Best Espresso Machine of 2021
|Price||$1,500 List||$600 List|
$599.99 at Amazon
$699.95 at Amazon
|$300 List||$500 List|
|Pros||Excellent espresso and milk steaming, can pull and steam simultaneously, multiple programmable features, relatively user friendly||Excellent espresso, achieves near-perfect microfoam in its steamed milk, relatively easy to use for a semi-automatic machine||Great taste, cafe quality lattes and cappuccinos||Great espresso, great milk steaming performance, compact design||Great taste, exceptional lattes and cappuccinos, mostly automated milk steaming|
|Cons||Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve||Expensive, requires more effort/practice than fully-automatic machines||Expensive, requires some effort and a learning curve||No built-in grinder||Expensive, no built-in grinder|
|Bottom Line||A great choice for those that want the best possible at-home espresso quality, but comes at a hefty price||An excellent choice for those that want the ability to make cafe-quality espresso drinks at home, even if you're a beginner||A perfect choice for those that don't mind putting in a little work to get the best tasting shot||A small machine that makes great espresso and perfectly steams milk||A top-notch machine that offers the best (mostly) automated milk steaming we've found|
|Rating Categories||Breville the Dual...||Calphalon Temp IQ||Breville Barista...||Breville Bambino||Breville Bambino...|
|Ease Of Use (30%)|
|Ease Of Cleaning (15%)|
|Milk Steaming (15%)|
|Specs||Breville the Dual...||Calphalon Temp IQ||Breville Barista...||Breville Bambino||Breville Bambino...|
|Dimensions||14.7" x 14.8" x 14.7"||5.6" x 14.5" x 17.3"||13.2" x 12.5" x 16"||7.7" x 12.6" x 12.2"||7.7" x 12.6" x 12.2"|
|Warranty||1 Year Limited||3 Year Limited||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited||1 Year Limited|
|Milk Frother||Steam Wand||Steam Wand||Steam Wand||Steam Wand||Automatic Steam Wand|
|Water Tank Capacity||84 oz||94 oz||67 oz||47 oz||65 oz|
|Cost per Shot||$0.45||$0.45||$0.47||$0.45||$0.47|
|Lifetime Cost per Shot||$1.08||$0.70||$0.72||$0.58||$0.72|
|Number of Cafe Replacement Shots to Make p list price||588||235||237||118||237|
|Number of Cafe replacement lattes to make up list price||351||141||141||70||141|
Best for Most At-Home Baristas
Calphalon Temp IQ
The Calphalon Temp IQ is more than capable of producing rich and complex espresso and imparting silky microfoam into steamed milk, creating cafe-quality drinks at home. Perhaps more importantly, it offers an easier path for beginners to become experienced baristas than most machines. The process of manual grinding, tamping, brewing, and milk steaming required to get excellent results is much less daunting due to clear instructions and a user-friendly interface. Additionally, minor errors in grind size selection and tamping technique are somewhat forgiven by a pre-infusion step in the brewing process, providing a better experience for beginners. However, this machine is not only for newbies. A multitude of customizable settings let even expert baristas endlessly experiment and tamper with their brews.
The Calphalon Temp IQ's 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 recreate your favorite cafe drink at home. The Calphalon Temp IQ 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
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. The semi-automatic brew process and the 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 five years, and it continues to serve a family of two today.
The Breville Barista Express has a steep price tag, which is generally a prerequisite to getting cafe-quality results. Otherwise, the biggest potential source of disappointment is the Breville Barista Express's semi-automatic brew process and manual milk steaming — both of 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 Bang for the Buck
In our opinion, the Gevi strikes one of the most impressive balances of performance and price on the market. In our tests, it managed to produce good espresso shots and impressive milk drinks while sporting a price tag that is well below average.
Though this machine makes good espresso and steams milk well, both fall just short the texture, creaminess, and taste that can be achieved with more expensive machines. Additionally, it takes about a minute to switch from brewing to steam mode, and then more time to cool back down to brewing temperature. This makes it a poor choice for those that make multiple milk drinks in a row. Finally, you'll need to purchase an espresso quality grinder separately. Still, if you don't mind making slight sacrifices in both taste and convenience, this machine is one of the least expensive ways to make good espresso at home.
Read review: Gevi
Best for Serious At-Home Baristas
Breville the Dual Boiler
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. This giant consistently pulled cafe-quality shots and steamed creamy, luscious milk in our testing. As the name suggests, it has two boilers, which allow you to brew espresso and steam milk simultaneously. This dual boiler system 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 allowing one to cool on the counter while you make the other. Despite this impressive pedigree, the Dual Boiler keeps its user experience reasonably straightforward and, we believe, 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 output and pressure gauge make those processes feel more manageable than they do with some other semi-automatic machines.
Its massive price tag is the obvious downside of the Dual Boiler, and you'll need to purchase a separate coffee grinder, adding to your upfront cost. We think the Breville Barista Express and its built-in grinder will be sufficient at 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
For those mornings when you just don't want to deal with grinders and gauges, there is the Gaggia Anima Prestige. 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 drawback for 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 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, you're not going to be disappointed with the Prestige.
Read review: Gaggia Anima Prestige
Best for Straight Espresso Shot Convenience
If you're looking for the quickest and most convenient espresso shot possible, look no further than the Nespresso Evoluo. With a single push of a button and minimal daily cleanup, this machine can have you sipping espresso within minutes of getting out of bed. And if you are in the mood for it, there are standard coffee capsules available for this machine as well. Adding to this machine's convenience, it automatically adjusts the settings by reading a barcode on the capsule, meaning that you will not have to think about which settings you need if you decide on coffee one morning instead of espresso. And 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, which you will need if you want to turn that convenient espresso into a convenient cappuccino. Standalone milk frothers are available, but 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 six espresso options (2 of which are double shots). Still, the Evoluo presents the fewest obstacles in turning a groggy brain into 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
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 many people don't want to add it 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 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. In our opinion, this automated steam wand is the best way to recreate your favorite cafe drink at home without learning the ways of 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 improve 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
Cafe Quality for Less
If you're looking to make cafe quality espresso at home while spending as little as possible the Breville Bambino should be at the top of your list. This machine manages to pull espresso and steam milk that belies its small stature — 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 machines do.
However, there is a big asterix on that low cost. This machine does not have a grinder built-in, meaning you'll need to purchase an espresso-quality grinder separately. While that extra cost generally won't completely bridge the price gap between this and other cafe-worthy machines, it can come close. If you already have such a grinder, however, this machine is a fantastic choice.
Read review: Breville Bambino
Best Portable Espresso Machine
Wacaco MiniPresso GR
Once you've experienced 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. With just hot water, you can pull a pretty decent shot anywhere you happen to be. Also, it weighs less than a pound, a plus if size and weight constraints are on your mind.
No portable gadget will be able to match the quality of much more expensive countertop machines, so you'll need to rein in your expectations. It also takes a bit of practice to pump the plunger and aim the espresso into your cup simultaneously. Still, 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 made for consumers. It provides great 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 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 seriously 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 offerings of espresso machines fall primarily into two camps: those that value convenience over taste and those that value taste over all else. Whichever camp you are drawn to, 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.
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 costs of these machines and whether they will really save you money in practice.
Unfortunately, quality espresso does not come cheap. In our opinion, 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 while sporting price tags that are at least reasonable for those looking to invest in their coffee making arsenal. However, these machines are still far from inexpensive. If you're looking for a deal there are some to be found, though you'll almost definitely have to make some sacrifices in taste and convenience. If you want to go this route, we think the Gevi is a great option.
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 straight espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes prepared using each machine and asked them to consider things like texture, mouthfeel, and overall taste.
There were a number of 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 and 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 grind the beans, tamp them into the portafilter, brew the espresso, and manually steam milk using a steam wand. This process requires much more effort than the fully-automated machines, 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.
All of the super-automatic (i.e., fully automated) 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 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 didn't quite meet the level of perfect latte-worthy steamed milk. The Gaggia Anima Prestige performed similarly. Its espresso had a pleasant taste but was somewhat 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.
The Gevi is one semi-automatic machine that also earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. Its espresso is good, but lacks some of the boldness and creaminess that 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.
The De'Longhi Magnifica's offerings were nice and creamy but slightly on the weak and watery side, 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 similar, excelling at cappuccinos but lacking when it came to lattes.
Nespresso has primarily dominated 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.
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.
One machine we were somewhat disappointed in was the Phillips 3200. No matter how much we tinkered with settings, its espresso came out weak and over extracted (read: bitter). Overall, we think a cheaper brewing method like an aeropress can get more enjoyable results.
Our least favorite machine when it comes to taste is by far the Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista. No matter how much we tried to adapt to the machine, 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 experience. 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 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 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 ease. Thanks to its super-automatic functionality, filling the bean hopper and the milk jug is pretty much all you need to do. 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 difficult than all semi-automatic machines. Also, 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 output, helpful pressure gauge, and relatively forgiving steam wand make the curve a little easier than most equivalent machines.
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 labeled with symbols that aren't completely obvious, requiring manual reading and memorization.
We also found the Phillips 3200 and its touchscreen impressively easy to use, though this convenience was largely negated but its poor performance in our taste tests.
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.
Leaving the super-automatic realm and moving to more capable but more labor-intensive semi-automatic machines decreases user-friendliness but generally brings an increase in quality. We've found the Calphalon Temp IQ to be one of the friendliest of these machines for 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.
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 it may take several uses of the machine to acquaint yourself.
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 grind, dose, and tamp the coffee properly. 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 Gevi is another semi-automatic machine that is relatively easy to use. However, it heats up slowly, and takes a while to cool back down to brewing temperature after the steam wand has been used. Its instruction manual also leaves a bit to be desired in terms of clarity, so you may end up googling if you have to troubleshoot any issues.
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 position is primarily 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.
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, requiring more frequent emptying and cleaning.
Also scoring 7 out of 10, the De'Longhi EC685M offers a relatively painless cleaning process. 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, though we think the better espresso is well worth the additional cleaning effort.
The Gaggia Brera was generally easy to tidy up but did present us with a couple of challenges. The steam wand tended to get some buildup on the inside of the spout, requiring diligent scrubbing when used often. Also, the descaling process 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 and 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 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.
While neither feels particularly stubborn when it comes to cleaning, the Gaggia Classic Pro and the 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 tends to accumulate built-up gunk requiring vigorous scrubbing, which more than erases the steam wand's cleaning convenience. The Classic Pronever created a huge mess but seemed to make small ones consistently. These small messes are 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.
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. The prosumer Duo Temp Pro, the more accessible Barista Express, and the smaller Bambino can produce that fine, creamy microfoam that defines a good latte, allowing for experimentation with latte art. All of these 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 superior 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.
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.
The Gevi is far and away the cheapest 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.
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. Still, in our testing, it produced steamed and frothed milk very similar to the Lattissima and the Prestige but 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.
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, which is ok if you like a very dry cappuccino, but 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.
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 highest cost 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 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 someone who 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, for many people, the reality is that an at-home machine won't be a complete replacement for visits to a coffee shop. In our experience, making quality espresso at home can satisfy part of that craving, but 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 in the longer term.
Making espresso at home is a luxury that is also immediately 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