most At-Home Baristas


Calphalon Temp IQ


Editors' Choice Award
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$600
List Price
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 9
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Ease of Cleaning 7
  • Milk Steaming 9
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 94oz
Excellent espresso
Great microfoam production when milk streaming
More beginner-friendly than most semi-automatic machines
Expensive
Requires more effort than fully-automatic machines

The Calphalon Temp IQ is more than capable of creating cafe-quality drinks at home, producing rich and complex espresso, and imparting silky microfoam into steamed milk that combines to create a delicious latte. Perhaps more importantly, it offers an easier path for beginners to become experienced baristas than most machines. Clear instructions and a user-friendly interface make the manual grinding, tamping, brewing, and milk steaming required to get top-notch results much less daunting. Additionally, a pre-infusion step in the brewing process is somewhat forgiving towards minor errors in grind size selection and tamping technique, again providing a better experience for beginners. However, this machine's usefulness is not limited to newbies. A multitude of customizable settings let even expert baristas endlessly experiment and tamper with their brews.

The Calphalon Temp IQ's salient downsides are the price and the semi-automatic brewing process, which is much more laborious than that of the fully-automated machines. However, after years of testing home espresso machines, we can unequivocally say that a bit of an investment in both effort and money is required if you want to fully recreate your favorite cafe drink at home. The Calphalon Temp IQ surely will not disappoint, as long as you don't mind making these sacrifices to get the best possible results.

Read review: Calphalon Temp IQ

Best for Heavy Use


Breville Barista Express


Editors' Choice Award
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$692.00
at Amazon
See It

80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 9
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Ease of Cleaning 6
  • Milk Steaming 9
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 67oz
Great taste
Cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos
Expensive
Requires some effort and a learning curve

The Breville Barista Express is a perfect choice if you're part of a large family of caffeine addicts or don't mind spending a bit extra for a machine that is more likely to stand the test of time. This latte slinger has been a flagship of the at-home barista market for some time, and for good reason. The semi-automatic brew process and high-quality steam wand can accurately recreate any drink you'd get in a cafe. Perhaps most importantly, it uses higher-grade components than most of its competitors, meaning it's more likely to remain in service longer than most models. Case in point, we once purchased a refurbished unit that served daily lattes and cappuccinos to an office of more than a dozen people for 5 years, and it continues to serve a family of 2 today.

Besides the high price tag (an unfortunate prerequisite for getting cafe-quality results), the biggest potential source of disappointment is the Breville Barista Express's semi-automatic brew process and manual milk steaming — both which can take a bit of practice to master. However, this brewing style is another prerequisite for getting top-notch results, and the Barista Express manages to make the process slightly more intuitive for beginners than most. It's hard to do better than the Breville Barista Express if you don't mind learning some new skills and would like to make espresso a long-term morning tradition.

Read review: Breville Barista Express

Best for Serious At-Home Baristas


Breville the Dual Boiler


Top Pick Award
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$1,499.00
at Amazon
See It

89
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 9
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Ease of Cleaning 7
  • Milk Steaming 10
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 84oz
Excellent espresso and milk steaming
Can brew and steam simultaneously
Multiple programmable features
Relatively user friendly
Expensive
Requires some effort and a learning curve

The Breville Dual Boiler is one of the best options for those who want to bring all of a professional-grade machine's capabilities into their kitchen — if you can stomach the premium price. 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 simultaneously brew espresso and steam milk. This cuts down not only on the time it takes to make a latte, but it also makes everything taste better because you can pour freshly steamed milk into a freshly brewed shot instead of letting one get cold on the counter while you make the other. Despite this impressive pedigree, the Dual Boiler keeps its user experience reasonably 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 more manageable than they do with some other semi-automatic machines.

Its massive price tag is the glaringly obvious downside of the Dual Boiler, which doesn't even consider that you'll need to purchase a separate coffee grinder. We think the Breville Barista Express and its built-in grinder will get you there for a more reasonable price for those looking to make high-quality lattes at home. However, the Dual Boiler won't disappoint if you're willing to pay a hefty premium for that extra bit of performance that brings you to true cafe-level capacity.

Read review: Breville Dual Boiler

Best for Convenient Cappuccinos


Gaggia Anima Prestige


Top Pick Award
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$879.57
(20% off)
at Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 7
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Ease of Cleaning 7
  • Milk Steaming 7
Milk Frother: Automatic | Water Tank Capacity: 60oz
Incredibly convenient and easy to use
Good taste
Expensive list price

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. It also lets you use fresh coffee beans, which improves the espresso's taste and makes this a better value in the long run compared to the similarly convenient pod machines.

Its high price tag is the clear gut-punch that comes with the Prestige. It often sells for less than its retail 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 for the convenience, you're not going to be disappointed with the Prestige.

Read review: Gaggia Anima Prestige

Best for Straight Espresso Shot Convenience


Nespresso Evoluo


Top Pick Award
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$139.30
(30% off)
at Amazon
See It

63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 6
  • Ease of Use 9
  • Ease of Cleaning 7
  • Milk Steaming 1
Milk Frother: None | Water Tank Capacity: 54oz
User friendly
Very fast and convenient
Good taste
Can brew standard coffee as well
Required capsules are expensive
No included milk frother
Limited espresso options

Look no further than the Nespresso Evoluo if you're looking for the quickest and most convenient espresso shot possible. With a single push of a button and nearly no daily cleanup, this machine can have you sipping espresso within minutes of getting out of bed. If your mood changes, there are standard coffee capsules available for this machine as well. You don't even have to change the settings on the machine when switching between coffee and espresso — it reads a barcode on the capsule and adjusts the settings all on its own. Not having to think in the morning is a beautiful thing.

Apart from the Nespresso capsules' cost, the Evoluo's biggest downside is that it lacks a milk frother. While standalone milk frothers are available if you fancy a convenient cappuccino, we've found that their results are generally much less inspiring than those of a steam wand. Additionally, while there are dozens of coffee flavors available for this machine, there are only 6 espresso options (2 of which are double shots). Still, the Evoluo presents the fewest obstacles between a groggy brain and a pleasantly caffeinated one, and that can make up for many of its drawbacks. Plus, you can actually recycle the pods.

Read review: Nespresso Evoluo

Best for Automated Milk Steaming


Breville Bambino Plus


Top Pick Award
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$499.95
at Amazon
See It

78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 9
  • Ease of Use 7
  • Ease of Cleaning 6
  • Milk Steaming 8
Milk Frother: Automated Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 65oz
Great Taste
Exceptional cappuccinos and lattes
Mostly automated milk steaming
Expensive
No built-in grinder

For many people who dream of making cafe-quality cappuccinos and lattes at home, milk steaming is what stops them in their tracks. While it's not a super complicated process, it can certainly be intimidating and is understandably something that many people don't want to add to their already rushed morning routines. The Breville Bambino Plus is a great choice if you fall into this category. 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. We found that 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 lack of a built-in grinder is the biggest downside to the Bambino, since it means you'll have to purchase a high-quality, espresso-worthy grinder as well, making the Bambino one of the more costly at-home espresso options overall. However, the Bambino will up your morning coffee game if you don't mind paying a bit extra for that optimal mixture of quality and convenience.

Read review: Breville Bambino Plus

Best Portable Espresso Machine


Wacaco MiniPresso GR


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$48.90
(19% off)
at Amazon
See It

51
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 6
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Ease of Cleaning 7
  • Milk Steaming 1
Weight: 12.7 ounces | Milk Frother: None
Good taste
Very portable
Takes some good aim to avoid a mess
No milk frothing capability

Once you've been indoctrinated to fresh espresso's luxury, it can be hard to give it up when you're on the road. The Wacaco MiniPresso GR provides a portable and relatively easy way to get your espresso fix for those extended camping or road trips. All you need is hot water, and you can pull a pretty decent shot anywhere you happen to be. Plus, it weighs less than a pound, so it won't weigh you down.

No portable contraption will be able to match the quality of much more expensive countertop machines, so you do have to temper your expectations here. 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


Rancilio Silvia


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$735.00
at Amazon
See It

68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Taste 9
  • Ease of Use 4
  • Ease of Cleaning 4
  • Milk Steaming 9
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 68oz
Great taste
Allows for endless experimentation
Expensive
Requires skill to use effectively
No built-in grinder

The Rancilio Silvia is the closest thing we've found to a professional level machine made for consumers. It provides superb pressure to the brew head, making it feel much more powerful and capable than its size would lead you to believe. The steam wand is also exceptional, providing the capability to create lovely, 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. These things are no sweat for experienced baristas, but could undoubtedly flummox and frustrate a beginner. However, this machine is an excellent addition to your kitchen if you already have the skills.

Read review: Rancilio Silvia



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. She has also competed 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 highly-regarded machines on the market (we buy all of our products at full price and 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 final product, the user-friendliness, and ease of cleaning of each machine.

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 is primarily split into two camps: those that value convenience over taste and 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 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 straightforward 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.

Value




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. Even the most expensive machines can make up their cost within a year if you're a daily latte drinker. You can read more of our thoughts at the end of this article about the finances of these machines, and whether they will really save you money in practice.

Considering solely each machine's upfront cost, 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. However, it does require that you learn to brew espresso and steam milk manually. The Breville Bambino Plus is a great choice and an excellent overall value if you're looking for automated milk-steaming, 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. We think the Gaggia Anima Prestige is the best of the bunch for those that want a completely automated experience, though that automation inevitably comes at a price.

A cafe-quality drink made by the Breville Duo Temp Pro.
A cafe-quality drink made by the Breville Duo Temp Pro.

Taste


We recognize that while some espresso drinkers are discerning, some are in it mostly for the caffeine. To cover this spread of preferences, we enlisted a diverse group of taste testers ranging from casual coffee drinkers to people who have owned an espresso machine for years, to professional coffee roasters. We had these testers drink both straight espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes prepared using each machine and asked them to consider things like texture, mouthfeel, and overall taste.


There were six machines in our testing group that we feel can truly rival a cafe's quality. 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 and the Calphalon Temp IQ are the non-Breville models that earn the cafe-level designation. It is important to note that all of these models are semi-automatic, meaning you have to grind the beans, tamp them into the portafilter, brew the espresso, and manually steam milk using a steam wand. This is much more effort than the fully-automated machines required, but we've found it's also the only way to get top-notch results. Luckily these machines, namely the Calphalon Temp IQ and the Breville Barista Express, make learning these skills relatively painless for beginners.

The Breville Barista Express and its coffee shop style brewing process produced some of the best tasting espresso in our testing.
The Breville Barista Express and its coffee shop style brewing process produced some of the best tasting espresso in our testing.

All of the super-automatic (i.e., fully automated) machines we tested were tightly packed in their brews' tastiness, 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 far behind Breville's top-scoring offerings. In general, these machines make good drinks, but you're probably not going to convince a seasoned espresso drinker 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 made a good cappuccino, but fell slightly short of that perfect latte-worthy steamed milk. The Gaggia Anima Prestige performed similarly. Its espresso had a pleasant taste but was somewhat watery, and 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.


The De'Longhi Magnifica's offerings were nice and creamy but slightly on the weak and watery side, also earning it a 7 out of 10. The steam wand was able to make a decent volume 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.

The incredibly convenient Gaggia Anima Prestige didn't make the best espresso in our testing  but it was close. Close enough that we often gladly traded the couple taste points for a quicker cappuccino.
The incredibly convenient Gaggia Anima Prestige didn't make the best espresso in our testing, but it was close. Close enough that we often gladly traded the couple taste points for a quicker cappuccino.

Nespresso has had a bit of a stranglehold on the capsule espresso market for a while now, 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 other capsule-based competitors. That said, we think these shots are still a bit weaker and more watery than those that come from most non-pod machines. However, they are good enough that the convenience makes up for that slightly decreased quality. We've found that regardless of what machine you're using, Nespresso capsules produce nearly identical results.

The Calphalon Temp IQ produced exceptional espresso in our testing.
The Calphalon Temp IQ produced exceptional espresso in our testing.

Some Nespresso machines provide an option for steaming milk, but the Evoluo notably does not. There are several standalone milk frothers available, and we've tried quite a few of them. However, in our opinion, even the best standalone frothers cannot compare to the steam wands found on consumer espresso machines.

Like all the capsule models we tested the Nespresso Inissia produced espresso that tasted good but not great.
Like all the capsule models we tested the Nespresso Inissia produced espresso that tasted good but not great.

Our least favorite machine when it comes to taste is by far the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. No matter how much we tried to bend to the machine's demands, we could never get it to produce anything other than burnt and overly bitter espresso. The automatic milk frother did work quite well in our tests, but, in our opinion, even the most perfectly steamed milk couldn't rescue this machine's espresso from mediocrity.

Ease of Use


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 tons of espresso on each machine, paying close attention to each interface's intuitiveness. We also conducted cappuccino time trials to see how long each machine requires you to wait.


It's hard to beat the push-button-get-espresso functionality of the Nespresso Evoluo when it comes to convenience. All you must do is turn the machine on, insert a capsule, and push a button. It 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 Gaggia Anima Prestige is the only machine in our tests that could get close to the Evoluo's push-button-get-espresso simplicity. Thanks to its super-automatic functionality, filling the hopper with beans and the milk jug with milk is pretty much all you need to do. Then with a few selections on the intuitive control panel, the machine grinds, tamps, and brews the beans and steams the milk. You will occasionally have to clean the milk dispenser and the bin where the spent beans are deposited, but this cleanup is less arduous than all semi-automatic machines. In addition, it offers the opportunity for nearly hassle-free cappuccinos, something the Evoluo can't do.

We found the Breville Dual Boiler to be the most user-friendly out of all the semi-automatic machines we tested. Though it still presents a learning curve for beginners, the intuitive interface, large and clear LCD screen, helpful pressure gauge, and relatively forgiving steam wand make the curve a little shallower than most comparable machines.

The intuitive Gaggia Anima Prestige produced the quickest and easiest cappuccino in our testing.
The intuitive Gaggia Anima Prestige produced the quickest and easiest cappuccino in our testing.

Rounding out the group of top scorers with an 8 out of 10 was the other single serving capsule machine — the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro. 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, requiring a little manual reading and memorization.

The Nesresso Evoluo's bar code adorned capsules made brewing straightforward.
The Nesresso Evoluo's bar code adorned capsules made brewing straightforward.

Just behind the top scorers in our ease of use testing was the Gaggia Brera. Its super-automatic functionality means making espresso is 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.

The Calphalon Temp IQ is one of the more beginner-friendly of the semi-automatic machines we've tested.
The Calphalon Temp IQ is one of the more beginner-friendly of the semi-automatic machines we've tested.

Leaving the super-automatic realm and moving to more capable but more labor-intensive semi-automatic machines naturally brings a decrease in user-friendliness. However, it generally also brings an increase in quality. We've found the Calphalon Temp IQ to be one of the friendliest of these machines towards beginners, offering clear instructions and intuitive labeling. The Breville Barista Express is not far off in this regard, though it lacks the intuitive beginner's instruction manual of the Calphalon. Of these semi-automatic models, the Breville Bambino Plus is the only one with a semi-automated steam wand, making it an excellent choice for those who have trouble mastering the art of manually texturing milk.

The manual brewing process of the Dual Boiler feels a bit easier and more forgiving than those of other semi-automatic machines.
The manual brewing process of the Dual Boiler feels a bit easier and more forgiving than those of other semi-automatic machines.

Also earning a 6 out of 10 in this metric, the De'Longhi Magnifica offers all the espresso-at-a-button-press convenience of a super-automatic machine. However, its steam wand is manual and not as powerful as the Breville machines' wands. Its buttons are also a bit opaquely 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 earns the same score of 6 out of 10. It takes a bit of learning 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.

The Mr. Coffee tamper feels very flimsy.
The Mr. Coffee tamper feels very flimsy.

With a score of 4 out of 10, the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista once again landed at the bottom of the score sheet. It has a decent interface, but its water tank is very tall and difficult to fill in shallower sinks. Its portafilter is also quite tricky 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


We made hundreds of shots with each machine we tested, taking careful notes on the cleanup required each 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. Descaling removes the mineral buildup synonymous with heating water over and over and must be completed every 2-6 months, depending on how hard your water is.


Two models share the top spot on the podium, each receiving an 8 out of 10. The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro 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 tier of our ease of cleaning testing. This was mostly 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.

Capsule machines require no cleanup when making espresso  but if you want to add milk cleaning the seperate milk frother can be a bit of a drag.
Capsule machines require no cleanup when making espresso, but if you want to add milk cleaning the seperate milk frother can be a bit of a drag.

Scoring 7 out of 10, the Nespresso Evoluo fell slightly behind the other capsule machines in our ease of cleaning testing. Like its compadres, it requires virtually no daily cleaning, unless you use a separate frother to make milk drinks. It loses points for its descaling process, which took us over 35 minutes and went through so much water it became a hands-on affair for refilling the water tanks and making sure the machine wasn't overflowing.

The Gaggia Anima Prestige also scored a 7 out of 10. 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. Its descaling process is also easy. The only downside is that the drip tray fills up more quickly than other machines, so it requires more frequent emptying and cleaning.

Offering a relatively painless cleaning process, the De'Longhi EC685M rounds out the 7 out of 10 group. We found wiping out the portafilter to be generally quick and easy, and the steam wand similarly can be taken apart quickly for easy cleaning. The only complaint we have in cleaning the De'Longhi EC685M is the descaling process, which took nearly a half-hour and required our direct attention for most of that time.

We found the Calphalon Temp IQ and the Breville Dual Boiler to be the easiest to clean of the semi-automatic machines we tested, with both models earning a 7 out of 10 in this metric. Both use steam wands and portafilters that are easy to wipe out and clean after each use and feature descaling processes that are relatively painless (though the Breville Dual Boiler's process takes much longer due to the size of the machine). However, neither can compete with the cleaning convenience of a capsule or super-automatic machine (but we think the better espresso is well worth it).

The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro  with is capsule brewing system and built-in frother  was one of the easiest models to clean.
The De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro, with is capsule brewing system and built-in frother, was one of the easiest models to clean.

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 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 similar designs, most of the Breville models we tested earned the same score of 6 out of 10 in this metric, including the Barista Express and the Bambino Plus. The portafilters and steam wands that 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 straightforward descaling processes, so long-term cleaning doesn't feel onerous. Overall, these machines take more cleaning effort than super-automatic machines, but the gains in taste quality will be more than worth it for most people.

While neither feels particularly intractable when it comes to cleaning, the Gaggia Classic Pro and Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista are our least favorite models to wash. Though we like that the Cafe Barista's steam wand is easily removable and dishwasher safe, the portafilter's propensity to accumulate built-up gunk that necessitates vigorous scrubbing more than erases that small convenience. The Classic Pronever created a huge mess but seemed to make small ones consistently. This is primarily due to the shallow drip tray that quickly fills up, and the fact that both the steam wand and portafilter tend to drip a bit with every use.

The pucks that spit out of super-automatic machines  like those from the Gaggia Brera above  are generally mess free.
The pucks that spit out of super-automatic machines, like those from the Gaggia Brera above, are generally mess free.

Milk Steaming


For this metric, we specifically focused on each machine's ability to create different steamed milk textures, as many people will value milk texturing capabilities 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 in 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.


For those seeking genuinely cafe-quality lattes at home, Breville's flagship offerings are the best bet. Both the prosumer Duo Temp Pro and the more accessible Barista Express can produce that fine, creamy microfoam that defines a good latte, allowing for experimentation with latte art. Both models use a traditional steam wand, which does present a learning curve for beginners. However, we found that such a wand is the only way to create top-notch steamed milk, so it's worth the extra effort.

The Calphalon Temp IQ also manages to churn out cafe-quality milk, with its steam wand being particularly adept at creating the microfoam required for a great latte.

The Rancilio Silvia's milk-steaming capabilities are also quite adept, equaling those of the top Breville models. However, we found its wand to present even more of a learning curve than most of the other manual steam wands, so this model is best left to those that already have barista experience.

Like all steam wands the Breville's requires a little practice to master  but it made by far the best milk in our testing.
Like all steam wands the Breville's requires a little practice to master, but it made by far the best milk in our testing.

Earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric, the Breville Bambino Plus is far and away the top performer for automated milk steaming. With just the press of a few buttons, it creates a creamy, sweet texture. 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 score a 7 out of 10. They generally create steamed milk with a decent texture and some nice frothing, though with some imperfections. The Gaggia Anima Prestige and the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro both have automatic milk frothers that are very consistent and create a well-frothed product, but the foam bubbles are slightly larger than the ideal 'microfoam' that you look for in the perfect cappuccino topping. The steamed milk from these machines tastes more like milk heated in a microwave rather than assuming the velvety texture espresso connoisseurs seek.


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 effort from us. It was the same story with the De'Longhi EC685M, which made a good but not great foam and steamed milk that was smooth but not quite creamy enough to make it exceptional.

We found that automatic milk frothers  like the one on the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro  steam and froth milk very easily. However  they couldn't match the rich texture achieved by the Breville's steam wand.
We found that automatic milk frothers, like the one on the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro, steam and froth milk very easily. However, they couldn't match the rich texture achieved by the Breville's steam wand.

The Gaggia Brera and the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista both score a 6 out of 10 in this metric. The Gaggia Brera's steam wand creates a nice foam when frothing, but the foam bubbles were larger, making it less creamy than 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 over aerate, 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 earns a 3 out of 10. Its manual pump produces similarly fluffy, dry foam.

The Gaggia Brera's steam wand could whip up some foam for a nice cappuccino  but was not quite as adept as the automatic milk frothers we tested.
The Gaggia Brera's steam wand could whip up some foam for a nice cappuccino, but was not quite as adept as the automatic milk frothers we tested.

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, it is still worth it 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 daily cafe visit with an at-home latte, you make up your investment in a little more than a year.


Theoretically, any of the machines we tested can save you money 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 (not to mention time if your go-to shop is always packed). However, the reality for a lot of people is that an at-home machine won't be a wholesale replacement for visits to a coffee shop. 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 fit into this latter description, an espresso machine will be more of a luxury purchase, but may still pay for itself out in the longer term.

Conclusion


Making espresso at home is a luxury that is also imminently attainable. With some practice, you can cut down on morning coffee runs and vastly improve lazy Sunday mornings. We hope that our testing results have set you on the right highly-caffeinated course and help you navigate the delicious world of espresso.

Michelle Powell, Max Mutter and Steven Tata