According to a 2022 report from the National Coffee Association, Americans drink 3 cups of coffee daily per coffee drinker — or 517 million cups of coffee a day. While you can drink coffee hot, cold brewed, over ice or blended, many prefer it in the form of an espresso, which uses a pressurized brewing method to produce a small, concentrated shot. In fact, the NCA reported that, while other brewing methods remain more popular, espresso-based beverages have still been on the rise with 26% of Americans reported having enjoyed an espresso-based drink in the past day when surveyed.
SKIP AHEAD What are the different types of espresso machines? | What to look for when shopping for an espresso machine
Espresso-based drinks are a bit more complicated to make than a pot of coffee, but the good news is that with the right espresso machine, the process becomes a whole lot easier. Before you know it, you’ll be dosing (grinding the proper amount of beans for your machine), tamping (compressing the coffee grinds) and extracting (turning your beans into beautiful liquid gold) — and using each term like an old pro. To get you there, we spoke to coffee experts about the different types of espresso machines, and which one is right for you.
Best espresso machines in 2023
Michael Phillips, Blue Bottle Coffee’s director of coffee culture, told us a good quality espresso machine will have “stable pressure and temperature along with the ability to steam at least 12 ounces of milk inside of 30 seconds.” The experts we consulted also advised against home brewers buying steam-driven and manual lever-driven machines due to the lower pressure and complexity, respectively, but if you want to explore those routes, here are guides to check out from Coffee Brewing Methods (on steam machines) and Coffee or Bust (on manual lever-driven machines).
Otherwise, shoppers should consider the following while shopping for a quality espresso machine:
- Type of espresso machine: Espresso machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including pump-driven (high-pressure water through the coffee grounds), steam driven (heated steam through the coffee grounds), or manual-level driven (like pump-driven, but controlled manually). More on the different types of espresso machines below.
- Portafilter size/capacity: The portafilter is the large handle and ring that holds the metal filtering basket in place, allowing brewed coffee to flow through while holding back coffee ground. The size of the portafilter is “a big thing to consider,” said Marco Suarez, co-owner of Methodical Coffee. He recommended getting the standard size: 58 millimeters, which “will make upgrading [or replacing] your portafilter, basket and accessories a lot easier.”
- Number of boilers: Most espresso machines are powered by either a single boiler or dual boilers. Suarez noted that espresso machines with dual boilers are very helpful because you can, for example, pull shots and steam milk at the same time. Single boiler machines are more affordable, but slower, as you cannot do two tasks simultaneously.
- Temperature control: All of the experts we spoke to said that a good machine will have a stable temperature. Many higher-end espresso machines use PIDs — or Proportional Integral Derivative controllers — to control temperature down to the degree. Suarez told us that this is a helpful feature as it keeps your water temperature steady. If you go with a PIDs machine, he suggests maintaining a temperature between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Built-in coffee grinder: “Without a good grinder, an espresso machine is just a paperweight,” said Phillips. He said you should look for a grinder designed specifically for espresso, with stepless grind adjustment. Some machines come with built-in grinders — while these are convenient, Phillips warned that they break down and wear out quickly.
The options experts recommended for this guide are on the pricier side, with many selling for over $1000. Check out our roundup of more affordable espresso machines if you’re shopping on a budget.
Best espresso machines in 2022
To pick the best espresso machines, we relied on expert guidance and consumer reviews to collect the most highly-rated options on the market. We made a point to include a variety of types of espresso machines.
Top overall espresso machine: Breville
Both Phillips and Suarez, highlighted Breville as one of the best espresso machine brands on the market. At under $600, Suarez specifically noted that the semi-automatic Breville Infuser is one of the best budget options for home brewers. The machine allows you to control the volume of each of your brews, plus it has digital temperature control and a pressure gauge that helps you optimize your extraction.
Best espresso machine with built-in grinder: Breville
Breville Barista Pro
Suarez told us the Barista Pro is a “really popular choice that seems to be a good option for people looking for an all-in-one solution.” This semi-automatic espresso machine has an integrated grinder that Breville says provides ground coffee on demand, and it’s built with the brand’s ThermoJet heating system that’s designed to hit near-boiling temperatures in 3 seconds. It comes in several colors, including Damson Blue, Royal Champagne and Black Truffle.
Best affordable espresso machine for beginners: Gaggia
Gaggia Classic Pro
Suarez highlighted the Gaggia Classic Pro as a “no-frills machine that will get the job done,” noting that it’s also relatively affordable compared to the other semi-automatic machines on this list. This machine has a rapid heating boiler and a 58-millimeter chrome-plated brass portafilter. It also has a built-in commercial steam wand to produce foamy, frothy milk, according to the brand.
Best espresso machine for experienced baristas: La Marzocco
La Marzocco Linea Mini
La Marzocco is the brand that Blue Bottle uses in all of its stores, which is why Phillips called it “the working barista’s choice.” When paired with the La Marzocco app, you can turn the semi-automatic Linea Mini on or off, set the boiler temperature, enable pre-brewing and more. Though this machine is substantially more expensive than the other options on our list, Phillips noted that “the build quality is very high, it has stable temperature and pressure, looks great in a kitchen and just works.” Suarez also noted its “professional-level quality” espresso.
Best affordable espresso machine for experienced baristas: Rocket
Rocket Espresso Appartmento
If the Linea Mini’s price tag is out of your range, Suarez suggested checking out espresso machines from Rocket. The Rocket Espresso Appartmento is still certainly an investment, but this semi-automatic machine offers a heat exchange boiler and a heated group head to help heat the water in your machine to the optimal temperature and steam milk while you pull your espresso.
Best high-end espresso machine: Ascaso Steel
Ascaso Steel PID Programmable Machine
According to Suarez, Ascaso Steel machines “look incredible and have all the features you’d want in a home machine.” The automatic Steel DUO PID features a 58-millimeter portafilter and dual thermoblock insulation that heats water quickly and ensures continuous steam. With the PID temperature control on this machine, you can also control the temperature of your espresso in 1-degree increments.
Best capsule espresso machine: Nespresso
If you’re looking for convenience over everything, the Nespresso VertuoPlus is a great option. Select writer Mili Godio said she uses her machine every morning and it requires minimal effort — she just chooses a capsule of her choice (typically a double espresso pod) and it starts pouring at the touch of a button. But keep in mind, you’ll need to buy pods directly from Nespresso in order to use the machine. You also need to either buy the frother separately or as a bundle.
Best stovetop espresso maker: Bialetti
Bialetti Moka Express
If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an espresso maker, consider the Moka coffee pot instead. Select writer Zoe Malin is a big fan of the pot, which allows you to make your espresso on the stove. To use the Bialetti Moka Express, fill the boiler to the safety valve with water, add ground beans into the filter and heat the water on the stove until it starts to gurgle.
What are the different types of espresso machines?
There are many types of espresso machines, which can be bucketed by what mechanism they use to produce pressure (a necessary component in the creation of an espresso shot). Below, we highlighted the different types — pump-driven, steam-driven and manual-lever.
Pump-driven espresso machines
Pump-driven espresso machines are the most common type on the market. They use an electronic pump to send hot water through the coffee beans at the ideal pressure — around 9 bars. “Because they use electronics to control temperature and pressure, you can produce very consistent espresso,” Suarez said. Most pump machines can be put into one of four categories: automatic, semi-automatic, manual or capsule.
- An automatic espresso machine does most of the work for you. Some automatic machines can grind, dose, tamp, extract espresso and steam milk to the perfect temperature, all at the touch of a button, explained Peter Giuliano, chief research officer at the Specialty Coffee Association, which hosts the Certified Home Brewer and Commercial Espresso Machine programs. Philips noted that “if you don’t have the time or patience to learn the craft of working with espresso and milk, [an automatic machine] is probably your best option.” However, automatic machines are usually the priciest options — you’ll likely find yourself shelling out well over $1,000 for a good quality option, with higher-end machines costing several thousands of dollars.
- A semi-automatic espresso machine is what you will most often find in cafes, according to Phillips — they’re typically more affordable than automatic machines (around $400 to $1,000, based on the options we considered, though they can cost a lot more depending on the quality and brand). These machines require you to grind, dose, tamp and steam on your own, plus activate and deactivate the brew pump manually. “They require more skills and understanding of coffee and milk texturing,” said Kaleena Teoh, director of education at Coffee Project NY. That said, they’re a great choice “for those who like to be able to personalize the flavor profile of their espresso shot and pour latte art,” she said.
- A capsule espresso machine is typically more affordable (usually in the $100-$200 range) and requires you to load an espresso capsule in the machine and press a button to pull your shot. It is the “pinnacle of ease of use and speed,” according to Phillips, though he noted that they tend to “fall behind on quality.” Suarez explained that you lose a lot of control over the quality of the shot itself with a capsule machine because of its incredibly simple process: All you do is load a capsule of coffee and press a button to pump pressurized hot water through the capsule and into your cup.
Steam-driven espresso machines
Steam-driven machines boil water to create steam that is then used to heat the espresso grounds. Steam-driven machines typically produce less pressure than other espresso machines — around 1.5 bars, compared to the ideal 9 bars. Suarez noted that they can be a more budget-friendly option — typically under $100 — but ”they lack the ability to control your variables, and they can't produce the concentration of brew like pump machines just due to the lower pressure,” he noted.
Manual-lever driven espresso machines
Manual lever-driven machines tend to be for those who want a more physical relationship with their coffee and desire complete control over their brewing experience. “Instead of just pushing buttons, it requires the physical strength of pushing the lever to pull the shot, which tends to be for more advanced espresso aficionados,” according to Suarez. It also requires more work, skill and a greater understanding of coffee and milk texturing to get consistent results, Teoh explained. These types of machines usually take more time to perfect, “which is great for those that want the nuance but not great for those who are just looking for a fast easy cup of coffee,” he added.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Michael Phillips is the director of coffee culture at Blue Bottle Coffee, a coffee roaster with over 100 locations worldwide.
- Marco Suarez is the co-owner of Methodical Coffee, a coffee roaster with three locations across Greenville, South Carolina.
- Kaleena Teoh is the co-founder and director of education of Coffee Project NY, a coffee roaster with six locations across the boroughs of New York City.
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