Are you comfortable navigating the importance of a PID? Or what effects the shape of a steam wand can have on frothing milk? What kind of filter basket do you need to get the best double shot? And can you really get coffee shop quality espresso based drinks in the comfort of your own kitchen? The following espresso machine reviews aim to help you understand the finer details of true espresso.
Whether you are looking to brew a rich and balanced shot of espresso, or find the best espresso machine to up your milk frothing game, our buying guide is here to bring a little more clarity to a growing market for the home espresso enthusiast.
Best For Most People: Breville Barista Express
The Breville Barista Express is an extremely popular espresso machine that combines almost every bit of espresso production kit you will need to make cafe-quality coffee at home.
As espresso extraction goes, Breville are regularly touted as being well up there with some of the best home espresso machines on the market. The Breville Barista Express reaches an extraction pressure of up to 15 bars of pressure which is based on classic Italian espresso machines.
The Barista Express has an in-built steel burr grinder with 15 available grind adjustments and an airtight bean hopper. It also has a timer and tamper fixed in the corner, along with many of the other best espresso machine features included on their other machines like the Breville Infuser (which could also easily be included on this list).
The low pressure pre-infusion, adjustable brew temperature, and a nicely mobile steam wand for milk frothing means that this compact home espresso set up can fit tidily onto your kitchen counter space or coffee nook.
Additional features like an inbuilt water filter let you fill the machine’s extra large water tank with tap water and not worry about how the minerals in your water supply can harm the inside of your coffee machine, or the effects they can have on the taste of your favourite blend. This is a bigger worry in harder water areas.
Whilst this all sounds amazing in theory, one thing you will find regularly is customers adding a different coffee grinder to their setup, especially if you like to brew filter coffee too and want to only use one grinder for each.
The built in grinder may not have enough available adjustments for everyone – when you are looking to dial in your espresso for perfect balance, there’s always a chance that one of the settings is not quite the right one for the coffee you are brewing.
Best Compact Machine: Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Rancillio espresso machines can be found in commercial coffee shops all around the world, and their ‘Silvia’ is seen as one of the best entry level espresso makers on the market.
It’s no nonsense, compact size design has the kind of build quality you will find in a lot of commercial grade espresso machines, and Rancillio have been producing this design for over 20 years.
It lacks small features like flashy lights of a water tap, but for a no fuss, true espresso making experience there aren’t many better home espresso makers in this price range.
The Rancillio Silvia boasts ‘Prosumer’ components that are rarely matched in other home espresso machines. Its stainless steel casing houses a solid brass boiler, along with a group head that is used on their commercial grade machines, making this a machine that is built to last.
The Rancillio Silvia is able to be fitted with a PID if desired. This adds easily adjustable boiler temperature control to the machine, pre-infusion and shot time programming, turning the Silvia into a semi automatic espresso brewer, helping you to perfectly dial in the coffee beans you love and get the full barista experience.
A small drawback may be the Silvia’s single boiler’s capacity. Some users have said that it can be a good idea to steam milk before extracting your espresso to save waiting for the steam wands pressure to reach optimal levels for milk frothing.
Also Great: Gaggia Classic Pro
The Gaggia Classic Pro is a home machine with a big reputation. Often spoken of as being the best espresso machine for someone just starting out in the espresso game, or for that person just looking to get the best value for money for a home espresso use.
The original Gaggia Classic was first introduced to market in 1991, and was left largely unchanged over the years, at least until 2009 when Philips bought the company.
Still manufactured in Italy, the biggest change in design was swapping out their aluminium boiler and replacing it with stainless steel.
The addition of a ‘proper’ steam wand rounds out the Gaggia Classic Pro to being a quality, entry level machine, especially for the price.
This machine is also one that lacks, but can be modded with, a PID. Other than that the machine is well built with high quality parts and has a standardised pressure setting of 12 bars of pressure, which is more common in modern commercial grade espresso machines.
Upgrade Pick: La Marzocco Linea Mini
The Linea Mini, brought to you by coffee industry leaders and pioneers, La Marzocco, is a home machine that shows you mean business with your espresso set up.
Keeping their signature build quality, the La Marzocco Linea Mini has all the tools to sufficiently run a service shift in a neighbourhood coffee shop.
The simple open/close valve allows for varying pressure, and has their signature steam wand that is well up there with the best in the world.
You have the choice out of whether you want to attach this machine to your water mains or if you are going to use the easily installed water reservoir.
Whilst boiler temperature is not easy to adjust, the pressure gauge is, and this can be finely tuned to help get the best results for your espresso and milk texture quality.
The price point for this machine sits at around half the cost you would pay for a regular two group commercial La Marzocco Linea.
It has a very simple design, and if you have looked into commercial grade espresso machines at all, La Marzocco’s name will never be far away.
Best Budget Option: Breville Bambino Plus Espresso Machine
The Breville Bambino Plus is a compact size, affordable espresso maker that, for the price point it retails at, offers outstanding quality. While may not have a built in grinder like its big brother, The Breville Barista Express, it does offer some of the best features for making espresso at home.
The Bambino Plus is set as a semi automatic machine, with the option of creating preset profiles to assist with consistency but can easily switched into manual mode, allowing the most demanding of coffee connoisseurs to finely tune each type of coffee they purchase to their high standards.
The machine comes equipped with a pressurised basket and a simple little tamper, although these can be upgraded easily and will help to make your espresso brewing even better.
The biggest drawback to this machine is its overall weight, with the machine feeling quite light compared to sturdier home espresso machines. You will need to hold it down when taking out the portafilter, and the machines drip tray is also quite small, so make sure to empty and clean regularly to avoid unwanted mess.
The machine has quite a small capacity of water tank feeding the water into the machine, and the steam wand is only able to offer two positions, neither of which are optimal for milk frothing.
Read Our Full Bambino Plus Review
Also Great: Sunbeam Mini Barista Coffee Machine
This compact espresso machine is a little ray of sunshine for such an affordable price.
The overall design of the machine is similar to the Breville Bambino Plus. It has a good quality steam wand and is installed with a full size 58mm group head.
The volumetrics are pre programmed at either 30g or 60g water weight, to match either a single or double shots, and is set at the classic Italian espresso machine pressure of 15 Bars of pressure.
The Sunbeam Mini Barista Espresso Machine is one of the best ways to test the water with espresso equipment, and will be able to hand light every day use.
It has minimal space requirements, which is great if you are looking for a machine that can easily squeeze into your kitchen set up without causing any fuss.
It is offered in the choice of either black or stainless steel which gives it a stylish modern look.
Espresso Machine Buying Guide
With so many home espresso machines on the market to choose from, looking incredibly similar to one another but all siting at completely different price points, knowing what details to look for to satisfy your espresso needs will save you time and money in the long run.
The following guide is here to enlighten you on what components make up the best espresso machine to match your needs.
When researching machines you will see three different options when it comes to the automation of a machine.
Fully automatic/Super Automatic espresso machines will prepare a full cup of espresso based coffee for you, including grinding, extraction, and milk frothing, all at the touch of a button.
You will be able to tweak certain details like volume, but overall the machine does the work without you having to worry about anything other than loading in the coffee beans you want to use, and making sure the machine is filled with milk and water. The ease of use of these machines can be incredibly tempting, and if you are regularly rushing around, lacking the time to craft the best espresso possible, a fully automatic espresso machine may be the answer.
Semi Automatic espresso machines are the more common style of machine, even in commercial settings. Semi automatic machines will have programmable volumetrics that you can customise towards every different bean you use to get the most out of available flavours.
You will be in charge of grinding, tamping and steaming your milk to optimal drinking temperature, and put in charge of pouring a pretty design on top of your flat white.
Manual espresso machines give you close to full control. Generally sporting easy to use open/close valves, you have to make sure that you’re paying full attention to what is going on with your espresso maker. The skill level for manual espresso machines, along with supporting quality control devices to measure time and extraction yield will be integral to getting great espresso.
Group head measurements
A commercial espresso machine will generally be found to have 58mm group heads. This has been industry standard for many years.
Home machines may vary in size. Breville offer slightly smaller group heads at 53mm and other manufacturers may go a little smaller still.
The biggest difference in the two most common sizes, 58mm & 53mm, is depth of filter basket in the portafilters attachment. The 58mm portafilter sits a little more shallow, allowing for a more even spread of pressure across the coffee bed, whilst the 53mm portafilter helps to build more bars of pressure up inside the basket.
The difference in flavour is minimal, if any at all, but one of the considerations could be with accessories you buy to compliment your home setup. Tamps, distributors and shot collars will all be made to measure, so if you plan on upgrading your set up in the future, changing to a different size of group head will mean you will need to replace your accessories too.
Single boiler or dual boiler?
The difference in performance between a single and dual boiler espresso machine is often minimal, but it will all depend on how much coffee you plan to make and how much time you have.
The downside to a single boiler espresso machine is that the steam wand and gasket share a tank. This means that after you have extracted your espresso shot you may need to wait a minute or two for the boiler to reach optimum pressure again in order to froth milk.
If you’re planning on playing barista for family or friends at small gatherings, the machine could lag a little and you will experience some inconsistency in pressure the more you use it.
Dual boiler machines won’t have this problem. The two boilers will act independently, allowing one to be used for espresso extraction and the other designated for milk froth.
Many classic commercial espresso machines come equipped with a single boiler and have had no problem keeping up with demand, but this will all depend on the quality of manufacturer.
A PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) is a component often found installed on espresso machines to help set or regulate the temperature of water that a machine gives out when brewing.
This adds precision to the machine, and also plays a part in being able to execute accurate pre-infusion. Essentially manufacturers are adding a brain to the body, meaning that their precision engineering on the inside of their machines can match the intricate level of brewing we now seek in modern coffee.
Some well established machines with excellent build quality lack a PID, but can be fitted with one retroactively as either a quick job for a trained electrician, or with a little online research, by yourself at home on a Sunday afternoon.
An often argued about detail of espresso brewing in the professional barista community, pre-infusion is now regularly found as a feature on almost all commercial coffee machines. This feature has trickled down into the home espresso machine market too.
Pre-infusion is when water is released from the gasket for a certain amount of time, at a much lower pressure than full extraction.
It is said to help with a couple of things when brewing. The first being that it can create a more even extraction by pre-wetting the ground coffee which helps to avoid or eliminate channeling. This is a problem that happens regularly to even the best barista.
The second detail it can help with is being able to slightly lower the acidity of a coffee. The longer you leave coffee brewing at a lower pressure, the lower the acidity, which is great if happen to buy a roast a little too light for your liking and don’t want to waste the coffee beans.
Pressurised baskets vs non pressurised baskets
Pressurised filter baskets are a way of taking some of the strain off a home espresso machine, as well as potentially ‘correcting’ small mistakes by the user. A pressurised filter basket can hide the flaws that lower quality grinders can cause.
Even though you will be able to get what looks like a good crema on top of your espresso shot, the pressurised filter basket is said to create something of a ‘fake crema’, as it is not the result of fine espresso extraction, but more to do with the aeration of the espresso as it is pushed through the small hole of the filter basket.
To gain a finer understanding of the extraction process, replacing the basket with a non pressurised one will enable for a more ‘true’ extraction experience.
Many espresso enthusiasts move towards bottomless portafilters, which are more visually appealing, and help you understand more about channeling and the need for close to perfectly level coffee beds.
You will regularly hear people say that a good grinder is the most important detail in good extraction, and when moving towards non pressurised baskets this definitely plays a big factor.
Luckily there are some great options out there for affordable, high-quality espresso grinders. Many of which in the same brand as the espresso machine we have reviewed.
Remember to match the filter basket size to the amount of coffee you want to use for your espresso. The classic Italian double shot uses 14 grams of coffee, where as modern espresso now uses 18 grams of coffee and above. Varying sizes of filter baskets are easily found online.
The shape of a steam wand is incredibly important when frothing your milk, and a detail that I believe plays a huge factor in the design of an espresso machine.
You’ll often find home an espresso machine with a steam wand that is quite short with a flat end. This is far from the optimal shape for a milk frother. This style of steamer will create a lot of big bubbles, so if you like a frothy cappuccino, this isn’t a bad option.
A longer, stainless steel wand with a pronounced end, ideally easily moved into various positions to help find the best spot to spin your milk, will offer you more versatility on what style of milk you like with your espresso, and ultimately let you create beautiful latte art once you have put some practice hours in.
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Water source and drip trays
The way that the water enters your home espresso machine to brew your finely ground coffee beans is something that should be considered when working out what machine is right for you.
Most home espresso machines are fitted with a water reservoir that needs to be kept above a certain water level in order to keep the internal boiler at its optimal pressure, and whilst some machines are fitted with a filtration system, most are not.
You need to make sure that the water you are putting into your espresso machine has been filtered in one way or another as the mineral build up that tap water can create will cause trouble with the efficiency of the steam valves and can easily lead to costly blockages.
The higher level machines available on the market are usually available with the option to directly plumb in to the main water supply, although this will also need some kind of filtration system as an intermediary to the espresso machine. Coffee shops are always equipped with either reverse osmosis systems, or simple de-ionisers, to ensure they get the best flavour quality in their espresso, and look after the inside of their valuable espresso machine.
The drip tray should also come into some consideration. They should be easy to clean and be easily removable. An overflowing drip tray can cause havoc if not monitored regularly.
Basic commercial level espresso machines will sell for prices starting at around $5000 and can go as high as the customer is willing to pay for the best espresso machine.
The general consensus here is that the more a machine costs the more durable and accurate each of the features it offers will be, which gives the barista more control when making espresso shots.
Making the best espresso is not cheap, and the amount of things that can go wrong in an espresso machine is pretty high, but there are some great options out there for under $1000 that will create exceptional espresso coffee and last for a long time, as long as you regularly keep the machine clean, inside and out.
Reasonable pricing for one person will be completely different to another, and always comes down to how much someone is willing to pay for something, so make sure you comfortably know your budget, and remember that there are more external costs, like a quality burr grinder, scales and fancy tamper that also go into creating the best home espresso experience