Last Updated on February 10, 2023 by Marie Cooper
Whipping up quality lattes and cappuccinos at home is made possible by the best espresso machines, and they all offer certain features that cater to the needs of different individuals. You’ll find models on the market that require you to constantly monitor the machine to get the results you want; models that require a little bit of monitoring and user interaction, and those that require a moderate amount of involvement.
Even though it’s definitely possible to make a great cup of coffee at home with some of the simpler equipment and brewing methods like drip coffee makers, French press, moka pots, and more, a lot of people love to have that shiny and sophisticated espresso machine in their kitchen – and it’s really the best option you have if you prefer concentrated coffee for any reason.
If you’re a coffee aficionado, these machines offer you subtle satisfying sounds that you won’t get from the simple ones, like the crunch of the grinder and the click of the portafilter. Moreover, the golden crema on an espresso is second to none and the way to have that, plus the cappuccino you crave on weekends, is by brewing your coffee with an espresso machine.
This wonderful machine enables you to treat yourself to an espresso or cappuccino whenever you want, and there are lots of them on the market, ranging from cheap to super expensive. You won’t need to buy any of those professional-grade models though, because there are lots of models designed for home use that can fit perfectly in your kitchen.
It’s easy to get excited after buying your first machine, but, unless you already have experience with them, don’t expect to start pulling perfect espresso shots the first time you use one. It’ll take some getting used to and some practice, but it’s not difficult, and with a few tries, you’ll learn the ropes and get good at it.
There are 3 major types of espresso machines – manual, semi-automatic, and super-automatic. I’m going to show you the best semi and super automatic models to buy so you can pick the right product for yourself.
The Best Espresso Machines to Buy in 2023
Breville Barista Touch Espresso Machine
The Breville Barista Touch is a highly intuitive and user-friendly machine, and it’s great for beginners as a result of it being user-friendly and easy to use. To pull an amazing shot of espresso, you need to have had lots of practice, know the science behind it, and have a good bit of patience, and this might lead you to think that it’s a difficult task, and yes it can be somewhat difficult if you lack the skills and experience, but the Breville Barista Touch makes it so much easier, even for beginners.
One of the top features of this machine is its PID controller, which controls the boiler’s temperature and facilitates optimal extraction and better-tasting coffee. This also opens the way for consistently flavorful and smooth espresso. Heating time should be as short as possible and this machine ticks that box thanks to its Thermojet system. Thermojet significantly accelerates heating, bringing the machine to extraction-ready state in 3 seconds.
The touchscreen is one of the unique features on this product and it’s highly advantageous to users. It divides the coffee making process into 3 steps (grind, brew, milk) and walks users through each step. With the touchscreen, you can customize every aspect of your brew including the strength, temperature, grind size, milk texture, brew time, and more, and then save the settings so you can reuse them. You can save up to 8 custom settings for later use.
Buyers get access to the 4 filtered baskets included in the package, which includes an aficionado-friendly single-walled basket. You also get a razor-precise dose trimmer for trimming excess ground coffee in the portafilter, a test strip to check water hardness, and a cleaning kit. The included tamper is easy to use as well.
The Breville Barista Touch features an in-built conical burr coffee grinder with automatic dosing. This means it will only dispense the amount of grounds needed to make the amount of coffee you need. There’s an automatic milk frother too that enhances milk flavor through frothing with thousands of tiny bubbles.
Overall, this machine is perfect for home-made espresso. It can’t be compared to a commercial machine as it isn’t one, so know what to expect. That said, it makes perfect espresso for a home espresso maker.
Pros: Produces high quality coffee; easy to clean (self-cleaning); beginner-friendly; color touchscreen offers saved configurations.
Cons: Exceptional machine but expensive; can’t update system firmware; semi-automatic machine, so less customization.
De’Longhi EC9155MB La Specialista Arte Espresso Machine
The De’Longhi EC9155MB is another product that comes with an integrated grinder, just like the Barista Touch, so you won’t have to buy a separate grinder in order to use it. It can hold 0.55lb of beans and there are 8 customization options for the grind size too, but this is an espresso machine, so let’s talk about how good it is at doing its job.
Espresso made with this machine is intense and rich, and the crema is so good and stable that when you add something to it that reduces the concentration of foam in one area, like sugar, it forms back. With the included steam wand, making milk drinks is a breeze. The steam wand is an upgraded MyLatteArt wand which looks similar to the type you’ll find in a coffee shop.
Its water tank has a 56-ounce capacity and a good number of accessories are included in its package to make brewing easy and convenient. Some of the included accessories are single and double filters, hardness test, descaler, cleaning brush, and tamping accessories.
One of the outstanding pros of this machine is its excellent steam wand, which froths milk to the same standard as commercial frothers. You can also make small tweaks to your technique for different milk drinks, so you get the level of frothing required for each type of drink.
This machine is easy to use, and easy to clean. Its dishwasher-safe parts are detachable, so you can remove them and let your dishwasher do the cleaning. De’Longhi offers you 3 starter recipes – hot water, americano, and espresso; tamping tools that prevent countertop mess and help you achieve perfect extraction; active temperature control that maintains your selected temperature until the brewing process is complete.
Thanks to its user-friendly and easy to understand manual, you can quickly become familiar with how this machine works and get started pulling your first shot in no time. There are step-by-step instructions and infographics that cover all the aspects of brewing you’ll need to get started, including setup, dosing, first cycle, and even a roast chart.
This is a beginner-friendly machine and it’s fun to use, whether you’re a beginner or just looking to hone your espresso skills. If you don’t like manually frothing milk or just don’t want to bother to learn how to do it properly, you can buy an automatic frother for your cappuccinos and lattes.
Pros: Commercial-quality steam wand; makes excellent and consistent espresso; easy to use.
Cons: A bigger water tank would be awesome; not all parts are dishwasher safe.
Philips 2200 Series Fully Automatic Espresso Machine
If you want a fully automatic machine, you’ve found the right one — and the Philips 2200 doesn’t just offer you an all-in-one espresso maker, it’s capable of making 3 drinks as well – espresso, coffee, and cappuccino. It also comes with Philips’ proprietary LatteGo milk system that tops your milk drinks with silky smooth froths. The LatteGo milk system is easy to set up and clean too.
Like the Breville Barista Touch, this machine also has an intuitive touch display and a built-in grinder. The touch display enables you to select the type of coffee you want and adjust the aroma strength and quantity through a special menu. The Philips 2200’s built-in grinder offers you 12 grinding levels from ultra-fine to coarse, and it’s precise and consistent thanks to the pure ceramic material it’s made of.
As this is an automatic machine, it has a built-in regulator that controls the temperature and flow rate of the water in the machine in order to achieve perfect extraction. You’re notified when it’s time to change the filter, and as long as you do this when you’re prompted to, you’ll be able to brew up to 5,000 cups before the need for descaling arises. When it’s time to descale, this machine descales itself. All you need to do is follow the simple instructions in the manual to prepare it for descaling.
All the accessories you’ll need to make flavorful cups of coffee with this machine are included with it, and here’s a list of them: hardness test strip, AquaClean filter, measuring scoop, grease tube, and a LatteGo storage lid. The drip tray, grounds container, and LatteGo milk system are dishwasher safe, so cleaning these is easy.
The Philips 2200 is a wonderful espresso machine that is easy to use. It’s a fully automatic machine so there are almost no manual steps involved in the brewing process. This is a great product for anyone that loves to produce perfect espresso the easy way.
You can choose the strength of your coffee by adjusting the grind size (the finer it is, the stronger the strength), brew espresso and cappuccino drinks, dispense hot water, and even brew pre-ground coffee by pouring coffee grounds into the separate grounds compartment.
Pros: Easy to use touch interface; My Coffee Choice menu for adjusting aroma strength and quantity of cups; Double cup.
Cons: Since this is a fully automatic machine, there are less customization options compared to semi-automatic ones.
Factors to Consider When Shopping for an Espresso Machine
There are a lot of factors that you’ll need to consider when shopping for the best espresso machine. Since one will cost you a decent or even considerable amount of money, it’s recommended that you learn as much as you can about these machines so you can make the right decision. Speaking of making the right decision, that’s exactly what the buying guide below will help you achieve, so let’s get started.
You can choose to spend a fortune or buy a cheaper machine, and whichever choice you make, you can still make excellent espresso. In other words, you don’t need to have the most expensive machine, so if you do decide to buy a more expensive one, you’re not necessarily paying only for better espresso – you’re paying for extra features that make the process easier, faster, and more convenient.
Most people who just want to drink espresso can get all of their needs met with a manual machine. As your needs increase, so does the cost of the machine you’ll need. For example, latte lovers will need a product that is capable of steaming milk, which adds to the potential cost of acquiring the right machine.
If you have limited counter space, you should consider the size of the machine you intend to buy and see if you’ll have enough space for it and all the other kitchen appliances you own before buying it. If you have a large amount of space, this isn’t something to worry about, obviously. Horizontal space isn’t the only space you should pay attention to, though.
If you’re planning to buy a machine that requires you to load your coffee beans from the top, for example, a machine that comes with a built-in grinder, then you’ll need to have enough vertical space above it as well.
Make sure your machine’s warm-up time is not too long if you have limited amounts of time at the time of the day when you brew and drink your espresso. For example, if you usually drink your coffee in the morning before heading to work and you’re always rushing to leave, you don’t want an espresso machine that takes a long time to warm up as that may cause you to arrive late to work.
If you can, consider getting a product that comes with dual boilers if you love cappuccinos and lattes. With the availability of dual boilers, you can pull a shot of espresso while steaming milk since there are two boilers available.
Testing Espresso Machines – What Matters?
I judge espresso machines by certain criteria to determine if they’re worth recommending or not, and I explain these criteria below.
Ease of setup: Given that these machines can be complicated and intimidating especially for first-time users, it’s important that the one you pick is easy to set up and use. You can’t skip the learning curve, though, but it should be as easy as possible to understand how the machine works. In other words, you shouldn’t have to read and watch tons of tutorials and read many articles before getting a good understanding of how to set up and use it.
Extra accessories and features: Accessories make your life easier, so ensure that you’re buying a machine that has all the accessories you need. Extra features are important, so look for those as well.
Taste: If your machine produces balanced espresso, then you made the right choice. You don’t want excessive bitterness in your espresso. You want a mix of brightness and sweetness. The perfect espresso has a nuanced and balanced flavor.
Pressure and temperature control: You want a machine that brews your espresso with the right amount of pressure and temperature to prevent overextraction and bitter espresso shots. These should neither be too high or too low. Pressure and temperature are regulated by components inside your machine, and the more expensive products do a better job of regulating these than the cheaper ones, typically. If your machine has a PID controller, it’s almost certainly regulating these factors properly.
Steam wand efficiency: If the steam wand makes steamed milk consistently, then the product I’m testing scores extra points. The foam should be incorporated into the milk consistently by the steam wand, instead of just pumping air into it like low quality wands do. The result of using a machine with a high quality steam wand is a smooth and frothy-textured steamed milk.
At-Home Espresso Brewing Tips
1. For the best shots, use filtered or soft water. All types of coffee have water as their main ingredient, so it stands to reason that the higher the quality of the water, the better the taste of your coffee. That’s not the only reason to use filtered water, though. Filtered water also protects your machine by reducing the buildup of limescale inside.
2. Make sure your coffee doesn’t lose any flavor while it’s being brewed by warming up your machine before each brew. The warm-up time varies from model to model.
How to Clean an Espresso Machine
If you want your espresso machine to run in peak condition always and your coffee to have a consistent taste, you’ll need to clean it regularly. The main issue with these machines that necessitates frequent cleaning is the buildup of scale, which comes from the water used for brewing coffee. Scale is also called limescale and it’s composed of calcium carbonate deposits that build up over time as you use your machine.
Another concern is coffee oils, which come from beans. Oil is one of the insoluble components in coffee beans and it can build up over time just like scale. They then go stale inside the machine and introduce weird flavors into your coffee. The longer you use your machine without cleaning it, the harder it will be to get rid of rancid oils.
The best way to clean an espresso machine is a method called backflushing. In essence, you use a backflush insert to clean the machine by running water through it. For more thorough cleaning, use a cleaning powder designed for cleaning espresso machines like Urnex Cafiza. Daily cleaning of the steam wand is also necessary if you steam milk for milk drinks everyday.
If your product’s user manual comes with cleaning instructions, then I recommend you follow your manufacturer’s instructions and use the steps and cleaning methods/products they recommend.
Manual vs Semi-Automatic vs Super Automatic Espresso Machines
There are automatic, manual, and semi-automatic options on the market for espresso lovers like you to choose from, and they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Automatic machines give you very little control over customization, but they are hands-off and are amazingly consistent in terms of the results they produce. They usually come with a built-in grinder and have the ability to brew the amount of espresso you need automatically. Super automatic machines can give you the same results even faster. You just need to drop a capsule containing coffee grounds in them. The amount of coffee grounds in the capsules are measured, so they hold just the right amount of grounds for a certain number of espresso shots.
Whilst automatic machines give you almost no control over the results you get, they produce consistent results, are easy to use, and offer you all the features you need so you don’t have to buy extra products, like a coffee grinder and milk frother.
Semi-automatic ones produce consistent results and offer you more control with customization options. They’re easy to use and cheaper than automatic espresso makers. With the semi-automatics, you’re able to choose the size and number of shots you want, grind your beans and tamp the grounds, mount the portafilter, and the machine forces preheated water through the grounds to produce your coffee. Temperature and pressure are regulated and controlled automatically in this type of machine.
Semi-automatics also come with steam wands which come in handy when making milk drinks that require you to steam or froth milk. The disadvantage of semi-automatics is the need for some manual skill and still less control than a manual offers you but more than a fully automatic offers.
Manual machines are used mainly by aficionados with a lot of experience and skill in making espresso because the brewing factors like pressure, timing, preinfusion period, and rate of water flow, are controlled by you. You have full control over the brewing process, so the quality of your shots is determined by how good you are. If you lack the right amount of know-how, your results won’t be consistent, since manual machines don’t regulate pressure, timing, and temperature automatically like semis and automatics do.
If you decide to go for a manual one, bear in mind that you’ll have to constantly watch it and stay active during the process, since manual machines require you to push and pull a lever that draws water into the grounds and then forces it through the grounds as you push and pull.
If you’re a beginner, buy a semi-automatic or fully automatic machine and avoid manual ones as these are more difficult to use compared to semi-automatic and fully automatic. The semi and fully automatic ones are the most commonly used home espresso makers as they strike a balance between control and convenience/ease of use.