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Want to skip the lines—and the expense—at the coffee bar and get your espresso or cappuccino at home? We tested six machines that promise to do the work for you.
What You Need To Know
Being an espresso lover can be vexing. For one thing, your habit will hit you in the wallet. A single shot—just 1 ounce—recently cost me almost $3.00 at a local coffee bar, before tip. And it took less time to drink than I spent standing in line to order. Not to mention that I had to leave the house to obtain that tiny, pricey, life-giving elixir. So I was excited about testing home espresso machines, especially ones that promised to do most of the work for me. As it turns out, I’m not alone in my desire for espresso’s rich, strong boost: Daily consumption of espresso-based beverages has nearly tripled in America since 2008, according to the National Coffee Association’s 2016 trends report.
But shopping for espresso machines is complicated. They range in price from about $100 for basic machines to elaborate, glossy marvels that can set you back more than almost $8,000. And that’s for a machine without a grinder or a scale, both of which experts say are necessary for the best results. Since we know that coffee tastes best if the beans are ground just before brewing and we didn’t want to mess around grinding and portioning coffee in the early morning, we decided to focus on models that have grinders built in, which dramatically narrowed the field. Because most Americans enjoy milky espresso drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes, we chose only machines that included a method of frothing milk. We also capped the price around $1,000, high enough to (we hoped) ensure quality but not so high as to be, well, ridiculous. We bought six machines priced from about $400 to about $1,000—five with grinders and one that uses pods.
We knew what we wanted in an espresso machine. First and foremost, it should make espresso as good as a barista can produce, and you should be able to customize the brew strength and size to your taste. Second, the machine must be easy to use and relatively straightforward to maintain. Brewing a drink or two should not make much of a mess, take too long, or require a discouraging amount of fuss for a busy weekday morning.
Speed is at the heart of espresso, which is a modern invention; it became popular just after World War II as a way to brew coffee fast. It takes a barista just 20 to 30 seconds to “pull” a shot of espresso, sending heated water through a small, packed puck of finely ground coffee. With drip coffee, gravity does the work. But with espresso, the water is forced through the coffee using intense pressure. The standard for this type of espresso machine is a peak capacity of about 15 bars of pressure—the equivalent of 217.5 pounds per square inch (psi). According to espresso experts, the...
Everything We Tested
Reviews you can trust
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.