An espresso drink, that all-important elixir of freshly roasted coffee and steamed milk that helps people jump-start their days, is a mainstay of European and American café culture. But when the pandemic threw a bag of bad beans into the mix and sent so many people home, the last year and a half saw a huge spike of interest in home espresso machines.
To help you get the best café experience at home, we tested 20 different home espresso machines over six weeks, ranging in price from $100 up to $1,700 and with wildly varying feature sets, performance, technologies and build quality. But, after going through over 20 pounds of coffee and pulling hundreds of shots, we found the best extracting, crema-producing, milk-frothing machines for the money.
Best affordable espresso machine: De’Longhi Stilosa
$99.99 at Target
- Pressurized filter basket
- Single thermoblock
- Manual controls
- Warranty: 2 years
Available for just under $100, the De’Longhi Stilosa is the machine you should consider if you want real espresso drinks at home and need to spend as little as possible. It’s a capable machine, though it takes a little technique and practice to get the best results — you’ll need to grind the coffee to powder level (all espresso machines need to be paired with a good grinder) and make sure you tamp properly.
Even with a lot of espresso experience, we threw away about a dozen shots as we got the hang of the Stilosa. The machine heats up quickly and is ready to go in about a minute, though you’ll need to prime the pump to move water through the system before pulling your first shot. But once we got comfortable with the machine, we were able to easily pull satisfying shots. The drinks weren’t on the level of our better-built, more full-featured recommendations like the Bambino Plus or Gaggia Classic, but again, this is a solid product for the money.
To froth the milk, you’ll need another 15 or 20 seconds to ramp up to steam mode. It does a solid job for basic milk drinks, but you won’t be able to produce latte-art-quality microfoam.
The Stilosa is perfect for someone who drinks an occasional espresso, or just has one in the morning, but it isn’t as sturdy as the more expensive machines. Its plasticky construction isn’t likely to hold up in the long term, and it probably isn’t worth replacing or repairing the pump once it wears out (vibratory pumps can wear out with heavy use in as little as a couple of years) as you might on a more expensive machine.
The Stilosa also uses a nonstandard dual-wall pressurized portafilter, which is meant to let you use preground or coarse-ground coffee, but it can be difficult and messy to tamp and clean up with the lightweight, plastic supplied tamper, so you’ll want a straight edge to level it, such as the flat end of a knife. The supplied plastic tamper is flimsy and can be hard to use to compress your coffee puck.
If you’re on a strict budget or just exploring the idea of home espresso, the Stilosa is a reasonable purchase that can make great coffee, if not last a lifetime. If you can’t find the Stilosa, the Capresso EC is a very similar machine with nearly identical build quality and performance, and frankly, we had a hard time deciding between the two. We give the edge to the De’Longhi because of its longer warranty: two years to Capresso’s one.
Best compact automatic espresso machine: Breville Bambino Plus
$499.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
- Single thermocoil
- PID temperature control
- Digital controls
- Programmable shot length, brew temperature, steam temperature
- Warranty: 1 year (extended 3- and 4-year coverage is available at additional cost)
The Bambino Plus is Breville’s entry-level compact espresso machine, and with its speedy startup, automated functions and solid build quality it’s a good choice for beginners who want high-quality espresso drinks without practice or guesswork. Other machines in this price range of similar build quality don’t offer the same amount of digital control or convenience available in the Bambino Plus.
The Bambino Plus incorporates a lot of the features Breville uses on its more expensive and larger machines, so you can easily get a ton of control over your shots. More importantly for many users, its “ThermoJet” thermocoil heats up in just three seconds, so you’ll be ready to pull a shot almost immediately after turning it on. Many traditional espresso machines take 10 minutes or more to come up to temperature.
A built-in PID control keeps the temperature accurate, and you can choose and program settings for shot temperature and timing. Plus, the process is automated; you just push a button and the machine pulls the shot according to predefined settings. Everything on the machine is operated digitally via the lighted front panel buttons — there’s not even a dedicated power switch.
With the right powder coffee grind, we found this machine pulls an above-average shot of espresso with good crema when using the included non-pressurized baskets. The integrated milk frother with adjustable wand (up and down only) works well for latte and cappuccino and it has a hot water setting if you want to use it to make tea. We struggled, however, to achieve the truly café-quality microfoam the company claims in its literature, at least in the time we had the machine.
The reservoir is decently sized and simple to remove; it lifts out easily, though if the machine is flush against the kitchen wall, it must be rotated to access it. It comes with a light, non-calibrated, non-standard 54mm tamper that can be replaced for about $35, but there are also third-party alternatives available. The drip tray is easy to remove and clean, but it’s small and can overflow easily, which is typical of compact models. This means you’ll want to remove and clean it after every couple of shots. You’ll also want a decent grinder to pair with this machine if you expect to produce the powder-level grind needed for optimal performance.
The Bambino has a sleek design and is available in a range of finishes to match your kitchen decor, but as with most Breville equipment, it isn’t as easily user-serviceable as a traditional machine like the Gaggia Classic, which is easily repaired (or upgraded) at home with standard tools.
That said, should something go wrong, Breville’s customer service is excellent and easy to work with in our experience, and extended warranties are available for the Bambino Plus. Typically Breville can either repair or offer an exchange on a refurbished model at a significant discount in the event you run into issues with the machine.
The Bambino Plus is about the same price as the Gaggia Classic, which we also recommend, but it’s a very different machine. The Gaggia, with its traditional design and all-analog controls, is meant for those interested in getting into espresso as a hobby. The Breville Bambino Plus, with its fast-heating thermocoil design and digital convenience, is intended for someone who isn’t looking to develop barista skills, but just wants good espresso drinks with a minimum of fuss — and it delivers just that.
Best espresso machine for beginning coffee hobbyists: Gaggia Classic Pro
$449 at Amazon
- Single boiler
- Analog controls
- Warranty: 1 year
The Gaggia Classic Pro is a traditionalist’s home espresso machine, and has been the gateway to a serious coffee hobby for many espresso enthusiasts. The Gaggia is built much like it has been for the past three decades: no advanced electronics, three plastic rocker switches for controls (on/off, shot pull/pump and steam mode). The manual steam valve is operated by a plastic knob that you open and close to control the level of steam.
It’s a very different experience than the Breville Bambino Plus — it demands more effort, but if you put in that effort you can get better results, and if you’re the kind of person who really likes to fine-tune your recipes, it is likely to suit you well. The Gaggia is a semi-automatic machine, so you control the shot length manually — there’s no programmability at all.
You’ll have to learn a little about pulling espresso shots to use the Gaggia effectively, but once you hone your home barista skills, you’ll find the simple design and controls will give you the maximum amount of control over your coffee-making experience, and it’s capable of making excellent coffee drinks. It will give you a feeling for the variables of espresso brewing — temperature, grind size and pressure — that you won’t get from an automatic like the Bambino Plus.
We recommend using the Classic Pro for a while before deciding if you ever need anything more sophisticated. For many people, this will be the only home espresso machine they will ever need — I know folks who have had them for 20-plus years and have not done more than change filter baskets, or on the rare instance, added a PID for more accurate temperature control. Since it’s been around for so long spare parts and upgrade kits are easily available, and the Gaggia is so simple to work on you can take care of repairs and modifications with everyday tools.
We did struggle a bit as to whether to recommend the Gaggia Classic or its longtime rival, the Rancilio Silvia M V6. Frankly, both are great machines. The Gaggia is the Fiat of the home espresso machine world, while its longtime rival the Silvia is the slightly more upscale, sportier Alfa Romeo.
The Gaggia Classic Pro has a 3.5-ounce boiler made of aluminum which uses external heating elements, whereas the Rancilio sports an internal heating element for its 12-ounce boiler made of brass. The Gaggia draws 1,425 watts of power to the Rancilio’s 952 watts. For beginning users, we give the edge to the Gaggia because with more power and smaller volume, it can get up to steam temperature more quickly. And it costs more than $300 less.
Best automatic espresso machine with grinder: Breville Barista Pro
$799.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond
- Built-in grinder
- Single thermocoil
- PID temperature controls
- Digital controls
- LCD display
- Programmable shot length, brew temperature, steam temperature
- Warranty: 2 years
From a mechanical perspective, the Bambino Plus and the Barista Pro are almost identical, and they produce similar-grade espresso. The Barista Pro adds a grinder, however, which can save you at least $200 if you don’t already own a good one, making the machine a good buy overall.
With the integrated grinder and the speedy ThermoJet heating system (the same used in the Bambino Plus), you can fire up the machine and be enjoying an espresso in minutes — the only faster way to an espresso or latte would be to use a superautomatic machine, but the Barista Pro will get you a superior drink. The Barista Pro’s digitally controlled, 30-setting integrated grinder made a powder-level, good crema-producing shot at grind level 5 using its adjustable dosage timer (we liked 15 seconds).
As with the Bambino Plus, we liked the lighted controls, and especially appreciated the easy-to-read, high-contrast LCD and automated shot controls with adjustable shot temperature and shot length. The milk frother does a nice job with lattes and cappuccinos, the ample-sized reservoir is easy to remove and we appreciated the easy-to-clean drip tray.
The Barista series requires proprietary filter packs, which must be replaced every 30 tanks full (that’s about a two-month replacement schedule if heavily used). These go for about $10 per six-pack on Amazon. However, if you’re softening and filtering your water in your home already, your mileage might vary, and you might be able to stretch that out a bit.
The Barista Pro is in the middle of the Barista series lineup. The cheaper Barista Express ($699) doesn’t have the fast-heating ThermoJet system that powers the Bambino Plus and the Barista Pro, while the Barista Touch ($999) has more advanced programmability and a color touchscreen display
Best high-end single-boiler espresso machine: ECM Casa V
$1,049 at Food52
- Single boiler
- Analog controls
- Digital controls
- Warranty: Depending on reseller, 2 or 3 years
If the Gaggia Classic Pro is the veritable Fiat 124 and the Rancilio Silvia M is an Alfa Romeo Giulia, then the ECM Casa V is analogous to the legendary Mercedes-Benz W123 — a solid, reliable, German-engineered machine that’s not only fun to use, but is also a pleasure to work on. It also makes great coffee, of course. We love the sweet, crema-rich shots the machine can pull and the microfoam the milk frother can produce quickly.
The ECM Casa V’s controls are all analog, with push buttons for main power, shot pull, steam mode and water mode. It has full steel construction and is extremely easy to open up, with a generous amount of space inside. At over $1,000, you might expect the ECM Casa V to have a PID to maintain temperature, but it doesn’t, and based on our experience the machine is so well-designed and thermostabilized that it doesn’t need one. You also get a manometer to monitor pressure and better time your shots. If you’re a dedicated hobbyist trying to develop your technique, knowing the pressure can help you diagnose why your shots are flowing too fast or slow.
The ECM is more powerful and quicker to start than the more basic single-boiler machines. The 1,200-watt 14-ounce boiler gives it a 30-second warm-up, faster than the Gaggia Classic or the Rancilio Silvia M and even faster than many thermoblock/thermocoil machines. The internal reservoir is a sizable 3 liters as opposed to the 2-liter model used in the Silvia.
The Casa V’s low-tech, entirely electromechanical design means that it should be a dream to work on if you ever need to make repairs, such as replacing a vibratory pump or swapping a valve or any other routine maintenance. For a machine built for a lifetime of use, the approach makes a lot of sense, and is part of why we like it over more feature-rich machines in this price range like the Ascaso Dream or Nuovo Simonelli Oscar II.
Best dual-boiler espresso machine: Rancilio Silvia Pro X
$1,895 at Seattle Coffee Gear
- Shot pre-infusion
- PID temperature control
- Analog controls
- Manual shot timer with digital display
- Warranty: 2 years
When we last tested espresso machines, the Rancilio Silvia Pro emerged as our favorite dual-boiler espresso machine. The company has since revised the model, introducing the Silvia Pro X, which adds some convenience features that solidify our confidence in Rancilio’s dual-boiler offering as the best choice in the category, over such formidable competitors as the Lelit Elizabeth, Ascaso Duo and Breville Dual Boiler.
A dual-boiler machine with PID control of the temperature of both boilers, the Silvia Pro X not only resembles the older Silvia Pro (and the rest of the Silvia lineup) but performs similarly, producing exceptional shots with a rich crema using a tight powder grind. The dedicated and powerful steam boiler had steam and hot water ready to go right after pulling shots, making preparation of a variety of drinks quick and easy. The Silvia Pro X performs much more like a café-level system than a consumer system, producing a superior level of crema and milk microfoam to the single-boiler consumer machines we tested.
The Silvia Pro X builds on the earlier Silvia Pro by adding pre-infusion (which soaks the coffee puck before pulling the shot) and a manometer (which reads pressure in the group head), giving you more control over and insight into what’s going on as you pull shots, which is helpful in perfecting your technique and — if you’re already spending this much on a near-café-quality machine — worth the extra $200 over the non-X version.
The system is dead simple to use. Once you have your grind dialed in and your brew group and boiler temperature set in the PID menu (this is entered by chording the +/- buttons on both sides of the display), you use one rocker button to start the shot pull and the same to stop it.
Although it has a manual shot clock with a digital display (the machine times your shot once you press the coffee button), the Silvia Pro X doesn’t have programmable shot timing like some of its high-end competitors, so it can’t be set to end brewing automatically. In operation, we didn’t miss programmability (and saw it as just one fewer thing to worry about) since, once we’d pulled a few shots with the Silvia Pro X, we had a good idea of how long they needed to be.
By the way, you’ll want to be sure to keep the steam boiler on (it can be turned off separately from the main boiler) if you know you are going to make several latte drinks on demand, as it can take about 10 minutes to warm up.
Like the other Silvia models, the Silvia Pro X has a 2L reservoir tank and can be plumbed in for permanent installation with an extra kit if you so desire. Speaking of which, we appreciated how easy the Silvia Pro X was to open and service, with a clean internal layout that makes all parts easy to access. You can also replace all of the housing panels if you’d like to customize the look to match your kitchen (the machine comes stock in black, white, stainless steel or pink finishes).
A machine that lets users perform their own routine repairs (many espresso enthusiasts get interested in the inner workings of their machines, so it’s nice to have the option even if you don’t think at first you’ll need it) without requiring expensive bench technician labor is a huge plus, and that’s part of why the Silvia Pro X came out on top.
Best superautomatic espresso machine: Philips 3200 LatteGo
$799 at Seattle Coffee Gear
- Digital controls
- Automatic milk frothing
- Warranty: 2 years
All superautomatic machines — which grind, dose, pull your shot and froth milk at the touch of a single button — are a compromise compared to their automatic cousins. Only the most expensive ones produce comparable shots or froth milk equally well. But for people who want freshly ground coffee in their espresso shots and latte drinks, and appreciate the instant gratification of a pod system such as a Keurig or Nespresso, a superautomatic is a solid choice.
The Philips 3200 LatteGo had the best mix of features and performance at its price point. It’s more compact than the basic Gaggia and Jura superautomatics, and it pulls a reasonably decent shot of espresso with good crema and good shot temperature and flavor.
The ample water reservoir is easy to remove, and we liked the simple lighted push button controls that allow for an easy guided and personalized drink creation experience. The bean hopper is easy to load, although its capacity is not as high as others we looked at. The pre-programmed drink types (espresso, coffee, Americano, macchiato and cappuccino) have easily adjustable settings (strength, water volume and milk volume) that let you customize each drink type before execution.
The “LatteGo” — a hot-pluggable milk frother/heater and jug attachment — produced better hot milk consistency than other superautomatic machines we tested. However, it is made of plastic, just like the entire machine. It’s also easy to overfill and will start leaking unless it is snapped correctly into its holder and attached correctly to the machine, while the spout needs constant cleaning. By comparison, the Jura D6 design (with the container piped into the machine on the side) is less prone to failure or mess, though the results weren’t as good to our taste.
As with all superautomatics, the coffee grind disposal hopper and drip tray must be cleaned regularly, but it’s easy to pull out, empty, wash under the sink and slide again into action. The machine also turns itself off automatically after a preset period and can be quickly woken up again.
Everything you need to know about espresso machines
The espresso machine, which brews highly concentrated coffee by forcing hot water under pressure through fine-ground beans, was developed in Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Initially aimed at increasing café speed and productivity, over the last 120 years, smaller versions have become popular home appliances. A variety of technologies have been employed in miniaturizing the components needed to make this style of extracted coffee in order to make the drink accessible for home users.
Also referred to as the brew group, or the brew head, or simply “the group,” it’s where the actual brewing of coffee occurs. Hot water flows from the boiler (and through any other heating elements that may be used), through the group and into the portafilter, containing the filter basket packed with tamped and finely grounded roasted coffee, which is locked into place under the group.
Group heads pick up coffee fines and oils over time and require periodic cleaning of accumulated oils and coffee grind particles, either by disassembly or by using a backflush plate/blank portafilter insert (supplied with most machines) and detergent, such as URNEX Cafiza.
This is the handle-mounted cuplike container with a spout into which the coffee is ground before being placed into the group. It consists of a circular holder for the filter basket, which contains the finely ground coffee and has tiny pinholes through which the brewed espresso shot flows into the dispensing spout. Portafilters (and filter baskets) come in different sizes and standards, such as the 58mm used on commercial equipment or in various 54mm and other manufacturer-specific sizes.
The tamper is used to compress espresso grounds in the basket of the portafilter. The process of tamping allows for grounds to be packed evenly and densely to produce enough resistance to generate the right pressure for a quality espresso shot. Tampers can be either calibrated (for limiting compressive force applied to the coffee grinds) or uncalibrated (for users who prefer to work by feel) and they can be flat or convex according to barista preference.
With any machine that takes a standard 58mm portafilter (or other popular sizes such as the 54mm diameter used by Breville), you’ll eventually want to upgrade your tamper to something of better quality (such as the Espro or Decent, both calibrated). You’ll also probably want a leveling tool and a nude/bottomless portafilter for accommodating larger baskets. Also consider changing out the basket for a VST or similar professional laser-cut one, especially if you want more grams of coffee in your shot, such as we do, with an 18-gram or 22-gram basket.
The pump is the heart of the espresso machine; it moves water throughout its piped circulatory system, through the heating elements and exchange system and into the group head. Most consumer espresso machines come with a vibratory or “vibe” pump, which uses a piston attached to a magnet set inside a metal coil. All of the machines we evaluated in this list use vibratory pumps; more expensive systems (so called “prosumer” machines and professional models costing $2,500 and up), use quieter, larger and more reliable rotary pumps.
In a vibratory pump, electrical current running through the coil causes the magnet to move the piston back and forth, pushing water through the machine at about sixty oscillations per second. A vibratory pump is a fairly inexpensive and standardized part (around $40) with about a three- to five-year lifespan depending on use. Along with valves and O-rings, the vibe pump is one of the most common components to eventually need replacement in an espresso machine.
If you plan on using your machine heavily — making several espresso drinks daily — you should factor in the cost and difficulty of eventually servicing your espresso machine. Many of the high-end and traditionally designed midrange machines we recommend are built to be serviced easily at home; if you aren’t confident in making this simple repair yourself, a longer warranty may be more important to you. In the case of less-expensive machines, replacement of a pump or other major component may be pricey enough — perhaps half of the replacement cost — that you’ll just want to replace the machine altogether.
Thermoblocks and thermocoils
A thermoblock is a solid block of metal with embedded electrical elements that heat water to coffee-brewing temperature (starting at 195 degrees Fahrenheit) as it passes through a narrow passage. They function a bit like a tankless water heater, and they are at the core of any lower-end espresso machine. They can be manufactured from different materials such as brass or aluminum and versions of varying build quality and performance are available. A thermocoil works similarly, heating water as it passes through a metal tube surrounded by a coiled heating element.
The main advantage of using a thermoblock or a thermocoil over a boiler in an espresso machine is that they can heat up very quickly. Some thermoblock-based machines are ready to pull shots in just a couple of minutes after being turned on, while many traditional boiler designs take 15 minutes or more to come up to optimal temperature.
Thermoblocks and thermocoils can also produce consistent water temperature and consistent dry steam, permit highly compact espresso machine designs, are more energy-efficient and are less expensive. Machines with thermoblocks or thermocoils start at about $100 and can go up to about $1,200 depending on performance and other technologies used. Most of the Brevilles, except the Dual Boiler and their upper-end Oracle machines, are thermocoil-based systems.
An insulated metal vessel, typically made of copper, stainless steel, brass or aluminum, the boiler uses a heating element to bring water to espresso-brewing temperatures (195 degrees Fahrenheit min and 205 degrees Fahrenheit max) or milk-steaming temperatures (250 degrees Fahrenheit or more) and store it for use. Espresso machines with a single boiler, heat exchanger and steam valve start at about $500, whereas systems that use dedicated boilers for steam and coffee start at around $1,700, with the sky being the limit at the top end ($5,000+).
A single-boiler system (that doesn’t use a heat exchange design) requires changing from shot temperature to steam temperature, which could take as long as 10 minutes. So you need to pull all your shots, then steam all your milk — once you get up to steam temperature you have to wait for the boiler to cool back down to brew temperature. If you don’t, you’ll end up with burnt, bad-tasting shots.
In a machine with a heat exchanger, the boiler stays at the higher milk-steamer temperature so the machine is always ready for frothing, while cool water from the reservoir is heated indirectly by a coiled tube running through or surrounding the steam boiler on its way to the group head for brewing. When this type of machine has been idle for more than a few minutes, an initial “group head flush” should be performed to purge the 2 to 4 ounces of extra hot water that are too hot for pulling good shots.
In a dual-boiler machine, one boiler is kept at coffee-brewing temperature while a second steam boiler keeps water at the higher milk-steaming temperature, meaning your machine is instantly ready to steam — important if you have a large household and make several drinks at a time, or if you are entertaining. With a dual boiler, you can pull shots and steam (or vice versa) right away, if you really want to.
As part of regular maintenance, espresso machines with boilers require periodic descaling, which is the removal of minerals from the interior walls of the boiler. This is done by running descaling solution (or dissolved tablets) through the water reservoir and boiler.
Steam wand and steam valve
A small metal pipe about five centimeters or longer, the wand typically sticks out from the side of the group head or from a separate valve head, and is capped with a nozzle with one or more openings for steam dispersion. Many designs exist, with some oriented towards latte art, others meant for ease of use and others for durability.
This steam valve is internally connected to either the main boiler, steam boiler or the thermoblock (depending on the machine layout) via piping and directs steam to froth milk for drinks such as latte and cappuccino.
This is the instrument, typically with an analog dial, used to measure and indicate pressure, which lets you dial in your shot more precisely. These are typically found on more expensive models that cost $1,000 and up.
Nine or 10 bar (one bar is roughly equivalent to atmospheric pressure) is considered an optimal pressure reading for extracting the espresso coffee. A significantly lower reading (four to six bar) indicates that the grind may be too coarse, and a higher reading (12 to 16 bar) means that the grind may be too fine, thus indicating a need to adjust your grind to compensate or fine-tune your tamping technique.
The “proportional-integral-derivative” or PID is the microprocessor-controlled brain of a higher-end espresso machine. It regulates and stabilizes boiler or thermoblock temperature more accurately than the simple electromechanical thermostatic control (also known as a pressurestat) used on older and less-expensive systems. A PID-equipped machine can give you more consistent shots, since the water temperature can affect the taste of the extracted coffee, and cut down on shot-to-shot temperature recovery time, letting you make more drinks more quickly.
Types of espresso machines
Automatic and semi-automatic
An automatic (also simply “auto”) espresso machine is one where coffee is ground into espresso powder in the portafilter, tamped and locked into place under the group head. Then a shot is “pulled” (even though most machines don’t use levers these days, we still use the term) or extracted with either a toggle switch, a button or lever.
“Automatic” machines (like our compact recommendation, the Breville Bambino Plus) only require you to press a single button and use a timer or digital control for shot length.
“Semi-automatic” machines (such as the Gaggia Classic Pro, our recommendation for an entry-level hobbyist) require the user to start and stop the extraction process manually.
Milk frothing is handled as a separate process with the steam valve and wand, and is done by either switching the machine into a steam mode or using a dedicated steam boiler.
Modern espresso machines are referred to as “automatic” in contrast to the older style of “manual” lever-operated espresso machines. In a lever machine, the barista physically pulls the shot with a large lever attached to a piston pump — there’s no electric pump involved. It may not come as a surprise that lever machines have largely fallen out of favor since the 1940s. They do still have a small, dedicated cult following today, and models such as those from La Pavoni are still available.
Modern automatic machines incorporate many convenience features depending on price point, including integrated manometers, wake-up, standby modes and PID controllers with shot pre-infusion and shot timing. Some classic machines of this type — like the Gagg