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Tired of buying $6 lattes? You need an espresso machine. After researching the top models on the market, we bought 19 of the best espresso machines to test side-by-side. Pulling more than 500 shots and making more than 200 lattes, we had everyone from professional baristas and coffee roasters to espresso newbies use the machines and taste-test the results. We also ran through each machine's cleaning cycle multiple times, assessing the relative difficulty of each. Whether you want the fastest and most convenient home espresso or are willing to put in a little work to perfect your barista skills, we can help you find the right machine for your needs.
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 94oz
REASONS TO BUY
Great microfoam production when milk steaming
More beginner-friendly than most semi-automatic machines
REASONS TO AVOID
Requires more effort than fully automatic machines
The Calphalon Temp IQ is more than capable of producing cafe-quality drinks at home with rich, complex espresso and silky microfoam. The Temp IQ offers an easy path for beginners to evolve their barista skills. A user-friendly interface and straightforward instructions give a more accessible approach to manual grinding, tamping, brewing, and milk steaming than other machines while providing excellent-tasting results. The Temp IQ has a pre-infusion setting that evenly saturates the espresso grounds creating more control over the brewing process. Additionally, this feature helps beginners produce quality espresso by compensating for minor tamp or grind inconsistencies. This machine is not only for novices, though: a multitude of customizable settings lets even expert baristas endlessly experiment and refine their espresso-based drinks.
On the downside, to get the best machine, you'll have to pay for it — the Temp IQ isn't cheap. Additionally, the semi-automatic brewing process is far more laborious than a fully automated machine. Still, after years of testing home espresso machines, we can unequivocally say that a bit of investment and effort is required if you want to recreate cafe-quality drinks at home. If you don't mind making these adjustments to get the best possible results, the Temp IQ will not disappoint.
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 67oz
REASONS TO BUY
Cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos
REASONS TO AVOID
Requires effort and practice
The Breville Barista Express is a perfect choice for a family of coffee drinkers. This latte slinger can stand the test of time, banging out shot after shot, and has been a flagship of the at-home barista market for some time. The semi-automatic brew process and the high-quality steam wand can accurately recreate any drink on a cafe menu. Perhaps most importantly, the Barista Express uses higher-grade components than much of the competition and is more likely to run longer. Case in point, we once purchased a refurbished unit to make daily lattes and cappuccinos for an office of over a dozen people for five years. Today, that same machine continues to serve a family of two.
The Barista Express has a steeper price tag, which is generally a prerequisite to getting cafe-quality results. Additionally, practice is required to master both the semi-automatic brewing and manual milk-steaming processes. However, this brewing style is another prerequisite for getting top-notch results, and the Barista Express makes the process slightly more intuitive for beginners than most. It's hard to do better than this machine if you enjoy learning new skills and want to make espresso a long-term morning tradition.
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 47oz
REASONS TO BUY
Cafe-quality espresso and milk steaming
Heats up fast
REASONS TO AVOID
Requires separate grinder
For those hoping to make cafe-quality espresso at home while spending as little as possible, the Breville Bambino should be at the top of the list. The Bambino manages to pull espresso and steam milk that belies its small stature and price point — we had trouble discerning between cappuccinos made with this machine and those made with cafe-quality equipment. It also takes up relatively little counter space and costs nearly half of what many comparably capable espresso machines do.
However, there is a drawback to the low cost of the Bambino. This machine does not have a built-in coffee grinder, meaning you'll need to purchase a separate one. While that extra cost generally won't wholly bridge the price gap between this and other cafe-worthy machines, it can come close. This machine is a fantastic choice if you already have such a grinder.
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 42oz
REASONS TO BUY
Good milk steaming
REASONS TO AVOID
Falls short of cafe-quality
Sometimes slow and clunky to use
Requires separate grinder
We think the Gevi strikes one of the most impressive balances of performance and price on the market. In our tests, this machine produced good espresso shots and exceptional milk-based drinks while sporting a price tag that is well below average.
Though the Gevi makes good espresso and steamed milk, both fall short in the texture, creaminess, and taste achieved with more expensive machines. Also, taking about a minute to switch from brew to steam mode and additional time to cool back down to brewing temperature, the Gevi is a poor choice for anyone making multiple drinks in a row or those who find themselves in a time crunch to get out the door every morning. Finally, you'll need to purchase an espresso-quality grinder separately. Still, if you don't mind making slight sacrifices in taste and convenience, this machine is one of the least expensive ways to make decent espresso at home.
Milk Frother: Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 84oz
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent espresso and milk steaming
Can brew and steam simultaneously
Multiple programmable features
Relatively user friendly
REASONS TO AVOID
Requires effort & practice
The Breville Dual Boiler is one of the best options for those who want all of a professional-grade machine's capabilities in their kitchen — if you can stomach the premium price. The Dual Boiler consistently pulled cafe-quality shots and steamed creamy, luscious milk in our testing. The double boilers allow you to brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously, reducing the time required to make a latte. Concurrency with brewing and steaming will also enable you to pour freshly steamed milk into the freshest brewed espresso, which is the best practice for creating the highest quality drink. Despite this impressive pedigree, the Dual Boiler keeps its user experience reasonably straightforward and beginner-friendly. You'll need to learn to grind and tamp coffee and steam milk manually; however, the intuitive interface and helpful feedback provided by an LCD output and pressure gauge make those processes more manageable than with some semi-automatic machines.
Its massive price tag is the obvious downside of the Dual Boiler, and you'll still need to purchase a separate coffee grinder. We think the Breville Barista Express and its built-in grinder is sufficient at a more reasonable price for those looking to make high-quality lattes at home. That said, the Dual Boiler won't disappoint if you're willing to pay a premium for that extra bit of performance that brings you to third-wave cafe-level capacity.
Milk Frother: Automatic Steam Wand | Water Tank Capacity: 65oz
REASONS TO BUY
Impressive cappuccinos and lattes
Mostly automated milk steaming
REASONS TO AVOID
No built-in grinder
For many people who dream of making cafe-quality cappuccinos and lattes at home, milk steaming holds them back. While it's not a super complicated process, it can certainly be intimidating and requires time and patience to develop the skill. If you're already rushing a morning routine, the Breville Bambino Plus is a great choice. The Bambino steam wand is primarily automated; pour milk into a pitcher, toss it under the steam wand, select your desired level of foam and temperature, press a button, and the machine steams the milk for you. We found that the resulting milk has a much better texture and taste than milk from any other automated frother in our lineup. This automatic steam wand is the best way to recreate your favorite cafe drink at home without learning the technique of manual milk steaming.
The lack of a built-in grinder is the biggest downside to the Bambino Plus since it means you'll have to purchase a high-quality, espresso-worthy grinder, making the unit one of the more costly at-home espresso options overall. However, the Bambino Plus will improve your morning coffee game if you don't mind paying a bit extra for that optimal mixture of quality and convenience.
Milk Frother: Automatic | Water Tank Capacity: 60oz
REASONS TO BUY
Incredibly convenient and easy to use
REASONS TO AVOID
Drinks aren't as high-level as those from a semi-automatic machine
For those who just can't be bothered with grinders and gauges so early in the morning, there is the Gaggia Anima Prestige. At the push of a button, it grinds, tamps, and brews the coffee for you. It can also automatically steam and dispense milk if you want to turn that espresso into a cappuccino. Besides 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 it a better value than the similarly convenient pod machines.
The high price tag is the clear drawback for the Prestige. You may find it for less than its retail price, but even on sale, it's still an investment. In addition, the espresso drinks it produces aren't quite as tasty as those made with the significantly less expensive Breville Barista Express. However, it can still make quite a good cappuccino, and if you're willing to pay extra for the convenience, we don't think you'll be disappointed.
Milk Frother: Electric Stand Alone | Water Tank Capacity: 54 oz
REASONS TO BUY
Easy to operate
Makes drinks fast
REASONS TO AVOID
Limited coffee ground choices
The Nespresso Evoluo offers users quick espresso drinks in a sleek, compact, and easy-to-use package. The user needs only select the capsule with the desired coffee type, and the machine will automatically adjust the setting for an espresso or drip coffee brew. The Aeroccino3 milk frother is also quite easy to use, and it renders decent-quality milk for making lattes and cappuccinos. It is also more cost-effective than other espresso machines built for speed and convenience. All told, this machine's automation of the complex espresso brewing process makes for a consistent and convenient coffee experience.
If the above seems too good to be true, here are the caveats. The Evoluo does not allow the user to adjust any espresso-making processes. Specifically, one can not change the dosage of grounds, the water's temperature, or the infusion's pressure. As such, we found the espresso to be weak and lacking in enjoyable flavor profiles and delicate crema that espresso enthusiasts prize. Moreover, the Aeroccino3 is a milk frother instead of a milk steamer. As such, the milk it renders does not qualify as microfoam. Yet, these sacrifices may be worth it if you want expediency.
We bought the best and most highly-regarded machines on the market. We purchase all the products at full price and don't take any freebies from manufacturers. Once the machines were in our lab, we spent over 200 hours getting seriously caffeinated. We pulled hundreds if not thousands of shots and steamed gallons of milk. All the while, we paid close attention to the final products — espresso shots, cappuccinos, and lattes. We also scrutinized the user-friendliness of the machine, including maintenance and cleaning.
Our Espresso Machine testing is divided across four rating metrics:
• Espresso Quality (40% weighting)
• Ease of Use (35% weighting)
• Ease of Cleaning (15% weighting)
• Milk Quality (10% weighting)
Michelle Powell has spent over a decade working in the specialty coffee industry. That journey has seen her train with such hallmark establishments as Blue Bottle and Four Barrel. 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.
Liz Nelson just recently started writing for GearLab, having spent the last 11 years working in specialty coffee as a barista and a coffee roaster. Liz runs a roasting and importing start-up high in the Colorado Rockies.
The most recent update to this review brought onboard tester Jessica Riconscente and writer Nick Miley. Jessica grew up in a family of professional technical innovators and followed suit with a degree from CalPoly in Industrial Technology. Nick has over a decade of experience in the consumer review business, obsessing over the minutiae of testing and product performance.
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 offerings of espresso machines fall primarily into two categories: those that value convenience over taste and those that value taste over all else. Whichever type you prefer, our testing results will guide you toward the best machine.
If an espresso machine keeps you from spending a few dollars on a latte every morning (or the expense of gas to get to the coffee shop), it must produce good-tasting coffee and be easy to use. Consequently, half of our testing focused on each machine's flavor quality, taking both the espresso and steamed milk into account. The other half focused on how easy the machines were to use and clean. The following sections detail the results of those individual tests.
Unfortunately, quality espresso does not come cheap. That said, 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 costs of these machines and whether they will really save you money in practice.
The Calphalon Temp IQ and the Breville Barista Express hit the Goldilocks zone — providing everything you need to create cafe-quality espresso drinks at home with reasonable price tags for those ready to invest in their coffee-making arsenal. However, these machines are still far from cheap. If you're looking for an inexpensive machine, we find the Breville Bambino an excellent option. If even that feels too pricey, the Gevi should not be overlooked. You'll make some sacrifices in taste and convenience, but your wallet won't be stripped bare.
While some coffee drinkers enjoy exploring espresso flavor profiles, others are mainly in it for the caffeine. To cover the 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 straight espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes from each espresso machine and asked them to consider things like texture, mouthfeel, and overall espresso quality.
Several espresso machines in our testing group could genuinely rival a cafe's quality. Breville dominates this field with the Dual Boiler, Barista Express, Bambino, Bambino Plus, and the Duo Temp Pro. 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 choose the grind size, tamp the grounds into the portafilter, brew the espresso, and manually steam the milk using a steam wand. This process requires much more effort than fully automated machines, but we've found it's the only way to get third-wave specialty coffee-quality results. Luckily these machines, namely the Temp IQ and the Barista Express, make learning these skills relatively easy for beginners.
All of the super-automatic (i.e., fully automated) espresso machines we tested produced similar taste results, with the machines that used whole beans slightly besting the single-serving capsule systems. Four different machines scored decently in this metric, putting them noticeably, but not far behind Breville's top-scoring offerings. These machines make good drinks, but you probably will not convince an espresso aficionado that they came from a specialty cafe. The espresso from the Gaggia Brera had a good taste, but even when set to produce its most robust shot, some testers felt the results were slightly watery and weak. The steam wand can froth milk well, making a good drier cappuccino but doesn't quite meet the level of perfect latte-worthy steamed milk. The Gaggia Anima Prestige performed similarly. Its espresso has a pleasant taste but is somewhat watery, with the shot getting thin towards the end of extraction. The milk drinks it produces are very similar to the Brera's, but with the added convenience of an automatic milk frother.
The Gevi is a semi-automatic machine that produces good espresso but lacks some of the boldness and creaminess you get in a cafe-quality shot. Still, this espresso at least passed muster for even our pickiest taste testers, making this machine a viable budget option.
Nespresso has dominated the capsule espresso market for a while now, and it doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. Based on our tests, that dominance is well-earned. We found the Nespresso pods to produce a bolder and richer flavor than any other capsule-based competitors. That said, we think these shots are still a bit weaker and more watery than those from most non-pod machines. However, they are good enough that the convenience makes up for that slightly decreased quality.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is a crucial aspect of a home espresso machine, just like any other top appliance. If your machine isn't easy and fun to use, it will end up rusting in an appliance graveyard instead of enhancing your morning coffee routine. We tested this metric 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.
The Breville Dual Boiler is the easiest machine to use in the class. Its intuitive interface, large LCD output, helpful pressure gauge, and forgiving steam wand make it as easy as possible to render high-quality shots and steamed milk. However, the functionality of the Nespresso Evoluo and the Nespresso Essenza Mini offer great convenience as well — you turn these machines on, insert a capsule, and push a button. The capsules even have a barcode reader that adjusts its settings based on the type of capsule inserted.
The Gaggia Anima Prestige is the only machine in the class that could approach the push-button simplicity of the Nespresso machines. Thanks to its super-automatic functionality, putting beans in the hopper and filling the milk jug is all you need to do. With a few selections on the intuitive control panel, the machine grinds, tamps, brews, and steams the milk.
Rounding out the group of top scorers is the other single-serving capsule machine — the De'Longhi Nespresso Lattissima Pro. Its use of capsules makes operation very simple, and we could make a cappuccino with the built-in automatic milk frother in less than two minutes. It fell short of a higher score because the functions are displayed with symbols, requiring manual reading and memorization.
We've found the Calphalon Temp IQ to be one of the friendliest manual espresso machines for beginners, offering clear instructions and intuitive labeling. The Breville Barista Express is close 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.
Ease of Cleaning
Making hundreds of shots with each tested machine, we also took careful notes on the cleanup required after each use, such as cleaning the portafilter, wiping the steam wand, emptying the drip tray, etc. Additionally, we ran each machine through its descaling process at least twice, timing the process and noting any annoyances. Descaling removes the mineral buildup synonymous with heating water over and over. It's best to descale every 2-6 months, depending on the water quality.
The Nespresso Essenza Mini + Aeroccino3 and the Nespresso Evoluo + Aeroccino3 rose to the top of the charts in our ease of cleaning tests. These machines have virtually no daily cleaning aside from the separate frother, which is quite easy to clean. The Evoluo did lose some points for its descaling process, which took us 30 minutes and went through so much water that it became a hands-on affair to refill the water tanks while ensuring the machine wasn't overflowing. However, the Essenza Mini accomplishes this same task in just 13 minutes.
The De'Longhi Magnifica is the only non-capsule machine to grace the top tier of our ease of cleaning testing. This position is primarily due to its super simple and automated descaling process. The Magnifica's steam wand breaks down into multiple pieces, making cleaning all the nooks and crannies easy. The only downside is that none of its parts are dishwasher safe.
The Gaggia Anima Prestige has an automatic milk frother that 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) is dishwasher safe. Its descaling process is also easy. The only downside is that the drip tray fills up more quickly than other machines, requiring frequent emptying and cleaning.
The De'Longhi Dedica DeLuxe (the EC685M) also offers a relatively painless cleaning process. Wiping out the portafilter is generally quick and easy, and the steam wand can similarly be taken apart quickly for easy cleaning. The only complaint we have about cleaning this machine 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. 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 Dual Boiler's process takes much longer due to the size of the machine). Neither can compete with the cleaning convenience of a capsule or super-automatic machine, though we think the better espresso is well worth the additional cleaning effort.
Most of the Breville models we tested scored similarly thanks to common design features. These machines use portafilters, and the steam wands require more rinsing and wiping than their super-automatic cousins. They also have drip trays that tend to fill up quickly, so you'll have to empty them more often than with other machines. However, all offer straightforward descaling processes, so long-term cleaning doesn't feel painful. Overall, these machines take more cleaning effort than super-automatic machines, but the taste quality gains will be more than worth it for most people.
We specifically focused on each machine's ability to create different steamed milk textures for this metric, as many people will value milk texturing capabilities more than espresso-making prowess. For testing, we attempted to make everything from the velvety microfoam that creates a perfect latte to the fluffy foam that defines a dry cappuccino and every iteration in between. Our main conclusion is that if you want great milk, you'll have to learn to use a manual steam wand, but the automated options are slowly catching up.
The Breville Dual Boiler is the best bet for those seeking genuine, cafe-quality lattes at home. The smaller Bambino (the original model, not the Plus) can produce that fine, creamy microfoam that defines a good latte, allowing for experimentation with latte art. These two models use a traditional steam wand, presenting a small learning curve for beginners. However, a wand is the only way to create superior steamed milk, so it's worth the extra effort. Steaming milk can be a fun learning experience — plus, you can show off your barista skills!
The Calphalon Temp IQ churns out cafe-quality milk. Its steam wand is particularly adept at creating microfoam for an excellent cortado or latte. The milk-steaming capabilities on the Breville Barista Express are also quite good, though they are a step down from the top Breville models. We found the steam wand to be powerful and readily adjustable, producing good microfoam and steamed milk. The Breville Duo Temp Pro and Rancilio Silvia had similar results to the Barista Express.
The Breville Bambino Plus is far and away the top performer for automated milk steaming. With just a few buttons, it creates a creamy texture. This is the machine for those who want high-quality espresso drinks at home without manually steaming milk.
The Gevi is the least expensive machine we've found with a steam wand that can produce a true microfoam. While the texture is maybe slightly less creamy than the milk steamed with more expensive machines, it comes very close.
The Gaggia Anima Prestige, Nespresso Essenza Mini + Aeroccino3, and Nespresso Evoluo + Aeroccino3 have automatic milk frothers that are consistent and create a well-frothed product. Still, the foam bubbles are larger than the ideal 'microfoam' we look for in the perfect cappuccino topping. The steamed milk from these machines tastes more like milk heated in a microwave rather than the velvety texture espresso connoisseurs seek.
Are These Machines Cheaper Than a Cafe?
The basic answer to that question is yes. All of the tested machines can pull a shot of espresso and make a latte for much less than what you'd pay at a coffee shop. Even the least cost-effective machines can produce a latte for just a quarter of the average cafe cost.
Even when you consider the average machine's cost, it is still worth purchasing in the long run if you're a regular at your local coffee shop. Most models we tested make up for their upfront costs if you replace 100-150 cafe lattes with made-at-home lattes. At the highest end of the spectrum, the impressively pricey Breville Dual Boiler makes up its cost in 351 lattes, with that figure rising closer to 375 if you add a top-tier grinder into the cost calculation. 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 machines in our lineup can save you money compared to regularly going to a coffee shop. However, for many people, the reality is that an at-home machine will only be a partial replacement for visits to a cafe. In our experience, making quality espresso at home can satisfy part of that craving, but you'll probably still find yourself in a cafe or roastery from time to time if you also crave the atmosphere. If you fit into this latter description, an espresso machine may feel like a splurge, but a quality model can still pay for itself eventually.
Making espresso at home is an attainable luxury with the investment in a good machine and some practice. Such a purchase will help you cut down on coffee runs and vastly improve your morning vibe. Our detailed testing and results can put you on the path to being enjoyably caffeinated and help you navigate the delicious world of espresso at home, no matter your budget or goals.
Michelle Powell, Liz Nelson, Jessica Riconscente, and Nick Miley
When it comes to making good coffee, don't press your...
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